29 – Should I Use My Own Name or a Business Name?
Should I Use My Own Name or a Business Name?

Nikki and Laura tackle a question that comes up for many artists and other creative entrepreneurs when they start their business – whether you should use your own name or a business name for your brand. In this episode, they discuss pros and cons of each option and share their own answers to the question.

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Topics discussed

  • What did Laura choose? (1:00)
  • Which way did Nikki go? (1:12)
  • Examples of people who use their own names (1:52)
  • Examples of business brand names (2:23)
  • Pros of using your personal name (3:13)
  • Cons of using your own name (4:45)
  • Pros of using a business name (7:35)
  • Cons of a business name (8:39)
  • Using a combo of both (10:09)

People/Businesses Mentioned

Laura

0:01
In today’s episode, Nikki and I are going to tackle the big question of whether you should use your own name or come up with a separate business name for your brand.

Nikki

0:12
I hear this question come up all the time when I’m talking to people about starting their entrepreneurial journey, and it’s a really good one. So let’s dig in.

Laura

0:26
Hi, this is Laura.

Nikki

0:27
And this is Nikki, with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:36
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:50
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours. So Laura, when you started your business, which way did you go?

Laura

1:00
I debated this one, but I actually used Laura Lee Griffin Designs as my business name and lauraleegriffin.com as my domain name. How about you, Nikki?

Nikki

1:12
Well, I’ve actually gone back and forth on this topic a few times. When I first started doing freelance design work way back in the 90s, I used the name Blue Frog Designs for my design work and my own name for my art.

Laura

1:26
And did you illustrate a cute little blue frog for your logo?

Nikki

1:29
Well, of course I did. And I’ll share the variety of blue frogs I used in my logo over the years before I decided to stop hiding behind the name and just be my own brand.

Laura

1:40
So I think we should discuss the pros and cons of each approach.

Nikki

1:45
Okay, so first, let’s think of a few examples of people we know or know of that are doing each.

Laura

1:52
Okay.

Nikki

1:52
And I know people who are using their own names as their brands – I can think of Emily Jeffords, who we’ve mentioned before and Bonnie Christine – and Bonnie Christine is her actually her first and middle name. Lisa Congdon, Jenna Rainey and Dick Blick, which is, you know, a national art supply store that’s huge in this country. And I didn’t even realize it, but it’s the guy’s name.

Laura

2:23
Right. And when it comes to business brands, there are brands like Gingiber, which is run by Stacie Bloomfield, who we’ve had on the podcast, Bee Sew Inspired, which is Jennifer Long’s brand that is a play on words, because it’s Bee Sew S-E-W. And she does incredible doll patterns and quilting patterns. Sketch Design Repeat, which is a brand by Shannon McNab, Willowing, which is a brand by Tamara Laporte, for all of her art classes, Pigeon Letters by Peggy Dean and August Wren, which is the brand by Jennifer Orkin Lewis. Alright, so let’s get into the pros and cons.

Nikki

3:06
Okay, so let’s start with using your personal name as your brand name.

Laura

3:12
Alright.

Nikki

3:13
And the first pro that I can think of is, you’re really the face of your business.

Laura

3:19
Yes.

Nikki

3:20
And especially if you’re an artist, a musician or writer, your business is really just what you create, so it totally makes sense that you’d want your name to be front and center.

Laura

3:33
And it makes it feel easier for your clients, your customers, your followers to feel connected to you when it’s your personal name. It used to be that people wanted to work with a big company. So you might even use the word we in all of your website descriptions and your about page.

Nikki

3:49
Guilty.

Laura

3:52
But these days, especially with social media, people want to work with someone that they feel they know and trust. So using your own name can really help with this.

Nikki

4:01
And along these lines, if you’ve already been working as an artist or a writer, or whatever it is you do, but you haven’t really been thinking of it as a separate business, you can capitalize on the name recognition you might already have. So if you’re an artist and you’ve shown your work locally in galleries, but you want to grow it into an online brand, it may be helpful to expand on your small following by using your name as your brand name.

Laura

4:29
And if you have a really unique name, it can help people find you in Google searches, like Lisa Congdon, Brene Brown, Jenna Kutcher, Marie Forleo. Those are just a few of them that I think would be at the top of the search engine results.

Nikki

4:44
Right.

Laura

4:45
So Nikki, what are some of the cons of using your own name?

Nikki

4:49
Well, when you are using your own name, you’re really putting yourself out there as yourself. There’s no layer of that business to put between you and the world? You know, it’s it’s hard to know where your brand ends and your personal identity begins, like how much of your personal life do you share? Where are the boundaries?

Laura

5:11
And if you have a common name, it can be difficult to get your domain name. I know you were lucky Nikki, because you were able to get your domain name for Nikki May a long time ago.

Nikki

5:22
Well, yeah, that’s because I got online back when the dinosaurs were carving HTML into stone tablets.

Laura

5:30
Yeah, I wasn’t as lucky, I had to use my middle name for lauraleegriffin.com because there’s a best selling author named Laura Griffin. And it can also be the same with social media handles, I actually wasn’t able to get lauraleegriffin across all the platforms.

Nikki

5:47
And when I started with social media, it was really just for personal stuff. And so I used nikkidale, which is my first and middle name. But when I decided a few years later, to get more serious about using social media for my business, I changed them all to nikkimayart because nikkimay wasn’t available. Another thing to think about is, what will you do if you change your name? If, like me, you get married and change your name, and then divorced and change your name back? So what do you do if you want to change your personal name? Will you change your business name? Or will you keep the original name that you started with as your professional name?

Laura

6:28
It could limit your ability to change and grow as well. Or at least it might be a bit awkward. What if you want to grow larger and incorporate more artists or a whole team into your brand, or you might want to sell your business later. But you don’t want to sell your own name.

Nikki

6:46
You absolutely do not want to sell your own name. So another thing is rejection, lack of sales, negative feedback – all of these things can feel a lot more personal if you’re using your personal name as your business name.

Laura

7:04
Yeah, yeah, it can definitely hit you a little bit harder when it’s your own name. And if you have a name that’s difficult to pronounce or spell, it can be a challenge. For example, if your audience is in a different country, and/or speaks a different language than your own, the spelling of your name could be difficult for your audience to remember and to pronounce.

Nikki

7:25
For sure. Okay, so that was a lot of things to think about and choosing to use your own name as your brand. Let’s get into the pros and cons of using a business name.

Laura

7:35
Okay.

Nikki

7:35
So first, let’s talk about the pros. One good thing is it can make your business seem bigger, which can imply more professional experience.

Laura

7:45
Yeah, it also makes it easier to grow into a larger team or agency and to sell your business, when we said, when you had a personal brand, you didn’t want to sell your name. But if you have a generic name, it’s much easier to go ahead and sell that business later.

Nikki

7:58
For sure. So it can also help explain what you do sometimes. Think of the They Draw brand. They have They Draw and Cook, They Draw and Travel, They Draw and Garden. And then they have their other brand which is Illustrators For Hire.

Laura

8:16
Right.

Nikki

8:17
You can’t get any more clear than those right.

Laura

8:22
But they don’t actually have to be so literal. And they can still be memorable, like Pigeon Letters, Ruby Star Society for a fabric company, August Wren, who is a fabulous Illustrator. So let’s talk about some of the business name cons.

Nikki

8:39
Okay, so, in some cases, a descriptive name, which makes it easy to explain what you do, can be really easy to forget, or it can be too similar to many others. So while they might be super descriptive, they might also be the exact same wording as other brands are using for their keywords for search engine optimization. So you won’t necessarily come up first in the search results, even if you’re using your brand name.

Nikki

8:46
Right, you might be on page three or four people instead of the first page.

Nikki

9:10
Nobody wants that.

Laura

9:13
It can potentially see more impersonal as well, since you’re not technically the brand, and it adds a distance between you and your audience that you may not want.

Nikki

9:22
And some names can limit your growth. For example, geographical names may hinder your ability to move and change locations. And adding your product to your name can be confusing if you change your focus or add more products.

Laura

9:37
Yeah, and I know personally that’s a concern for me, because I like doing a lot of different things. So I feel like if I have something very specific in my name about what I’m doing, but I do three other things, it’ll be confusing to people.

Nikki

9:50
Right, right, for sure. So one other thing to make sure that you consider – do a Google search and even a trademark search for the name that you want to use. You absolutely don’t want to end up choosing a name that someone else is going to come after you for.

Laura

10:09
Yeah, for sure. But Nikki, I think you can also combine personal and business to a degree, right?

Nikki

10:17
Absolutely. So my, quote, umbrella brand is Nikki D. May Art and Design. And that encompasses, somehow that encompasses everything I do. But I’m also working on a new project/product that is going to have its own name, and I’ve talked about it before, but it’s called Make Art Not Websites, which is a very descriptive name.

Laura

10:41
It is.

Nikki

10:43
Yes, I may or may not be thinking about the possibility of selling it somewhere down the line.

Laura

10:49
Right.

Nikki

10:50
I’m also working on the line of products that will just be branded as Nikki.

Laura

10:55
Yeah, I can think of some famous entrepreneurs like Marie Forleo, who has her personal name as her main brand. But like you were saying, There’s, it’s an umbrella brand. So underneath that, she has like huge products like Marie TV, B School, The Copy Cure, those all fall under that umbrella brand.

Nikki

11:16
Right. And you can change your mind, you aren’t stuck with one or the other. Like I said earlier, I started under the business name, Blue Frog Designs. And then I moved to my personal brand with my own name. And now I’m splitting part of my business off into another name.

Laura

11:31
And I know Shannon McNab, who we’ve had on the podcast, split the education part of her business off into her new brand Sketch Design Repeat, which began as the name of her Facebook group. And for example, there are some other famous artists that have shifted their brand names. So for example, there was a brand called Paper Fashion, which was the Instagram handle for Katie Rodgers two years ago, right. And she built this massive following painting her shadow dancers under that recognizable brand name. Then a year or two ago, she decided to rebrand as her own name. And she’s still doing amazing things, and her business didn’t die because of a simple name change. But that’s an example where you can make those decisions to change later.

Nikki

12:19
Okay, Laura, we’ve given a lot of examples. But what are our takeaways from this discussion?

Laura

12:25
Well, first of all, let’s just point out that ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you choose. I mean, there’s no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of personal choice. There are plenty of successful creative entrepreneurs that have made both options work.

Nikki

12:40
And whichever one you choose, know that it doesn’t have to be forever. Unlike the HTML I learned from the dinosaurs, this isn’t written in stone. If it makes sense down the line, as your business grows and changes, you can change your name at any point.

Laura

12:57
Now it’s your turn. We’d love to hear what you’ve chosen as your business name and whether you went personal or a business brand and what went into that decision. Or if you’re looking for feedback on names for your future business, Nikki will be happy to just tell you what to do.

Nikki

13:13
Okay, Laura, we all know I’m opinionated. But as the key chain a friend of mine bought me years ago says, “I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas.”

Laura

13:25
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave us a five star rating and review. Reviews help us reach more Startists like you and keep us inspired to continue creating new episodes.

Nikki

13:38
For today’s show notes, go to startistsociety.com/nameyourbusiness. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week. Oh my god, Laura. I didn’t say bourbon in this episode.

Laura

13:51
You didn’t.

Nikki

13:52
Let me drink some to make up for it.

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