Download: MP3 (65.8 MB)

What’s in a name? Well when it comes to your business, a whole lot!

It may seem inconsequential, but your name bears with it a lot of implications. A personal name implies personal involvement. The nice thing is you have a great deal of flexibility, but it requires long-term participation. A business name may have less flexibility, but it can get you traction sooner and is much easier to sell later on if that’s what you’re planning.

Which is better? Which should you start with for your first business? What about your second business? Third?

I break this into two parts:
Part 1: Should I brand myself with my name or as a business?
Part 2: Should new projects be under a separate brand name?

I talk about transparency, your brand umbrella, and why you need to know your long term plan to make effective brand decisions right now.

Show Notes
  • 11:55 Sean: Should you use your personal name or business name?
  • 12:01 I’m going to break this up into two parts:
    • Part 1: Should I brand myself with my name or as a business?
    • Part 2: Should new projects be under a separate brand name?
  • Part 1: Should I brand myself with my name or as a business?
  • 12:38 I think the first question to ask is: Do you plan to remain a solopreneur? By solopreneur, I mean someone who is an entrepreneur that plans to run their business by themselves.
    • It’s important to note that it doesn’t mean you can’t outsource! It simply means that you want to remain a part of this business personally. Essentially, your goal isn’t to sell it or try to remove yourself as quickly as possible.
  • 13:45 Ben: “When you name something after yourself, you’re creating the expectation that what you produce has your personal touch.”
  • 13:53 Sean: If you’re going to present this business as you—with your personal name—then for the sake of honesty and transparency, you should be largely responsible for the content. When the brand is your name, you’re making it personal. You’re basically claiming that what you put out there is personal. You may not be saying it in so many words, but that’s the impression people are going to get when the brand is your name.
  • If you’re outsourcing content creation, then who is it really?

  • 14:28 If your goal is to remove yourself from the operational tasks of your business, then you’re probably better off going with a business name rather than your personal name.
  • 14:46 Ben: “Could your brand name have some variation or form of your personal name in it?”
  • 15:10 Sean: That’s a good question. I guess I’m lumping it together. Even though “seanwes” isn’t exactly my name, I’m still considering it a personal brand name.
  • 15:29 Ben: “Ok, you’re not thinking of that as a brand name that doesn’t have to do exclusively with Sean McCabe.”
  • 15:37 Sean: Yeah, like “Ampersand Lifestyle” or something like that.
  • 15:42 Ben: “If “Ampersand Lifestyle” was the name of your brand, then you could outsource some of the content creation over time, but you intend to be directly involved.”
  • 15:56 Sean: Yeah, it’s that intentionality. I mean it’s not to say that personally-branded business can’t ever be bigger or that you can’t ever remove yourself.
  • 16:16 Ben: “I was going to say, there are personally branded businesses that have transcended their founders. Like Disney, for example. You think about Walt Disney as the founder and you’re familiar with that story, but Disney is so much bigger than that now. It exists completely independently of the original owner.”
  • 16:55 Sean: I guess what I’m trying to get at is: Yes, a personal brand can transcend, it can evolve, but it’s something that requires a few things:
    • It’s going to require a TON of personal investment upfront.
    • You have to really be present.
    • You need to be there and be all this business.
    • You need to craft the story—one that’s really graspable by people and associated with you.
  • 17:27 It can grow beyond that, but there’s going to be this transition. It’s going be be a thing where people know where this came from, but they realize now it’s no longer you being involved. This can happen, but here’s what I’m trying to drive at: If you’re looking for an exit, if you’re looking to just build this to minimum viable product level and sell so you can quit it, I think you might be better served by branding with a business name.
  • 19:04 It’s also a lot harder to get traction with a personal brand name—at least in the beginning. In the long run, it can be a lot more powerful because of that story element, history and personal involvement, but it takes a really long time to get there. It depends on how long-term your vision is, which is why I’m saying if you are planning to quit sooner, you might be better served by a very straightforward business name.
  • 19:30 If this was called “The Creative Entrepreneur Business Podcast,” someone can see that name and immediately think, “Yep, that’s relevant to me. I want to click on that.” When it comes to “seanwes,” that means nothing to anyone who has never encountered me before. Now, if you’re invested personally and you’re willing to put in the effort, build up the story, and be involved in the long-term, then that can be a stronger connection with people.
  • 19:59 Ben: “Do you think it’s easier for a person who uses their own name to get their story across than it would be for someone using a business name? I guess what I’m asking is on the consumer side of things, would I more readily make the assumption that if a business is named after a person that there’s a story there?”
  • 20:28 Sean: Yeah, speaking for myself, I would be more inclined to hear a story or listen to a story or internalize a story from a person, because it’s natural.
  • People have stories.

    Businesses have origins. It’s a step removed. It’s a person behind a façade trying to humanize the inhuman.

  • 20:54 Ben: “They have to work a lot harder to connect their audience with an actual story than the individual does.”
  • 21:00 Sean: Right. It’s not impossible. People have mascots for their business and they try to make it personable and it’s not a right or wrong thing here. It’s just a matter of what your angle is, how long you plan to be involved, and to what level you plan to personally be involved.
  • Part 2: Should new projects be under a separate brand name?
  • 21:20 Sean: So say you have a new venture. Some new project that you’re working on. When should you bring this under the umbrella of your existing brand, and when is it better to create a whole new brand for that offering?
  • 22:12 Ben: “You mentioned Learn Lettering earlier, so I feel like there’s probably some kind of connection or thought there. When you were putting those courses together, I think it made obvious sense that you’d want to title that project based on the content because even though the connection to you was strong, the connection to what they wanted to get from you was stronger.”
  • 22:39 Sean: It’s weird rolling back the clock a little bit, because “seanwes” wasn’t much of a brand to start. It was basically the name under which I operated and it was what you would see on the contract when I did client work. It was my domain, but other than that it was just my business name. I didn’t really have much of a brand in the sense of what people perceived as being my business.
  • 24:05 Would I do it differently if I were to do it over? I don’t think I would have done it differently because I feel that it was better serving me to have something very straightforward where people didn’t have to know who “seanwes” was. They could just see “Learn Lettering” and immediately get what that was about.
  • 24:27 Meanwhile, I continued to build up the brand and what that meant to people. Eventually that gave me some clout so I can do something now under the seanwes moniker and have that actually mean something.
  • 26:20 There’s a new thing I’m working on. I haven’t disclosed the details to many people. I’ll keep it general and say it’s either a new product, service or subscription. It’s one of those three things and I’m keeping it vague right now. I’ll share more details in the coming months and next year, but it’s not so directly related to what the seanwes brand has evolved to mean now (which is “Make a living with your passion.”). So I’m leaning heavily towards having this new thing be a completely separate domain with a completely separate name.
  • 27:12 There’s a few reasons here. If you’re trying to decide between a personal name and business brand name, it’s really about:
    • How much do you want to be involved?
    • How long-term are you thinking?
    • Are you looking for an exit?
  • 27:28 Because people are going to be a lot more inclined to buy a business that has either a generic, general, abstract, or even a specific name as opposed to buying something that is a personal name. That’s harder to sell when the person whose name is on the business is removed. Because you’re basically, not explicitly but implicitly, saying that you are personally involved—at least that’s the assumption people are going to have when they initially encounter this brand.
  • The nice thing about having a personal name for your brand is it leaves room for evolvement.

  • 28:51 For me, I started out doing hand lettering so people associated seanwes with hand lettering. But as I moved on to other things, the brand evolved with that. It evolves with your output because it’s almost like a living, breathing person. It’s just like your name as a person. To other people, what you’re about is determined by whatever you’re projecting. Whatever they hear you talk about all the time determines how they categorize you. That’s what your name, your brand, means to them.
  • 29:33 Ben: “I think that can be true for a business name if it’s not too industry-specific.”
  • 29:41 Sean: That’s true. Learn Lettering could never be non-lettering related.
  • 29:46 Ben: “Exactly. This is been a really curious thing for me as I watch companies who are involved in specific markets do really well and then end up doing something new that doesn’t have anything to do with the original thing. I’m often surprised by that, but at the same time it makes sense. As a growing business, you have to get into a lot of different industries just to keep the main thing going. As you do that, you pick up new tools and you learn new things. The landscape changes and what was profitable yesterday that really allowed your business to grow and thrive may not be the most profitable thing to do now. But you’ve gained new expertise you can use to move in a different direction.
  • 30:37 “So I think that can happen if the business name is more abstract, but certainly you do have that freedom already built in to a personal brand name.”
  • 30:59 Sean: Again, it’s long-term versus short-term. You’re going to get really quick traction if you have a super-specific business name. People know immediately what you’re about. They know immediately if you’re for them and if you’re what they’re looking for. That’s a nice entrance point and you get traction a lot faster, but you can’t really expand it.
  • 33:02 Some people probably remember me mentioning earlier in the podcast that I had a video showing the Community called Recharge which is now defunct. I decided after talking with the Community members that I would start publishing videos publicly. This has now finally culminated in the launch of my daily video show, seanwes tv. But originally, it was called Recharge. Why change? Why am I now going with seanwes tv? Well, I believe that it is further enhancing the value and meaning of seanwes.
  • 33:52 I think in this case, because the topics I’m going to talk about on the video show are the same things that we talk about in the podcast, the same things we value in the Community, it’s all the same content, it’s just a different medium. Just like with the podcast, I could have called it “Ampersand Lifestyle” or some silly business name, but I decided to go with seanwes podcast. I think in the long term, I’m going to be really happy that I did that. True, it does require that I remain personally involved (for instance, I could never say outsource my voice or have someone else do the podcast). But it also means that the show and whatever I do under the seanwes moniker can be whatever it is.
  • 37:24 I was always afraid of that. We started out talking about design professionalism and client work and products within the design industry and business as it relates to that. But I realized a lot of the things surrounding that play a part. Things like getting work done and being productive. Asking the deeper questions:
    • “Why are you productive?”
    • Because you want to do work.
    • “Why do you want to do work?”
    • Because you want to make money.
    • “Why do you want to make money?”
  • 37:58 We talk about what matters and we get into the value side of things. There’s just a lot more all of it and the show continues to evolve. I talk about products, I talk about client work, I talk about teaching, speaking, writing—there’s a lot of things! I feel like there’s this natural evolvement. It’s a story arc. It’s kind of following my journey and the things that I get into. It’s like TV characters. You get to know the person and what makes them tick and it’s fun to tune in and see how their unique quirks, and characteristics, and values play out in certain situations.
  • 38:37 Ben: “Yeah! I’m so big on stories. The times that I’ve been most riveted by a podcast is not always necessarily when they have great, valuable, life-changing things to share—which people have certainly said that we do—but I feel like another thing that really just grabs my attention and pulls me along for the ride is the telling of a story over time. What’s had me to binge listen is getting to see that story unfold and even hearing some of the tension in the circumstances they find themselves in.”
  • 41:24 Sean: Do you feel like we answered the question of whether a new thing should be under your current brand umbrella?
  • 41:33 Ben: “Yeah, I feel like we did.”
  • 41:35 Sean: For instance, the seanwes Community—why not call that The Entrepreneur’s Guild or whatever? I certainly have and it would be fine, but I believe that it it all works to further enhance and increase the value of the seanwes moniker. Part of it is I’m committing to be personally involved there. It’s the seanwes Community. The implication is that Sean is going to be there. It’s not just this standalone where there’s some moderators but there’s no expectation for Sean himself to be there or for him to help you out.
  • 42:29 Ben: “Let me give you an example from my own personal experiences. Rachel and I are working on something called Crash Test Parents, and we don’t really have an established name brand yet. We would like for that community group to grow and not depend on our direct involvement. We would like for the spirit of that parenting community to hold a certain value set. Certainly we’ll have to work hard to be very involved in the beginning to establish that. But once that’s established, we don’t want it to be absolutely necessary for us to be fully involved.”
  • 43:37 Sean: It is difficult. Not that it’s impossible. But companies naturally evolve. The culture naturally evolves. Especially as a company or community gets bigger, there’s more people and there’s more diversity in the culture—the culture is a living, breathing thing. So you may have certain values or culture-related guidelines in the beginning, but it’s going to evolve. When the person who put those initial rules in place is removed, it’s going to be more inclined to evolve both based on the culture of the new people coming in as well as the people who are left in charge. That’s going happen no matter what. It’s going to happen either way. That’s not to say you can’t ever have anything lasting, but by having it be your own name, even if that grows or transcends to be something beyond you, the name’s on the door. There’s a reminder of the original person and what they stood for. In that instance, it almost then always has to be a conscious, ongoing decision not to do whatever they stood for originally. They have a little bit more ability to have a lasting nature to whatever goals, or vision, or values they imparted.
  • There’s something about having your name on the door.

  • 44:59 Ben: “I’m wondering how that works with Disney. Because you know there’s that statue of Walt with Mickey. I don’t know anything about the decisions the company makes now, but for instance if they’re making decisions that would fall outside of his values, I wonder if the people in charge look at that statute and feel the pinch of guilt.”
  • 45:35 Sean: I believe they would with Disney to a greater degree than they would with Apple and Steve Jobs. Even with as much of heart and soul Steve Jobs was to that company, the company is Apple. The company has to move on. The company has to evolve. The company has to put out big, huge phones that Steve said they would never do. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a lasting impact or legacy because he certainly does, but there’s something about having your name on the door.
  • What if I die?
  • 46:20 Sean: Is there something morbid about being a part of a community with someone’s name on it who is now deceased? Should I wish for something like the seanwes community to at that point give itself a new name and continue with the vision I had for it? The collaboration, and the relationships, and the building, and the entrepreneurial spirit, and the focus on values—should I just encourage that to be under a new name? I know this is super morbid, but I was just thinking about it. Do you have any thoughts?
  • 47:26 Ben: “I wonder… maybe a question you would ask…”
  • 47:31 Sean (Interrupting): I’m about to turn 26 next month. Is this where people start thinking about legacy or am I just ahead?
  • 47:39 Ben: “You’re about to turn 26?”
  • 47:41 Sean: Yeah. It’s like over the hill or something.
  • 47:42 Ben: “This is when people start thinking about not partying every night of the week.”
  • 47:47 Sean: So I’m ok?
  • 47:48 Ben: “Yeah.”
  • 47:49 Sean: Alright, what were you going to say?
  • 47:50 Ben: “I was going to say, you might want to ask, ‘Has the brand transcended my name yet?’ I don’t know. If you’re personally involved and suddenly you’re removed, because of the level of your involvement I think that the community could continue operating but it would find it difficult to do so. The hard part is your personal involvement.”
  • 48:30 Sean: Is it because there’s that promise? Even if it’s not an explicit promise, there’s the promise that I will be there personally because it’s my name. If I was suddenly gone and I’m no longer there… is that the downside of having a personal brand? Because if it was just some abstract business name, I’m assuming that it could go on easier.
  • 48:53 Ben: “Yeah, if it was some abstract business name and there wasn’t the inherent promise of the value you provide by being present, then the community or whatever was associated with your brand would find it easier to continue.”
  • 49:55 Sean: This is good stuff to think about and consider, but ultimately I’m not going to live my life for being dead. I’m going to operate now to the best of my abilities and in the way that allows me to provide the greatest value to people while I’m alive. If that continues on, I think it would be as a result of my focus on now and being alive.
  • 50:26 Ben: “Yeah, and it ripples outside of the seanwes brand. If you’re asking the question from an ongoing business profitability standpoint, that’s one thing. But in terms of legacy, I think you established that line of thinking in people well enough that will continue. Whether your brand goes with that or not isn’t as important.”
  • Questions
  • 51:55 Sean: Question from Cory:
    • “Does developing a personal brand require having a business?”
  • 52:20 I think he’s talking about having a brand without having a business. In a way, everyone has a brand. You have a brand on your personal Facebook profile that’s determined by the things that you talk about. It’s determined by what you share, the photos that you take, and what you post.
  • 53:13 I think it’s worth mentioning here that just because we are in a digital world and we’re in the Internet space, branding your personal brand is not limited to the Internet. It’s not limited to Facebook, or your website, or your products. Brands pervade everything. Everyone has a brand. We all know that guy who all he talks about is working out and protein and supplements and all that. That’s effectively his brand. We know the guy that’s all about real estate and the guy that’s all about his pyramid marketing scheme who’s trying to make it really sound like he wants to be your buddy. Those are peoples’ brands.
  • A brand is really someone’s perception of you, and you’re either purposefully shaping that or you’re not.

  • Conclusion
  • 56:55 Sean: The bottom line is, decide if you want to be an integral part of your business for the indefinite future. If so, go with a personal name for your brand, it’s only going to help you.
    • It’s something that’s personable. It’s going to have a greater story element. You’re going to be there. You’re committing to stick around and be involved for long-haul. That can end up helping you. It leaves room for evolvement, and it gives greater weight to your personal name. So whatever else you do carries that weight. It helps you kickstart the next thing. You’ve got a springboard.
  • 57:33 If you want to grow and eventually distance yourself from the operations, then go with a business name.
  • 57:41 The important part is that you’re being transparent. Don’t use a business name for the sake of hiding behind it and acting like you’re a large company when it’s just you. Transparency is crucial. Be real and be who you are. If you want to go with a business name, that’s fine, but don’t be dishonest about how large your company is.
  • 1:03:57 Lastly, don’t split off your other ventures unnecessarily. If it’s categorically relevant, keep it under the same brand name. You don’t need to keep splitting off unless you have completely different offerings. If you have a design business and a music business, sure, have different brands for that, but otherwise keep everything under one roof and you’re going to help out your top-level brand.