18 must-know things about starting a naming and branding agency

(Expert insights by John Ball, Principal and Creative Director of MiresBall Brand Design Agency, San Diego, CA)

MiresBall headquarters in San Diego, California

The inspirations behind many world-famous brand names are pretty interesting — as the following examples can reveal:

Reebok — Derived from ‘Rhebok’, the Afrikaans spelling of the name of an African antelope

Fanta — The name that was adopted after the head of the German Coca-Cola team asked the team to use their ‘Fantasie’, i.e. imagination, to find a name for the product

Pepsi — Derived from ‘pepsin’, the digestive enzyme; it’s not an ingredient in the drink though

Lego — Derived from the Danish words ‘leg godt’ which translate as ‘play well’

Vodafone — Derived from three words i.e. ‘Voice’, ‘Data’, and ‘Telefone’

Brand naming experts are the brains behind the names of products and services that we use every day and there’s quite a lot that goes into finding a name that will work.

Naming and branding agencies, like other related creative agencies, are part of the wider advertising industry. As a founder of one of these, your agency’s focus will be to help create, develop, maintain and improve brands.

To find the most success when working with your clients it will be apt to consider your brand naming agency as a department in your client’s organization. Basically, you’ll need to know and understand everything about your client in order to figure out what makes them tick. You’ll also need to understand their market and their competitors. Only then can you come up with a viable brand strategy to help your client achieve the sort of growth they are aspiring for.

US advertising industry revenues for 2016 stood at $103.74 billion, with agency revenues totaling $48.3 billion, up 4.4% from 2015.


In 2015 there were approximately 13,300 ad agencies across the US, employing an estimated 189,000 people. By December 2017 the estimated number of employees had risen to 202,700 people.


Read on to find out what you must know about starting a naming and branding agency:

Two ways of getting into the naming and branding industry…

1. Finding your way into the naming and branding industry

While you can make headway into the naming and branding industry via the conventional route of studying Marketing or Business at college and then sending job applications to branding agencies, the truth is that there are many people who’ve done things differently en route to stellar careers.

Reading several of the myriad success stories available online will reveal that it’s not really about what you’ve studied but rather the impression you make on those that matter.

If you do study one of these courses and then manage to get yourself on the radar of potential employers courtesy of work placements and internships then this advice will come in handy:

i. Expose yourself to as many different disciplines and agencies experiences as you can

ii. Learn as much as you can about the wider industry

iii. Obtain as many transferable skills as you can

iv. Find the type of agency that’s the best fit for you

On the other hand, if you studied something totally different, or if you began your career in a totally different field, you may have to do things another way to get into naming and branding e.g. attending industry events and meet-ups.

Your aim will be to get the attention of potential employers; knowledgeably contributing to the conversation will not only get you noticed, you may get an opportunity to prove why you’ll be an excellent hire.

Should this happen then you’ll need to showcase your thinking and if this secures you a job then you better impress with your thinking.

Whatever route you take into the industry you’ll need to come across as one who is both creative and adept at thinking about a client’s business.

John Ball: “I came to this from graphic design, which is what many people do. Some people also start as writers. You come in from whatever your particular craft is. And then you can begin to see the larger applications of your skills. You get a wider lens on what you can do for people.”

John Ball, Principal and Creative Director of MiresBall

2. You’ll need a certain mindset and an array of skills and competencies to be successful at starting your naming and branding agency

One of the prerequisites for starting a brand naming agency is the need to find a co-founder, no doubt because it can be awfully difficult to run such a business on your own.

Operational difficulties aside, it is immediately apparent that having a partner(s) will result in a coming together of minds. Each of you will bring a certain mindset, skills and competencies to the whole, resulting in a synergy that can only be beneficial for the agency’s success.

As a co-founder, you will do well to possess most or all of the following attributes:

· Knowing your mind and not blindly following what others tell you

· Having a can-do attitude and being willing to go all in

· Knowing where your passions lie and allowing your niche excellence to shine

· Having the courage to be yourself instead of adopting a false persona

· A penchant for searching for patterns and seeking order in chaos

· Contemplativeness, inquisitiveness, and an analytical mind

· Knowing how to convincingly communicate your creative ideas with clients

· Being appreciative of language in terms of its meaning and context

· The ability to clearly articulate and convey your thoughts in writing

· Having a well developed individual writing style and distinct voice

· Superb researching skills that’ll allow you to uncover valuable insights which will be useful for completing the task at hand

· A willingness to proactively thinking about a client, always looking to consider more than has been provided in the job description

· Superb interpersonal skills

· The ability to be calm under pressure, and to be patient and persevering even when things get tough

· Being self-motivated and a self-starter

· A willingness to speak your mind and go against the norm

· A willingness to read widely and learn constantly

· Having superb presentation skills

· Knowing the value of your work and ensuring that you’re fairly compensated for it

. Being open to change and being willing to accommodate it even when doing so is clearly awkward and inconvenient

John Ball: “So, this is where you start with the skills you already have, but to be successful you have to expand on those. I went to art school, but English wasn’t my best subject. So you learn by doing. I think that being a reader is key. I read a lot of non-fiction. It helped me learn to write, too.

Overall, you’ve got to be curious and you have to enjoy learning. With each client, we’re always learning new things. Communicating with people, gaining trust, and learning how to talk to them about their concerns and challenges. Those are all important.”

MiresBall Principal John Ball at his desk

3. You’ll need to accumulate assorted industry experience before starting your brand naming agency

After working for some time in various capacities in one or several branding agencies you can decide to launch your agency, thereby leveraging on your accumulated experience. Being conversant with current industry practices and standards you’ll definitely be starting on the right footing and from a well informed perspective.

There are many obvious advantages of taking this path, notable of which is the fact that your agency will very likely not need to wait too long for its first client. The contacts and network that you and your co-founder(s) will have developed during your time in employment should facilitate this.

Also, some of the clients that you had served in your previous positions will likely be very delighted to transfer their business to your fledgling agency.

Last but not least, you and your partner(s) will most likely have considerable financial and material resources that you can pool together, ensuring that your agency’s startup period won’t be an extreme fight for survival.

John Ball: “Yes, working in a number of places can be great. I had worked in-house and at another firm, and so early on I had an angle on what an agency does.

You can certainly just start up an agency, but experience can definitely help you and expose you to different ways of handling challenges.”

4. Alternatively, you can start your brand naming agency straight out of college

Rather than go into employment first you can, like James Bull and his partners, decide to launch your agency as soon as you graduate from college.

Compared to the conventional, this alternative will certainly present more challenges; pulling this off can’t be easy, considering the obvious dearth of resources and the genuine uncertainty about when you’ll find your first client.

With few if any meaningful contacts to rely on, finding leads that you can eventually convert into clients will require a willingness to pitch ideas resourcefully, if only to convince prospects that you can actually deliver.

On a positive note, starting off this way does present several advantages that your brand naming agency can build on. Working in survival mode and therefore being in a better position to experiment and take risks can inspire innovativeness and new ways of thinking that can give you an edge over the competition.

5. You’ll need to find a suitable founding partner(s) and then choose a leader/principal

As has been pointed out previously, you will need a co-founder(s) with whom to start your naming and branding agency.

Choosing whom to go into business with is a serious decision. So much more rests on this choice than the skill set, financial and material resources, and client list that a potential partner(s) can bring to the table.

In making your decision therefore, you must first ensure that a potential partner is someone who you not only know but wholly trust. Trust will ensure that you’ll all be absolutely certain that whatever action one of you undertakes on behalf of the rest will be in the best interests of the agency.

With your foundation of trust all of you will be sure that everyone is wholly committed and dedicated to the demanding task of growing an agency from the ground up.

The second requirement in choosing a partner(s) is to ensure that your skills are complementary. Considering all the different roles that must be filled, your combined set of skills must allow for a suitable designation to positions.

Thirdly, it is of utmost importance that you as co-founders choose a leader. There is much sense in doing this considering that your wealth of opinions will sometimes make it difficult for the team to agree on a decision. Having a leader who’ll during such an impasse or even in the absence of discussion decisively make a call on behalf of the rest will greatly aid your agency’s cause.

Nevertheless, before you go on any further, you as founding partners must know the greatest challenges you’ll face in trying to establish and grow your agency:


John Ball: “I think it’s like any relationship, and it depends on the people involved and how they work in partnership. It may be that you want to look for people with complementary strengths and skills. But then, starting out at 25, you might not have a world of resources at your fingertips.

As time goes on, though, it becomes clear what works. Some people may find that having different approaches, different personalities, and complementary skills in one place can be helpful. But others may find that there are different ways to achieve that balance. And while you could do it all yourself, being all things to all people can pose a challenge.”

MiresBall office interior in San Diego, CA

6. Choosing a name for your agency and the considerations that must be weighed

The name that you’ll choose for your naming and branding agency will generally fall into one of the seven naming categories below:

i. Founders

ii. Alpha numeric

iii. Places

iv. Inanimate objects

v. Physical or metaphysical attributes

vi. Living things

vii. Abstract concepts

Additionally, you can go for a name that describes what you do or one that describes an experience.

Regardless of your inspiration however, you should approach agency naming with the utmost care, realizing that the name you choose will be:

· what visitors (potential customers) to your website will see first, and

· how your work will be recognized

When choosing your brand naming firm’s name the following basic guidelines will help you to come up with a winner:

i. Considering your target audience — The name you choose may sound terrific in your locale or country but have a totally different (and offensive) meaning in another country. For this reason you need to adequately research your choice of name, ensuring that it’s translation in a foreign language won’t mean a different thing altogether

ii. Be creative and make it memorable

iii. Ensure that it’s easy to pronounce and spell

iv. Ensure that it won’t be limiting when you decide to expand your offerings in the future

The fact that you are in the creative business should motivate you to come up with a name that’ll give prospects a hint of what you can achieve for them.

Perhaps these examples of naming agencies categorized under best case, neutral case and worst case will vividly illustrate this requirement.

After you find several names that you can use you’ll need to:

v. Confirm that no one in your state is using them already as this will hinder incorporation. A review of the directory and a Google search will help you with this.

vi. Confirm that they don’t infringe on existing trademarks and copyrights. In the U.S. the USPTO website and the Copyright.gov websites will help you with confirmations for trademarks and copyrights respectively.

Upon successfully coming up with a unique name you’ll finally need to:

vii. Create a smart domain name

Your initial urge may be to go for a .com domain but it may be the case that you’ll need to pay a premium registration fee to get your intended domain name. There are two ways to make this cheaper as explained here i.e.:

– Adding an extra word to your domain name

– Buying your long .com domain name and then finding another shorter domain name to redirect to your website

Alternatively, if you are open to considering a “not-com” name you easily find a domain name that can help to distinguish your agency from the competition. Using the .agency domain, for example, is worth considering.

John Ball: “We were designers then, and we began as Mires Design. Then we had something else, and at some point we became MiresBall. We’ve kept the name since Scott left — there’s a history there, and that’s what people know us by. 

But at the same time, there’s no right or wrong. Some firms operate with names that emphasize the partners, and others have names that aren’t attached to the actual people. I think that if you go down that path with a person’s name, it’s sort of easier to build mindshare in that, but it could be limiting over the life of the agency. Whereas if you have a great name like Pentagram, you can build equity over time, and you could become more valuable as you live on, because anyone could inhabit that name.”

7. You must understand the art of finding and retaining clients for your agency

Finding clients for your naming and branding agency is how you’ll provide its lifeblood. There’s simply no way around this; you’ll need to work hard to find the people who’ll bring you business.

Finding and retaining clients rests on more than simply offering top-notch services. Choosing to be content with trusting that your satisfied clients will bring you repeat business is rather naïve. The fact is that you’ll need to be more outgoing if you want to get business more frequently.

The following are some of the ways you can attract the sort of clients you are after:

i. Be available for the people looking for your services — Research shows that 81% of people looking to make a purchase will first hit the search engines to conduct some research. The most obvious thing for you to do therefore is to ensure that these people can find you. Your website will therefore need to be well optimized for the services you offer. When these people visit your website make sure that what they find will impress them enough to give you their business.

ii. Asking current clients for referrals — Let’s face it, brand naming agencies and other service-based business typically have a hard time trying to convince prospects to work with them. If you succeed with just one prospect however, asking them to refer others to you is so much simpler, and it works because when the client does it on your behalf it makes you look so much more credible. This is the power of referrals and you should routinely ask for them.

The person who’ll refer new clients to you doesn’t have to be a paying customer. You can opt to provide them with a free service resulting in a win-win scenario. In most cases this recipient will be eager to reciprocate, in this case referring others to you.

Below you can see how effective referrals are as a source of new business:


iii. Make your website irresistible and memorable — In our digital world your website is the face of your business. Someone looking for a brand naming agency may decide to sample a bunch of sites. In the event that yours is one of the several being sampled, what would motivate the person to shortlist yours and, even better, get in touch? It is rather clear that your website will need to be impressive, extremely presentable, convenient to visit, well detailed, updated, etc.

iv. Let your brand work for you — Knowing that your business brand will stand out to everyone who interacts with your agency, more so in the way of showing rather than telling, the most logical thing to do would be to make the most of it. Business brands are unique; let yours shine; let yours communicate what you stand for. Perhaps your agency comes across as unconventional yet effective — this is what people need to see. There are many prospects looking to work with your type of brand and they’ll be happy to find you.

v. Establish mutually beneficial relationships with other businesses — The concept for how this works is closely similar to that for client referrals. In this case, however, you will build relationships with other business whose work you admire, including those that aren’t in the naming and branding niche. Simply reaching out and complementing projects that these businesses have successfully completed may be the start of a friendship that’ll see you referring clients to one another, perhaps from fields that both of you couldn’t have imagined previously.

vi. Display your portfolio on your website — This will be a powerful way for you to get new clients — although it will only be applicable for you later on after you’ve worked with several. Virtually every naming and branding agency does this, more so featuring the big-name clients they’ve worked with, and it works.

vii. Prioritize real conversations — When trying to acquire new business it’s advisable to have direct conversations with your prospect, mostly in person or at least via phone. Much more can be discussed with finality this way as opposed to the indirectness of other means such as email.

viii. Let your personality shine — Being authentic is really important when trying to create new business opportunities for your agency.

ix. Following up on inquiries that went cold — Taking the initiative to follow up on prospects who suddenly went silent can work in your favor. Perhaps such a prospect is weighing several options and just needs to hear something that will help them to make up their mind.

x. Having secured a client, don’t take them for granted — The idea here is to ensure that your client never gets to think that you’ve become indifferent with regards to the client-agency relationship. Earn the client’s trust by delivering work that produces the results they are after. If this hasn’t been possible the first time round, see what can be done to make it happen. This way the client will be convinced that you have their best interests at heart and will be confident in bringing you even more business rather than seeking solutions elsewhere. There’s much efficiency in not losing clients.

xi. Network online and offline — There are several places online e.g. LinkedIn and Medium where being present will allow prospective clients to find you. Having a complete profile and offering value, e.g. useful content, will occasionally get you some leads that can eventually be converted into clients. Away from internet, going to places where you can expect to meet prospects, e.g. events and conferences, is well advised.

On the other hand, the following are the main reasons why your agency will be dropped from consideration:


Here’s why your client will fire your agency:


John Ball: “Beyond hiring a really good person to lead the charge of finding new business, it comes down to always doing the best thing by your current clients, and making sure that they walk away happy. Building a reputation and being known for doing good things is the way we’ve always looked at retaining clients.”

Lofta name and logo by MiresBall. An extended letter L suggests a clear path to healthy sleep.

8. Understand the main types of projects you can expect from your clients

There are three categories of projects that your naming and branding agency will receive from its clients i.e. branding, rebranding and brand refreshing.

Branding — This will involve creating a new identity from scratch, the result of which will be a new brand. Your agency will be expected to come up with a visual identity of the new brand, typically including a name, logo, tagline, website and marketing materials, all based on the brand’s narrative.

After you’ve created the brand, someone well versed in the brand’s desired standards will be required to manage it thereby ensuring that the brand’s consistency is maintained.

Rebranding — For such projects a client will require your agency to replace their existing brand with an entirely new one. Rebranding is considered to be the most involving category of project, and rightly so. A bad brand means that a business can’t be understood by its target audience; this audience will obviously seek solutions elsewhere. In such a predicament such a client will need your team to discover why their brand doesn’t appeal to their target audience, and based on your investigations come up with a new brand that will produce the desired results.

Your rebranding strategy for this client will typically involve the following steps:

i. Establish the reason for the rebrand requirement

ii. Researching to understand the situation in the marketplace

iii. Coming up with differentiation points that will make the new brand unique

iv. Researching to inform brand strategy

v. Creating the new identity

vi. Building the brand

Here are real-life examples of successful rebranding and forgettable rebranding.

Brand refreshing/rejuvenation — A client with a brand refresh project will need your agency to give their existing brand a new lease of life. The revitalized brand will either have subtle changes or glaring ones.

The old…and the new

Your brand refresh strategy will typically involve:

i. Research and discovery thereby understanding what you’ll need to achieve

ii. Competitive analysis

iii. Visual identity update

iv. Updating tone of voice/messaging

John Ball: “Sometimes clients come in thinking about what they need, and from our vantage point, we may think they need something else. So we’ll read between the lines and come back with solutions that we feel are right for the client, and get to a place where they recognize that the work will get them where they need to be.”


AirFuel name and logo by MiresBall. Floating ribbons frame a bolt to evoke the idea of wireless charging.

9. Understand the core concepts and steps involved in the branding process

The steps involved in a successful branding process are not etched in granite and as such your brand naming agency will definitely develop its own tried and tested procedure in time. Nevertheless, your procedure will more or less involve the following:

i. Determining the target audience for the brand being created

ii. Coming up with a branding mission statement

iii. Researching the brands already existing in the client’s target niche with the aim of differentiating the new brand

iv. Identifying the unique prominent qualities and benefits that the new brand will offer

v. Creating a superb name, logo and tagline for the new brand

vi. Finding a voice for the new brand — the one that’ll be used to communicate with the target audience. This voice must be a fit with the audience.

vii. Building a brand message that the audience will understand and thereby know what the brand is, what the brand offers, and why they should care. This message must be communicated in the brand’s voice.

viii. Ensuring that the brand’s personality stands out to the audience, effectively setting the brand apart from the other available options

ix. Integrating the new brand into every aspect of the client’s business

x. Consistently sticking to the brand’s message and voice henceforth

John Ball: “You could sum it up as ‘Discover, define, and design.’ You have to do your homework and do the discovery. Branding starts with looking at where you’re coming from and defining what you want to be and what you could be. 

Then, design is how you chart the course to get there. What sorts of things are you creating to achieve that state? Brand is shaping perception, so you do your discovery to figure out how the client is perceived when they come to you, and then how they could be perceived. We work to define that in a more focused way. And then after we’ve codified it, the design is what we’re doing to get there. It’s how we achieve it.”

Senior Designer Shawn Ritzenthaler, Principal and Creative Director John Ball, and Managing Director Holly Houk collaborate on a project.

10. Building a team and the various positions that will need to be filled in your brand naming agency

In the immediate period that follows the launch of your naming and branding agency you as the co-founders will not only be required to do the actual work involved for clients’ projects but also handle the front end requirements for your agency i.e. marketing and pursuing prospects.

It will soon become apparent that finding new work and executing it won’t be sustainable. This necessity will inform the need for making your first hire; you should fill the position with the most time-consuming tasks, effectively freeing yourself to find more business.

The person you hire should be well experienced such that they can hit the ground running; an intern won’t do.

Following this procedure will allow you to build a strong team from the ground up. You’ll obviously need to monitor (not micromanage) your staff’s performance to ensure that your clients are getting the value you promised them.

Your ongoing staffing requirements further down the line will require you to introduce more senior positions including head designer, developer, and marketer, etc., and with your growth still more senior positions like project manager and account managers will become necessary.

The following are the brand naming agency positions and roles that your thriving company will most likely have:

a. Managing Director — Ensures that the agency’s business goals and objectives are attained

b. Creative Director — Has responsibility for the creative work’s final quality, ensures that a brand’s values and message are effectively communicated in the artwork, develops visions for brands and their respective campaign concepts, and guides the creative team

c. Art Director — Has responsibility for the work’s visual output and oversees the creative process and work before it’s submitted to a client.

d. Design Director — Oversees the design for a client’s branding and advertising requirements ensuring that all the client’s requirements are well met.

e. Account Director — The person responsible for linking the creative team to the client and ensuring that:

· the team provides the client with an optimal quality of service

· existing clients are encouraged to bring in more business

· new accounts are generated (this in conjunction with other senior managers)

· they skillfully motivate clients, and the agency, for creative and strategic intents

f. Account Manager — The person responsible for working closely with a client on a daily basis. Through this person work will be relayed to the creative team and then submitted to the client on time. This position is best suited for a person who is creative, able to provide innovative solutions, and capable of seeing the big picture as concerns a client’s brand

g. Account Executive — The person responsible for the account team’s coordination as well as being the client’s main point of contact

h. Designer — Responsible for assorted tasks including logo design, graphic, packaging or digital design, campaign inputs, etc.

i. Copywriter — Works with the Art Director to create effective copy for the visuals and campaigns

j. Photographer/Audio Visual Producer — Captures the best images to tell the story

k. Brand Strategist/Planner — Through research and analysis of data market trends they ensure that the brand message is consistent and effective. Responsible for reports concerning future growth, consumer data and information

l. Digital Strategist/Developer/Web Developer — Ensures that the campaigns and advertising can be effectively used online.

Losing and replacing team members is a reality that you’ll have to live with. The following are the main reasons why team members will leave your agency, with the top two being lack of growth opportunities and your management style:


John Ball: “As I mentioned, we started purely as a design firm, and then as the business grew over time, we added strategists, writers, and account managers. I would say that now some of those functions have become as important as the design for much of the work we do. Some of the client work, like naming, doesn’t even include visual design.

Clients now look to us for the writing and strategy that lays the groundwork for everything else we do. So a lot has changed in 33 years.”

Pirch name and logo by MiresBall. A stylized branch underscores the meaning.

11. You’ll need to fully understand the brand naming process

When the task of naming a brand is entrusted to your agency you’ll very likely find success if your process and results satisfy the following naming principles:

a. The need to be memorable

b. The ability to significantly convey a meaning

c. Ease of pronunciation and pleasantness when said out loud

d. The potential to grow on people despite not being popular at first

e. The tendency for a name to initially be both scary and surprising

f. Distinctiveness

g. The need to have a very long list of options

h. Knowing that the chosen name’s story will evolve

i. A good appearance in print

Of course, the names you come up must be developed with the target audience in mind; your team’s likes or dislikes shouldn’t be the priority.

Also, you should only start the naming process after you’ve fully considered the three essentials of company/product vision, brand architecture, and the competition.

Overall, your brand naming process ought to involve the following key steps:

i. Receiving the client’s brief and then gathering pertinent materials and information

ii. Conducting competitor analysis, coming up with a naming strategy, and starting the brainstorming

iii. Confirming with the client that your initial strategy matches their objectives

iv. Employing creativity to come up with a long list of name options

v. Screening all of the options to ensure that they have linguistic viability and that they don’t infringe on any trademarks and copyrights

vi. Presenting the screened options to the client and letting them see how each one of them can be activated for the project they have in mind

vii. Finally allowing the client to select the name that they’ll go with

John Ball: “In general, we approach naming in a lot of the same ways as we do branding. Naming is just one execution of brand, but it’s critical and it can work really hard for a company to shape perception.

For us, discovery is the first step. We have an organized process and within that, we make room for inspiration to strike. Once we understand the company, we establish the criteria. We’ll generate names, narrow down the focus and fine-tune the list as we go.”

Marketing Manager Meghan Mietus and Designer Erin Hensen kick off a new branding exercise.

12. Understanding what prospective clients look for in a naming and branding agency

There are just a handful of things that prospective clients will be looking for when trying to decide whether or not they should hire your agency. Knowing what these things are will definitely help you to put your best foot forward. Nevertheless, it’s worth appreciating the fact that you can’t be everything to everyone; some prospects will be thrilled to consider you but others won’t.

Basically, you need to understand that prospects are looking for fit. Once they have clarity about what they want to achieve their decision-making process becomes simpler. Only then does your wealth of skills and experience become relevant.

These choosing criteria are as follows:

· Work quality — When comparing the work that several brand naming agencies have accomplished a prospect will no doubt be attracted to agencies that they feel will help them to achieve what they are after. Just by looking at the visuals on your portfolio and the manner in which you write about your work a prospect may make a mental decision about whether or not your agency is worth a spot on their shortlist.

· Style of the work — Closely related to the work quality is its style. A prospect will want to see that you can help them achieve a brand that will achieve icon status and remain so long into the future. Achieving icon status will however be impossible if the practical side of things is not addressed. If your portfolio shows that you know how to merge aesthetics with practicality then you can always expect to attract prospects’ attention.

· Customization of the work — Prospects will want to feel assured that you have the ability to translate their aspirations into the brand they are trying to achieve for their business and most importantly for their target audience. Again, your portfolio will tell the story. Prospects will want to see variety in your work as this will assure them that you are capable of doing amazing stuff for their particular requirements.

. Cost — Prospects will want to be realistic about what they can achieve with the budget they have. Your rates will therefore determine whether or not a certain category of prospect will reach out to you.

John Ball: “Clients are generally looking for someone they believe has the expertise to help them with their challenge. If the client sees expertise, it builds trust. They go hand in hand. I think that beyond that, clients want experience in their specific category. We have longevity and we have solved so many different kinds of challenges over the years that those things really stand out for clients.”

You need to know why the marketers at megabrands like these will want to work with your brand naming agency

13. Understanding why big brands partner with small agencies

Certainly the biggest reason why a big brand will want to work with your small naming and branding agency is the fact that you can help them to be regarded as innovative.

There are however a couple of other reasons why big brands partner with small agencies and knowing these requirements will help your agency to position itself to get their attention, and their business.

. Partnership for smaller and project-based work — Marketers at big brands are now focusing their efforts on one-to-one communication rather than larger campaigns that need longer turnaround times. As such, opportunities are now opening up for smaller agencies that can deliver on briefer one-off projects. If your agency can pitch and deliver on such a project then you can leverage on the initial success to get more work with the brand. You’ll however need to ensure that you have efficient processes in place that will help you to deliver on time and be profitable. Hiring freelancers is one of the processes that your agency can use to cope with this new industry requirements:


.The need for specialists — In executing their projects, brand marketers want to work with agencies that are proven specialists in a particular service, industry, audience, channel, etc. Once your agency builds a strong portfolio showcasing your expertise in a particular niche it will be easier for you to convince a big brand that values that sort of expertise to give you business.

· The need for faster results — In looking for partners, big brands are very interested in working with nimble agencies. In addition to being an expert in your niche therefore, a big brand will want to know that they can rely on your agency for quick results while maintaining flexibility and creativity.

· The need for deeper work — Big brands are interested in working with agencies that will handle their work from a strategic rather than tactical point of view, and they know that for this to happen their work will need to be handled by an agency’s top talent. If you can convince and prove to a big brand that this will be the case then you can expect a sustained business relationship.

· A penchant for risk-taking — Big brands know that working with big agencies won’t really help to deliver the results they are after considering these agencies inflexible ways of doing business. On the other hand, working with a smaller agency led by uniquely and highly talented people assures big brands that their requirements can be met much better.

· The importance of agency culture — Big brands also want to work with small agencies because they know this is where they can find people who really enjoy their work and who can passionately advocate what they stand for. Your agency will therefore want its culture to show through when engaging with big brand prospective clients as this will set the stage for a deeper, more meaningful relationship, more so if your values align with these clients’ values.

The following are the main ways in which big brand marketers find agencies to work with:


John Ball: “I think that with big brands and large organizations, there can be a lot of complexity, and sometimes a lack of agility. That can also be the case with large agencies. So I think that for some larger clients, they really appreciate a smaller firm. There’s a nimble, hands-on approach that they find refreshing. We can jump in right away, and there’s less wind-up time. 

Our first high-profile client was referred to us by their ad agency. At the time, we were known for doing logos, and the client wanted a 25th-anniversary seal along with a commemorative publication. So we ended up getting that job. It was a big deal. We had a photo shoot with the executives and senior management, and for them it was a departure from how they traditionally had done things. We weren’t weighed down with how this kind of project should go. We were just our nimble selves, working in our usual style. They found it refreshing and they appreciated how open-minded we were about the process. We then did their annual report and ended up working with their CEO. That relationship went on for a long time.”

14. The importance of putting a client’s needs before your ego

Starting your brand naming agency will require tons of confidence in your own ability. Your decision to follow the entrepreneurial path is quite certainly buoyed by the fact that you are a top talent who takes a lot of pride in what you can accomplish. This is all good and jolly as long as it helps you to provide valuable solutions for your clients’ pain points.

If you however give free reign to your ego such that work becomes about prioritizing your personal ideas over your clients’ requirements then you’ll no longer be helping to build your clients’ businesses.

Clients’ needs should take priority over your ego and pride.

For this reason therefore you need to really hear a client out, get to understand what their needs and concerns are, develop an appropriate solution, and in doing so gain their trust.

John Ball: “We always keep the client’s challenge front and center. If we’re trying to solve something, we keep it right in front of us. From the very beginning of the conversation, we think about what the core problem is that we are trying to solve. And we apply what we know to that challenge. We don’t over-complicate it. Instead we boil it down and stay objective.”

15. About pricing your services and selecting a suitable fees structure

There are three pricing models that your naming and branding agency can employ i.e. hourly, milestones, and value-based.

a. Hourly pricing — Here your agency charges clients an hourly rate for the services you provide. It involves estimating up front the amount of time you’ll need to get something done, and then indicating how much more time you need if the initial estimate doesn’t suffice. You then bill the client weekly, bi-monthly or monthly. This is a suitable model for a nascent agency 0–3 years old.


– You’ll get paid for every hour you put in…in theory

– It’s a practical model for scoping work; you make an estimate of how long it’ll take up front and then make adjustments as you progress within the flexible hourly budget

– It’s a suitable interim model for agencies that are just starting out


– You can be sure that clients will ask questions when the work timeframe exceeds the initial estimate

– You will need to time-track your work in order to invoice your client — no exceptions

– If you decide to charge a different hourly rate for work done by different employee types instead of a single agency-wide rate, aka blended rate, you can be sure that the client will question the rationale for your choices

– Using this model will limit the amount of money you can make. To make more you’ll need to either hire more guys or raise your rate; doing the latter will obviously be restricted by the current market rate

– It is quite inevitable that trust issues will arise

b. Milestone pricing

For this model your brand naming agency will basically agree to do a specified amount of work for a specified payment. This is the concept upon which monthly retainers, project work, etc, are based on. This model is suitable for a slightly experienced agency that’s 2–5 years old.


– This approach rewards the efficiency you’ve brought into your work processes as a result of having learnt to do things faster

– This approach will give your clients the ability to predict what they’ll pay and when they’ll pay — they’ll like this

– In your case, this model will make it easier to estimate your cashflow as you’ll be in a position to tell the amount of time you’ll need to complete a milestone and therefore get paid


– In the event that you’re unable to scope the work properly you risk losing out on the efficiency savings

– As soon as you start on a project you can expect that things will change. Perhaps the client will introduce a new requirement; in this case you’ll need to revise the scope of the work to accommodate this requirement

– You’ll generally be at the mercy of the client i.e. as long as a client doesn’t agree that a milestone has been achieved they have a right to withhold payment; the payment is their only leverage

– In case you’ll be working on different types of projects every time it is highly likely that you’ll go over budget for every project simply because each project will present a new learning curve

c. Value-based model — In using this model you can either charge a royalty or other commission on client revenues OR charge clients more because they expect to get more value from your work. This model is suitable for an experienced agency that’s >3–8 years old.


– This is the best model to use in as far as aligning your incentives and your clients’ incentives; the more they make, the more you make

– Using this model you get rewarded for finding bigger opportunities on behalf of your clients. This is impossible when you are charging them a flat rate.


– For this model to work you need to be extremely confident that you’ll get the desired results

– While you’ll be getting paid for results you’re likely going to pay your team on deliverables. This mismatch of models can complicate things

– You’ll need to find a way to track the expected results to ensure that your clients can’t manipulate the system

Value-anchoring — You can use this model when you’re not completely certain about shifting to the value-based model. Essentially you’ll be charging clients on a milestone or hourly basis, but showing them how much more value they’re likely to get as compared to what they are paying you.

John Ball: “For young agencies doing quality work — don’t sell yourselves short. Know the going rate to be competitive in your region, and as time goes on and your work experience grows, you will have more tools to communicate your value to new clients.”

16. How to ensure that a client pays your worth for services provided

The following is a list of things you can do to convince your clients to not only hire your brand naming agency but also justify your high fees:

· Ensure that your unique selling point (USP) stands out — Be clear about what differentiates you from the competition.

· Keep tabs on your industry — You’ll need to be aware of what’s happening in the naming and branding industry i.e. what the competition is doing. What new services are they offering? How much are they charging their clients? This information will help you to add value to your offerings, further justifying your high rates.

· Clearly describe what you can achieve for prospects — By providing prospects with thorough details of what you can achieve for them, the cost, and a prompt timeframe, you’ll better be able to justify your fees

· Set your rates using the decoy effect — Here you’ll need to provide at least three price options, i.e. basic, intermediate and premium, and explain what each of these can get for the prospect. The idea is to show them that the premium rate will get them more value for their money and that it is clearly the best option…your preferred rate as well.

· Always collect as much data as you can — Providing clients with actual numbers will enable them to estimate the success they can expect to keep achieving by using your service

John Ball: “If your work substantiates your rates, you’ll find clients willing to pay for the value you can bring.”

Sometimes the best thing to do will be to refuse new business from certain types of prospective clients…

17. About being willing to walk away from clients that aren’t a fit for your brand naming agency

For your fledgling agency, having to say “No” to a client who you feel doesn’t match what your agency stands for can be quite difficult knowing that you really could do with new business.

This is however the right call and the sooner you do it early in the relationship the better. Choosing to tolerate such a client will certainly lead to regret; you can be assured that the situation will never turn in your favor.

So, how will you know who the best client for your agency is? Industry experts advise that you should seek clients in the same way you recruit talent.

John Ball: “We always want to make sure that we are a good fit for the client and vice versa. When that’s not the case, we’ve seen that it’s frequently a mutual realization where both sides recognize that it’s not the right partnership, and we each move on.”

Applying the Bootstrapping concept to your new agency is a sure way of creating a firm foundation for future successes

18. The importance of running a lean operation

For your new naming and branding agency to have a chance at growth and expansion in the future, running a lean operation will be absolutely necessary. You’ll need to find ways to keep your costs as low as possible and ensure that you have little overhead. All your plans for growth will have to be implemented as necessary measures for tapping into strong revenue-earning opportunities.

(It might be a good idea to read Seth Godin’s book, The Bootstrapper’s Bible.)

In as far as brand naming agency growth and expansion ambitions are concerned, the following are the challenges you can expect to face:


John Ball: “We make a practice of looking to right-size everything we do. We have learned over the years to watch that carefully and for the good of longevity, we stick to it — that’s how you stay around. While it’s a creative business, it’s still a business and you can’t lose sight of that.”



About the author

Add a Comment