One of the most common questions we get from photographers is how to decide what to name your photography business. So whether you’re creating your first website, Facebook business page or business cards for the first time, or you’re re-branding and looking for fresh new start, you’re in the right place!
Today, we’ll show you how to name your photography business so you can:
1. Increase the chance people will recognize you as a photographer.
2. Remember your business name and refer you to their family and friends.
First, let’s start with this powerful truth: when you’re starting a photography business, your personal network is your most powerful network. This is such an important fact that we’re going to repeat it. Your personal network is your most powerful network. That’s where the overwhelming majority of your early business will come from. The people you already know. People you work with. Your friends from church. Your family members. Your high school and college friends. Friends of friends.
So it matters what those people think when they think about you. Second, and maybe more importantly, if you want to grow your business beyond your personal network, it matters what those people tell other people about you.
And it needs to be simple. And easy to remember.
If it’s too complicated, they won’t know what to say, so they’ll either say the wrong thing, or they just won’t say anything at all.
Here’s what we mean:
When we were making the transition from elementary school teachers to professional photographers, it was probably confusing for our personal network, right? They knew us as “Amy and Jordan, the elementary school teachers” not “Amy and Jordan, the photographers.”
So, when they saw a brand new Facebook page pop up and behind-the-scenes photos of us shooting through their News Feeds, they PROBABLY thought, Huh? Wait. Whaaat? I thought Amy and Jordan were elementary school teachers…
Again, the narrative shift from “elementary school teachers” to “photographers” is a heavy lift on its own. Think about it. If it takes someone seven times to remember your name, how long would it take for them to remember that you CHANGED CAREERS ENTIRELY. Much less that you’re good enough or trustworthy enough or professional enough for them to refer you to other people — and that’s just going from A to B, from “my friends, Amy and Jordan, the elementary school teachers” to “my friends, Amy and Jordan, at Amy and Jordan Photography.”
Remember, getting your personal network to remember THAT is enough on it own.
If we decided to give our business a clever, cheeky name — like Seeing You Through Our Lens Photography — because we wanted to be original and not “like everyone else,” it would’ve been infinitely MORE confusing for our personal network to do three things:
1. Recognize that we’d made (or were making) a career shift.
2. Remember our business name.
3. And refer us to other people.
Pop Quiz: Without looking up, can you remember the name of our fictional photography business? The one we just told you? Or did you have to scroll back up and read that part again?
Why is it so much easier for you to remember that we’re Amy and Jordan, and not “Seeing You Through our Lens Photography?”
Because instead of taking people from A to B, like we explained above, we’d be trying to take them from A to B to C.
Instead of our friends and family being able to see that we were doing photography and say to other people, “My friends Amy and Jordan are photographers. You should look them up.”
— which is EASY to remember and search on Google or Facebook —
They’d have to say, “My friends Amy and Jordan are photographers. Their business is shoot. Lemme look it up. Umm… one sec… It’s something about a… What’s that part of camera again that you put on the front? A lens. Yeah, that’s it! It’s something about a lens. They’re new. That’s why I’m having trouble remembering their name. I think they just started a few weeks ago. BUT THEY’RE REALLY GOOD! TRUST ME! I mean, I haven’t been to their Facebook page yet. Again, I think it’s brand new. Ya know what? I’ll just text you their info.”
That scenario doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in you.
And they’ll probably forget to send the text.
And that friend will definitely forget what words they should punch into Google.
When you don’t name your business after yourself, it’s harder for people to remember and harder for people to refer you. Saying, “Oh, my friends Amy and Jordan are photographers. They’re totally awesome! means everyone only has to remember one thing.
People buy on trust, and the transfer of trust from one person to another is one of the most (if not the) determining factor for people deciding to do business with you.
Here’s another reason to name your business after yourself:
High end brands in industries much larger and powerful do it. If it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for us!
Think about most creative entrepreneurial big businesses, from fashion to furniture, and everything in-between. Most of the big names use their name. In fashion Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabanna, etc. In furniture, it’s Ethan Allen. In cosmetics, it’s Estee Lauder and Bobbi Brown. The list goes on and on. Can you find big brands and companies who don’t use their founders’ names? Sure. But you’ll never see a woman hug a generic brand purse from Wal-Mart, sigh, shrug and fondly exclaim, It’s a Faded Glory Double Pocket Zip Purse.
But are we going hug a brand new blush and gold Kate Spade clutch?
You can count it.
The Kate Spade name demonstrates where the VALUE is. The value is in the brand. And what the brand is known for.
Can we find a blush bag from Walmart? Probably.
Are we going to invest the same amount of dollars and enthusiasm?
Here’s the problem: Most new photographers don’t want to name their business after themselves even if it connotes MORE value than a whimsical name because they don’t FEEL valuable as a photographer yet.
We give you permission to.
Because by letting your insecurities have top priority, you’re undervaluing your business name.
Let’s play a quick game! Get a sheet of blank paper and divide it into two columns. On one side, write the names of all the photographers you admire. If their business isn’t name after them, move them to the left column.
You can use pen for this, because you won’t be moving anyone.
And that’s because you don’t wait until people know you to name your business after yourself. People know you, so name your business after yourself.
One of our past workshop attendees — who’s KILLING it and we’re SO proud of her by the way — is named K.C. England. Which is one of the coolest names ever, right? So you can imagine our surprise when we found out that her business name was Leaving a Mark Photography. When her real name was K.C. England.
That’s like Kate Spade deciding to call her business Carrying It Around Hand Bags. But K.C. really struggled and wrestled and debated with the name change, because it meant something to her. It was sentimental. She really did want to leave a mark on people’s lives. That’s a true reflection of her sweet heart. Just like Seeing You Through Our Lens Photography could have a heartfelt meaning behind it. That even if no one else sees you, we do, and we want to show you have special you are by how we see you, even if you don’t see yourself that way.
But we think it was costing her business, and actually KEEPING her from leaving a mark on more people’s lives, because a business name is more than a business name.
It’s a mindset.
And for K.C. that shift was everything.
Because after our workshop, she went from being cute and whimsical and kind of like everyone else, to unique and exclusive and special… like she is.
Here are screen shots of her first and second business name and brand:
Which one do you trust?
Which one will you spend more money with?
Which one will you remember?
Which one reminds you of a big box store and which reminds you of your dream handbag?
SECOND QUESTION: If you’ve been thinking about changing your business name for a while now, what are you still waiting for?
Note: There are a few circumstances under which changing your business name to your personal name might not make sense.
1. If you have an established business with plenty of name ID and you’re crushing it. Those people DO exist. However, they’re typically the exception. Not the rule.
2. If you’re a TEAM of photographers in an associate program or larger media company, like Revel Media Group, for example. Outside of that, take your first and last name (or first name and a middle name) and make it happen!
UPDATE 1:20 p.m. MST
Since we hit “publish” on this post, we’ve received tons of really thoughtful follow-up questions from photographers (via email, social media and blog comments) about specific situations where they need additional clarification — and we’re happy to help! If you asked a question, instead of responding to you quickly, individually, and, therefore, maybe not as thoroughly, we decided to find the most common threads among your questions and answer them here so that you can benefit (and anyone who reads this post in the future!)
Before we do that, a quick note… In life in general, we believe in the “80-20 Rule.” Mostly because it’s true. (It’s usually good to believe in things that are true. Occasionally, it’s also fun to believe in things that aren’t, like our firmly held belief that our cat, William Wallace, can understand us.)
Here are a few examples of the 80-20 Rule in action:
– Approximately 80% of Microsoft Word users only use 20% of its features.
– According to our favorite marriage book, Love and Respect, when surveyed, about 80% of wives say they want their husbands to say, “I love you. Only 20% of women would prefer to hear, “I respect you.” The opposite of is true for husbands. You didn’t think this update was also going to be marriage coaching, diiid you?!
– Here’s a crazy one: The top 20% of income earners pay 80% of the federal income taxes.
So, naturally, with any advice we or someone else gives you, it probably applies solidly to 80% of readers and could apply to the other 20%. But maybe not. You’re the only one who can decide that for yourself.
Here are the five most common follow-up questions/concerns we’ve gotten about how to name your photography business:
1. My name is hard to spell/pronounce.
That didn’t stop Daniel Swarovski from naming his company Swarovski Crystal. Or Christian Louboutin from putting his name on the bottom of the shoes. Or M. Night SHYAMALAN from making movies. Or Idina Menzel from being, Idina Menzel. In her case, it actually made her MORE famous that John Travolta messed it up! In our opinion, it’s easier to remember a hard-to-spell or pronounce last name that it is to remember the parent company of someone with a hard-to-spell last name. A movie by M. Night Shyamalan is easier to remember than A movie by Seeing You Through My Lens Films.
2. There’s already someone in my town with my exact name.
Legally, you’d probably have to ask an attorney to investigate whether or not that business name is already taken. In that case, you might not have a choice but to pivot to something else, like your first name with your maiden name, or your first name with a middle name (or fake middle name if necessary!) If you can use your own name, though, even if there is someone else in town with the exact same name, remember that people are discerning enough to see quality through a name. And there are already great examples of two successful people who have the same name.
If you watched the awards season this year, La La Land was on Hollywood’s biggest winners. Every time Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling got up to accept and award, you’d hear them thanking their choreographer, Mandy Moore.
Not the Mandy Moore from (our new favorite!) This is Us and A Walk to Remember.
Mandy Moore, the choreographer. The one on So You Think You Can Dance. No relation.
One Mandy Moore hasn’t prevented the other from being successful. They’re both killing it in Hollywood. And they each have work so solid that they haven’t let going by the same name prevent them from building names for themselves.
If you’re name is John Doe and the guy down the street is John Doe, your name can’t be the differentiating factor.
So let you work be.
Then, you’ll be the John Doe who shows up on time and gets the grass cut well.
Not… The other John Doe, don’t hire him! He’s the one who didn’t come for two weeks and let my grass die!
If you’re the awesome John Doe, people will go out of their way to make sure other people know it. So just be that John Doe.
Or like the Mandy Moores, you can both stand out, make a name for yourself and become respected for your work (even if you both live in Tinsel Town.)
3. My middle name isn’t cute.
Speaking of middle names, our dear friend, Melissa Jill, is a REALLY successful wedding photographer. Jill is her middle name. If you have a really complicated last name and you just don’t feel comfortable using it no matter how many famous complicated we throw at you, then maybe consider using your middle name or (gasp!) a fake middle name.
Amy’s maiden name is Finocchiaro. FINOCCHIARO. Like Pinocchio with an “F”. That’s tough to spell and pronounce. Her middle name is Katherine. If she didn’t like the way Amy Finocchiaro Photography sounded, and rejected everything we said in #1, she could always go with Amy Katherine Photography. Or if she thought that was just AWFUL, she could pivot to Amy Lynn Photography and that would work just fine. Mostly because none of your friends know your real middle name anyways, and “Lynn” is much easier to remember and connect than something longer. Our main point here is using a name makes you easier to remember, cuts confusion and establishes more value in your brand.
4. My business is successful and I don’t want to mess with that.
This is a fair point, but it’s also a REALLY narrow, specific one, too. Because since most small businesses fail within the first few years, statistically, there are only a few “established” businesses in every industry who’ve been around long enough where this will matter. In this case, you might have to weigh the potential loss against the potential gain — and that’s something only you can decide. Also, CONGRATS! If this is you, you’re killing it! Keep it up! Don’t fix what ain’t broke!
5. I want to change my name, but it seems hard to do.
When we changed our LLC from Amy Demos Photography, LLC to Amy and Jordan Photography, LLC it was a simple as this: Our lawyer drafted a quick amendment to our LLC articles and then we submitted it to the State of Arizona. When we got confirmation of the change, we swapped it on every platform we could, showing the organizations (like Facebook or The Knot) evidence that our LLC was the same, we were the same exact business, but we’d just changed the name we were doing business under. It wasn’t a problem. We bought new domain names, and had the only ones re-direct. For a while, you could even put on your website and social media outlets “Formerly known as _____________ Photography.” Pretty soon, people will start to forget your old name business ever existed in the first place.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to take all this information and make the best decision for you and your business. We hope this gives you a lot to think about, and know our heart for everything we share comes from a place of wanting the best for you.