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Freelancers: Should You Show Up as You or a Company?

Thanks for our friends at Mt Freelance for sponsoring this blog! Written by Andrew Dickson. Artwork by Mt. Freelance

What to call your design business is one of the biggest questions freelance designers face.

As a designer you are running a business, whether you have an LLC that clients write checks out to or not.

But you are also a person who designs, and your reputation is likely tied to your first and last name. (Unless you’re so famous people only refer to you by one of them.)


Does it make sense to create a name for your design business?

And buy a corresponding domain name and get or switch your social accounts so you appear to prospective clients as a business?

Or does it make more sense to do business in your own name?

And appear to clients as a freelance designer, illustrator, motion designer, UX designer, art director, or some combination thereof, for hire?

Like all great questions the answer is… it depends.

My copywriting portfolio website is my name, Andrew Dickson. I have an LLC but only use it for billing. Whereas Aaron James, whom I partner with most frequently, uses the company name Math Dept for his art and creative direction services.

Let’s walk through some key considerations that will help you determine the best strategy for you.

Branding yourself as a business is really smart if you are (or plan on) hiring collaborators for projects, and will be the primary point of contact for clients and run everyone’s pay through you.

When a client hires another business, they typically expect to pay for a team. So this route gives you the option to scale the capabilities you offer.

It’s much harder to convince a client you need to bring on help if you are an individual contractor. If you’re a freelance designer your client will appreciate the referral for a strategist, or copywriter, but will likely want to hire your collaborators directly.

When clients hire a person, they are assigning financial value to what that one person brings to the table over a given amount of time. It’s a line item in their budget.

Being a company gives the impression of being a larger organization, even if it’s just you or you and a partner most of the time.

When clients hire a company they typically expect delivery on multiple deliverables and services. So they anticipate paying for multiple team members, not to mention an agency or studio fee to cover overhead, non-billable hours and generate profit.

Being a company can also make you a more attractive partner when you’re working directly with brands. They may have a hiring freeze on contractors, but are still able to hire companies for bigger initiatives,

And some brands can only hire vendors without a lot of extra red tape, so you need to have an LLC or S Corp status in order to even get hired.

So why would anyone show up as themselves?

For starters, agencies and studios are often more comfortable hiring freelance individuals to work on their client projects versus a company. It’s one thing to hire a designer to help, but when they hire another design studio, it can feel like they are outsourcing the entire project.

After all, most agencies and studios are hired on the strength of their in-house creative capabilities and reputation.

It’s not uncommon for agencies to ask freelancers not to mention their employment status or even ask that you imply that you’re full-time when you interact with their client. Especially if the agency has a great reputation in regards to the quality of the service you are providing.

Creative agencies are typically comfortable hiring a company for services like production, media buying or even illustration, but less so for anything clients expect the agency to provide in-house. Like design and art direction.

If their clients know most of the work is being done by another firm, why not just hire the other firm directly and pay a lower fee?

So when designers brand themselves as companies, there is a potential for agencies, and other design firms to view you as a conflict to their best interests, or even direct or future competition.

So if you anticipate most of your work coming from clients who have their own clients, being yourself makes you less threatening as competition and more hirable as a collaborator.

Another reason to show up as yourself is if you’ve made a name for yourself in regards to work.

Some clients don’t want a company, they want what a specific creative person can bring to the table.

Think about a legendary package designer who is for hire, versus a legendary package designer who has a company with other designers plus account folks and a studio manager and so forth.

When you hire that great designer directly, you know you are going to get their work. When you hire their company you might get their work, but potentially you’ll get someone else’s work, maybe directed by the great designer, or maybe not. Either way you’ll be paying more because the designer has a staff, overhead and all the related business expenses.

Or put another way, when clients hire a firm or studio they may wonder if they are getting the A team or the B team. Especially if there is senior and junior level talent on staff. Going into business as yourself gives your clients the confidence that they are hiring you and getting your work.

So two routes to go. My advice?

Think about the jobs you want.

Think about the clients you want to work with.

Think about the scope of the projects you get excited about.

Are you looking to slot in and provide your design expertise? Or take on bigger projects which you’ll need to hire on other folks to execute?

If you’re torn, one way to hedge your bets is to create two separate sites. One for you, the other for your company.

This is especially useful for folks who are consistently working in two capacities. You could, for instance, create a design studio with a branded name and website with a roster of people (who are actually fellow freelancers) that you engage for bigger projects, while remaining you for illustration work. And send out links according to client wants and needs.

The last thing to remember is that while building your brand and reputation takes time and work, you aren’t stuck with your decision for life.

If you decide to evolve from your own name to a studio, most of your current clients aren’t going to be that concerned. If you have a good working relationship they probably aren’t even looking at your website before they hire you. They’re just contacting you.

And if you decide to go the other way, and shed your company name and put your shingle out in your own name, clients aren’t going to mind. They might even be more excited to hire you.

Okay. If you have any questions or want to share what you decided for your freelance design career, feel free to share in the comments.

Andrew Dickson is a freelance copywriter and creative consultant who works with brands like Apple and adidas. He’s also the co-founder of Mt. Freelance along with Aaron James. This is an adapted excerpt from their new digital playbook All the Work You Want - The Freelancer’s Playbook for Landing Dream Clients.

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