Small Business Branding – It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me”

By Yaro Starak
46 Comments

CorporationI came through business school with a very “corporatized” feeling of how business works. Most of the textbooks at university are written with big business as case studies and examples to demonstrate the theories. I felt that in order to run a business, even a small business, you should project the attitude of a big business. If you are planning on being big one day, a faceless corporation with hundreds of employees and a brand as a personality, then you should act like that from day one.

When I started my first business a switch in my head was flicked to “corporate” whenever I interacted with customers, suppliers and other people. I felt I needed to project that I was the face of something made up of lots of people, with hierarchies, departments and slow bureaucracies. I was of course quite aware that the reality was far from it, it was just me behind a computer doing all the tasks, but I needed to express “bigness” in order to convince people that my business was the real deal. I was quite misguided.

Attitude Adjustment

I partially blame university for the poor attitude. Business school, at least what I went through, teaches students to be corporate drones in a company made up of lots of people. You learn how everything works – the big picture of how all the bits come together to operate a large corporate business – but you don’t really get taught how to be an individual. Of course this wouldn’t have been a problem for most graduates since they went on to take positions at large companies where it would be appropriate for them to use words like “we” and “us” and “you need to speak to someone in HR“, but as a solopreneur these are not good words.

Whenever I received a business related email I’d respond with phrases like “We’d be happy to help” or “Our business operates on weekends“. My responses weren’t bad, they answered the questions and sold the service, but they also projected the corporate “We don’t really care about you, you’re insignificant” and worse, didn’t help to develop a human relationship with my clients.

As I matured as a solopreneur I slowly realized the importance of relationship building, especially with customers and how powerful it can be as a competitive advantage. Customers that form relationships with your business, or in truth, you as a solopreneur, will remain loyal even when offered a cheaper alternative. Familiarity, reliability and comfort all come from a good customer relationship and the more you can do to foster this attitude with each and every interaction in your business, the better.

Blog Personality Proof

As I’ve become a blogger I’ve further realised the power of personal communication. Blogs work, especially for small business, because they humanize the website. Before blogs most websites were just as corporate as the businesses that built them – dry, unemotional and faceless. Blogs are the reverse – colourful, full of personality and clearly identifiable with their owner. Because the weblog evolved from the online diary the blogging format of writing has always been more personal – it’s as if the author is sitting next to you talking.

Hi, I’m Yaro Starak

Sometime this year the corporate switch in my head flicked off. I finally realised that my greatest asset is me. Even if my goal is to build a massive corporation it serves me better if each and every customer and person that comes into contact with my business feels like they know me personally.

All my email correspondence is signed off from Yaro Starak or Yaro. My autoresponders introduce me as the business owner and state my willingness and availability to be contacted by each and every customer and potential customer that comes into contact with my businesses. I talk in “me” and “I” and only use “we” when I actually mean another person is involved.

Small Business Branding

I am now totally convinced, with thanks to blogging, that for small businesses there is no more powerful brand message to project than yourself. Even for big business, a personality brand can be a powerful message. “Richard Branson” is almost as meaningful as the Virgin brand itself. I think they are synonymous in a lot of ways. I see Virgin and I think Richard is behind this so it’s got to be good. If it wasn’t for the corporate structure of big business, where ownership is not in the hands of one person and the “captain of the ship” changes regularly, I’d be a proponent of personality branding for big business too.

Small business branding is not a good logo, a rhyming name, or special font. Small business branding is the owner. It’s what the owner does, says and how the owner’s traits come through in every aspect of the business. It’s the way relationships are built and maintained, the way a person does business and treats other people. It’s how rapport is established at an individual level, where trust and comfort exist as human characteristics, not from theme music, models or slogans.

There Can Only Be One

Remember you have one competitive advantage that can not be replicated – You. No one can ever duplicate your personality, the way you do business and your attitude towards other people. Projecting your personality is a powerful competitive advantage, branding message and business tool that you should be using every day. Don’t hide it behind a corporate facade, express it in everything you do.

Your business doesn’t have to become dependent on you personally, but your image, attitudes and values should form it’s pillars. This especially holds true for independent professionals and solopreneurs. If you are going it alone be proud of it and use it as an advantage. Don’t be corporate, be human, your human customers will love you for it.

Yaro Starak
The Brand

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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46 Comments

  • Yaro,

    Excellent article! Great timing too — I just started reading an excellent book titled: “Business as Unusual” by Anita Roddick (the Founder of The Body Shop). A good portion of her book is about how to keep the personal relationships with your customers and that initial entrepreneurial drive and creativity going when your baby (company) starts turning into a corporate giant and everything is institutionalized. She goes on to say that, that is one of the hardest things to do.

    I recommend everyone read this book — not only for that great info, but it also totally shifts your perspectives on what business truly is all about — and it has nothing to do with making money or dong something you neccessary love — its much more.

    Again, great article — always a pleasure to read. Hey where is that tip jar? this deserves a tip!

  • I hear you Yaro!
    I think the first time I read about this subject was on a Guerrilla Marketing book. They said a long time ago that firms need to be personal. Marketing needed to be about people, not about firms.

    Since that, I changed my blog CYM to make it more personal, to communicate better. To transmit a message of one, instead of a message of many. I agree about being persona, building a personality and have it reflected on your business.

    Great article. I will be writing a little bit of it on my blog later.

    Love your site, keep it going man!
    Cheers
    Javier Cabrera

  • That’s an interesting article Yaro. I have been thinking about this a lot recently.

    I use I and me to personalise a written response but tend to throw in ‘we’ and ‘our’ to give the project a ‘BIG’ or ‘Quality’ feel……………………hmm! Well, that’s what I thought I was doing anyway!

    Perhaps it’s best to stick with one or the other rather than both, as it really is only me (when I’m not involving the web developers, and occasional helper) so perhaps as you say in your article………it’s an advantage to promote your unique self.

    I was umming and ahhhhhhring as to whether to post my picture on the site or not in order to put a face behind the name and I finally decided to stick a small image on the About Us page, or should that now read About Me? He he!!

    You, Me, Us, We, are all individuals and perhaps it’s a good idea to promote that fact especially if one is committed to one’s projects and ideas and does not feel the need to hide in the virtual shadows.

    Food for thought as always. Look forward reading all the comments on this one.

    Aitch

  • Yaro,

    I agree completely with your post! I had a small business in the past where I used “we” and “our” to seem bigger, but now I would not do that any more.

    I know that I prefer to do business with a business where I know something about the owner.

    I have a “contact” page on my blog. I have been hesitant to post my picture (I don’t photograph well), but maybe I will do so.

    Pat

  • Hi Yaro,

    It takes time to click around to the personal touch, this was a great help in writing my latest newsletter.

    B

  • Well well well! I must say that i enjoyed reading your article Yaro. It highlighted some great points and some i may apply to the business i’ve been growing lately. In the software and software-related industries this is always problematic because everyone has an ego the size of the Titanic it seems even if it is a small company.

    If i think of truly successful business people they have always branded themselves right along with their business systems. Look at Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Warren Buffet, Ted Turner and the list goes on and they are as good at getting publicity as there companies are… there must be a link there. I work for a nameless and faceless corporation right now and i gotta tell you it really sucks. Thanks again for being the same insightful Yaro i know! Cheers

    Luc J. Arnold

  • This was a very good post. For some reason I find it to be motivational. Personally I would prefer to work with a busiess that is run by an individual than a big corporation.

  • Very, very true. Online or not, I’m more likely to be a forgiving, high buying, excellent customer to someone who makes it personal. Me instead of We.

  • Jason – Anita Roddick’s book was one of the first entrepreneurial story books that I ever read. Anita’s book is awesome and really demonstrates that even the most socially aware and environmentally conscious entrepreneur will still have trouble dealing with corporate culture.

    Her book really drummed home the deficiency in our business structure pertaining to publicly listed companies – once you float your business’s sole purpose of existence is to maximise shareholder value. It’s hard to maintain social and environmental conscious when other people are demanding you focus on maximising return – you can’t always meet both goals.

    If you want to leave a tip Jason make a donation to your favourite charity instead.

    Cheers!

  • It’s not we, It’s me

    Why does everyone want their small business to sound like a big business? Yaro Starak at The Entrepreneurs Journey asked himself this question and posted a great piece on shifting your mindset and focusing on yourself as the brand and

  • A very pertinent post Yaro.

    I run my blog at the moment under a pseudonym for some reasons of my own which can at time go against my desire to ‘personalise’ the whole thing because I think it’s far more interesting to read a person’s thoughts when you can have a bit of history to frame it against.

    In my day job I definitely hate the corporate ‘we’ culture and would much prefer to do business with (and work for) a more personalised firm.

  • Alex

    Yaro, I agree completely that good personal relationships are essential to making a small business grow.

    However, I wonder: doesn’t putting your personal name on things also put you at risk for personal lawsuits?

  • [...] Stop Selling, Start Telling, Be Yourself By Greg Balanko-Dickson Today, Yaro Starak reminded me of one of the biggest adjustments to make when writing of ran online audience. Stop selling and start telling – tell them about you – tell them stories of you serving them. Put some human interest into your website. People don’t care about you; they care about themselves and their own needs. Here is a list of articles along the same line of thought: [...]

  • Hi Alex – Legally I doubt there is much of a difference. Realistically you need be careful with what you say in a blog or any public medium regardless of your business structure.

    Perhaps some of our lawyer friends could elaborate on any specific risks when talking in “me” instead of “we”.

  • [...] Read the full post at Small Business Branding – It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me” [...]

  • This is a very valuable and worthwhile message, Yaro. Thanks a million!

    So many marketing materials, for corps and solopreneurs, have been too samey for too long. If I never read another statement along the lines of ‘excellent customer focus’ and ‘exceptional service delivery’ it’ll be too soon. How much more refreshing to read words written from the heart.

    Yaro is exactly right – a solopreneur’s individuality is truly their competitive advantage. After all, if you attract potential client’s attention by being yourself, it is destined to benefit both parties.

    The challenge, of course, is for solos (and corps, for that matter) is to have the courage to drop the shield of bland corpspeak, find your own identity and be clear on what you stand for.

    After all, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

  • Corporate Army Or One-Person Business

    Do you use “we” or “me” when speaking for your MicroISV or one-person small business? Is it better to act as if you are bigger than just one person? Or, is the fact that you are one person actually a distinct business advanta…

  • Hi Yaro,
    As a self-employed personal trainer I appreciate your tips and will return to your blog for more. As a trainer I am skilled in the technical aspect of training a client, but need a lot of help with the business part.
    Take care,
    Stephen

  • Another pertinent post for me, Yaro. I’ve been thinking about this of late, and have in fact just posted my aims for my own company in this area on my blog.

    Being honest and open in online business

    My only question is what happens to Virgin after Richard Branson is not around – do they pull a ‘Colonel Sanders’ and go on regardless? I guess it worked for Dick Smith Electronics.

  • [...] Yesterday morning Michael Pollock skyped me. I thought he was going to offer some feedback on my last article titled – Small Business Branding – It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me” – since he manages the SmallBusinessBranding.com site and clearly this article covered an area of his interest. However I was incorrect, he was in fact looking for some feedback about his decision to sell Small Business Branding. [...]

  • This is a great article Yaro – I have had this revelation recently too. As they say – we are now in the ‘Casual Web’ era – and I guess the same is true for business. Of course this has been a long time coming – as books like ‘Clue Train’ have said.

  • As a small businessman, am I to be proud of the small size of my business?

  • [...] Yaro of Entrepreneur’s Journey undid his corporate mindset and realized that a personal touch in business works better to brand a small business than than the biggest of appearances. [...]

  • Carnival of the Capitalists for December 26, 2005

  • [...] Small Business Branding: It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me” talks about the “corporate” persona often assumed by startups and how it prevents relationship-building. “I slowly realized the importance of relationship building, especially with customers and how powerful it can be as a competitive advantage.” (tags: bootstrapping microisv tips) [...]

  • Carnival of the Capitalists

    This week’s Carnival is up at Multiple Mentality. My contribution was about the vomit-inducing Richard Branson and the price of being the face of your business; Yaro Starak’s Carnival contribution provides the other side, explaining the benefits of b…

  • [...] My article – Small Business Branding – It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me” – is doing the blog carnival rounds this week (what’s a blog carnival you ask? Read Entrepreneur’s Journey At The Carnival to find out). [...]

  • [...] There’s been a bit of talk in the blogosphere lately about small business branding and the idea that the owner’s personality is an integral part of a small business brand [“it’s not we, it’s me“]. [...]

  • Nomadpreneurs?

    Is there such thing as Nomadpreneurs?
    This has been in my mind for quite sometime. We have Entrepreneurs and Solopreneurs but we don’t have Nomadpreneurs. Baffled?
    Let me put things into perspective to you.

  • [...] Yaro Starak reminds us It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me”: I came through business school with a very “corporatized” feeling of how business works. Most of the textbooks at university are written with big business as case studies and examples to demonstrate the theories. I felt that in order to run a business, even a small business, you should project the attitude of a big business. If you are planning on being big one day, a faceless corporation with hundreds of employees and a brand as a personality, then you should act like that from day one. [...]

  • [...] You are an entrepreneur, a netpreneur, a solopreneur or a freelancer [...]

  • I like your style of thinking, Yaro, because it’s like mine and in a “nutshell” is “keep it honest and keep it real.” I, personally, think both are much more important than pretense, don’t you? After all, pretending to be other than one is can be fraudulent, and I think a lot of people can smell a “faker.” Those who can and do tend not to do business with the fakers, and I find it too much work and energy spent to try to keep up “appearances” in lieu of “taking care of business,” so to speak. Alice

  • Great article. I have been following the same approach in my businesses. I added this fake “we” thing to my list of bootstrapping antipatterns a while back. I carry it through in my user agreements, marketing blurbs and blog.

  • [...] Public needs. If you are serious about creating a product or a business that requires the public to response to you, think about branding, marketing and public needs. The product must be original and it is a niche product. Read here to learn more [...]

  • Good post, Yaro. I appreciate your forthrightness. This is the most important asset of the business blogger and one that I try to follow every day. I also liked your idea about how blogging can put a human face on the website – you’re absolutely right. In fact I would like to see the blogsite and website merge at some point. Frankly, I find the fact that the Internet has become one huge, dull website very disappointing. How can tens of thousands of bright, creative web designers, coders, etc. come up with exactly one website? Now that’s a mystery

  • Yaro, your article has obviously reached lots of business people. It’s gained a long life uncommon in the blog medium. Thank you for a well thought out critique of small business attitude and marketing.

  • Very useful information. It seems as if I have at least partially, been on the right track for quite some time.. Derek

  • [...] The other thing I like about Article Marketing, which is one of the main reasons I like blogging as well, is that it contributes to your overall exposure one little bit at a time. Personal branding is about lots of little things adding up to a tipping point where amazing things can happen (think mainstream media coverage and even penetration into the public consciousness). [...]

  • [...] One mistake that small online business owners make (I’ve made it too in the past) is robbing themselves of this personal touch by trying to sound like a big corporation. Yaro Starak writes about this problem in greater depth. [...]

  • [...] -Adam C. Engst Posted by: Jay on Oct 10, 06 | 2:04 pm [0] comments (0 views) |  Permalink [0] Trackbacks     MainBlogroll [...]

  • [...] I constantly recommend them as a means to market your business and develop a personal brand (see Small Business Branding – It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me” for [...]

  • This is the biggest strength of a small business, the personal attention, so show it off. With corporate you are just a number. Great post.

  • It takes time to click around to the personal touch, this was a great help in writing my latest newsletter.

  • hi yaro, here in our country, one of the more popular social networking sites aside from Facebook and Friendster is Multiply.com. Aside from it’s connectivity, a lot of people use it to start their online businesses. However, just like what you said, a lot of people also try to project an image of being a BIG GROUP of people or a BIG business, when the truth is only 1 person is behind it.

  • As a small business that has investors, I know that they invested in me and not the idea, company or business model. My early success in growing my personal business into a small company was due to the focus on my customers and clients. My future success will be partially determined on how well we leverage these relationships.

  • I don’t like to use my own name for my business. However, I use the website name. For example, my forum posts are from the website name. However, everyone knows that the website name is me. Therefore, there is a personal touch without having to use my actual name.

    I agree that the big business “We” concept doesn’t work for bloggers.

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