As a freelancer, should I use “We” or “I” when referencing my work?
Ah, the never-ending debate around using your name vs. a brand name as a freelancer. Paul and Kaleigh share their experiences trying both approaches and what they learned works best within their businesses.
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Kaleigh: When you are getting started as a freelancer sometimes you have to ask yourself the question, should I go with the brand name or should I use my first and last name and just kind of market the business as myself. And this is something you and I both dealt with and have kind of experimented with it seems like, so I’m excited to jump in to this and talk through the decision making process for that and how to figure out which is the right for you and then also how it played out in kind of our own experiences.
Paul: Yeah, I feel like this is something that people ask us a lot as well.
Kaleigh: It is. Yeah, for sure.
Paul: So you started I think the same as me, we both started with a company name and then just were like: “okay, we will just use our own names”.
Kaleigh: Yeah, there are some pieces in between there but you start. I want to hear like how you got from point A to point B.
Paul: So I always feel like I’m an old men internet with my stories. Back when I started on the internet when I invented the internet, I feel like it was a different time when I started freelancing in the 90’s because if I told people back then I work for myself people didn’t seem to get it. Whereas now you say you work for yourself people is like yeah I do too it is not a big deal anymore. When I got started I went by two thirty which was the name of my business, I just filed for changing my corporate name this year but for 18 or 19 years I use the word “Two Thirty” spelled out t-w-o t-h-i-r-t-y and I use we as well on my website. That have been my first tag line was “we build websites”.
And for some reasons I just felt people really didn’t understand freelancing or they didn’t understand the value of hiring freelancers or the value of hiring a one person business as opposed to an agency because that is who I was competing with. So I felt like I needed it to say we instead of I and I needed it to be Two Thirty instead of Paul Jarvis but then I think as time went on my mind really changed about that, and we will get into that in a sec. But I want to hear your reasons for using a company name when you started.
Kaleigh: It is very similar. When I started, I was like “I don’t know how to explain what it is I do, I use we on the website” which in my case it is a little different because my husband does help with some graphic design stuff which is a different part of the business. But when I started freelancing full time I was offering a lot of different services to anyone who would hire me. You know, sometimes people do that. And so offering social media, I was offering writing and I was offering the graphic design through my husband and so that all fell under this umbrella of the company name Lumen and the things that I kept running into was that people were confused about who was it they were speaking to a lot of the time.
There are a lot of ambiguity around that and so like you said we can get into that a little bit later but I still actually do use the Lumen name today. I’m an LLC now, so LLC is Lumen Ventures LLC and that is basically the umbrella for any freelance type projects that I do.
Now my copywriting work, I choose to use my first and last name, I just used KaleighMoore.com. I have a new website, it is all me all the time basically and I can talk to that a little bit later why I transition to that. But I definitely started with the brand name and tried the whole brand persona thing and in my experience it just didn’t work for me.
Paul: So there are different sites, right, The “WeAreLumen” site and the “KaleighMoore” site? Those are different sites?
Kaleigh: Yeah the WeAreLumen site is still around but I don’t use it anymore.
Paul: It is just still there in the internet because you paid for this thing or something?
Kaleigh: Yeah, exactly.
Paul: So, why did you feel it was time to move from Lumen to your name?
Kaleigh: I’m so glad you ask. I bet you can guess because I took the Creative Class.
Paul: Oh really? I didn’t know that.
Kaleigh: So it is when I took the Creative Class which is about a year into freelancing for me and like I said I was doing a lot of different things. I was trying to be everything to everyone basically. Anyone who would hire me I would say yes and after I took the Creative Class course I realized I really needed to niche down and focus on what I was doing; and so I figured that I like the writing the most. I really wanted to concentrate on that I was working with a lot of SAS and ecommerce clients that made sense to transition into as a niche.
And so I switched to the Kaleigh Moore brand at that point and really just focus on copywriting services and then I got even more specific after that. That’s when I shifted from just doing general copywriting services to specifically focusing on blog content. I even took it further down the road but it was after I took Creative Class and I was like oh my gosh why am I trying to market to all this people no wonder I’m not having any success, this isn’t working for me.
Paul: So I have a question that seems like a tangent but I’ll bring it back to what we are talking about. Did you take your husband’s last name when you guys got married?
Kaleigh: I did. My maiden name is Friend, and did you know that? Isn’t that funny? That’s amusing isn’t it? I never had any jokes about that.
Paul: Interesting, so the reason I asked and the reason why I think it is related is my wife didn’t take my last name but she sometimes uses it for different things. When she was doing music full time she would use my last name to separate the work that she was doing in other areas with the music stuff that she was doing. So somebody googled Lisa Jarvis they would only see the band related result and if somebody googled her maiden name then they would see different results.
So that was kind of interesting that kind of have depending on how many names you have you can legally I guess she could use my last name. I don’t even know how it works because neither of us really care and it was more like if I take your last name we have to update like passport and my driver’s license and stuff, I mean it doesn’t really happen it doesn’t really matter to me but it was interesting that you can basically use different names for different search results.
Kaleigh: That’s smart. Yeah, that would be interesting way to tackle that too especially you had very different things that you are offering that is a nice way to keep them apart I guess.
Paul: Exactly, you can send people different landing pages based on names that they searched for.
Kaleigh: Yeah. So what about you? When did you transition out of two thirty into Paul Jarvis?
Paul: Products. That is the straight up simplest answer. When I realized that I wanted to be selling products and I think in order to sell products in the kind of the space that we are in sort of teaching info products, courses, books that sort of things. I think it make sense to be able to build a brand on your name because what I found and I’ve actually surveyed my audience about this and found this to be true is that people buy from me because it’s me and then the topic is kind of secondary. If they are interested in freelancing they probably want to buy something freelancing related but because they’ve known who I am or if they have heard of me then they going to want my take on that. It is just like there are other freelancing courses on the internet.
But if somebody knows who you are and then they are probably more likely to want to take the Creative Class because they are like oh I know Kaleigh’s writing, I know Paul’s design work. I want their take on this thing. So what I found is that people buy things based on their trust in me and then based on what whatever it is the topic is. So for me I was like people don’t really trust the name two thirty because they don’t really know other than like the ten clients that I would work with every year for web design. So that wasn’t a name that was really out there, so it was just like okay maybe I should just go with my name; and then the other thing there is that I know I don’t want to have a big company that I could potentially step away from or sell off. The Paul Jarvis brand is never going to be owned by like some guy named Brad in Idaho. I don’t know why that came to my mind but it is always just going to be me and I think as well when you are trying to kind of position yourself as an expert in a niche then even things like speaking gigs. People don’t hire speakers because of their company name. You don’t see like some lady from Microsoft is the title of the speaking like the Key note speech in an event right? It is the person’s name.
And for selling books and doing podcast or anything like that I think building a name makes sense and then doing businesses that name, still send invoices as Mighty Small which is I changed my name from two thirty to Mighty Small because I thought that would fit better. But invoices still I don’t want to talk about that with you as well regardless there is a need of separation between your name and your business or your personal stuff and your business stuff but I think that’s a long winded answer for that.
Kaleigh: No, I think that makes a lot of sense and I have kind of similar experience even not with products, just like in working with editors, so much of my work I found to be referral based that it just made more sense to just be the person who the people were hiring rather than just being a faceless brand trying to manage social media accounts of the faceless brand.
And it was always like who is behind this accounts? Who am I talking to here? It was so much easier to just use my personal Twitter, my personal LinkedIn account, used my own name. Even having a profile picture that people knew and recognize across those social accounts I think it made a difference and like you said it is kind of building that personal brand so that people know who is it they are hiring and that initial relationship can start forming between two human beings even though we are both business entities. There are always people behind those brands. It is always people based.
Paul: Yeah and I think that you have bring up a good point, one of the high up reason to hire a freelancer as opposed through a big company is you get that personal touch. If you are hiring an agency you might have three or four people that you are working with and the people that you are talking to may not be the people doing the work. So again a telephone happens whereas the freelancer is like if you are talking to me as soon as we are done talking I’m the one who is going to do the work anyways.
So if you need something just talk to me like obviously we talked about this before like having boundaries and stuff too but if you are talking to the freelancer and they are the ones who are doing the work there is less chance for things to go kind of array or off the rails.
Kaleigh: Yeah, it really kind of opens the door to a lot of transparency. It helps you to be more honest I think, not that you are being secretive with the brand name but it is just like, “Hey it’s just me, you are talking to me.” It is more memorable because you know who I am and you are not trying to remember a brand name. It’s just you and I having a conversation.
Paul: Yeah, exactly and whenever anybody ask who is the we on two thirty and I would just be like it’s the royal we I’m British stuff. We are not amused I can’t even remember what that is from, I think it is from a 80’s cartoon. But let me ask you this do you think it is better to use for other people not for yourself for this but do you think it is better to use a company name or a personal name or do you think it even matters that much?
Kaleigh: I think it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter that much. Ultimately, what matters is how you manage the communication between you and whoever is hiring you and the work that you produce and all that other stuff is just kind of secondary when you really get down into the details of working on a project.
Once you are into a project you are not worried about I’m working with two thirty or Paul Jarvis, wait who, where do I send this email again, that is not you are thinking about. You are thinking about the work itself. It is not as big of a deal as people make it, I don’t think.
Paul: Yeah, it is even like I’ve talked to a bunch of people who’ve been like held up on. I don’t think figuring out a name should hold up starting a freelance business at all or starting any business.
I think the name is obviously important and it needs to be memorable and there is people who write about the importance of naming things but I would never want to be held up for more than an hour on a name. For me it is just I’m going to see what name I can get and I think with using a name the likelihood of being able to come up with a name that is .com is a lot easier. Except in my case and again this was like back to the old man internet.
The day I looked up Paul.com was the day after somebody registered. I was like no, I’ve emailed the guy as well and he was like can I just get an email address like I’ll pay he was like no, he was like dude I’m Paul.com. Same with PaulJarvis.com I couldn’t get but two thirty. I think the story goes that it was like two thirty in the morning and I still hadn’t come up with a name for my company and I looked up the time and instead of whatever name of I was thinking of I was like oh that .com is available and twothreezero.ca was available. I was like, “Done, sure.”
Kaleigh: And I like what you do also now with your own website is you just take off the vowels out that is another option too.
Paul: And the L.
Kaleigh: Yes that too, forgot about that. That is so weird I didn’t think about that.
Paul: It is totally weird and so unmemorable but it works for me.
Kaleigh: It works and it is short, it’s memorable. I think the bottom line here is don’t make it harder that it has to be. But I do want to ask you, the people who do go with we there is lot of things to go into that. So should you call yourself the CEO of the company and when people ask those questions about who is the we? How do you fill those questions?
Paul: It was funny because I was like doing research for this topic and I found an article and they said something like, “Don’t call yourself the CEO of a one person company otherwise it makes you look like a child wearing your dad or your mom’s suit playing business for the day.” I kind of agree with.
Another thing I think titles can be important but they are not super important. And the more overly flowery they are when it is just like I don’t even know what you do based on that title that you just gave yourself. It is interesting but I do think that it is important. I wouldn’t call myself a freelancer to clients. I would call myself what I do in the way that they understand using the word that they would know just like when we talked about parroting language can be really helpful. I would refer myself as a freelancer in a group of freelancers or like in the Slack channel for Creative Class.
But to a client I don’t think that matters. I would refer to myself as a web designer or an online business consultant or something like that. It is so funny like you are a writer obviously you know this like the words can be so important but also they are not the most important thing. I think you could probably get around a lot of things even if you didn’t even use the right words if you are able to convey your message. I think it would be okay.
Kaleigh: I think so too. I think for me ultimately just came down to a personal decision and that’s what it has to be for everybody. It is really a preference thing. For me it is just made more sense and it was a lot less work to just be myself.
I guess social media management was kind of a headache trying to be myself and the brand and the same was true for like when I wanted to go and write something. I was over thinking everything because I was trying to write as a brand rather than just me writing something as myself. So across the board it made things a lot simpler and I don’t know that was just my personal preference and for everyone it’s going to be a little different. So let’s talk about that next. We talked about why it is good to use me quite a bit. What are some instances when you would use We or business name?
Paul: If it wasn’t me and if I wanted to grow a business bigger than myself I probably wouldn’t use my name or it was something I wanted to build that possibly I want to exit from then I probably wouldn’t want to use my own name.
But because it’s me and because I’m happy having a company of one, I know that it’s fine to use my name. The other thing that I’ve heard from people and I didn’t even think about this but I’ve heard from a few people that there is shitty suicidal pre dispositions to things like ethnic sounding names or even women’s names. I think we’ve all read those articles where women have changed their name to a male sounding name and ended up getting more work or more. Like I hate it, it sucks. But it is also something that I think people need to be aware of. I mean I think that working to change those ridiculous stereotypes or gender roles is something that we should all work on but I would probably consider it if that was the circumstances or the life circumstance that I had.
Even if I had a super long name for example. I would possibly shorten it to something, especially if I was looking for a domain name like twenty letters in my last name I would maybe shorten it, it’s like PaulJ. I think those are few examples for using a business name but as well kind of feel like somebody didn’t want to hire me because I was a woman. Would you want to work with somebody like that?
Kaleigh: That’s true, that could be a good screener I guess.
Kaleigh: A very unfortunate one but functional I guess.
Kaleigh: That is so sad.
Paul: It total is. It makes me so mad as well.
Kaleigh: Someone should go and listen to our episode from last season on, what it’s like to be a female freelancer because that was one of our most listened to episodes and we kind of dove in to that topic a little bit more in details, so just a little teaser for that one. That was a good one.
Paul: Yeah I think so, I think there can also be a hybrid in this company name versus personal name. You could be more content writing services. And that even sounds like more content. You need more content. I got more content. Jarvis Design there can be like kind of like an hybrid kind of says what you do but also uses one of your names, first or last name probably your last name. Although Bob’s design service I don’t know that sounds fun. I’m still stuck on this Bob thing from that book I’m reading the We are Bob.
Kaleigh: Everyone’s Bob.
Paul: Everyone’s Bob.
Kaleigh: I think that in summary neither of this are guaranteed to make you more money, so that is important to just keep in mind and it is always easy to trademark things. You can always change it too. I changed my business name, you changed your business name as what you’re doing evolves overtime you can evolve your business name too. Don’t get too stuck on it that is the big message.
Paul: Exactly. I think it cost me a $150 to change my corporate that I had for 18, 19 years.
Kaleigh: Yeah. It is not that bad.
Paul: Yeah. I think that is the point is that you just got to do what you think feels the best for you. If you are happy to use a business name you don’t want your name pitched or everything all over the internet then do it. If you are happy to use just your name as your business name do that too.
Kaleigh: Yeah, or experiment with both. See what works better for your business and what you are trying to do.
Paul: Yeah.Posted in Creative Class, the freelancer podcast · See more articles
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