Isn’t it time individuals stopped pretending they’re companies?

Buy my stuff!

One of the trends we’ve been seeing with the proliferation of independent analysts, bloggers, consultants, journalists and other pundits, is for many of these characters to launch their own “firms”, when the product is, really, just them.  Or them and a few freelancers they could tack on to their website to make them look like an actual company of people.

Now, if an individual was actually planning to grow a company over time – and genuinely adding real staff which does more than organize their mailshots, calendar or spell-check their reports, they can be forgiven, however, there are far too many people out there masquerading as company CEOs when they really don’t have a “company” to run.  It’s just them.  And some freelance admin person.

When I saw my old friend, Chris Lewis, announcing an exciting conference “The Great Telco Event”  he is running in London this November, I was amazed at the sheer number of “companies” I have never heard of from a pretty impressive collection of individual speakers (many of whom are telecom analysts who found themselves going independent after that market commodotized and their firms couldn’t make enough profit out of them).  Now, I have heard of most these experts as individuals, but these weird company names?  I mean, why bother? Aren’t they just confusing their clients and prospects?

Aren’t we in a new generation of individuals promoting themselves?  Isn’t the real brand equity in their personal brands as opposed to some obscure name they trumped up?  And credit to Chris – one of the great all time telecom analysts, who has recently branched out as “Chris Lewis Insight“. Now… when prospective clients want to hire Chris, they want him and his services – and his handsome face.  So why not brand his venture under his own brand?

“But didn’t you do the same thing Phil?”  I hear you ask…

Kind of – I wanted to use a successful blog as the initial platform to grow a research firm, and that is exactly what we achieved, and it quickly culminated with us abbreviating the blog name to HfS to sound more corporate (try getting meetings with CFOs when your firm is called “Horses for Sources”).  My friend Ray Wang had a vision of assembling a “constellation” of star analysts, and that is what he has achieved with some great additions like Holger Mueller and Peter Kim at Constellation Research.  Now, if myself of Ray had never actually bothered to build genuine companies of experts, we should just call ourselves “Fersht Inc.”, or “Wang and Assocs LLC” (or whatever).  And if the whole of HfS decides to quit on me tomorrow and I decide I can’t be bothered to replace them, I’ll probably do just that!

The Bottom-Line:  We’re in the era of creating our individual personas – it’s time for people to exploit that

When you go on LinkedIn these days, it reminds me of those market scenes in historical movies and paintings, where people are selling their services and wares openly to all the town (B2C) and the other merchants (B2B). People are marketing their skills and competencies before their corporate identity.  In fact, I find I have to click on someone’s actual profile and scroll down a couple of screens to find out who employs them these days.  Who cares if you are an SVP at Blah Blah Bank… I want to know what you’re good at!  And on twitter, many people do not even bother to add their company name in their profile at all.

I believe careers are now going in that direction – corporates want to reduce their core and contract for expertise as and when they need it.  At the same time, an increasing number of individuals are shunning the corporate treadmill to enjoy the fruits of being self-employed – either as themselves or their pretend company.  And those individuals are picking up new skills – often without realizing it – that makes them more valuable professionals – they learn how to market themselves well, how to hustle for clients, how to think outside of the box, how to differentiate their ideas and personas…

We can lament the shortage of Digital talent within corporations, but maybe that’s because the next wave of “Digital” skill and creativity is coming from outside of the creaking corporate firewall.

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18 Comments

  1. Company Man
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Phil – thank you for calling this!

    I think analysts try to do it make their research look more credible. Consultants do it because they worry they won’t be taken seriously by clients if they are seen as solos. But you are exactly right – clients want to buy from the smart individuals and having them use obscure company names is actually diluting their value, not adding to it.

  2. Posted July 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Good post, personal brands are rampant. Related question: How long was Mr Peter Kim at Constellation?

  3. Adam
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    If I had a dollar for every Mom and Pop analyst “firm” cropping up. And most are either Moms or Pops, not both :)

    Adam

  4. Eric
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I think some analysts are keen to create the facade they have resources behind them.

    Eric

  5. Mike Rowntree
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Brilliant piece. People want to brand themselves, but clearly many still feel the need to hide behind a corporate identity for credibility. However, I do see this changing as the younger digital generation uses social media to market their skills and capabilities. The “fake CEO” trend seems to be more the older generation lacking the confidence to go out alone into the business world,

    Mike Rowntree

  6. Anon
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Phil,

    What makes me cringe is the need to people to use impressive titles to try to get credibility, when they should be using their craft to gain plaudits. You neglected to mention those who also call themselves “President and CEO” – as if being CEO along isn’t enough =)

  7. Yatin Ubhaykar
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “Make Hay While the Sun Shines” – that’s the first thought which comes to mind
    Also it may highlight an opportunity area which these individual “analysts” are exploting. The well know, the popular analyst firms – CHARGE TOO MUCH? And also that buyers of services are out for cheaper,low cost or freemium?

  8. Greg
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    I work in marketing for a technology firm and we have been debating this for some time. We use analysts regularly and several have set up their own firms in recent years. While we see value in continuing the analyst relationship, there is limited value in using the brand of a research firm, that is really just one solo individual. I would agree with you that this devalues them and they need to focus on their own individual branding,

    Greg

  9. Phil Fersht
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    @Mike – good point regarding the younger digital generation – they are all about self-marketing using social and digital tools. This is the big generational shift as many millennials move into smaller, “born in the cloud” micro-businesses, where they are much more tied to front-office / creative-thinking / analytics activities. This is where the power of the individual is blossoming…

    PF

  10. Phil Fersht
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    @Yatin – it’s the natural evolution of research as legacy analyst firms cast off expensive old-guard (and often well regarded) analysts to replace them with cheaper younger staff which focus on the company brand and not their personal brand. Hence, you end up with a plethora of smart individual analysts going indie and making a living doing their craft for much lower prices than the IDCs and Gartners. For white papers, smart marketeers already know most end-users don’t read them in any case, so why not do them for cheaper with independents than pay top dollar for the big brands?

    PF

  11. Phil Fersht
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    @Anon – LOL! Yes, I have often wondered about those individuals who call themselves President! Like they were democratically elected or something :)

  12. Posted July 14, 2014 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Absolutely agree with you ”
    corporates want to reduce their core and contract for expertise as and when they need it. At the same time, an increasing number of individuals are shunning the corporate treadmill to enjoy the fruits of being self-employed – either as themselves or their pretend company. And those individuals are picking up new skills – often without realizing it – that makes them more valuable professionals – they learn how to market themselves well, how to hustle for clients, how to think outside of the box, how to differentiate their ideas and personas… – See more at: http://www.horsesforsources.com/individuals-companies_071014#sthash.l8WhJ734.dpuf

    As we move into a world where Employment Contract Hire is becoming the norm it is essential for People to establish themselves as a Brand. Doing this requires considerable digital fluency thereby escalating the individuals skill set and value.

    Again thank you.

  13. @Gargee_Ghosh
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Agree, and see it happen very often in Corporate America (not sure of other geographies). Increasingly firms tend to reduce core, and hire expertise on long-running contracts. As a consultant this is extremely valuable for me, as I deliver individually and gather feedback as a unit of skill. Doesn’t matter if you call yourself a founder-CEO or an independent consultant. The only help that comes with an organisational affiliation is the work-permit (yes, this is a concept for resources from ‘other’ parts of the world : ) ).

  14. Brian Boschen
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Well, that is the beauty of “free enterprise”, isn’t it? You, me or anyone else can start a business. and succeed or fail “by the sweat of our brow”.

    “Now, if an individual was actually planning to grow a company over time – and genuinely adding real staff which does more than organize their mailshots, calendar or spell-check their reports, they can be forgiven, however, there are far too many people out there masquerading as company CEOs when they really don’t have a “company” to run. It’s just them. And some freelance admin person.”

    Sometimes, spell-checking isn’t enough. We all may, from time to time, fall into the trap of relying on spellcheck. Maybe even a lofty “Founder and Chief Executive Officer” from blah blah blah Research firm, such as:

    “Now, if myself of Ray had never actually bothered to build genuine companies of experts, we should just call ourselves “Fersht Inc.”, or “Wang and Assocs LLC” (or whatever).”

    Tsk-tsk

    :o )

  15. Posted July 21, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    The writer obviously doesn’t understand the term, “Sole Proprietor”. In such a role I am my business and my business is me. It is one of the few remaining rights we Americans can enjoy in this country. Also, at my age the level of certification, education and experience I bring to the market and the table exceeds that of most small and mid-level business operations. Most of them can’t match my expertise with an entire department. My experience, knowledge and skills makes me an ideal contractor for short term technical projects. Those same skills makes me a poor employee because I know my business and my field of expertise better than some 25 year old HR witch or a numb skull middle manager. Finally as an independent contractor I don’t need to be enrolled in a company health care, retirement or benefit plan. I am a proud hired gun and I take of myself. All I need to know is what is the job, what is the mission, what are the deliverables and what is the deadline? I’ll take it from there.

  16. Phil Fersht
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    @Steven – sounds like you are very good at what you do. So what is the point of masquerading as a company, if you are the rock star and the clients are buying YOU? That is the point of the blog…

    PF

  17. Posted July 21, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    As usual your analysis is sharp and insightful. However, as a recently independent owner of a one-person firm, I do think there are some considerations you may be missing or undervaluing. It’s difficult to have a private persona and a public one if your name is your brand. For those of us whose lives are about more than our work, that’s a good reason to create a separate brand. And you can make fun of a one-person company having a President, but it’s amazing how much deference people pay to titles, even meaningless ones.

    EAM

  18. Phil Fersht
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    @Ed – thanks for the kind words. I’ve got nothing against individuals in knowledge areas who prefer to operate under a corporate “brand” – I am just confused why they do it when their main product is their own intellect and skill – and they could brand their corporate services accordingly. I have lost count of the number of times people have asked questions about a firm and their first observation is “isn’t it just that one guy?”. Isn’t it better to have your clients spread the word that “Ed Marcarelli is a great guy who does an outstanding job”. I’m just not sure where the value of a corporate persona comes in, if you have no plans to employ others under it with you… people like to hire special people, and want to feel like that special person is treating them as a special client :)

    PF

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