If you're flirting with both sides of the coin, it’s time to flip it and decide— are you going to use your own name or create a business brand name?
You’ve decided to take the plunge. You have the idea, the vision and the drive, but, you haven’t landed on the name. So how do you decide whether a personal or business name is right for your business? First up, let’s clarify what each actually is—
What defines a personal brand?
A personal brand is centred around an individual. The brand encapsulates their strengths, personality, ideas and expertise, and they are at the centre of the brand, acting as an ambassador.
While a personal brand heroes one person, these businesses aren’t always small scale solopreneurs and freelancers. Well known personal brands such as Tony Maticevski, Collette Dinnigan, Marie Forleo, Tim Ferriss, Chris Ducker, Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney and Amy Porterfield are all backed by teams.
A brand is simply how you are perceived by others, so a personal brand isn’t necessarily created with the goal of building a business. It can also help you to position yourself in a way that aids in becoming an influencer, in getting a promotion or securing a job. But, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to be focusing on building a personal brand with the intention of creating a business.
What defines a business brand?
A business brand is not named after one person, nor does it necessarily reflect one person’s values, ideas or opinions. Unlike personal brands, business brands do not have an existing ‘brand’ to build off, so are constructed from scratch. More often than not, business brands create the impression that more than one person is running or working for the business, which can make them sound big, even though they can be any size.
Ambassadors to business brands may be staff or owners of the organisation, celebrities or other prominent figures. For example Richard Branson has his own personal brand, and is also an ambassador for his business brand, Virgin. Similarly, Gary Vaynerchuk has his personal brand and uses is to spruik his business brand, VaynerMedia. You can read more about how brand ambassadors can be used to create a magnetic brand here.
Is a personal or business brand better for me?
Traditionally, a business was expected to have an office and a team to be considered legit. Bigger was better. It was safer and more secure. Today’s businesses are much more fluid. They might not have a physical office, they might operate a virtual team or have no team members at all. They might not be open for regular office hours or even have a contact phone number. As the definition of what a business should look like becomes blurry, so does what it should be called. Here are some ideas to take into account when deciding which option is best for you.
What does the future of your business look like?
Generally speaking, personal brands work best when the core individual is at the helm of the business. If you aren’t ready or willing to help run or manage the business, or if you plan on having a large business with lots of staff, then it’s probably best to use a business brand name.
Similarly, if you’re creating a business with the aim of selling it in the future (or there's a chance you might want to sell it), then it’s probably best to create a business brand. You don’t want your name connected with a brand you have no control over and buyers may be discouraged by having your name connected to their new business when you are no longer involved.
What are you selling?
Personal brands are great for businesses that revolve around one person, like consultants, coaches, photographers, artists and speakers. If you decide to build a personal brand there’s a good chance that for the duration of the business' life, you will need to have some connection with your customers and your business.
As you grow, you'll probably want others to support you behind the scenes. Depending on your industry and type of work you do, it can be challenging to disconnect from the work so that you can scale. A lot of creatives, coaches and consultants successfully scale by creating courses, webinars, online coaching group sessions, podcasts or ebooks. These allow them to reach a bigger audience, with the same level of effort required to help one person. Alternatively, if you’re in demand, you can always raise your prices to do the same amount of work, for bigger profit. Or, you could create a lower priced option where the same quality is delivered, but not by the brand ambassador themselves.
The advantage of a business brand is that their customers expect to be working with a team, not an individual. This allows the owners to scale and take a step back from the business without losing brand equity.
Will you be enhancing or devaluing your brand reputation?
If there’s a chance that your brand image could be damaged by your or your family members’ beliefs, associations, values or actions, then maybe a personal brand isn’t the right move for you.
On the flipside, broadcasting to the world that you’re taking ownership of the business and that you are not afraid to put your reputation on the line to deliver exceptional value shows you’re confident in your skillset and that you’re backing yourself in.
Are you comfortable being the public face of the brand?
Being the 'face' of a brand isn’t for everyone. You might have reservations about privacy or being recognised, even when you’re not working. These are all valid concerns, however, depending on your priorities, they may be outweighed by the fact that a personal brand will allow you to build rapport and trust much faster and much more easily than a business brand. When it comes down to it, people buy from people, not corporations and a personal brand puts the person behind the brand front and centre from the get go.
What are your ideal customers going to respond best to?
Are your ideal customers more likely to trust and buy from a business brand or a personal brand? Do they want to feel supported and backed by what feels like a bigger more established business, or do they want the personalised, authentic, flexible experience of a personal brand? Your customers are going to make judgements about your brand based on how you position yourself.
Even if they are backed by a huge team, buying from a personal brand will make the customer feel like they’re buying from a trusted individual. Buying from business brand (even if it's a two person team) will make the customer feel like they’re buying from a bigger business. How do you want your customers to perceive your business?
Is your business based around your own experience and reputation?
If your core offering or difference is not influenced by your expertise, ideas, values or personality, then your business could come across as disingenuous by using personal brand. For example, if I am simply reselling electronics (not actually designing the products), building a personal brand might not be the right fit. However, if my reseller brand has a distinct industry difference that relates to my experiences, such as 'I only stock items that I have personally tested, reviewed and used' then a personal brand becomes a lot more relevant.
The idea of a personal brand is to build trust and rapport with your customers and if there is a disconnect between your ideas and values and the nature of your business, it may have the opposite effect. For example, selling fast fashion brands in your retail boutique when you are a personal advocate for waste reduction.
Do you have an unusually long and difficult to spell name?
If your name is especially difficult to spell or search for, it might not make good business sense to use your name. You could potentially use your last name or first name paired with another word to make it easy for people to find you, or you can abbreviate your name, like Gary Vaynerchuk did— Gary Vee.
Is both the answer?
Sometimes people build a personal brand and then use that to catapult a bigger business brand, or they begin by creating a bigger business brand and use that to become a key person of influence in their industry. Both have distinct benefits, so it makes sense to use both brands leverage one another.
A brand is much more than a name, it’s the reputation behind it. While personal brands can be associated with inexperience, you have the ability to build a brand that tells your customers otherwise. Similarly, while business brands can seem big and impersonal, you have the capacity to create a brand that is personable and authentic.
Personal and business brands both have their distinct advantages and disadvantages, so ultimately, the direction that’s right for you will depend on your goals, your customers and your industry. Have you built a personal brand or a business brand? What helped you make your decision? Let me know in the comments.