The Dos and Don’ts of Personal Branding

Personal branding has become an increasingly popular practice, both for everyday people and public figures alike. And while personal branding is a powerful tool for anyone, it’s especially valuable for business owners — but it’s all too easy for business owners to get wrong.

Personal branding is:

“The conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition, to ultimately advance their career, increase their circle of influence, and have a larger impact.”

Personal branding is just as it sounds: personal. It should be rooted in a single person — not linked to a larger business or organization. In fact, personal branding fails when it becomes inextricably connected to a business.

Personal brand + business = bad idea

We often work with entrepreneurs who want to name their businesses after themselves. This is a natural desire: They’re proud of their business and they want to encourage personal connections. And while this is a noble sentiment, we almost never recommend following that path.

When entrepreneurs and their businesses share a name, they blur the lines between their personal brands and their business brands. This is limiting on both fronts: the growth of their business is stunted before it even gets off the ground, and their personal brands can lose their authenticity.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to personal branding and business. Let’s dive in.

Do: Think long term

Combining your personal brand with your business inhibits future growth. What happens when your team expands and customers are no longer working with you personally? Entrepreneurs often deal with this growing pain: Their clients are frustrated when they fall in love with the ‘Kristen Brown’ brand but never get face time with Kristen. This is easily remedied by choosing an objective business name, like HDco.

And what happens when you want to sell your business or bring on partners? Kendra Scott is going to have a hard time removing herself from her business because she’s the face of the company. On the other hand, Jeff Bezos could leave Amazon and the company’s image would be largely unchanged. If anything, it may improve, which is another thing to take into account…

When you start your business, you should assume it’s going to be a household name. And it’s likely not in your business’s best interest for that name to be your own.

Don’t: Lose your voice

Linking your name with your business can inhibit your own voice in the long run. The truth is that things evolve over time, from target audiences to personal beliefs. And what happens when your ideals no longer align with those of your company’s target audience? Or when you make a personal choice that could impact your business? When your personal brand is the same as your business brand, you may be faced with two choices: 1) be unapologetically yourself but risk alienating your clientele or 2) stay silent.

Neither option is particularly appealing. But again, this is easily remedied by separating your personal and professional brands.

When your personal brand is different from your business’s brand, you give yourself room to speak and room to breathe.

Do: Create a personal brand

Let us be clear: We are not against personal brands. Personal branding is incredibly important because it gives you the ability to grow separately from your business.

When you build a personal brand, you give yourself options that stretch beyond your business. At the beginning of business ownership, it can be hard to imagine a day when you won’t want to live and breathe your business. But that day will come. And when you’ve established your name separately from your company, with things like a personal website, a well-established personal Instagram account, or even a podcast, you open up the doors to things like speaking opportunities and business consulting roles.

Creating a personal brand that is separate from your business gives you options down the line. And options are a wonderful gift to give yourself.

Don’t: Remove yourself from your business’s story

“It’s not about ego, it’s about access.” — Emily Heyward, Obsessed

While we always recommend separating your personal brand from your business, we don’t recommend completely removing yourself from your business’s story. People want to connect with brands, and that’s easier when they can connect with the people behind them. But this looks like telling the behind-the-scenes story of how you started your business or sharing your photo on the ‘about’ page. It doesn’t look like morphing your personal brand into your business.

This can be a hard dichotomy to get right. You don’t want to emulate Starbucks (a faceless corporation — even its ‘about’ page lacks personality) or Rachel Hollis (a personal brand turned professional brand). But companies like Allbirds, Spanx, and Rifle Paper Co. find the perfect balance.

If you’re writing your company’s story in first person, you’re getting it wrong. But you shouldn’t write yourself out of the story either.

When done right, branding gives businesses and people room to grow. But when personal brands and businesses become intertwined, they’re both stunted. The solution is to manage two separate brands. And if you need help with that, let us know.




HDco is a creative branding agency.

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HDco is a creative branding agency.

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