Which is more important, your personal brand, or your company’s? Short answer: it depends.
In this week’s episode of personal vs. business, let’s talk about brand.
Now that a digital profile can be viewed by anyone else, whether it’s an employer sizing up a potential new hire by combing through his Facebook account or a client looking to hire a contractor and reviewing its Yelp reviews, everyone and every company has a brand whether they intend to or not. By ignoring this fact, you may be unknowingly creating a terrible brand for yourself or your company, and that’s not good for business.
So pay attention to the brands you represent—depending on what kind of work you do, they could be personal or business or both, and each one has its reasons for needing your TLC.
“Everyone, no matter at what stage of their career and regardless of whether they are looking for a new job, should keep a close eye on their personal brand,” says Tony Winders, principal of Winders Consulting Group, a marketing consultancy for advertising technology and media companies.
“Career optics are more important than ever in today's social media connected world and it has little to do with the company you work for. A marketing professional should be concerned with their company's brand, but if it's not your job to attend to company branding, there should be no harm or shame in an individual focusing on one's own personal brand. It's just part of doing business.”
If You’re a Freelancer
Your work is your life and your life is your work. Your personal brand follows you around wherever you go. If you are the rare person who has clearly defined boundaries between the two, congratulations, and can you please sell me some of that? From creatives to number-crunchers, if you represent yourself, you’re representing your brand.
Building buzz and establishing yourself as an expert in your field is important because potential clients are searching for skills, not your name. You have to sing your own praises, too. “With individuals or freelance professionals, the biggest challenge I find is being too close to the product and the ability to be self-promotional,” notes Winders. “Most people undersell themselves and need to have a third party write on their behalf, or just be more aggressive and ‘own’ their own brilliance.”
Don’t forget that your personal brand can include a logo, a tagline, a website, a special font, and more. Luckily, the tools for creating them are plentiful and even available for free. But you should approach these with an eye on the big picture.
“For freelancers and small businesses, they are often less established in their industry so part of our branding focus is usually on establishing them as an authority in their field, and creating an experience for their customers that will be highly memorable,” says Lindsay Goldner, a brand strategist whose company specializes in designing the right look for companies big and small. “Especially for online entrepreneurs/startups, the marketplace is really crowded and brands’ visual identities start becoming indistinguishable from one another. It’s crucial for small businesses to emphasize what makes them unique."
Related Article: Top Free Resources for Creating Images and GIFs
If You Run a Small Business
The chances are that you built up your business and started a company and hired others who do what you do. But you were so successful at what you do that now you and your company are considered the same thing. You’ve created a monster: you have a whole company to run, which is why you have hired the other pro’s—you can’t be everywhere at once. In this situation, it’s helpful to develop the business brand with a goal of making it more visible than your personal one. That way your company is who the client hires, with fewer expectations of having your personal attention 24/7.
“Small businesses often fall into the trap of the cobbler's children having no shoes—it's a larger issue than branding, they just don't make the time required for marketing,” says Winders. “Those that do should focus on creating clear differentiation and telling a story that prospective customers can identify with.”
The other professionals in your group need to support the brand as well, representing the company and its wares in a manner appropriate to the brand, whether they are out in public on business, or enjoying some personal time.
If You’re an Employee
The dilemma for an employee of any size business is that yes, sometimes you really want to leave work behind and go be a person, not worrying about whether you’re representing your company appropriately or not. Unfortunately, the world we live in is full of cameras and “post” buttons, so unless you confiscate all devices from the friends and family who are cavorting with you on your time off, you risk having whatever you do posted on the internet. It’s just our reality. But you also want to avoid watching your back every second of the day. Where’s the “down time” in paranoia?
While it’s important for an employee to represent her company well when she’s conducting business, it’s also important to refrain from making bad behavior public, because in certain cases it can affect the company on a larger scale. Again, it depends on the business, and how much you connect your life with your work. With over 350 million people actively using LinkedIn, it’s obvious that plenty of people are open about where they work.
With the entire world watching the internet, one mistake by an employee, even on his own personal time, can be disastrous. An unfortunate but fascinating example of this kind of misstep occurred in December of 2013 when a young PR rep tweeted a careless joke, got on a plane to South Africa and was fired by the time she landed.
Related Article: How to Promote Your Personal and Professional Brand Using LinkedIn
Business or Personal, Be Authentic
The good news is that if you are true to yourself, eventually your personal life and your business life will line up, and you won’t have to watch your back to protect your company. “If you live as your authentic self–both online and off–then you don’t need to worry so much about instrumenting a personal brand. It will naturally emerge” marketing executive Elisa Schreiber told Forbes Magazine, which argues that “crowding out the bad stuff with good stuff” is a useful way to approach your personal brand.
Winders advises “At the very least, you've got to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, including a great photo. Don't do stupid stuff on social media if you expect to be hired elsewhere—and never send an email or any social media post you wouldn't want your mom to read.”
Related Article: 5 LinkedIn Profile Faux Pas
Overall, when grappling with the personal vs. business brand dilemma, both are important, but for different reasons. Neither one should be ignored, but one will take center stage depending on your goals: building a business, looking for work, supporting the operation of an employer, or just putting your best foot forward.