A senior colleague at your consulting firm keynotes Cacao Jam, the cacao dessert industry’s annual conference. As she wraps up her inspiring tale of the modern workplace melting pot, the audience rises to its feet. She basks in the thunderous applause and the glow of the spotlight framing her against the chocolatey brown backdrop.
You wonder, though, shouldn’t the adulation be flowing toward your firm, rather than an individual?
Even if you’re the on-stage speaker and your firm’s name is eponymous (like mine is), the question remains: what’s the role of your personal brand vs. your firm’s brand?
Three Concerns About Personal Brands
Three concerns anchor most arguments against building a personal brand:
- Client Demands – Clients want the A-team and assume that team must include the individual whose name graces the door, shows up in the news or tops the cake. All sorts of capacity and project fee problems result from too much demand for one consulting resource.
- Market Valuation – When you decide to sell your consulting firm, you’ll receive a lower valuation or multiple if the big draw is your name rather than your consulting firm’s name. Worse, if you name the firm after yourself, it could be unsellable.
- Attrition Risk – If an employee at your consulting firm develops a strong personal brand, they could put your business at serious risk if they leave.
Dispelling the Myths
First and foremost, don’t operate your consulting firm from fear.
Client Demands – Most clients will work with any consultants you designate as long as you (or the other big name at your firm) expresses total, unshakeable confidence in your team. Sophisticated diners know executive chefs design the menu, but cooks serve up the delicious meals.
Market Valuation – The market will reward you for building powerful BD and delivery engines that leverage the strengths of individuals. Whether your consulting firm’s logo includes some individual’s name is largely irrelevant. Even if it’s some variation of your own name, the valuation of your firm won’t be affected.
As a quick case study, I was recently involved in two consulting firm transactions with the same PE group. The firm bearing its founder’s name received a higher multiple than the firm with the more traditional business name.
Regarding Attrition Risk…
Not every consultant wants the spotlight, but everyone wants a chance to shine.
Make your consulting firm a place your colleagues want to stay! The best consultants flock to firms where their personal brands can flourish and be rewarded.
Balance Personal and Firm Brands
The answer, of course, is to build personal brands and your consulting firm’s brand.
They’re both important.
(If your consulting firm is eponymous, you still have a personal brand and a firm brand.)
You’re in a people business. Clients turn to small consulting firms because they know, like and trust the individuals at the firm–other human beings with whom they’ve forged a bond.
That’s why personal brands outperform firm brands at attracting consulting clients!
That said, personal brands are only part of the picture. Personal brands should be presented in the context of the firm’s brand. Individuals who garner attention should acknowledge they’re members of a larger, better team and promote the overall strength of your consulting firm.
Clients will be drawn in by the personal brands then become loyal clients who give referrals because of the quality your firm delivers.
That’s the power of personal brands working for the business and, ultimately, building your consulting firm’s brand.
What have you done to build your personal brand or firm’s brand?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
I was intentional moving to be a solopreneur with my biggest “aha’s” from establishing partnerships with other groups and teams. The materials I create (monthly newsletter, monthly vlog, etc.) are being repurposed by the partners to add to their outreach efforts to include both parties. So the brand expands (they get free content, I get broader exposure with no effort or cost) and we all benefit.
I think for small groups or solo’s the focus on broadening the population outreach is a key to highlighting the brand, being the “expert” worthy of conversation. The most recent effort I’ve made is to craft longer, deeper pieces I post on LinkedIn 2-3 times a week. More than news stuff that I post on Twitter, these are topics I actually think about from different perspectives and offer up for discussion. I can’t say it has driven business but it has expanded my network and allowed some interesting conversations!
You’ve provided an outstanding example, Bill, of building a personal brand and a business brand at the same time. Good on you for taking all those steps. I agree with your push on partnerships–more and more, we are seeing that as the highest leverage marketing channel for small consulting firms.
Keep me apprised of how the long-form content on LinkedIn works for you. Our clients have seen mixed results with that tactic. Either way, it’s helping build your brand.
Well done, and thank you for sharing, Bill!
My firm’s name is not eponymous as 32 years ago when I started it I was concerned that it would be a hindrance to eventually sell. My personal brand is strong and keeps the work coming in with the LinkedIn profile that has the key search words along with strong referrals for ongoing work. I have been thinking about personal vs. firm branding because of talking for a national virtual conference next week with one of my consultants. Thanks for the posting, and now I’m concerned that the eponymous company had more value with PE!
Congratulations on creating a firm that’s been delivering value to clients for over 30 years, Susan. That’s an impressive achievement!
As you noted, the work you’ve put in to keep your personal brand strong has kept engagements flowing in. That’s exactly what we’ve seen across firms. Let your consultant build her personal brand too, starting with the national conference. That doesn’t mean you should exclude the firm brand–build them both.
Your firm won’t be valued lower because of the name. That’s the whole point–the name doesn’t matter. The equity you build in the brand and, more importantly, the strength of the BD and delivery engines are larger contributors to market value. (There are others determinants of value too, of course.)
I’m very glad you posted your story, Susan.
Thank you for the insights! As the marketing person at our small firm, I’ve been in a gentle tug-o-war with our owner over this very topic since I started 2 years ago. She is a highly respected thought leader in a niche industry and, while I understand her desire to keep the brand at the forefront, her face and name are recognizable – thus garnering more clicks and likes. Our company Linkedin page has 420 followers whereas the owner’s personal page is nearing 2000. To hit both, I post to our company page and then repost/share as the owner with a brief message. Next challenge – we are revamping our website this year and will need to decide how prominently to feature the owner vs the brand. Wish us luck!
What a great case study, Brenda! As you might expect, I’m intimately familiar with the struggle you’re describing. What we’ve learned from our firm and from our clients is what I shared in the article–personal brands are much more important than many consulting firms think, and the natural inclination to suppress the personal brand, particularly as the firm grows, can be counterproductive.
The question to work through at your firm is how you turn the tug-o-war into a tug-together. How do you leverage your founder, build her brand and build the firm’s brand? (By the way, we help many firms through that challenge.)
I appreciate your sharing the live example, Brenda. You’ve added a lot of color to the discussion.
David, In 1990 when I hung out my shingle I named my firm Z-axis Marketing. No one could remember it. No one could spell it. And no one could type the URL. But everyone remembered my name. So the firm was promoted as Jerry Fletcher’s Z-axis Marketing. the URL became Jerry Fletcher.com and the Z-axis URL was pointed to it.
My experience and that of 207 Consulting and coaching clients is that every firm needs to have the founder’s name as part of the promoted name. Larger firms profit by using the same tactic but supporting personal branding for those who want to pursue it. In multiple situations I’ve helped put in place annual reviews conducted by the founder with the client to assure that clients know the assigned consultant has the complete confidence of the founder.
Nice case study on your firm founding, Jerry! Our experience with boutique consulting firms suggests it’s very possible to build equity in a firm’s name without it being directly tied to a founder’s name; for example, in the transaction I mentioned in the article, our client who had the “traditional” business name pocketed many, many millions of dollars from the sale of his firm–that’s not a bad payout, and the founder’s name was never associated with the firm’s brand.
However, as your case study illustrates, both pieces of the puzzle (personal brand and firm brand) are important.
I’m glad you joined the conversation, Jerry!
This was very helpful! I’m new to consulting but I already see how I add value to my firm through subject matter expertise that I have and the base that I can reach and speak to. Still have lots to learn but I’m happy to see that intentional building of a personal brand in conjunction with the firms can serve us both well.
Congratulations on joining the world of consulting, Robert! You’re in for a fun and challenging experience. If you have useful expertise and a solid Network Core you can connect with, then you already ahead of the game. Well done!
I’m glad you took a moment to join the discussion, Robert!