When jewelry designer Nina Berenato changed her business name three years ago to include her personal name as part of the brand, her website and brick-and-mortar store sales increased.
“People were able to identify with the product and with me as the maker a lot more. They felt more in touch with the brand," says Berenato, who switched from Psyche Jewelry to Nina Berenato Jewelry, operated under Nina Berenato Worldwide LLC.
It was the right move for Berenato, but does it make sense for your company? Here's what you need to know about how to operate an LLC with a personal name.
Situations when an LLC with a personal name makes sense
Naming your business after yourself is a common strategy for service providers who are both the product and the face of the business. That's voiceover artist Amanda Terman's situation. Clients hire the owner of Amanda Terman LLC precisely because of who she is—they want her voice, personality, and perspective.
“So, when establishing my business, it was important to keep my personal self deeply connected to my professional brand," she says. "Creating an LLC with my name was the perfect way to merge my unique identity with my creative business, while maintaining the legal protections that an LLC offers."
Photographer Keri Calabrese knew that many in her field name their businesses after themselves because they're selling their skill. She was reluctant to do so initially, though, because she wanted to create something that was bigger than herself.
With that in mind, Calabrese first used a personal name she made up—Callie James Photography—but soon discovered that people thought that was her name, too. “Ultimately, I decided it would be too confusing and people would just end up calling me the wrong name—which they did," says Calabrese, founder of what is now Keri Calabrese Photography.
It also makes sense if the owner has already established a personal reputation or brand with their name already. “For example, professional athletes often start a business after retirement and use their name to build and brand the business," says business law attorney David Di Pietro, who named his firm Di Pietro Partners PLLC.
What to watch out for
Before including your personal name in your LLC, however, be aware of some of the downsides.
For example, incorporating your personal name is less effective if your name is hard to spell or pronounce, or is quite common. To get around the latter while adding clarity, include a descriptor. “Something along the lines of 'Empire Electronics Design by Jane Doe LLC' is better than 'Jane Doe LLC,'" says Keesjan Engelen, CEO of product design company Titoma.
Your business might have limited growth potential when you're too closely tied to the brand, too. “People will always consider and treat your business like it's a one-man-show," cautions Bradley Stevens, CEO of LLC Formations.
That's why business consultant Jessica Dennehy of Pivot and Slay advises against using your personal name. She points out that many entrepreneurs want to create an organization that grows to the point where the founder can turn it over to new leadership. “This progression is more difficult to accomplish if the company's brand identity is the name of the owner," she says.
For that and other reasons, attorney Ugo Lord often advises his clients to register the LLC in their personal name for legal liability purposes but operate the company under a DBA—“doing business as"—with a different name. “I usually recommend this method any time a client tells me they would like to use their name but they're hesitant about running public ads in their own name," he says.
Be vigilant about keeping your business entity with your name separate from your personal accounts and activity, too, especially when signing documents on behalf of the company.
“To avoid any issues, best practice is to always sign 'Michael Brown on behalf of Michael Brown LLC,'" says business attorney Damien H. Weinstein of Weinstein + Klein. “This avoids any argument that Michael Brown, personally, assumed the obligations or debts of the entity."
When forming your LLC with your personal name, be sure to consult with an experienced business attorney who can help you understand both the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. That's the best way to be protected by an LLC while selecting a name that will serve you now and later.