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The age-old question: Are entrepreneurs born or made? At Brand of a Leader, we work with GenX entrepreneurs, those in their 40s and 50s, and have had the privilege of witnessing both types of founders. On one hand, there are the natural-born entrepreneurs who were running lemonade stands and selling anything and everything to their classmates at a young age. On the other hand, there are those who discover their entrepreneurial spirit later in life, after building a successful corporate career. In fact, did you know that the average age of a new entrepreneur in North America is 40 years old? That’s right, the next big entrepreneur might just be a GenX’er, not a GenZ’er or even a millennial!
So, if a lot of people are taking the leap into entrepreneurship after hitting the big 4-0, what has their journey been like before then? For many, it is all about climbing the corporate ladder and reaching the executive level, only to then ask themselves, “what’s next?” According to a Gallup study, a mere 13% of people find happiness in their jobs, and the pursuit of happiness may be the spark that ignites a desire for freedom, autonomy and fulfillment through entrepreneurship.
For some, a corporate career can be draining, with long hours, limited time with family and a struggle to prioritize health, both physically and mentally. But for those who decide to strike out on their own, the pursuit of a better work-life balance is often a key factor. In fact, a study by MBO Partners found that 60% of independent workers cite a desire for a better balance as their reason for self-employment.
Others may be driven by the desire to make a greater impact. For example, a CHRO leader passionate about DEIB may choose to start a consultancy that implements inclusivity programs for leadership across multiple organizations instead of within their current employer’s organization alone. The decision to become an entrepreneur after a rich and successful corporate career can be fueled by a desire to make a difference on a larger scale.
At Brand of a Leader, we’ve had the privilege of guiding many entrepreneurs as they make the leap from the corporate world to owning their own businesses. They come to us seeking advice on building a personal brand that sets them apart from the competition. And as you can imagine, we get asked a lot of similar questions. Here are three of the most frequent ones:
1. Should I use my own name or create a separate brand name for the business?
The secret to launching a successful business is having a clear vision. If you are looking to sell the business down the road, having a separate brand name may be a good idea. But if you are looking to create a legacy or are pursuing solopreneurship, having two distinct brands — one for the business and one for your personal brand — can give you double the equity (but also double the time investment). Our clients who choose to build their business on the backs of their personal brand, however, enjoy a singular focus and the ability to grow a following without excessive ad spend.
And here’s the thing — there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But we do recommend one thing: Don’t neglect your personal brand. People follow people, and a strong personal brand provides visibility, portability and a platform that can help your business while allowing you to pivot if necessary.
2. Should I wait to work on my personal brand after I make the transition to entrepreneurship?
Many of you may be concerned that a transition could alienate your audience and force you to wait before making a move. But this is a common misconception rooted in the idea that your personal brand reflects what you do professionally. At Brand of a Leader, we help our clients shift their thinking by showing them that their personal brand is who they are, not what they do. The goal of personal brand discovery is to understand your essence and package it in a way that appeals to others. Your vocation is only one of your key talking points, and when you pivot, you simply shift those points while maintaining the essence of your brand.
So, when should you start building your personal brand? The answer is simple: the sooner, the better. Building a brand takes time — time to build an audience, create visibility and establish associations between your name and consistent perceptions in people’s minds. Starting sooner means you’ll start seeing results faster. And if there is one thing our post-corporate-career clients regret, it is not starting to work on their personal brand sooner.
3. What is the difference between the brand of my business and my personal brand?
As entrepreneurs, it is natural to view our businesses as a reflection of ourselves. But as we work with post-corporate clients to develop their personal brands, we often find that they blur the lines between their personal values and those of their business. When asked about their core values, they may default to listing the values of the company, rather than their own personal beliefs. The same goes for target audience — they may see their business’s target audience as their own.
This is where we encourage our clients to challenge their thinking and explore the nuances of their personal brand. While it may seem convenient to align your personal brand with that of your business, it is important to consider whether there are values and audiences that are unique to you as an individual. For example, as the Founder of the business “Brand of a Leader,” my target audience is GenX entrepreneurs and CEOs. However, my personal brand also has a secondary audience of immigrants, which may not align with the business’s focus.
As we encourage our clients to examine the differences between their personal brand and that of their business, we remind them that it is perfectly okay to have a personal brand that is distinct from the company brand. Personal brands can have different values, target audiences and even a distinct brand voice. Embracing these differences can lead to a more authentic and fulfilling personal brand-building experience.
The entrepreneurial journey is not a one-size-fits-all experience. It can be the natural next step for some, a way to escape unhappiness in your current career or a means to make a larger impact in the world. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”
If you are considering entrepreneurship after a successful corporate career, now may be the time to take that leap of faith. Building your personal brand will provide you with the visibility, portability and platform necessary to succeed in your new venture. So, go ahead, take that risk, and turn your entrepreneurial dream into a reality, powered with an inspiring personal brand!