Interpreting SOHO business names

A question posed on a forum recently pushed a few buttons in me…

“Do you think a company name ending with ‘consulting’ is good for consulting business as well as social enterprise business?”

As some of you know, for the last few years, I’ve been a guest speaker at the annual careers convention for volunteers held in London. One of the masterclasses that I lead is on Portfolio Working and the topic of “What do I call myself?” often comes up. Yes, I do have a strong opinion about this…

What are people buying? If they are buying something very specific (eg ironing, scaffolding, ready meals for the housebound) then PERHAPS a business name that reflects this will help them find you and save you explaining what it is that you do every time you meet someone new.

Are you selling many things according to their needs? If so, then they are actually buying YOU on the basis of your own credibility, reputation, persuasiveness. In this case, a business name that incorporates your own is going to help them remember you when something unusual comes up.

When they have bought from you, will it be you who does the work or one of a gaggle of mates who are prepared to work at below your own level in order to get work? If it is you, then I would argue it is appropriate to describe your business in your name. If you do so, but actually use others to fulfill the order, then that is – in my humble opinion – deception. This was a classic business model used by all the big firms of accountants and consultants in the 80s… the client got to meet a Partner all the while they were deciding who to appoint, and once the contract was in place all they ever saw was a trainee. Even if your mates are all proficient it was YOU who was bought and it is you who should deliver unless you were selling a specific service or made it clear that there were other people involved and likely to deliver.

One way in which some practitioners try to address this is by adopting a plural term after their name. Fred Bloggs Consulting, FB Consultants, Bloggs and Co, Blogg Advisors, Blogg Advisory Services, Fred Blogg Associates. If they are selling a range of services, by reputation and fielding a team of a few people to deliver, then I figure this is perfectly appropriate.

However, there’s another scenario – Mavis Bloggs sets herself up in business offering generic advisory services (no, let’s suppose she’s a coach) and she calls herself Mavis Bloggs Associates even though she is only a one-person enterprise. Now we don’t only have deception (she’s kidding prospects that she is bigger than she is), but also delusion (she’s kidding herself that she is more than she is). Even more extreme, is when she decides to make herself look even bigger by putting the name into initials – MBA and going global (MBA International)!

Now, sadly, in my experience these folks are often lacking confidence and they adopt this style to prove their own worth to themselves. The tell-tale sign is when their business card goes on to say, Founder, Proprietor, Senior Vice President etc. Rarely in professional services, but for some reason quite common among trades-people they go one step further and instead of providing their first name seek to be known by their surname and so their card, even their local newspaper adverts, refer to Mr F Bloggs. We have a local audiologist like this. What he hasn’t thought through is how this is received by his target market – ‘pompous’, ‘arrogant’, ‘self-centred’, ‘old’ are all terms I hear people apply to him.

So, what do you do if you’ve decided you don’t want to be known by your name but prefer something else? This is where self-employed consultants think clever and come up with all manner of associative names – Wholistic Consulting, Inner Mind Coaching, Performance Matters, R-E-S-U-L-T-S, and so on. As a step in the evolution of their thinking this makes some sense as they are beginning to build, in their own mind, a description of what is unique about them. What they don’t often do is look at the names of successful competitors and ask why they call themselves what they do? It depends hugely on the specific market, but generally people like to buy from people not from dreams. Cadbury is Cadbury because that was the surname of the founder. Executives at Cadbury buy services from people they know and trust and they shape those services to match their needs, they don’t generally go straight to Wholistic Consulting and say “I like your brand can I have some please?”

So, no definitive answers, just a lot of questions to ask yourself when exploring your motives behind the name you trade under. Good luck, and do send me a business card!

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently

One Comment

  1. Thanks so much for that insightful response.

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