Your name on the door

I started working for myself 17 years ago, when I was about 21. I'd grown up working as a carpenter for my Dad, so construction was something I fell into pretty easily. After five years I decided to go back to school to become an architect. For a few years I worked as a self-employed carpenter by day and commuted 65 miles to the Boston Architectural Center by night. Nine years ago, I decided to quit school and focus on building a business vs. just working as a carpenter.

Using my own name for the company was something I struggled with. I based my decision on several factors. First, all my previous clients knew my name. I was their neighbor, friend, and teammate, and if I used a name other than my own, I stood to lose some contacts. Second, I think business is personal and using my own name exemplifies that. Third, I think that having my name on the door portrays a sense of trustworthiness. There's no corporate shield for me to hide behind, and if there's nothing for me to hide behind, it says that I operate with the highest ethical standards. I stand behind the work my company does.

Recognizable commodity

Giving the company my own name is also a marketing advantage. It's helpful to be recognized in the community as the owner of this company. When I'm involved in a board of directors, or associated with a charitable event, it's not just me identified with that effort, but my company as well.

The biggest negative, I think, has to do with selling the company. I'm interested in employee ownership, and my name may prove to be a drawback to that. But it would be fine with me to change the company name to accommodate this, when the time comes for me to sell.

--Ben Auger, Auger Building Company, Portsmouth, N.H., Big50 2001 More than just a name

From its inception until 1988 -- that is, for the first two years of its infancy -- More Than A Carpenter had no name at all. I was like a parent stuck on naming a new arrival. Not that a name wasn't important. We used "the company" sort of like "the baby." Of course legally it had a name: John Ferguson, sole proprietor.

Work, marketing, money, and food were hand to mouth and word of mouth. A more savvy business type would have first developed the plan, capital, and name. But at the time, that was not an option for a recently unemployed minister with little mouths that cried, "Feed me."

Building had always been an aptitude and avocation. I couldn't even spell contractor, but a trip to Sears, a box of tools, and there I was. While mentoring a grad student at UC Berkeley (he would schlep a board or two for me on the weekend) he turned and said, "John, you're more than a carpenter."

That was my eureka moment. The baby was named that day. It personified exactly what by that time I had envisioned.

Say what you mean

I do have a few pre-planned reasons for a unique name choice. It gives the company its own personality and identity. Although solely owned, it helps elicit the feeling of "our" company rather than just mine. Branding is extremely important. A unique name may be able to say what you do with pizzazz. And then there's the exit strategy issue. It may be easier to sell a company not using the owner's name.

--John Ferguson, CR, More Than A Carpenter, El Cerrito, Calif., Big50 2000