When I started freelancing in the early 2000s, I used a brand name instead of my own.
I created the brand so I could finally charge friends and family for the web design and graphic work I was doing for free because I was a “real” business.
Over a fifteen-plus-year period, I’ve gone through several naming iterations. When things got stale, or when I had new ideas, I rebranded as something new.
When I started KVNW in 2015, I wanted a company name I could put my entire self into. One identity to rule them all.
I believed having a brand name lent more credibility. I wasn’t a freelancer with a remote team of sub-contractors, I was an agency.
So, I named KVNW using the letters of my name—”Kevin W.”—minus the vowels. As close to a personal brand as you can get without being under my own name.
And yet, it was still outside of me. Not my name, nor my real initials.
It was something else. Something safe.
The difference between personal and founder-centric brand websites
This topic came in response to someone on Twitter saying that a founder-centric website using a brand name vs. a personal name is an “arbitrary” distinction.
And I disagree. So let’s get into it.
For one, personal blogs/websites are inherently tied to a person’s identity. You have a personal tone, view, and perspective in every post and page. You sign each post with your name. Every pixel belongs to you. Signed by you, good or bad. We’re following a person, not a brand.
There’s a sense of permanence in a personal website. You only have one name. You can’t just create a new name for yourself and start a new one. Unless, of course, you take up a moniker like Bono or Bob Dylan, or actually change your name entirely. But that’s not practical for most people. This is your one, given name.
There’s a certain skin in the game with a personal blog. You can’t distance yourself from what you put out. It’s you, your thoughts, your views. It’s one thing for people to criticize a brand. It’s another to criticize a person. It feels more personal. More of your reputation is on the line, even if it only feels that way.
The best personal blogs are multi-faceted. You’re a real person. You aren’t simply the work you do or the industry you belong to. The best personal blogs let you be… personal. You can talk about your life, your family, your outside interests. You can be “you”. And I like that.
Having a separate brand identity feels “safer” to the founder. A brand name looks more “official”. You can pretend you’re a whole team with lots of money and infrastructure. But we all know (or quickly learn) when it’s just a single person behind a brand name. This is a great place to start, though, if you’re not super confident yet (or many other reasons).
A website under your own name puts your reputation on the line. And your reputation is all you have in business. It’s scary to do that. But it also shows commitment. More skin in the game.
It requires (and demonstrates) confidence. You are signing your name to every piece of work or content you put out. That takes guts. And to some degree, a belief in what you’re doing. I respect that. Artists sign their work. Personal websites feel like art in this way.
You can’t sell a personal website. Or at least, it’s really hard to do. To sell a personal website, you would have to translate it into an eponymous brand name or rebrand it entirely so that it is no longer revolving around the person behind it. You’d need to distance the founder from the content. And then, of course, it’s no longer a personal website. It’s different.
The only way to rebrand a personal site is to evolve. Since you can’t sell or rebrand your personal website without extraordinary effort, your only choice is to evolve your voice on your blog/website. And that’s interesting to me. It’s human.
For example, I’ve watched Paul Jarvis over the years go from web designer, to author, to online educator, to maker, across various niches. Evolution.
It might make you look “smaller”, but if that’s who you are, why hide it? I’m a big believer in using your small size to your advantage. I figured out what I do best (marketing strategy) and cut out the sub-contractors and never looked back. I now stand on my own personal reputation. I deliver my own services.
The one permanent thing you have is your name.
For that reason, I applaud, commend, and enjoy reading and subscribing to people’s personal blogs/websites. The skin-in-the-game factor mixed with a personal touch creates an experience that brands can’t replicate.
Similar to watching a tight-rope walker cross a chasm without a net or support, the higher table stakes make the experience more engaging.
Yes, there are a lot of great websites out there with identities that are highly synonymous with their founder. Sites like Wait But Why and The Oatmeal. And I like those, too. There’s nothing wrong with them.
And yes, there’s a time and purpose for brand name websites. It depends on your goals and what you want to say.
But to me, there’s a difference. However subtle.
And it’s not arbitrary.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!