I am often asked this when I’m wearing my branding specialist hat.
And my answer depends on your business model.
Like many things in life, the answer is not as important as the logic that gets you to an answer. Once I take you through the thinking, more than likely you will be able to decide this for yourself.
Which best describe your current or planned business model:
1. I’m building a platform brand, that leverages my personal know how or expertise into product and services. I am central to the success of my business. (For eg, blogger, author, speaker, coach, mentor, consultant, professional). I call this “self branding”.
2. I’m building an asset brand that could operate just as successfully without my involvement. In theory (or practice) I could sell the business and it would continue to operate without me.
If your answer is is model 1 (a platform or authority model) read on, this post is for you.
If your answer is model 2 – the choice is simple – do not self brand this type of business. If you ever imagine selling the brand, your challenge will be to manage your personal brand (particularly if you are an expert) beside the business to reduce any dependency on you.
Ok, platform builders / self branders …. let’s investigate
If you were my private client, and you asked me this question, my answer would take into account your starting position and where you are heading in the medium term. So keep in mind, I don’t know your full situation and this is guidance only.
I will say this … it is an important decision, as neither decision (building a branded business or using a “self brand”) is future proof.
Brands need space to grow and develop just as we do. Circumstances change. That medium term goal I asked you about could turn on a dime. So if we were talking, I’d take you through a framework to help you contextualise your decision, I wouldn’t just say “do this”.
There’s also something of a “middle way” available. And in our social media world you’ll be required to align your own name with your business (or businesses for many of us) whatever you decide.
However once you understand brand systems and have committed to a direction, it will be easy to manage with discipline and a set of guidelines
Here is the simple binary choice:
Your name.com means building your business with your name or some variation of your name. I call this “self branding” to distinguish it from the activities of personal branding, which is a complete strategy.
It means your personal characteristics and expertise, including your personality, mission, values and qualities become the essence of your business brand.
An asset brand / business name stands for something that is external to you. It could exist without you. It can be bought and sold and will have it’s own character and attributes.
Let’s look at why you would choose to “Self Brand”:
- You are already well known and your name has leverage power
- The offer is you. Your know how or artistry – it could be underpinned by personal credibility to teach, advise or create. (consultants, authors, speakers, artists)
- You already have a large social media following under your own name
- You have strong self belief
- You are happy to go solo or have partners that don’t want the limelight.
- You suffer from “Brandemonium” and your name could be the best platform to link everything together.
- Faster (often significantly faster) to get known for something, to be a “go to” person to solve problem X or deliver desire Y.
- In our short attention span world, with precious seconds to make a connection, this is a clean model.
- Simple to manage, particularly in the social media era, when inevitably you will already have a personal brand to manage in concert with a company name any way.
- Flexibility to change and adapt your offer as you change and grow.
- Clients only want you, if you grow by recruiting others, clients might be miffed and will still want you (human nature)
- You always need to be front and centre, you may limit your reach and therefore opportunity to scale.
- The whiff of arrogance, particularly if you are Australian or British.
- You can only recruit people to support your mission, and be willing to sublimate their own personal brands.
- This can be difficult if you do not own the .com of your name (side note, you should own this anyway even if you build a branded business). If you have a common name or share with a celebrity, it is unlikely to work for you.
- There is nowhere to hide or rest, you have to put yourself out there and find an authentic voice that doesn’t invade your privacy
- You will always be selling yourself first (for better or worse)
- What if you want to step down (or back) from the centre of your business?
- Your business would be very difficult to sell. It can be done, but many entrepreneurs regret selling their names, such as Michael Dell who eventually bought his back for $25 billion dollars. (Note a business built around you will be difficult to sell in any case, so if you have a self central business model a separate business name might not help with a sale, you would need to change your model too).
So yes, fast and simple but potentially short sighted in terms of your future business. May be a good strategy for early stage entrepreneurs who are growing into their offer. There is also a “Middle Way” that could work for you (below).
Let’s look at why you would choose to build a business brand
- Your brand name works to position your offer
- The service your business provides is separate to your personal identity
- You have any desire to have a business that could run without your input.
- You are trying to build a saleable asset, you ever want to step away from it or leave a legacy.
- You want to attract top flight people to work with or partner with you
- There are legal benefits in separating yourself from your brand, particularly if your name ever gets tarnished in any way (like Martha Stewart found out).
- You are building a separate entity, an asset which has intrinsic value and a reputation of its own that is not solely related to your efforts
- You don’t always have to be front and centre, others can share the load without damaging the brand
- Creating a brand that limits your ability to grow and develop. (I call this painting yourself into a corner)
- These classic brand mistakes:
- Brand Lock – when your offer outgrows your brand – which can be a result of your own growth and clarity emerging.
- Brandemonium – where your growth as an entrepreneur shows though loads of websites, businesses that all look and feel different, and nothing to tie them together.
- Good names are hard to find, especially if you want to operate globally. I work with private clients to create new brands (name and positioning) and it is like getting on an emotional rollercoaster.
- If you are active on Social Media you still have to manage your personal brand in concert with your business brand and make the connection between them clear in prospect’s minds; eg Cate Richards, founder of True Entrepreneur.
- In these early stages, what I (Cate Richards) am known for (clarity, strategy and branding) drives more interest than True Entrepreneur per se, but over time it becomes an asset that is less dependent on me.
Ok, are you leaning towards one or the other now?
Using my businesses as a case study, with my 9 year old business, Team Bonding (which provides event services to the corporate sector) there was never any question of personal brand – I was building an asset brand to either sell or run without me (which it does). In fact I’ve deliberately gone “under the radar” on social media so Team Bonding is not overly associated with my personal brand.
When started Team Bonding I wasn’t a credible expert in the category so the authority brand model wasn’t open to me. It is a productized service business that uses testimonials and track record as our reason to believe rather than me as an authority.
True Entrepreneur however, is a much closer call and I could have gone with a “self brand,”. This business is built around my authority status and I will always be central to its operations as I am selling my know how. However, I didn’t want to close the door on stepping away from the business, changing the model or bringing in collaborators.
Additionally being a culturally conditioned Australian, I couldn’t make my sense of self expansive enough to be “out there” with my name. I need a bit of cover.
What comes next for you?
The binary choice here is an oversimplification because if you have a brand, chances are you are also known by your name, so you already have 2 levels operating. Plus you may also have created sub brands in the form of products and programs that you may be known for. These may even have their own identities. You may also have multiple brands or old brands in the picture.
There are 4 common brand systems operating:
- Single / Asset is a Product Brand, which is simple and common. (eg Xero)
- Single / Self Brand is a “Your Name” (Personal) brand model
- Dual / Asset Brands is where you have an Endorser Brand (eg Toyota) and a product name or sub brand. (Camry). Sub brands have their own personality and voice.
- Dual / Self Brands is where you use your name as the Endorser / Umbrella brand and offer distinct product and program names.
So Model 4 is the “Middle Way”:
To execute this you use your “self brand” as an endorser or a hub. Underneath your name you cultivate powerful sub brands, which could be products, programs or websites. Sub brands are memorable and have attributes in their own right, and attract people into your orbit. Well executed, this can be a powerful model for a dual branded system. As the endorser in your brand system, your personal values, purpose and story become synonymous with your businesses and is an effective way to leverage a personal profile.
If you deciding about your starting position, pause and think about which way you are leaning. I’d be delighted to help, please ask me questions below in the comments or share your insights.
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