Should You Brand Yourself or Your Business?

With all of the excitement of starting a small business we sometimes don’t think far enough ahead to make long-term, well-thought decisions. We just jump on the moving train and head north.

One of these very critical decisions that I am alluding to is the notion of whether to brand yourself (meaning your name) or your business (meaning your business name). It may seem fun and kind of neat to start building your business around your own name, but it can prove quite inhibiting in the long run should you grow, expand and hire on additional help.

Think about this for a second. You start your own graphics agency out of your home and take on your first several projects. These clients are likely friends, former colleagues or even extended family members since that is where most of us get our start. Because your clients are so familiar to you, you decide to simply reference your business as “Donna Miller Graphics” for simplicity, name association and name recognition sake. You likely even have your payment checks made out to you directly – “Donna Miller” – so you won’t run into any trouble making your deposits at the bank.

What happens though when these friendly clients start spreading the good word about your work? Remember, satisfied clients (especially friends, family and close associates) tell others about their good experiences. Do you really want all of that good will and brand association to be around the name “Donna Miller Graphics”? Early on you might say to yourself, “Why not?” However, think first about the long-term consequences should you make this choice.

Let’s pretend some more. Two years down the road you have too much work on your hands already when you suddenly land your largest account ever! How exciting! You obviously need help and decide to bring on some contractors/freelancers to help you through the work crunch. Fortunately their work proves so well received that the client is thrilled! You now have a satisfied client, you’re making money off of the work, and you aren’t doing any of it. This is indeed great news! So you make the decision to permanently assign these two contractors to that account and continue building your business.

Then it happens again…you land another big account and the same workload challenges arise once more. You bring on even more help. Before you know it, you have a highly successful multi-person graphics firm with dozens of clients and substantial six-figure revenue. You decide to expand geographically and open an office in a second state to extend your reach. “Donna Miller Graphics” is suddenly bringing in over $900,000 a year with projected revenue of $1.2 million the following year.

Now let me ask you this. Do you still want to be known at that point as “Donna Miller Graphics”? If you answer “no” and I hope you do, your only option is to choose a new business name that better suits the newfound breadth of your agency. In doing so, however, you essentially discard all of that hard-earned and extremely valuable brand recognition. You will even need a new website URL and email addresses and start building your brand all over again.

In retrospect, you’ll agree that the name “Donna Miller Graphics” was a pretty poor choice for a business. While maybe fun at first, it was neither sustainable nor extendable.

So now I ask you, is it better to brand yourself or your business? I would hope the choice is clear.

Kevin B. Levi
Winning Message LLC
805-358-5388
www.winningmessage.com

Kevin Levi

Kevin B. Levi
22 year B2B marketing professional with a specialty in helping businesses differentiate themselves. Kevin has helped over 100 companies successfully distinguish themselves in their marketplace through brand positioning programs and professional copywriting services.

Find out more about my full range of business branding, writing and key message development services at www.winningmessage.com. Also check out my online brand positioning course at UDEMY.com at at https://www.udemy.com/differentiate-your-brand-and-sell-more/learn/v4/overview

Comments

  1. You don’t really have a choice in this matter. You are almost branded by your business. For instance, if you work at Microsoft, people already perceive you a certain way than if you work for Nike. Your brand, at a more executive level, helps build the corporate brand.

    Good post

  2. Your article makes some good points for those who intend to sell their business in the future, Kevin. I disagree, however, that using your name as part of your brand is a bad idea for everyone.

    Some service providers, myself included, build brand equity through our name so changing our company name could do more harm than good. You are your brand when you’re the only employee of your service based business. As you add more employees, they too become part of the brand as well. Landor, Disney, and Girvin are all solid brands built by using the founder’s names.

    Food for thought.

    • Dara, good point and one I was hoping would come through in my article. I agree with you that my contention does not pertain to everyone. Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Rob Kirton says:

    Dan

    Some very well made points, and the choice is clear to those who are looking to expand their business. I don’t intend to grow my business concern beyond that of a husband and wife team. There is precious little incentive with a distinctly small business hostile government in the UK (forget what the press ever says).

    Having said that, as proof of search engine optimisation skills, I obtain top place (on personal name) and first page results (on business name) for Google UK searches, a form of dual branding if you care to put it that way. As Dara stated, for people such as me, you are your own brand.

    • Rob,

      Completely agree, especially with regard to the small guys that intend to stay that way. The point I was trying to make is simply that you need to think about your branding strategy at the forefront of your business planning process, not sometime down the road. For folks like you it might make sense to brand your name; heck, even your name and your business as you stated. Thanks for commenting!
      Kevin

  4. Hi Kevin,

    I enjoyed your article on business branding. I wonder why I never stumbled upon your blog before? Anyway, blog added to my bookmarks for further reading 🙂

  5. Ralf,

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m thrilled you like my writing! I just started with SmallBusinessBranding.com about a month ago. Maybe that’s why you haven’t seen me before. I do have 5 other articles posted on this site if you wish to review. I also have a monthly e-newsletter I publish called The Muckraker: Business Branding Made Easy. Let me know if you’d like to be added to my distribution list.

    Thanks!
    Kevin
    http://www.winningmessage.com

  6. I agree with Dara. Many businesses have been successful even if they are branded by their name versus their business. Estee Lauder did it with her company. She expanded and had no problems using CLINIQUE, MAC and even BOBBI BROWN which was a name worthy of respect by itself. But everyone was expected to meet the standards of excellence that EL herself set.

  7. Jay,

    I understand your comment and can certainly agree with your rationale. What I was trying to communicate in my opinion is the rule; I believe you are describing one of the few exceptions. How many Estee Lauder’s are there out there today, and what do you think their marketing budget is? HUGE!

    My comments were/are very geared toward small business owners. Certainly we all aspire to be Estee Lauders, but the harsh reality is on 1 in ever 10 businesses succeeds; and one 1 in every 10 of those lasts past 5 years.