What is personal branding in small business?
Personal branding in small business is the way you build your public identity. It includes your words, visuals, and story. It’s the way other people view you. In most cases, they’ll associate you with your company. That means it’s imperative to nail your personal brand.
“Every business has a brand,” says Amy Kuo, Brand Strategist, Creative Director, and Owner at Author Brand Studio. “It’s like that friend who says, ‘oh, I don’t have a personal style,’ but then you always see them in a t-shirt and jeans.”
Personal branding in small business is especially important because you and your work are so closely tied.
“A brand strategy is setting the foundation of your house that you’re building, says Kuo. “Brand strategy is really three questions: what you do, who you do it for, and why it matters to them. It’s getting clear on those three things.”
Why building a small business brand isn’t a defined process
In a dream world, we’d have an easy template to share that would work for every business owner. You’d follow it and, voilà! Your brand would be established and praised by millions of fans.
Of course, real life is a lot more complicated than that. You aren’t at the same point in your entrepreneurial journey as someone else, so your techniques may vary.
While it might be tempting to hop on a trending design or topic, Kuo says that’s not always the right move. For instance, a bank probably wouldn’t adopt a logo and design that looks like it came out of a comic book.
Kuo encourages business owners to determine the kind of impression they’re trying to make and what they want to tell their audience.
Those answers will be different for everyone, but figuring them out can help steer you in the right direction.
Effective tips on how to build your brand
Building your personal brand isn’t a one-time, quick thing. You’ll develop it alongside your business; as it grows, you might create changes to your personal brand, as well.
So, where do you start with personal branding?
Recognize where you are in your business
The amount of time and money you spend on your personal brand depends on the needs of your business. If you’re just getting started as a solopreneur, there might be little difference between the two.
As your company expands, you may work on branding projects or changes for your business. In those situations, you might need to focus a bit more on emphasizing your personal brand.
“Think of it like choosing a vehicle. You can either get a little scooter that’s going to take you to work a couple streets over every morning.” says Kuo. “Or, you can get a small car that will take you around town to see friends. Or, you can invest in a long-haul vehicle that’s going to take you across the country. Recognize what stage your business is at and make a decision appropriate to where you are.”
Spend time on platforms where you’re comfortable
Many business owners feel like both they and their brand must be active and present on every platform all at once. That’s a quick route to Burnout City, so start with just one or two platforms and see how you feel on those.
If you enjoy writing long-form content, consider adding a blog section to your website or send a weekly email newsletter. These don’t have to be flashy or highly visual, but the words should offer insight into who you are as a business owner and some of your thoughts.
Maybe you’re comfortable with public speaking; appearing on podcasts is a fantastic way to build your brand. Many podcast hosts prefer a conversation, rather than a sales pitch. While you might chat a bit about your company, the host (and their audience) will look to know more about you personally. And since the podcast host has already built a trusting relationship with their listeners, you’ll see a boost in visitors after your appearance.
Stay consistent with your messaging
Most customers want to support a business owner who’s authentic and honest. If you’re regularly saying things that contradict each other, you’ll confuse your audience, at best, and alienate them, at worst.
Consistent messaging doesn’t mean you can never make a mistake or decide to visually change your brand. But be honest about those mistakes. If you took a strong stance on something in the past and have since changed your mind, it’s okay to acknowledge it. That openness will be appreciated by current and new customers.
Another benefit of consistency: Your audience will retain more of the information you share. The classic marketing “Rule of 7” states that, on average, people need to see a message seven times before they’ll take action on it. If your messages are all over the place, your audience may not realize you’re the author behind each of them, and your words will gloss right over.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
While your messaging should remain consistent, it’s still important to experiment with your personal branding. That might look like trying out a new social platform or feature, or highlighting something you haven’t shown before that’s still relevant to your business, such as a knick-knack you keep on your desk.
These experiments offer a direct line to your current customer base. You can ask them about new packaging you’re considering, or source ideas for an upcoming product. Customers like feeling involved with the creation process. If they trust you and your personal brand, they’re more likely to help.
Where to build your personal brand
Personal branding is often an extension of your business, so there are ample opportunities to share it with customers. Your website and social media are the most common places, but feel free to get creative.
On your website, blend a mix of business and personal. Many customers enjoy knowing the people behind the brands they use, and they’d rather support someone they like. Your website is an opportunity to share a glimpse into your personality. For example, inject your personal flair into a website FAQ, or include pictures of you and your team. These are simple methods to build up your personal brand and attract new customers. And unlike other platforms that may come and go, you own the content that you put on your website.
On social media, your posts are an easy way to give customers a look into your life. Maybe you show a behind-the-scenes work project, or every Thursday you share a favorite dinner recipe. Instagram Stories are a particularly fun way to have conversations with customers—you can run polls or quizzes and respond to comments on other Stories. They’re usually quick interactions, but they can go a long way in building customer loyalty since they’re getting to know you, and not only your brand.
Your social media bios are also a good opportunity to connect with both current and existing customers. On LinkedIn, you can tag your company in your work history while including a few personal items in your tagline or About section. YouTube is the second-largest platform for SEO (behind Google), so strategically using keywords in your industry will be a helpful traffic driver.
You can also incorporate your personal brand into elements such as your email signature, product packaging, or business cards. These can be as minimal as a quote that drives you or a favorite color scheme, or they can be a larger reflection of your personality. Many technology tools can also help make the branding process easier.
Examples of effective personal branding
While your personal branding must be uniquely you, it doesn’t hurt to look at some examples for inspiration. Here are five examples of effective personal branding.
Pair your “About Us” with an “About Me”
Your business likely has an “About Us” section where people can learn more about the team and what you stand for. Many business owners simply include a headshot and title on this page, though you can create a more inviting environment for potential customers.
Ariana Wolf is the co-founder of Flight Design. She has a brief bio on the company’s “About” page, but also has her own section on the website that goes into more detail. She did this to have a personal brand without worrying about managing an entirely new website. Anyone who visits arianawolf.com gets redirected to her page on Flight Design. You can do the same or create your own website—something along the lines of www.firstnamelastname.com.
Wolf uses this page to highlight some of her work accomplishments and referrals. However, she also shares glimpses into her life. A visitor can learn that while she has led mastermind retreats and sits on advisory boards for arts organizations, she also loves houseplants and getting lost in her local public library.
Should she ever leave her business, she still has a URL with her name and a personal presence already on the Internet.
Source: Ariana Wolf
Show off your product in unique ways
Not every product or service is going to be flashy, and that’s okay. You can still demonstrate a personal brand as the face of what your company does.
Blendtec is a perfect example. Blenders are generally not a sleek item, but Blendtec founder Tom Dickson found an excellent way to highlight the power of his product by asking a simple question: Will it blend?
Dickson first attempted blending a box of matches. Since then, he’s tried just about everything, from key fobs to smart home assistants to a “cocochicken” combination of a rotisserie chicken and Coca-Cola. He’s featured front and center on the Blendtec YouTube channel and viewers get to learn about him as he puts different blendable products to the test.
Tease your hobbies and quirks in email newsletters
Lauren Passell is the founder of Tink Media, which helps podcasts with outside-the-box marketing and PR efforts. The brand itself is a bit quirky, though it’s in Passell’s newsletter, Podcast the Newsletter, where her personal brand truly shines.
Passell is a huge Disney fan, and you can immediately recognize that by the opening paragraph of each newsletter, which counts down the days until her next Disney cruise. The emojis in the subject line are eye-catching, and her condensed version of the longer newsletter shows what she thinks is most important.
Passell also does a great job featuring peers and mentors in the podcasting industry through Q&As and interviews. If you don’t want to create your own newsletter, find other ones in your industry and reach out to them. Highlight the value you bring to their business and why they should feature you. It could easily connect you to hundreds or thousands of potential new customers.
Source: Lauren Passell
Instill your values in packaging
Nebula Snacks co-founder David Jacobowitz was spending time gaming during the pandemic. As any gamer knows, snacks can pile up quickly, and after scanning the nutritional labels of the chocolate he had been eating, Jacobowitz sought to create a healthier option.
Jacobowitz is also a believer in sustainability and green products, so he made sure the Nebula Snacks packaging reflected his own values. The chocolate is plant-based, the foam insert is compostable, and the box itself is made from 100% recycled cardboard.
Source: Nebula Snacks
A personal example of personal branding
I often balance multiple projects as a writer, but I also have different offshoots of my brand. I host multiple podcasts, run a newsletter on basketball and pop culture, and have a collection of short stories.
I love corny jokes and try to incorporate them into each of these endeavors. But people just learning about me may not have this knowledge, so I designed a bookmark to serve as my business card. It has more information about me and my work and includes a QR code for my website to learn more, but on the other side, there are several corny jokes. I’m still making my personal brand felt, even if the person is reading another book.
Source: Joey Held
The bottom line
Your personal brand is an extension of your business and a key driver of your success. It’s worthwhile to develop it to build further trust and rapport with your customers.
If it all seems overwhelming, start with those three foundational questions: What do you do? Who do you do it for? Why does it matter to them?
Answer those truthfully and you’ll have the building blocks for your personal brand.