Flanigan, Simmons, and Cain are all freelance writers whose business name is different from their own. Should you do the same?
Ask yourself why you want a different business name
“Sometimes you don’t want colleagues to know you’re doing this, or you have other privacy concerns,” said Mariam Tsaturyan, an attorney for entrepreneurs and online creatives.
Tsaturyan sees a few other common reasons as well: “If their [freelance] business grows to a point where they want to sell it, it’s easier to sell with a different name. And, they may just have a really cool name idea that they want to trademark and use to set themselves apart.”
However, according to Ed Gandia, a former freelancer who became a business coach for writers at High Income Business Writing, the decision to name your business might send the message that you’re insecure.
“[Many writers] want to seem more professional or appear to be a larger company,” Gandia said. “Most clients hiring copywriters want to work with an individual, a person. If they were looking for a company, they’d [hire] an agency.”
While a business name may not influence enterprise clients, Gandia has seen it make an impact on local businesses with smaller marketing budgets. If they need you to launch a blog or refresh a website, having a name that makes you appear more like a company may be beneficial
However, Gandia said that it does make sense to give your business a different name “if you know from day one you’re going to create an agency.”
Yet, on a personal level, creating a business name may help you “feel” more professional, and that might be enough to buoy you during tough times. As Simmons put it, “I did it for marketing and for mindset.”
You can always rebrand
If you move forward using your own name but shift your business focus, it’s not difficult to rebrand. Gandia used to call his business Ed Gandia Copywriting when that was his niche. Now, although his business is still known widely as Ed Gandia, he coaches writers on how to improve their businesses. He rebranded as High Income Business Writing, which is also the name of his podcast.
Elna Cain started out the opposite way. She opened Innovative Ink and the freelance writing world in 2014 when on maternity leave from her job as a special education teacher. She chose the name to appear more professional.
With a background in psychology but no journalism experience, Cain started off writing for pennies on marketplace sites like Guru and Elance (now Upwork), before realizing that type of work wasn’t sustainable.
She decided to develop her brand with a full-court press. She posted articles on her website and wrote guest posts on sites like Social Media Today and Psych Central for free just to get her name out. “That opened the door,” she said. “People began coming to my Innovative Ink site [where they could fill out a form] to hire me.”
Soon Cain was writing for small businesses—dentists, wedding planners, boutiques. She went from $5 a post to $150 a post at first. Her starting rate is now $1,000 because she’s working with bigger brands. She recently did an online winter campaign for Walmart, which found her through one of her guest posts.
At the same time, Cain also was writing about her own career trajectory as a mom to young twins now working from home and earning good money on sites like Blogging Wizard. Soon, writers were coming to her asking for freelancing advice.
These more personal blogs signaled a shift in her mind in terms of tasks. She decided to brand another site, elnacain.com, where she could offer consulting to freelance writers. Innovative Ink is reserved for bringing in business clients asking for her services.
What’s in a name, legally?
As far as legal implications, there’s no advantage or disadvantage to using your own name versus a creative name. The name won’t affect your business status whether you’re a sole proprietor, corporation, or LLC.
However, you do want to be aware of trademarking when giving your business a different name. Legally, that will require filling out paperwork and paying fees.
The first thing to do is find out if anyone else already has the name you’ve chosen. “Don’t fall in love with your name until you know it can be your name,” cautioned Chas Rampenthal, who was LegalZoom’s general counsel for 16 years before becoming segment leader of LegalZoom’s attorney-assisted services.
Start with your own broad search online for the name or similar names. Your state will also have a list of business names in use. For example, in New York State, go to the searchable business entity database under the Department of State Division of Corporations.
However, you’ll likely need to dig deeper. “There are rules about calling yourself something that is deemed offensive, illegal, or misleading,” Rampenthal said.
When it comes to registering your name as a trademark, it may be worth your while to hire an attorney or legal aid service specializing in trademark law because you’ll have to pay for a comprehensive search as well as the trademark registration.
“At a minimum, expect to pay about $500 for a search to let you know if it’s a good idea,” Tsaturyan said. “Then at the least another $500 to $600 for the actual registration. Then there are filing fees from the government. Expect to spend overall, $1,000 to $1,200 at the low end.”
Try a DBA: Doing Business As
You don’t have to be a “company” to have a name. You can choose what’s known as a fictitious name, or a “DBA”—Doing Business As. That’s what Flanigan did when she chose The Kinetic Pen. Once she discovered that the name was available, all she had to do was fill out paperwork. (Check with your county, city, and state for the filing rules regarding DBAs.)
If you don’t legally file a DBA and just call your business something other than your name, you may run into trouble. “If you need to sue someone for payment, for example, they may not believe your business exists, and you may have trouble filing a lawsuit, since that is not a legally-recognized business name,” Rampenthal said.
There’s no telling whether creating a separate business name is going to bring you more income. Ultimately, you need to choose something that aligns with your career goals and follow through as a credible and trustworthy professional—one who lives up to their name.
For nearly a decade, Stacey Freed was a senior editor at Remodeling magazine. Since 2013 she has been writing for national trade and consumer publications, content providers and marketing firms. Her writing is regularly featured in Better Homes and Gardens and USA Today special interest publications; Realtor magazine; Professional Builder and online at OneZero; Forbes.com; AARP; House Logic, Sears, and Trulia.
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