How to Hide Your Business

how-to-hide-your-business

I recently sent out an email to my readers called How to Hide your Business and it got quite a bit of reaction. In particular, one of my readers, Nigel Merrick, and I got into quite an exchange which we both agreed we should share here.

The email was about a photographers business and how she was going about picking a company & website name.

In my original email, I stated that I felt some of the advice she had got was wrong. However Nigel disagreed with me.

The reason this exchange in emails is really useful for you to read is that Nigel specialises in marketing photographers and he had some very specific views on my email.

As you will see, our “disagreement” actually has more agreement in it than disagreement. More importantly, it has some important lessons on marketing & branding. That’s why we agreed to share it here on my blog.

If you are a photographer and want help with your marketing, you really should check out his advice at: http://www.zenologue.com/

So, here is the exchange in full.

My Original Email: How to Hide Your Business

Hi Nigel,

On one of the many forums I am active on, one of the members posted a question about their brand name.

They are a professional photographer who caters for high end family portraits and they felt that their current name didn’t project that image.

The question was a good one because they were right. Their current name didn’t really position them well with their chosen audience.

A quick read of their website revealed that they offered a very upmarket service for family portraits. It was clear that as part of their service they spent a lot of time on the photo shoot to ensure they captured natural, happy family pictures. Lots of the picture I saw were very good and very natural. Quite often they were taken outside in very natural settings.

So, my advice was to pick a brand name that would appeal directly to their target market.

However others on the forum suggested she should go with her name as the brand because all the other top photographers use their name.

That’s true. They do.

And that’s my problem. Practically every photographer out there is using their own name as the name of their company and brand.

When you copy the competition, you just blend in with them. Basically you just hide your business in amongst all the others.

If you want to stand out, then you need to do the complete opposite of everyone else.

Domino’s Pizza understood this when they first launched and offered a hot pizza to your door in under 30 minutes or your money back. No one else was doing that. They didn’t copy their competitors; they offered something no one else was doing.

When Richard Branson formed his first company, he didn’t call it Richard Branson. He called it Virgin. That was certainly a bold move at the time and it certainly stood out.

The next time you are making a business decision, I encourage you to reflect a moment to make sure you are not choosing to do something just because everyone else does it.

Talk soon,

Mike

 

Nigel’s Reply to my Email

Hi Mike

That was an interesting note today, thanks, but I have to disagree with you on the specific example you gave.

I specialize in helping professional photographers market themselves, and the question of “what do I call my business” pops up quite often.

While I can understand your reasoning for the suggestion to avoid using the photographer’s name as part of the business name, I think that might be a mistake for this type of business.

Sure, Richard Branson created a huge company called Virgin. We don’t buy “Steve Jobs” computers or iPhones, but Apple.

However, those were created from the get-go to be huge entities with massive appeal – they are not “personal service” oriented businesses like a photographer where a personal brand is so much more important in the process of getting prospects to “know, like, and trust” you.

In fact, many of the photographers I’ve worked with have even told me they wish they had chosen their own name as their business name, and that the names they did end up with just cause confusion and too many questions from their customers. In fact, I made the same mistake when I started out, and saw a huge change in success when I changed the company name to my own.

There are exceptions to this, of course.

For example, if a photographer plans to expand into creating a business with multiple outlets (like a franchise) and they want a more generic name for the business to make it easier to sell later on, then your suggestion makes sense.

Here in the US, we have “Glamor Shots”, which is a generic name for a chain of (not that good) portrait studios, but the name is appropriate in that situation.

However, for a high-end portrait photographer, the name is (in my opinion) an integral part of the brand. Think of Lord Snowden, David Bailey, Ansel Adams, and others who are well known in popular culture.

Also, it can be a challenge for single women photographers who start out with their maiden name and then get married, but those I know who did that just stuck with their original business name with no real problems.

For me, it’s a bit like artists. They’re a creative business, also, but we still know them by their names because that’s who we make the personal connection with that gets us to buy their work. Few people would buy a painting from “Lily Ponds Ltd.” rather than Monet, right? That said, of course, Monet was broke during his lifetime, but you get what I’m driving at LoL

Actually, as I write this, I cannot think of a single successful professional photographer who does not have their own name as part of their business name in some way or another.

In this case, doing what everyone else does may not be a bad thing after all

Cheers and best regards.

Nigel

Nigel Merrick

“Photography Marketing Simplified”

 

My Reply to Nigel’s Reply!

Hi Nigel,

Thanks for your email. I’m glad you found my note interesting.

I think we are probably in a sort of agreement whilst probably disagreeing as well.

(I think I should have working in the Diplomatic Corps)

I agree that David Bailey, etc have built a brand around their names and I also tell people to look at the successful and copy what they get right. However, I think that most small business photographers need to call out to their customers directly. Frankly a name doesn’t do it. You need to label yourself with the service they are looking for.

In the case I quoted, she had a definite market. Family Portraits for people who are looking for fun, natural family photos and not the usual run of the mill studio photo.

That’s her market and I feel she will resonate far better if her brand uses a name that states that unique selling proposition.

Of course, I agree that the name does also have a unique place in photography businesses as it does with other things (eg: chefs, clothes designers, etc).

In her case, the compromise is probably to mix the two. For example “Natural Family Photography by Josy Blogs”. That gives the “name” brand impact and also calls out to the market she is aiming at.

Fair compromise?

Thanks again for the email. It’s always great to get feedback.

Cheers and best wishes,

Mike

Nigel’s reply to my Reply!

Hi Mike

Thanks for the quick reply, and for the additional material, which I do agree with in principle.

In practice though, most of the photographers I work with struggle to focus on just one or even two specialties. They are all over the map, scared to specialize, for fear of losing money in the form of whatever jobs they can get.

A shame, really, because they might have more success by narrowing their main focus a bit.

So, if someone says “I create natural and fun wedding photos” but they also photograph pets, kids, commercial, portraits, food, and fine art (trust me, I talk to no end of such “specialists” every week!), what should they call their business in that case?

In those situations, “Jane Smith Photography” seems to be a more natural choice, right?

I really do agree with you about setting themselves apart and the way I advise is through a carefully chosen and very clear “essential message” that quickly communicates the “essence” of who they are and the benefits they provide.

That message should be prominently displayed in all their marketing so that it soaks into the consciousness of their prospects.

Hope that makes sense :-)

Thanks!

Nigel

 

Conclusion

It’s clear that Nigel and I agree that setting yourself apart from your market can have its advantages. I think we definitely agree that clarity in your branding and aiming at a specific niche would benefit many photographers (and many other businesses).

One thing is for certain. Picking a name for your company and your brand is very hard. It’s a personal thing and also once chosen it is usually hard to change so you really need to get it right. The photographer I wrote about made a great decision in going out to a wider audience to get advice.

 

So, what do you think about the exchange above? Has it prompted you to think about your branding? What business name did you go for and why?

 

About The Author

Mike Seddon

I launched my first business in 2001 selling software. I started using Adwords to drive traffic to my software business and found I had a talent for it. At the time, I networked a lot locally with other businesses and I found many of them had suffered very bad experiences with various so called “professional” Adwords companies. Quite often I would help these business out of the mess they had got into. I started selling Adwords Management service back in 2006 and I’ve not looked back since. My approach is open and honest. My view is that if someone has to confuse you to win your business then it’s likely they don’t know what they are doing! In 2010, I wrote the book Simply Adwords and shortly after that it was picked up by Amazon here in the UK. Soon it went global to all the other Amazon stores and remains there today. I regularly give talks about Google Adwords and also the other website promotion techniques such as SEO, Social Media and more. In 2011, I was invited by none other than Perry Marshall to speak on Advance Adwords techniques.

13 Comments

  • Nigel Merrick

    Reply Reply January 14, 2015

    Hi Mike

    Thanks for sharing our fun email exchange, and I hope it gives people some good food for thought regardless of what type of small business they’re running. I made a terrible mistake naming my own photography business at the beginning and while it was possible to change the name later, it took a lot of “fiddling” around etc.

    You made some really great points in here, especially the most important and critical one of setting our businesses apart from the competition.

    Cheers from Memphis TN, the land of Elvis and Southern BBQ :-)

    Nigel

    • Mike Seddon

      Reply Reply January 15, 2015

      Hi Nigel,

      I enjoyed the debate and really made me think. I also made a big mistake with the name of one of my companies and I’m sure it cost me lots of lost sales over the years as no one quite knew what we did!

      Cheers from the land of Shakespeare, King Makers and good beer!

      Mike

  • David Morphew

    Reply Reply January 14, 2015

    Fascinating debate : I opted for the use my own name route though I’d like to think Photography by David Morphew sounds a bit posher than David Morphew Photography

    Plenty of photographer just yes their initials DMphoto for example that seems to be very impersonal And branding them as trades people it artists Not thatvthere’s anything wrong with that

    • Mike Seddon

      Reply Reply January 15, 2015

      Hi David,

      Glad you enjoyed the debate.

      I’d personally vouch for your services as you managed to make me look vaguely human in our recent photo shoot. Any photographer who can do that has my utmost respect. :)

      Thanks
      Mike

  • Lynette

    Reply Reply January 14, 2015

    Hi Mike

    Great post and choosing a name is so hard, what you think sounds like a great name for your business, does not always mean that’s how the public see your name.

    After a lot of feedback, I decided to go with my own name for my business, but as you mention above, talking about my USP and approach to my style of photography and what makes me stand out. I think that is very important but also very difficult sometimes to do.

    • Mike Seddon

      Reply Reply January 15, 2015

      Hi Lynette,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Picking a business name is incredibly hard to do. Not only does it have to speak to your customers but also it’s quite a personal thing so you have to like it as well.

      Best wishes,
      Mike

  • Ken

    Reply Reply January 14, 2015

    I think this is just 2 Brummies from different sides of town hashing it out :)

    Inspiring that you can debate as opposed to arguing. Most people’s egos get in the way of that these days. I have had the pleasure of taking advice from both of you in the past, and neither of you are wrong, so you both must be right.

    Happy New Year to you both and get well soon Nigel :)

    • Mike Seddon

      Reply Reply January 15, 2015

      Hi Ken,

      Brummies indeed!

      I’ll have you know that I was born in Tipton and raised in Dudley. We don’t consider ourselves as Brummies :)

      Glad you enjoyed the debate. Nigel was great to exchange views with.

      Happy New Year to you.

      Best wishes,
      Mike

      • Nigel Merrick

        Reply Reply January 16, 2015

        Brummies? LoL – I’ll have to set the Peaky Blinders on you, Ken :-)

        I’m from Willenhall originally, somewhat from Walsall and almost from Wolverhampton, and not quite entirely from Birmingham but Brummie will do, I guess!

        Great to see some awesome comments here.

  • michael e.stern

    Reply Reply January 15, 2015

    Hey Guys,

    I agree and disagree with both of you. Using your own name is an excellent choice for some but also the choice of using a specific name can do wonders.

    It just depends on how you have identified your target audience.

    I have chosen the later: buildabetterphotograph.com. It’s working really great for me, a combination of my reputation and the SEO help Nigel has provided the past few years.

    Nigel, did you forget about little old me? :) “Actually, as I write this, I cannot think of a single successful professional photographer who does not have their own name as part of their business name in some way or another.”

    Now it’s time for me to build a new time lapse.

    Cheers!

    • Nigel Merrick

      Reply Reply January 16, 2015

      Hey Michael!

      That’s embarrassing LoL – I just think of you as my good friend Michael E. Stern (never forget that all-important “E”, right?) but you are right, so I stand corrected!

      In fact, your name is a great example of Mike’s advice of creating a name that identifies your unique value proposition, so I really should have known better than to forget that – I blame it all on the monster head cold.

      Cheers

      Nigel

  • Stuart Bingham

    Reply Reply January 16, 2015

    I initially went with just my name as my Web address, and let’s face it, your UK is you business name. However, in an attempt to improve SEO and ranking I have gone over to stuartbinghamphotography.co.uk. The reason for using my name is that the business is built on my reputation and clients don’t want me sending anyone else to take the pictures. Which means I’m what they are buying, so the URL needs my name. However, I think if you are able to specialise very tightly then a brand name may be more appropriate, for example, Cardiff Aerial Imaging may well be better than Jones the photographer.com. So in the right circumstances I think your both right. Do you think I might have a problem with sitting on the fence

  • Olga Rook

    Reply Reply January 16, 2015

    Thank you for this discussion, guys!

    I would add another factor here. The name of your business should not be too difficult to spell or remember, right? So if your name is too long or sounds too complex then it may be a good idea to create a different name.
    For example, I am an expat working in the Netherlands. Nobody can pronounce or spell my maiden name here without mistakes. And where I come from my name is far too common (top 5) and not unique at all. So as a photographer I use my husband’s name that is short and simple.

    I am also not sure that names like “Natural family photography by Jane Smith” always sound that unique. A “crazy” name could work better sometimes.

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