Privacy by Design: Pseudonym Use in Online Business - IL

One of the early decisions you need to make when you’re starting an online business is whether or not you should use a pseudonym for the ownership and content you produce on your website. There are legitimate reasons for using a pseudonym online and some marketing advantages too.

My real name is not Ian Bond. When I bought my first high-ticket dropshipping website I was a career, corporate employee in the financial sector who was trying to develop an independent income on the side. I wanted to keep my real name off Google in conjunction with my website, Professional Website Investors.

For my students at PWI, I’m applying a career’s worth of financial experience to a fairly new asset class (websites) and I’m able to offer an insider’s perspective for them as they learn how to purchase and run high-ticket dropshipping sites.

I chose a pseudonym with the encouragement of a coach to maintain my privacy and that of my employer. My real name and interviews were published in conjunction with my employer and they’ve appeared in The Financial Times, Bloomberg, Gulf News, and more. I’ve been a C-Suite executive at a senior level for decades working for several Streetfirms. I chose the name Ian Bond to protect my corporate career as I transitioned to online endeavors.

On my website, a key element of my advice is to keep your job as long as possible while you build your website portfolio. That’s what I’m doing right now. I still work at the senior executive level in finance and banking.

Over the last few years, my e-commerce reputation has been built under a pseudonym. Ian Bond has written hundreds of articles across the web and appeared on multiple podcasts to help people achieve e-commerce success.

Here is everything you need to know about pseudonym use in online business.

Branding Your Business

Using an alias in online business is generally considered acceptable as long as your intention is to protect your privacy and not misrepresent yourself or mislead a consumer to buy a product based on false information.

As an online business owner, you’re in the business of bringing people to your website to read, join your mailing list, and then buy what you’re selling. Part of this process is brand trust. People need to trust you in order to buy from you. While this doesn’t apply to big box stores like Amazon, it does apply to smaller websites like dropshipping stores and service businesses.

These smaller stores run by individuals or small teams are the mom and pops of the internet and consumers expect a front-facing page explaining who they are. Brand trust and conversion is the primary driver for one of the most important pages on your website, the About Page.

Potential customers can still trust you, even though your chosen pseudonym is different than your real name. Your experience is the same. Your online visibility and integrity is the same and your goal is to give your customer a positive experience with your company.

Standing Out From the Crowd

Name difficulties are also a good reason to use a pseudonym. If your name is unpronounceable, it can severely hamper your marketing efforts. If they can’t say it, they can’t remember it later and type it into the Google search engine to look up your business or service.

While Google is getting better at assumptions and alternate spellings, having a very common name will bury you in the search results. If you’re unlucky enough to have the same name as a prominent sports figure, you’ll never be found. It’s advisable to pick a pseudonym that will help you stand out.

Author Pen Names

Pseudonyms aren’t new to working professionals. Author Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman for nearly a decade to feed his need to write more than the literary standard of one book per year.

British author, James Dover Grant, CBE took the pseudonym Lee Child to fit nicely between Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie on the bookstore shelf.

And J. K. Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith to facilitate her desire to write in another genre without confusing her Harry Potter fan base. In the cases of King and Rowling, the authors were curious to see if their writing would be well-received without the famous-name backing. They were both ‘outed’ eventually.

Social Media Concerns

If you’re on social media you may be familiar with the term doxing. Doxing means items with your real name, address, phone number, and other identifiers may be published publicly for people to see.

The bad actor who does this usually does it to create a vulnerability in your private life and usually their intention is to cause you grief. While your intention was not to deceive anyone, if your business or name goes viral, it’s likely someone will decide the world needs to know your real name.

So even if someone comes along and claims you’re being disingenuous, be ready to say, “Yes, this is who I am and I stand by my products and business.” The integrity behind your pseudonym use will stand up against any doxing.

Some social networks like Facebook require you to have your legal name on your Friend profile. As a Facebook user, you agree to this in their terms of service. They will require identification proof of your name should it ever be challenged. This is not the case with Facebook Fan Pages. Your pseudonym can be used freely on a Facebook fan page to market your business. It’s advisable to read the terms of service on social networks before you create profiles with your pseudonym.

The Law and Terms of Service

For clarification, my expertise lies in banking and finance. I’m not a lawyer nor do I give legal advice, but I’ve had an online business long enough to know that where your business entity is registered influences how you can use a pseudonym or ‘alias.’

It’s up to you to do the due diligence on whether your pseudonym needs to be on file in the country, state, or county where your company is registered. Your bank may need proof of your alternate name as well.

The Bottom Line

When you own an online business you have the option and flexibility to create the level of privacy you want for your online endeavors. At the end of the day, the relationship and trust you create with your customers is really what matters.

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