Company or Sole Trader: Should You Make Yourself Look Bigger Than You Are?
When I was setting up my little website building business, I gave a lot of thought to its name and to what I said about it on the website, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page and everything else.
I very nearly went the usual route and set myself up with a jazzy name like “Purple Flipflop Media" and headed over to iStock to pick up pictures of the team. Then, on the verge of embarking on a new career of describing my singular self as “we", I suddenly saw the ridiculousness of it.
If the 21st Century has taught me anything, it's this. In the words of every Big Brother contestant ever: You've got to be yourself.
As a sole trader you have advantages around price and personal service over the big guns. You can also make a more authentic connection with your particular niche on your site and social media. If you try and pretend you're a team of people, your deception will inevitably be revealed. So play to your strengths and be precisely who you are.
Trust is vital on the web
There's a deeply-held, subconscious belief (especially anyone old enough to remember AskJeeves adverts on TV) that the web is full of anonymous con-people poised to steal your bank details.
For that reason, and for very many more, we make snap decisions about the websites we visit. In fact, we judge sites as quickly as we judge people — in less than a second.
A potential customer could be turned off by so many things, including but not limited to:
- An old-fashioned looking website (from, like, 2012)
- An unclear description of what you do
- No obvious message or call to action
- Images that load in more than 2 squilliseconds
- Pretending to be an agency when it's totally, completely obvious you're one person working alone in your bedroom.
When people can't see your trustworthy face, they have to trust your website. If you pretend to be a great big company, at some point you're going to get found out.
And when the moment of realisation dawns, your potential customer's eyes will well up with tears that spill gently down his cheeks as he looks down and whispers, “How could you lie to me?"
Authentic is the new cute
Once upon a time (around the time of AskJeeves) you had to infantilise your marketing to endear yourself to your audience. Marketing was about adding colour and fun, but also about elevating your customers to your superiors. Innocent Drinks forged the cutesy marketing path and everybody else jumped on the bandwagon.
Nowadays, authenticity is everything. We want to know what our products are made from and precisely who made them. What better opportunity to do this than to tell your own personal story? What experience do you have in your line of work and what drove you to start a business? What makes you stand out and who do you like working with the most?
Presenting the authentic, credible reality of you is a very compelling way to get one over on the big guys.
Social media makes more sense from an individual perspective
Social media is a great leveller, where people talk directly to people instead of hiding behind company names.
As an individual you can post your blog and curate articles on Facebook, but you can also talk about your dog. You can wedge pictures of your children between the pictures of your products on Instagram. You can represent your company (you) in Twitter chats and create a more interesting, relatable picture of who you are as a person.
Pretending to be something you're not is complicated
Running a business is tough enough without weaving tangled webs of deceit all over your written communications.
I emailed my pilates instructor the other day. Quite rightly for August she's on holiday, so I received her out of office reply. “We're on holiday", she said. I peered suspiciously round the back of my laptop screen. Who is this “we"? I wondered.
I spent a good four seconds wasting time worrying about my instructor's casual use of the royal “we"; time I'll never get back. The email read like she'd written it using “I" then edited “I" to “we". It was a slightly jarring experience that wasn't even necessary.
Not everyone wants to work with an agency
Hey, everyone has to start somewhere. It's ok to be a sole trader — there's millions of us all over the world selling our products and passing on our expertise. Many of us aren't big enough to pay company taxes. We don't all pay for offices and we're keen to boost our portfolios. In a nutshell, we're cheap.
Working with the person who owns the business means you work for the person most invested in doing a good job. A sole trader can be more authentic than a large company because it's easier to believe you do it for the love, not just to feed the kids and pay for weekend bodyboarding lessons.
Be a proud sole trader
If you do decide to be yourself, own it.
Consider using your own name as part or all of your company name. Get some friendly headshots done and put them on your about page or your homepage. Talk directly to your audience, using “I" and “you". Describe your benefits to your customers.
For some of us, proclaiming our own greatness can feel awful big-headed. We prefer to talk about ourselves as a company (“Megapeople Inc makes the best supersystems in the world!") because it feels more humble than blowing your own personal tooter.
Here's why it's ok to big yourself up:
- You have a lot to offer — enough to make you go into business — so go and tell people.
- Ever heard of Dunning Kruger? If you think you're not that great at something, you're probably really good at it. Well done.
- Saying you are good at something and saying Company X is good at something are both exactly the same thing if company X is actually you, on your own, in your bedroom.
It seems all those celebrity-hungry teenagers on Big Brother were right. For reasons of honesty, integrity, authenticity and connection, it's always better to be exactly who you are.
You can always get a new website when you hit the big time.