Small businesses are often a one-person show. Yet, so many of us default to using “we” when referring to our business. Should you use I or We? — Find out below!
Unsure about whether to use “I” or “We”? You'll want to use “I” for craft businesses and individualized experiences. Use “We” when you need to make your one-man show sound bigger than it is – like when going after a big contract, or when you're planning to hire help soon, anyway.
Although using either is a personal preference when you're just one person, it can be really confusing to your brand and your customers if you're constantly switching back and forth. Let's go through some of the most common sense reasons why you might choose one over the other.
A Bit Of Personal Pronoun Theory To Help Us Understand
Ok, let's go back to school for just a minute. When we learn grammar, we learn a few phrases that serve us well. What we're talking about is personal pronouns. A first person personal pronoun is when you use “I” or “We” in a sentence. A second person personal pronoun is when you use “you” in a sentence. And, third person pronouns are how we refer to someone else: he/him/his, they/them/theirs, she/her/hers.
When we use any personal pronoun, we are able to convert our writing out of “passive” voice and into the active voice. This is good, because active voice is easier to read and understand than passive voice. Active voice puts the action up front and follows a specific format: (personal pronoun) (verb) (recipient). Passive voice switches these and adds a bunch of unnecessary words to a sentence: (recipient) (was, is, etc.) (verb) (by, on, in) (subject). Here's an example or two (or three):
- The dog bit Harry (active) vs. Harry was bitten by the dog (passive)
- I wrote a blog (active) vs. The blog was written by us (passive)
- The fish swam in the sea (active) vs. The sea was swam in by fish (passive)
Our readers like active voice because it's easier to comprehend. The only major exception to using active voice is in scientific papers. For some reason, scientists loved using passive communication in their professional communications for decades. Thankfully, that's changing now.
Ok, now that we're all on the same page, let's answer the original question. Should you be using “I” or “we” to refer to your company?
When To Use First Person “I” To Refer To Your Company
When you first start talking about your company, it can be hard for you to even imagine working with more than one person. But you may hear plenty of other people using “we” to talk about their Scentsy business, so why can't you do it when you're talking about your art? Who knows – maybe you're referring to your producers.
When “I” Is Honest, So Is Your Brand
If you're working solo, using “I” is an honest way to refer to your company and work. I don't know about you – but I love companies that are honest. Speaking truthfully, I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between fake and real companies on the internet, especially when I'm shopping. Seeing a brand use “I” is a show of vulnerability and honesty to me, and that can really help a business stand out.
Using “I” creates an authentic and personal brand – great for artists who want to connect with their audience, and great for crafters who court holiday shoppers.
Using “I” Tells The Small Business Story
Using “I” also courts some customer ideals about supporting small businesses. AmEx's “Small Business Saturday” is a big hit every year, and nothing says small quite like using “I” in a sentence. Learn to embrace the “I” – write it in your mission, use it in all of your marketing writing. “I” is not a leader among bad words. It's never wrong to use “I” if you're the only person involved.
Using “I” can encourage people to internalize the importance of supporting small business owners just like you.
Use “I”, But Don't Use “Me”
A final note about “I” and its plural subject partner, “Me.” When you use “I”, you're speaking in active tense. When you use “me”, you run the risk of switching to passive – I made something happen vs. something happened to me. The former, using I, results in much better story telling. So, stick to “I” whenever possible – it's a good general rule in your writing, especially on your website. It keeps your position at the top, and helps you write a stronger sentence.
When To Use “We” To Talk About Your Services
Sometimes, it may make sense to use the first-person plural, “we”, to talk about your organization. For example, researchers have found that folks who use “we” are seen as more forward thinking and able to connect to others.
It's a big deal to connect to your customers, and using “we” can make them feel protected in a way that “I” cannot. It is also likely more common practice for a writer that you hire to use “we” to refer to your group by default.
“We” Is Sometimes More Honest Than “I”
I don't know about you, but my partner helps me in all of my big life decisions. He supports me when I'm having a moment – like when I decided to start businesses. In my art venture, he works with my to help identify good examples of how a customer might use my product. He encourages me when I'm afraid to post a new idea.
My partner will even explain to me how he personally sees a piece or a decision that I'm about to make. He understands my style, he uses my language, and he's not afraid to comment when I'm making bad choices.
I talk about “my” art but, in all honesty, it's basically our art. Were I to give him a title on my website, it would be something along the lines of “Creative Director.” I still refer to Nonbeenary Designs as “mine” – but it really is ours. Both of us. My point is that you should notice your unpaid helpers. It may be more correct for you to use “We” than you originally thought.
“We” Denotes Collective Action and Power
The main difference between “I” or “We”, in my opinion, is power. It's fine to have a preference, but at the end of the day, “We” published all over your website is going to indicate that you have the power and capabilities to provide the services that large businesses need.
Readers will feel more confident in your company if you regularly use “we” when you answer questions in writing. A sentence composed with “we” denotes power and expertise on the subject at hand. It brings the reader's focus on your company and brand, and helps you write strong sentences.
“We” Can Get It Done, But “I” Might Not Be Able To
Did you know that we mostly just run on autopilot? It takes so much every to make decisions that our brains will default to stereotypes and patterns from other parts of our life. Your reader might object to being characterized like this, but it's correct. Of course there are exceptions, but this explanation does help us better understand the subject.
“We” says that there are multiple people working on a task. If your reader is feeling overwhelmed, they may be driven away by the use of singular pronouns like “I” – after all, if they can't get their stuff done, how could they expect you to do it alone?
This might not be correct, but the brain doesn't care. For example, your reader will see “we” in a sentence and immediately be drawn to the plural singular. In other words, it'll answer their question, “Can this company do what I need?”
So much of this is subliminal. Once you've accepted that, you can object in theory, not in practice. If your customer tends to be overwhelmed, use we in your writing. It'll help them feel more accepted and secure in their decision.
Still Can't Decide? Experiment.
At the end of the day, your style is your style. We can't predict 100% of the time what your reader will love or object to. You should really pick based on what sounds good to you. Go with what your gut says. Your writing reflects your brand, so answer your own question. Are you an “I” or “We” as you enter into the year?
Heck, maybe it changes. The one exception to any grammatical rule is your branding. Object all you like, but you know I'm right. The sound of the words in your mouth (and on paper), your verb and writing preferences – these will all determine how your brand voice develops.
Don't be afraid to experiment with verb, object, pronoun, or other pieces of language. You'll find your answer in the tweaks that you make. It's ultimately a personal preference – so make it count.