Do you struggle with whether to refer to your freelancing business as “I” or “we”? Are you misrepresenting yourself if you use “we”? Will potential clients prefer just you or a team? Will you not get larger projects if you use “I”? Find out the pros and cons of each.
Generally speaking, there are so many more solopreneurs now, I think it’s become less of an issue. But it’s still an issue nonetheless.
The question of should you, as a freelancer or sole proprietor, use “I” or “we” when talking about yourself and your business is one I see brought up time and time again, even as recent as this past week, by freelance designers.
That single pronoun can affect so much: how you are perceived by prospects and clients, how you talk to prospects and clients, what you say on your website, what you write for social media.
You could use your business name instead of a pronoun. But then when talking to clients and writing copy for your website and social media posts, it will just sound awkward and totally impersonal. You’d always be talking about yourself and your business in the third person.
For the first several years after officially starting my business, I struggled with this question. And I remember vividly the circumstance that provoked me to even realize it was an issue.
I was on my honeymoon out of the country and had been waiting to hear back about a media kit job. This was back before Wifi and I had to go hook up my laptop to an ethernet cable in the resort’s office. But I digress…
I went to check my email and saw the long-awaited e-mail from the man at a company that I had just met with a few days prior. He said they had chosen someone else for the media kit design. So I asked why I hadn’t been selected for the work, and his response really outraged me. I’ll never forget it. He said it was because I “didn’t have staff.”
What? Why would I need staff to do a media kit design? It was ludicrous. I mean, I was handling the editing and layout of a 150-page monthly medical journal in addition to many other jobs, all while working a full-time job. A media kit was small potatoes. But he didn’t see it that way.
So that was when I started thinking about using “I” vs “we.” It really bothered me because, for years, I couldn’t decide which direction to go in. I even consulted with industry veteran Cameron Foote about it.
Let’s go over some pros and cons for both of them.
Why Use “We”
Here are some reasons that you might want to use “we.”
- “We” can make your freelance business sound bigger and more serious. Maybe you’ll get larger jobs as a result. Maybe a client is willing to pay more to a business with a team rather than just an individual.
- “We” can make you appear more professional. If you’re a “we,” then, in the client’s mind, you likely have set working hours, you actually get dressed before working and are on some kind of schedule—as opposed to their perception of you being a fly-by-night freelancer who works in pajamas and gets back to them whenever you feel like it.
- Larger or more corporate-type clients may want to work with a “we,” not an “I.” They may see an individual as not as dependable as a team.
- This is sort of a “we” and that’s the business name you decide on. If you choose something using your first and last name, it could potentially decrease the “sales-worthiness” of your business in the future. That’s just something to keep in mind.
Why Not Use “We”
OK, so why wouldn’t you want to use “we?”
A freelancer who represents themselves as “we” can have negative effects. Let’s say you’ve represented yourself as “we” and now the prospect thinks you’re bigger than you are. The prospect then talks or meets with a few other design firms (because often times they’re talking to just freelancers or just firms) and asks you all to provide pricing.
You very likely will have lower pricing than the firms you’ve just been pitted against. When you have lower pricing than those you are up against, the prospect may think you are not well suited for the job, that you don’t understand the scope of the work. They are not usually thinking they will get a deal if they choose you.
I know because I’ve been in this exact situation—several times. I was turned down for the very reason that my pricing was lower than those I was up against. The prospect perceived that I didn’t understand the work.
I know that was the case because they questioned me about my price: “Why is your pricing so much lower than the other two? The other two are in the same range, and yours is much lower.” As if I would know, when I have no idea what was in their proposals…
I did say that to them and explained that I had very low overhead, probably much less than those firms. That did not matter. So, yeah, they told me my lower pricing was the reason I did not win the work.
A second reason to not use “we” is if you’re a solo designer doing all the work, using “we” detracts from the full credit you deserve to give yourself. Say a client compliments your work. If you’ve been “we,” “we,” “we”-ing all the way home, then you really can’t take all the credit, right?, even though that credit is due to you and you alone.
Why Use “I”
- “I” can be a unique selling point. While “we” can make you sound bigger than you might be, “I” is more one-on-one, more personal with the client. Many prospects are looking to work with an individual and not go through a project manager or art director, like they would at a design firm. They might just prefer that.But if they made a connection with you prior to working with you, they might want to maintain that by working with you, not someone you delegate to work with them.
- If your business name is your first and last name, using “we” could come across as inauthentic, unless you indeed do work with others.
Why Not Use “I”
So why wouldn’t you want to use “I”?
- The prospect or client may feel they can negotiate pricing.
- The prospect or client may think you will be more flexible in your schedule with them, like that you might be OK talking to them after hours.
- If you’re a solo designer with a team, using “I” can really alienate your team, those who support your business and its success.
Both “I” or “we” have their own unique advantages. But besides the issue of perception, there is also the issue of authenticity: Do you feel like you’re lying to clients if you say “we”? Will prospects distrust you if you use “we”?
Here are some points to think about:
- You could change up “I” or “we” depending on the size of the client and their needs.
- If you’re a solo designer who never outsources work to anyone else, you can own just being “I” and sell clients on getting a more personal approach.
- If you’re a solo designer who outsources or partners with colleagues occasionally, you can go either way. Either would be authentic. You’re an “I” in certain situations and a “we” in others. For instance, maybe you would need to subcontract out or partner with a colleague for a website, where you will design it and they will develop it. In that case, it is accurate to say “we.”
Whatever route you decide to go in, just be confident and ready with an answer when a prospect asks if you’re solo or not—because they often do ask. Your lack of clarity on this issue or lack of confidence can result in distrust on their part. But if you’re confident about it and own it, then that will build trust with the right clients you want to attract.
I’d love to hear from you: which pronoun do you use and why? Let me know in the Design Domination Facebook group, by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, posting a comment below or on Instagram or Twitter.