New one-main-person business website: "I" or "We"?
December 4, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

After nearly a year of being unemployed and looking for that perfect job, I've decided instead to start my own business. It is set up as a sole proprietorship, but I will be collaborating with a bunch of fellow freelancers as their services become necessary (video editors, etc). On my website (which is set up as the name of my company), I have been using "we" to describe the work. "We have ten years of experience" "We have a specific passion for telling stories", etc. I'm not trying to fool anyone (my "about us" page basically says "this company is SoftLord, and also other awesome freelance partners"), but I'm having a difficult time figuring out the proper language to use. I've been going back and forth on this with fellow solopreneurs (yeah, I know) and there hasn't been any consensus. Is this disingenuous? Should I be using "I" instead? Snowflake inside.

Does phrasing things in "i" vs "we" make a significant difference in how a service organization is perceived? I don't want to come across as though I'm lacking in resources, and the phrasing of "I'm passionate about..." seems a little awkward to me when its descriptive text on a business site selling services.

So, what say you, hivemind? Better to say "I am this company" throughout and risk being thought of as a dinky operation when in fact I have many resources outside of just me, or keep it as "we" and feel slightly less than forthright?
posted by softlord to Work & Money (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The company is a we. It's fine.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:30 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Consider recasting so that neither "we" or "I" is needed.
posted by maurreen at 8:31 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might just drop the personal pronouns and use words such as "the company" "softlord" etc-, If you are, in fact, using skilled freelancers I do not see any problem using we--except when referring to identifying ownership from a legal perspective. best of luck in your enterprise
posted by rmhsinc at 8:33 AM on December 4, 2011

I've dealt with this. I don't think it's disingenuous to say "we" in this case. You are not the only service provider that will be helping clients, and you are selling the services of your partners as well.

In that case, I'm not sure that it really is fair to say "I" —not when you're trying to convince site visitors that you are a collaborative effort. "I" doesn't actually represent what your shop offers.
posted by pineapple at 8:33 AM on December 4, 2011

Best answer: I use we for my new solo company, based on the logic that I have access to other skilled specialists who can support me on contracts if needed. (Congrats and good luck!)
posted by mochapickle at 8:34 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

'We' is completely appropriate in this context. Make sure you comb over your copy to make sure you don't go back and forth, though, because that's annoying.
posted by Gilbert at 8:38 AM on December 4, 2011

I was a sole proprietor and used to mock people who said "we" when they meant one person in a home office. I adamantly used "I" and came to regret it. I sold people on me to the point that it was going to be very difficult to grow beyond a one-person operation.
posted by Houstonian at 8:45 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

The comp[any or our company..."I" sounds like a one-guy operation. We, Twain said, for kings and people with tape worms.
posted by Postroad at 8:51 AM on December 4, 2011

Response by poster: Sounds like there's consensus. Thanks everyone!

Do people have thoughts on 'revealing' on the About page that "My Company is SoftLord. Also, I partner with select freelancers blah blah blah"

Or should I just not mention it?
posted by softlord at 8:54 AM on December 4, 2011

Some statements might be technically accurate with a "we" (things that involve your fellow freelancers), but it's misleading to say something like "we have ten years of experience" when this company (even if it can always be a "we") hasn't been around and this refers to your specifically experience.

I would either write around those things or switch it up to be honest as needed.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:56 AM on December 4, 2011

For the about page, focus on the name of the company rather than pronouns. 'SoftLord specializes in providing only the finest pretzel-flavored widgets.' 'SoftLord can meet the needs of even the most fastidious sacking Vikings.' There's really no need to mention how the job gets done (ie freelancers, contracters, etc.), so long as you come in on time and on budget.
posted by Gilbert at 9:02 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, be careful when making claims in the "we" that they are accurate -- perhaps an "About Us" kind of page that lists you as the president or some such, and there put your bio and experience.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:07 AM on December 4, 2011

Would it be appropriate to say something on the about page like 'we are a consortium the best independent artisans (or whatever) collaborating to bring you the best in breed'. To acknowledge that you are made up of other independents, but still refer to yourselves as a single unit or collective?
posted by el io at 9:22 AM on December 4, 2011

Response by poster: Well its not really a collective as much as I'm the point person and the only one who is mainly focused on this endeavor. Everyone else is friends of mine who I may or may not hire to help on a case-by-case basis (subcontract to?).
posted by softlord at 9:26 AM on December 4, 2011

In entrepreneur school they taught us to say "we." It always felt kind of jerky to me, but then, I was a terrible entrepreneur.

The We is, indeed, the company. When you are talking about you, softlord, then you should use the third person (on the web site! if you do it in real life people will think you are crazy!). In the "about us" section, you talk about yourself as the proprietor of the company, "Company was founded in 2011 by softlord, who has ten years experience in blah blah. Formerly collaborated with so and so. Brings the expertise of whatever and pulls in leaders in the field from this and that." It's not disingenuous or misleading. When you can't do the work yourself, you will hire a contractor, just like the people who are hiring you have done.

One of my business teachers made us drill our elevator pitch and drove into us over and over that we were not our company, that we needed to understand the difference between us as people and the company as an entity. You might be able to do XYZ but your company can do ABC, XYZ and 123.

Personally, I sucked at it hard, which is why I work for someone else again. However, I tell everyone I know who anticipates any kind of gap in their employment (job loss, stay-at-home mom, etc.) to start themselves up a small business. Even if you don't parlay it into millions down the line, it makes an on-again-off-again work situation look like something more solid.
posted by looli at 9:27 AM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

J. Wilson brings up a good point. Anything I say that relates to the amount of experience I have goes in my bio or is specifically linked to my name. The we refers to services, capabilities, deliverables available through the company in general.
posted by mochapickle at 9:28 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am a freelancer and I use "I" to talk about my business, but I also have no plans to ever expand beyond just me as far as actual employees go. I work with other freelancers, and when I talk to clients I emphasize my ability to bring the appropriate amount of production / other people to their project.

I think this depends on your field, for me it would be weird to say "we" when my name = my business and everyone knows it's just me.
posted by bradbane at 9:31 AM on December 4, 2011

You don't have to disclose how you are getting the work done and the bigger and more competent you look the better. My brother in law had a website and collateral material that made him look like a huge company when he was just one guy with associates. He was outrageously successful because he could deliver the goods (like a big company), despite "the truth". When asked in person refer to the people you work with as your "associates".
(The danger in operating like this, I am sure I don't have to tell you, is getting all your associates paid in under 90 days! The lag time between payment from the client to the associates is the biggest challenge!)
posted by naplesyellow at 9:35 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I would rewrite as much as possible to avoid using either, where possible. In fact, it may end in better copy all around if you write from the "you" perspective. Talk about the benefit for the prospective customer from his/her perspective, instead of making it all about what you/y'all do.
posted by the jam at 9:38 AM on December 4, 2011

I've been a sole proprietor for several years now. Like others I encourage you to say "we" and to build your brand around your company, not you personally. I've been using "I" and am a biggish name now, which is great, but it means that everyone wants ME to do the work, and that's not scalable.
posted by ceiba at 10:54 AM on December 4, 2011

And in response to your second question: You might say something like "Collectively, we have XX years of experience in ..." and say on the About page that the company is you and some hand-picked, highly qualified professionals that are all committed to making "you" the client look great / succeed / whatever. You might make clear that the client will be dealing with only one contact person.
posted by ceiba at 10:58 AM on December 4, 2011

I am an ex freelancer, turned company director. I can see the false 'we' a mile off, and I think it's kinda cute :). More seriously, I've never seen anyone who uses it expand to more than one person successfully. I wonder if you're not limiting yourself by drawing attention to the disconnect - ie when you do grow, people will still believe that 'we' means one person.

On the other hand, I understand the need to avoid the 'I'. Your company is not you, and you'll need to revoice as soon as more than one person is involved.

For companies of one expert, position it like a doctor's office - you and your support staff. People who know you will come to you for you, the expert, and will be disappointed to get anyone else. Your company should be capitalizing on that expertise. (It also means that your first hire should be your manager).

On the other hand, you make it slightly harder to grow by capitalizing on your personal brand. However, growing a business is hard, and nomenclature or rebranding are some of the easier aspects. If you reach a point where you need to rebrand to accommodate several expert staff, there's nothing stopping this, or even starting a whole new company.

For these reasons, I'm a +1 on changing the company voice to use the third person until you are established as a multi-person entity. For individual interactions, 'I' is fine at any time.

(Also, be careful of claims that your freelancers are part or partners of your company. Could open you up to extra liability.)
posted by cogat at 12:13 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

To put it another way, ceiba's difficulty scaling up is not because she used 'I', not 'we', but because she's damn good at her job, and people know it, despite what his company may wish it had said to the contrary :)
posted by cogat at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2011

(Sorry ceiba, both for using you as an example and switching your gender halfway though a sentence.)
posted by cogat at 12:28 PM on December 4, 2011

Response by poster: If it makes a difference, the biz is a digital storytelling biz (audio and video, podcasts, that sort of thing).

It seems like i should keep doing what I'm doing, reframe the 'about' page to position myself as 'founder', separate what i believe from what the company does, and not worry about total transparency so much.

Thanks everyone!
posted by softlord at 3:38 PM on December 4, 2011

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