| Branding

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maskSocial networking and branding are both hot topics for people who are trying to promote and build a business, or their own career. And I’m hearing a lot of confusion from people who are small business owners or sole proprietors about how to brand themselves while they build their online networks. Should they promote themselves with a personal brand, or build a corporate brand?

Sole proprietors, entrepreneurs, consultants, solopreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners often have one person who is the public face of the company. For a consultant or freelancer who intends to stay as a one-person shop there really is no company behind the person, it is all about that person. However, some small business owners that are single owner-operators now, may hope to grow. And they are eager to use branding on the social web as an integral part of their marketing plan.

Let’s take a look at some different business models and also the popular online networking sites—LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter—to see how branding works on the social web.

Consultants and freelancers

Consultants, freelancers or others working alone and under their own name should focus on personal branding. You may not need a traditional brand identity that includes a logo, but you should have a consistency in the look and feel to how you present yourself. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts should all be set-up under your name. It’s a good idea to be consistent with your domain name (if you have one, and you should) with your Twitter account.

You will need to decide how personal and how strictly business you want to be with those accounts. On the one hand, showing a human side is important, but if you find a lot clients or potential clients following or linking to you, you may want to limit the amount of personal information you share. A good thing to consider is how you act at an in-person networking event. Do you keep conversations all business, or do you prefer to get to know people outside of their business roles?

Small, but growing businesses

Sole proprietors, entrepreneurs and small business owners are often led by one key person, but they may be working under a different name. Whether they are set up as a DBA, an LLC or a corporation there may be one key individual who is the face of the business, especially when it is young and in the start-up phase. However, if you hope to grow your business with employees and become a company that is bigger than just the founder, you want to make sure you use social networking to promote not just yourself, but the company’s brand.

On Facebook, you should consider starting pages under your business name in addition to (or instead of) your personal name. This would allow communication to be business-focused and keep your personal life separate. On Twitter you could either post as the company, or you could use a combination of your name with the company’s name. I do recommend you grab your company name on Twitter even if you just have one post directing people to another Twitter account.

One person, multiple companies

I’ve had several people ask me about this recently. Especially in this economy, it’s not uncommon for one person to have built several small revenue streams for themselves. Sometimes they are closely related: internet marketing and web hosting. Other times they are much more disparate: jewelry design and motivational speaker. In either of these cases, you have two options: you can brand each company individually; or you can brand yourself and make each of your businesses sit under that brand.

Using the examples above it could look like this: To individually brand the internet marketing company and the web hosting company would mean individual names, logos and brands. Those brands would roll into domain names, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts. On the other hand, an individual who is a jeweler and speaker may find that branding themselves is a better idea. There are some high-level synergies including: creativity, energy, a connection with people, great taste, etc. In this case, the personal brand should try to be the “Midas touch” so that everything that has the personal name attached to it (even in a wide range of places) should promise a certain quality and distinctness.

Let your goals (not your current place) guide you

When you work to create a brand identity, the goals and aspirations for your business should take the lead even if you are not exactly where you hope to be. While you may only be one person right now, is that where you want to stay? If yes, than you should work to build a personal brand. Your personal branding and personal connections is what will fuel your growth.

If you want to build something bigger than yourself than both your branding and online social presence should reflect that in name, look and content. You should start by working under a company name that is different than your own. Then, make sure that a business name is presented whenever it makes sense. Set up separate online accounts where applicable.

Emily Brackett and Visible Logic

I’m Emily Brackett. You can find me personally on LinkedIn or Facebook. But with my business name, domain name and Twitter account I work to promote Visible Logic, Inc.. While I am the public face of Visible Logic, I am no longer it’s only employee and I’m looking forward to watching the studio grow more. Currently, I am the only one who writes for this blog, but that may change as well in the future.

I sometimes wonder if I should have gone with some mix of my name and company name for the Twitter account, as Twitter is still usually an individual’s viewpoint. I could have done something like VisibleLogicEmily. One big reason I didn’t is because it’s so darn long.

Because I use Twitter with my business brand I stick to business. I keep 98% of my posts as things related to design. On Facebook, I link mostly with friends and my content is much more personal. I definitely add some business info, because that is a big part of who I am and what I’m doing, but I also share family and non-work related stories.

I don’t currently have a Facebook company fan page. I think that model is much more important for a B2C business, rather than a specialized service like high-end graphic design. I may revisit this, someday.

Who are you?

Would love to know who’s reading this. Here’s your chance to shameless self-promote, or just connect with others reading. If you are a small business owner, how are you handling your brand on the social web?

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