Freelancers: is it “me” or is it “we”?

Stand out with the right positioningThere are lots of important decisions to be made when going freelance. Like what sort of office chair to buy. And what to put on your business cards.

One of the trickier ones is working out how to position yourself. Do you want to be totally upfront that it’s just you on your own, or would you rather project the air of a slightly larger business?

At its simplest, this comes down to whether you talk about “me” or “we”.

So, for instance if you’ve decided to go down the route of personal branding – you are the business and you’re happy to admit it – you’d probably trade under your own name and have an “about me” page on your website.

Alternatively, if you’ve decided you want to be a little more vague about the people working in your business, you’ll have to think up a name for the company and call the equivalent page on your website “about us”.

Neither of these is the right or wrong approach. Plenty of people take the “me” route and lots go down the “we” road –  I haven’t noticed either approach resulting in noticeably more successful businesses. So in some respects, it doesn’t really matter which you choose.

But in others, it does. And if you’re starting out, it’s worth taking a bit of time working out which is right for you. It makes those other important decisions – like what to put on your business cards and website – a whole lot easier.

As you’ll have noticed, I picked the “me” option. This is why:

  • I don’t have any intention of employing people. I’ve consciously decided I don’t want to bring more people into the business. Should I reach the stage where there’s more work than I can handle, I’ll look to other (carefully chosen) freelancers.
  • I’ve decided to sell my skills and experience. On this site and when I talk to prospective clients, I try to explain what it is that I can offer them. It’s about how my particular experience and abilities are useful to them – and that means I have to talk about me.
  • I want clients who I like and who like me. While I can maintain a good working relationship just about anyone, the clients I get a real buzz out of working with are the ones I get on with best. It’s easier to build this sort of partnership when I’m open about who I am from the start.
  • My name was already out there. I’ve been working in this business for a while and have had a blog or website for several years. That gave me the beginnings of a profile – online and offline. Why waste that by starting from scratch under another name?
  • I wanted to be completely honest with potential clients. The thing about being a one-person “we” is that you have to explain it’s just you at some point. That’s not to say this is a difficult thing to do – I just feel more comfortable not having to bother doing it at all.

There are some downsides, of course:

  • Moving to “we” could be tricky. If I ever have a change of heart and direction – say I decide I want to expand by employing people  – I’d need to switch to a company name. This might affect my profile and dent my online reputation.
  • My name’s on the web for good – whether I like it or not. I’ve done it now. When you Google my name, I’m top. Even if I erase this entire site and try my best to get rid of my online footprint, it would be near impossible to remove all traces of my internet life.
  • It’s very hard to keep my personal and business lives separate. My personal photos are alongside this business blog. My Twitter account is followed by professional contacts and friends. How do I avoid boring my friends with work and offending my professional contacts?
  • Some clients might think twice about dealing with a sole trader. “We” sometimes feels like the stronger proposition, especially when selling to big companies. But then I reckon dealing with an individual has its advantages too – the skill is in helping the client see the benefits.

So those are a pros and cons I see in trading under your own name as a freelancer. If you’re a freelancer, how have you decided to position your business – and why have you chosen that approach?

One response to “Freelancers: is it “me” or is it “we”?”

  1. I’ve tried to get the best of both, operating under a company name but never hiding the fact that it’s primarily one person. I haven’t found a downside yet, and it leaves open the option to expand.

    Actually, expansion is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. And I’m finding it hard to see many good reasons for doing so – in the conventional sense, at least. The internet is allowing us to operate as loose confederations of solo operators, coming together and moving apart as the work demands. It’s a fun and flexible way to work. Why go through the hassle and extra cost of formally employing someone?

    So yes, I do say ‘we’, more than I expected. But generally speaking, that ‘we’ is a reference to my contacts list rather than myself.

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