The Small Business Branding Guide on a Budget
When you start to promote your small business online (or who knows maybe one day it won’t be small anymore, the Facebooks and Tumblrs started small too) you have to consider how to brand yourself and your company. It’s not only about SMBs but about professionals too.
Many professionals, be it lawyers, doctors or SEO practitioners will prefer to use their own name.
Others have names like mine you can’t possibly use, unless you shorten it and make it a nick name instead, as I did when Tad Chef “was born”. Even in case you decide to use your first and last name to promote your business you have to consider branding best practices, especially online where probably many other people will have the same name and most likely outrank you.
So today I want to help you with it and explain how to
- choose domains
- social media account names
- your motto
- avatar/s (should you use a photo or a logo?)
- email signatures
etc. The best thing about this guide is: everything in it can be done for free or on a budget. No need to pay trademark lawyers.
When I chose my first domain name in 2001 it was already pretty late for me. As a student I’ve been using free hosting services from my college and free hosting sites like Geocities but got increasingly annoyed with them and needed my own domain as a professional.
I knew that as a Pole living and working n Germany but potentially wanting to reach a global audience I needed something universal. My name wouldn’t work outside of Poland. A German TLD (top level domain) as in .de wouldn’t work either and I wanted something short and easy to remember.
In 2001 already most good short domain names were gone.
Back in 2001 I wasn’t even practicing SEO yet. I didn’t blog yet. I was a web developer and online publisher already though. I still worked at an agency but I considered a future where I would offer my services as a freelancer even though I didn’t really know yet what services that would be. I grew tired of web development which became more programming by then instead of the web design I had envisioned.
So I could not make up a name based on my trade either. Both limitations were good for me in the end. Naming your website after yourself is not always good for business. Naming it after a service you offer maybe a disadvantage in the long run too.
In case you are perfectly sure that you will be offering the services you do today and you have a good sounding name you can use it or a combination of both.
My favorite example of name only branding is Bruce Clay, one of the foremost personal brands of the SEO industry.
johnsmithlawyer.com or johnsmithlaw.com is not enough when your name is too common though. You need to add another dimension, either your location or specialty. johnsmithlawny.com is an actual site and a good example. You may notice though that it starts to become pretty complicated. Maybe making up new word to describe your yourself or just one that sounds good like in my case will be a better idea?
Once you decided you should take into account securing at least the major TLD domains that are available. For example I have secured onreact.com, .us. .eu, .info, .uk, .de and so on just in case. I use Namecheap for some of them and can recommend the service. It’s both cheap and good for SEO as you can easily create a 301 redirect to your main domain.
Social Media Accounts
Cybersquatting is the practice of grabbing your name on top level domains or social sites to either sell it back to you or to make you and your business appear in a bad light. With real names or more generic terms the risk of losing your desired name to someone else is even bigger.
Even in case you’re not a multinational corporation you are advised to secure your name on major social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc. In some cases you need to secure more than one account, for example on Twitter.
Personally I had some of the same issues on Twitter that I had with my domain name already. At first I tried to brand myself with my domain name but most social sites won’t allow this, so you can’t use onreact.com as a user name.
Social sites want users to stay onsite not to go elsewhere so that you can’t overtly promote your URL there.
I tried on Twitter nonetheless by using an underscore: onreact_com. This looks a bit awkward though. Later on I realized that I don’t want to use solely the .com ending forever so I secured onreact by itself too. Additionally I registered tadchef and tadeuszewczyk.
I overlooked one issue with those additional accounts though. Some people will find them, assume they are my main accounts and just follow me there. They won’t bother to check whether they are empty. So you need to set up an “auto DM” (direct message) tool to inform each follower that they are following the wrong account.
In case your domain name name is johnsmithlawny you better set up social accounts with a matching name or someone else might instead of you. You will lose your potential audience as well. I can’t johnsmithlawny on Twitter for example.
What is your motto? Do you have one? Do you have at least core values you represent? You need to voice them everywhere, on your site and on social sites as well. Until lately I had a different description on each social site, my main site and my blog because I was afraid of so called duplicate content. So I confused my readers and potential followers who couldn’t be sure whether it’s the same guy all over the place or just someone else using the same avatar.
After a few years I have focused on what I really do or am trying to offer. It’s help in the broadest possible sense. I don’t offer only SEO as I suggested earlier calling myself an “SEO consultant” or “SEO blogger”. It’s the combination of all the three main things I’m into that makes me what I am. That’s why I decided to use “I help people with blogs, social media and search (both in German and English)”. I use the part in brackets only where it matters, where I expect a global audience.
Having a slogan is really important for branding. It creates a meaning for your brand name.
Think about why you do, how you do it and what value you provide and to whom. Try to fit everything into one short sentence and there you have it. Many people try to be funny in their social media bios despite being professionals. I tried that too but by now I think it does not support your effort to appear as a trustworthy person. You rather look immature or downright stupid.
SERPs.com also has a very good slogan, one that even contains a call to action in it: “Prove your SEO is working” or the even shorter version “Prove Your SEO”. It’s succinct and summarizes exactly what the company stands for.
What kind of image do you use for your site and social media accounts? Most likely you will use a logo for your site. Many businesses also use their logos for their brand pages on social sites. SMBs are trying to copy big household names here. You are not Apple, Google or Coca Cola though. People won’t recognize your logo. They will just see that your social media account is impersonal and commercial so they won’t follow you unless they already know you. The smaller your business the fewer people will of their own accord.
As a professional you rather should use a picture of yourself, a headshot with white background ideally so it’s easier to see your face in the tiny version of the avatar you’ll see on social sites.
Private social media accounts often use funny or irrelevant avatars from comic books or movies, celebrity pictures or simply funny images. I have chosen a combination of both, a headshot and a funny image at once. In a way it’s similar to the one used for Uncle Ben’s rice. That’s possible but risky. I may replace it in the near future. It’s fantastic when it comes to recognition but it’s not very trustworthy looking. Also many people are using this image as their avatar too by now because they have downloaded it from my site or blog. It’s not only my problem.
Just a few days I’ve seen someone on Inbound using Neil Patel‘s (one of the most important SEO bloggers) image as an avatar.
Ideally you use an image that is unique like your logo so that it can’t be stolen but it also shows your face.
I know, that’s difficult. You could wear a cap with your logo on it. My friend Anthony Pensabene has been simply wearing a branded t-shirt for the Skyrocket SEO company that hired him as a brand ambassador. It was the perfect example to combine both logo and face avatar:
Many professionals or SMBs do not have a proper logo at all or they have a cheap one that does not look very credible. Make sure not to use a logo that looks cheap on social sites neither as a standalone avatar nor as an addition.
For years I haven’t used any email signature at all because it was impossible to find one matching all the occasions when I needed one. Working both internationally and in Germany I needed one in German and one in English at least. There are specific laws that force you to include specific information in an email signature by now and of course they differ from country to country.
I have been also emailing on behalf of clients and representing several publications I write for on my own. So I ended up needed a dozen of different signatures. That’s when I gave up.
By now I have reduced the number of signatures I have to a few and sometimes I add an ad hoc one depending on who I write to and why. Some of the steps mentioned above helped me to consolidate my email signatures into 3 to 4.
The slogan was crucial. Now that “I help people with blogs, social media and search” I don’t have to tell bloggers contacting me that I’m an evil “SEO consultant” anymore for example. That’s why I added the “email signature” part at the end of this post because at first you need to set up the other ones.
In your signature you need to mention your
- what you do
- your email address
- your phone number
You can add one or more of your main social accounts. You may add your street address and other ways to contact you (Skype, mobile number) etc. but you have to make sure that your signature doesn’t get longer than your email text! Also not everybody need s to know your address, Skype name or mobile number.
Why do you need to mention your email address you might ask, doesn’t everybody see it already as the sender?
No, many email programs just show the name not the address. Also I have several email addresses I use depending on the purpose of the message so that it’s important to point out which one is the main one. Ideally you use an email address like
These are best for branding purposes. Any web hosting package offers you as many email addresses as you need these days so don’t stick with Gmail or worse even Yahoo, Hotmail and the likes.
I use Gmail as well for Google services but my main address is simply onreact at onreact.com
* Creative Commons image by Chris.