For artists and creative professionals: Should I name my business after myself?

Image of a person unbuttoning a collared shirt that reveals the message “YOU!” underneath, reminiscent of Superman.

Illustration by Daniel!


Deciding how to brand your creativity isn’t easy.

A few weeks ago, I reconnected with an acquaintance whom I had briefly met several years before. At that time, we were both deep in the trenches of parenting infants, and our career goals were as far from our minds as they had ever been. I had no idea that in addition to being a mom, she was a fabulously talented hair stylist and makeup artist. She wasn’t aware that I was an artist and designer. So when we ran into each other again during an evening outing nearly five years later, we had lots to talk about.

The conversation began with a discussion about trading her hair styling for my web design services. Asheville, North Carolina, where we both live, is full of talented creatives on a budget, so the barter economy is alive and well here.

My new-old buddy–let’s call her Amalia Opal, which is not her name, but is illustrative of the devastating hipness of her real, given name–pulled up a photo on her phone to show me. It was an image she wanted to use as a touchstone for branding her business: a charming cartoonish graphic of a seated girl grooming her cascading mass of curly hair with a red comb. Amalia had also chosen a business name inspired by this image. Let’s call it “Red Comb Hair Design” for this case study.

With the help of a pint of local craft beer, what started out as a chat about the wonders of Squarespace for small businesses quickly became a conversation about branding strategy.

What follows is my (informed) opinion, not the professional advice of a marketing consultant. Nevertheless, this is the basic gist of what I told my friend Amalia, and what I want you to consider.

If you are any combination of…

  • An aspiring professional in a creative field, starting out serving a mostly local clientele,

  • A solopreneur for hire providing creative services to clients,

  • Frequently referred by word-of-mouth, perhaps even on social media by your friends or colleagues,

  • In possession of a good, neutral, or nonexistent local reputation,

  • Gifted with a name that isn’t a hindrance in itself*,

  • Building a clientele or audience via personal relationships that inspire loyalty to your talent,

  • And perhaps not afraid to take selfies for IG sometimes,

…Well then, you might NOT want to name your business something impersonal. 

Why? Because your audience might not remember it, despite your best efforts.

What they will remember is their experience with YOU.

To really decide if branding your name is right for you, you need to know your audience and potential clientele.

Who are they? How will they find you? And how does this affect your branding strategy?

When someone tags my friend in an “ISO Recommendations for a Wedding Stylist” post on Facebook, for instance, her Red Comb Hair website or business page is not what people will see. People who want to refer her are probably just going to tag Amalia Opal, the human.

And then when that bride is over the moon about her gorgeous updo and the wonderful service she received from Amalia, guess who she will remember to recommend to other people, what name she will place before exclamation points in her Google review? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t Red Comb Hair Design.

I experienced the same thing years ago when I was trying to get my studio art business, Quill & Anvil Designs, off the ground.

When the people in my social network suddenly discovered my artistic talent, primarily via Facebook and Instagram, displayed incredible loyalty right away to the “brand” that they knew: my name.

There was nothing I could do to extract my name from the referrals, much less to replace it with my carefully chosen business name and its associated web presence. I didn’t listen to the signals, and I kept being frustrated that I wasn’t building my brand, even as I was getting more leads than I could keep up with via social media.

In retrospect, I now understand that as soon as I Had Something, I should have purchased a domain that matched the name people already associated with me. If I had known then what I know now, I would have simply named my art after its creator, and allowed the Quill & Anvil Designs line to become a subsidiary of my primary brand: my name.

If you can start your public creative career by leveraging the power of your name intelligently, your business will begin its life on a foundation that is already built: your networks.

A few weeks after the night we spoke, I got a message from Amalia Opal. She had spent some time grappling with her attachment to this business name that she had come to associate with herself, but that she now understood her local, referral-based clientele would not as readily associate with her. She thanked me for my advice, and she told me that she had decided to use her name instead of (or at least ahead of) Red Comb Hair Design.

A relevant digression about social media: In general, Facebook and Instagram, as well as their users, treat business posts like spam. (Perhaps for good reason.) But they provide excellent platforms for referring leads to individual humans–they want to see what other people are saying about you more than what you are saying about yourself. And in the world of local, horizontal marketing, seeing multiple recommendations for the same person’s services is everything.

Now that Amalia has come around about her brand strategy, I will be able to easily recommend her to approximately nine gazillion people this year by simply tagging her on social media, or perhaps typing out the URL that I associate with her, a person with individual talent that I recognize.

For many people who provide creative services for a living, the best “product” you can offer your clients is YOU. Just you, the living representative of your talent.

Sometimes, everything else is subsidiary to your most powerful brand asset: your name.

Kindof liberating, kindof scary, but probably true in many instances.

Love,
Cooper


* Daniel, project director of LightPress, was a licensed massage therapist when he was a young thing. Being the naturally brilliant marketer that he is, he realized that his given last name, Boyles, was unlikely to garner confidence from potential massage clients, and in fact might cause them to associate him with contagious pestilence. On the other hand, his middle name, Vincent, sounds like a superhero alter-ego handle. So he decided to brand himself as “Daniel Vincent,” both on business cards and social media. Smart guy, that Daniel. I am proud to be his business partner.


If you would like more information on this topic, I recommend checking out this Forbes article by Pia Silva. This article on the Red Dot Blog elaborates on the specific case of branding strategy for studio artists. And finally, this article on the Entrepreneur blog discusses some of the arguments against associating your name with the brand of a larger company, marketing firm, or tech startup.