I’m planning to launch my own firm this year. I’m confident that I have the skills to attract the right caliber of client and execute their projects, and I’ve thought about how I’ll finance the business in the early days when money is tight. But there’s one thing that keeps tripping me up: a name.
I’ve worked for a well-known designer for several years and have contacts in the industry, but I certainly wouldn’t say I have name recognition yet. When I take a survey of industry firms, there’s a healthy mix of designers who put their own name on their business and those who come up with a new name. What are the pros and cons of each approach, and how can I decide what’s the right route for me?
Congratulations on taking the leap and starting your own firm. Although my focus is on what story your business will tell (as opposed to your art), I can say that what you decide to name your firm will matter only if you ask it to matter.
Here is an example: Meathead Movers. Without knowing anything else about the company that brothers Aaron and Evan Steed founded, you might assume that they are running a, well, less-than-high-end moving company. But you would be wrong! I had the opportunity to hear Aaron speak recently and was surprised to discover that Meathead is the largest independent moving company in California, averaging more than 17,000 moves per year, and that it typically charges 15 percent more than its competition. Meathead spends countless hours working on delivering a superior customer relationship and shattering metrics of what a successful moving company looks like—largely because they are solving a different problem. Like Zappos, their mission is to spend as much time as they can with the client, developing a relationship that gives them permission to deliver on their outrageous promise to care about a family’s possessions as if they were a member of the family.
So, rather than deliberate about the name of your firm, ask yourself this: What is it going to mean? What promises are you going to make to your clients, to your production partners, and to yourself? Delivering superior design and an excellent client experience are the price of admission for being a designer—in other words, a given. You cannot expect me to choose your business based on that alone.
Presuming there is a toss-up between your name and a new name, have a little fun. Write 10 statements about your business where the opposite can be equally true for someone else. For example, “I only do blue design” might be true for you, but another designer might never do blue design. In calling out that you only do blue design, you have made a statement about what you care about. If instead you make a statement where the opposite cannot be true, you have told me nothing. Take, for instance, “We promise an easy, stress-free experience.” Can any designer promise a tortured, awful experience and expect to be hired?
Go as far as you can in your 10 statements to outline what you will really care about. Then ask yourself which name will make it easiest for you to tell the story of why those values matter to you.
Back to Meathead Movers. Aaron and his brother were student athletes and found joy in using their physicality to help people manage a stressful situation. This gives Meathead’s name a meaningful brand story, even if an unexpected one.
When you give the name meaning, even if it is your own, the world will come to you, instead of the other way around. Best of luck on your new adventure.
Sean Low is the the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.
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