Building a unique, authentic brand is essential for any business. A strong identity helps customers understand who you are, what you do and why you do it.
But many founders confuse their business brand with their personal brand. And while their combination may work for a select few, it’s not the right approach for most.
In my creative experience, brand strategist and coach for small businesses and startups, separating your personal brand from your business simultaneously strengthens your business and allows for individual autonomy and professional growth.
If you have a public figure of any kind – and if you are a small business owner, you probably are – I highly recommend creating a completely separate business brand and using the “personal professional” brand platform to share insights into your life.
- You will have the freedom to grow outside of your business: Many entrepreneurs end up writing a book, becoming public speakers, or starting a new project or venture. Your personal professional brand is the perfect platform for sharing and promoting this type of business, and at the same time allows the business to continue to operate normally.
- You can better improve your business brand: Separating all your professional interests from the main goal of your company strengthens the brand of your business, allowing it to be more focused and intentional.
- You will optimize your brand for growth: Even if at first you feel like you are your business, if you have visions of team growth or that you may have been acquired, you want the business brand to stand alone, without you. Your professional success should not depend on the success of your business.
- You are more than your job: Employers, clients, and partners often want to experience a more dimensional understanding of who you are. What reasons do you stand for? What other professional groups are you in? What creative endeavors or interests surround you?
Convinced? Great. Here’s how to do it:
Creating your personal professional brand
I like to think of your personal professional brand as an extended Linkedin profile. It is an online identity related to a business that transcends your business or company.
Source: Flight design
Caption: My personal professional brand is about my skills and background – not just my current job.
People often confuse this with a personal brand; however, I find it useful to distinguish between the two. In the past, I struggled to determine what to keep private and what to share publicly. How much do I need to feel authentic without feeling that the whole world knows all my secrets (the “personal branding” approach that many take on social media)?
Creating “personal professional brand”Is the solution: on my website and social networks I share goals I believe in, projects of which I am a part, and sometimes a part of my daily life, such as photos from a recent trip or a picture of my family. I like to think of it as “human resource-friendly” —if I am interviewing for any type of position, partnership, or deal with a client, this personal professional brand would help tell a broader story of who I am.
Are there any exceptions? Of course! If it is your personal professional brand is your business brand – many authors, speakers, trainers and thought leaders fall into this category – then the existence of one brand could make sense.
But otherwise, keep them separate, but point them at each other. Here’s how this might work:
Create a personal professional website
I always recommend that you provide a domain name for yourname.com (or something very similar) as a home for your personal professional brand. Don’t want to maintain this type of website with your business website? Neither did I, so I made a page for myself on my company’s website. My personal professional site, arianawolf.com, simply redirects to flydesign.co/ariana-wolf. But if I ever want to separate them down the line, I can, and no one took the URL with my name on it.
Appear on social media – but only where you shine
As a small business owner (especially one who reads this blog), you probably know the power of social media for your company. You are probably also stressed about managing your platforms for both your business and your personal account.
Here’s your permission not to be active on all platforms if you don’t want to. Unlike your job, you really don’t need everyone. Instead, think about the website you enjoy the most and which will best highlight your work and focus your personal professional efforts on the brand on it.
For many people, it’s Twitter because it’s fast and easy. For more visual people, it’s Instagram. Since I’m in the creative field, my clients like to know that I’m creative, so I mostly focus on Instagram, where I share photos I’ve taken.
My Instagram shows my photo – a creative habit related to my job, but it is also my personal professional brand.
Speaking of social media, a brief note on LinkedIn. While many people have set “Company Owner” in their title by default, it’s worth adding a few other descriptors about who you are and what you’re best at in your title. That way, if someone is looking for an expert or speaker and comes across your profile, they will gain a sense of who you are outside of your business.
Build your mental leadership
Finding opportunities to share your expertise, such as writing articles or appearing on podcasts, is a great way to achieve visibility for both your business and your personal professional brand. When you have these opportunities, you can and should mention your company, but you also need to share your philosophies and what you stand for as a professional beyond your current role.
For example, I was recently at a podcast interview where I talked about my brand philosophy. Yes, it’s something I do at work every day, but it’s also advice I bring when I consult other startups or sit on advisory boards. It’s part of what I’m out of my job.
Don’t be afraid to make your personality shine
I personally believe – for brands and for people – that what makes you a little weird is what makes it easier for others to connect with you. So while developing your personal professional brand, don’t be afraid to let those things shine! Do you like rollerblading? Do you have an epic collection of Star Wars miniatures? These fun hobbies may not be central to the brand of your business, but they will add an element of interest, intrigue, and connection to your personal professional brand. After all, they are what make you, you – and that is what branding is.