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Gary Vaynerchuk gives personal brand top billing

If you own a company you'd like to sell one day, should you build your personal brand or your business brand?

The Oprah Winfrey Show has 75,000 followers on Twitter. Ms. Winfrey's magazine, O, has 106,000 followers. Oprah Radio has 25,000 followers.

Ms. Winfrey herself has more than four million followers.

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Are people loyal to her or her business? Is the value of her production company, Harpo, discounted because Ms. Winfrey is bigger than the business?

To brand yourself or your company is an interesting dilemma we encounter regularly. Should your Twitter handle be your name or that of your company?

For an answer to the brand-your-company versus the brand-yourself debate, I turned to Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the most prolific personally branded entrepreneurs on the planet.

Mr. Vaynerchuk got his start working for his father's liquor store. He identified an opportunity to sell wine to novices and, among other things, created a video blog called Wine Library TV. Mr. Vaynerchuk promoted his new show through sites such as Facebook and Twitter and ultimately became one of the first entrepreneurs to capitalize on the economic potential of social media.

He then wrote the book Crush It! to reveal some of his social media wisdom, and it became a New York Times bestseller.

Mr. Vaynerchuk decided to promote his personal brand ahead of his company. His 850,000-plus Twitter followers learn more about his dreams (he wants to own the New York Jets), his No. 1 rule ("take care of your family") and what irritates him (lazy people) than about his company.

Here's our exchange:

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Question: You've built an amazing personal brand, but was it a mistake to promote yourself over your company?

Answer: I know if I stopped hosting Wine Library TV, we'd probably lose 75 per cent of our audience, but the remaining 25 per cent is still a big number.

Q: I think business owners reading this would be horrified at the thought of losing 75 per cent of their customers.

A: I understand, but look at the numbers. The average liquor retailer in the United States sells for 30 cents for every dollar in revenue, so a $10-million liquor retailer is worth around $3.5-million. I've been offered $2 per dollar of revenue for my business, so I'm confident the value of my personal brand is accruing to my business as well.

If people are worried about undermining their business value by promoting their personal brand, they are not thinking big enough. Look at Oprah or Martha Stewart or even Martha Stewart's chef, Emeril Lagasse, whose business interests she (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) just acquired for $70-million.

Q: So what's the secret of transforming a personal brand into one that benefits your company?

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A: Brands mature over time, like a marriage. The bond you feel with your spouse is different than when you first met each other. Excitement and discovery are replaced by comfort and depth. If you nurture the relationship you have with your audience for long enough, your personal brand will evolve to one that benefits your company.

Q: Okay, so let's say you have convinced readers to build a personal brand as well as a company brand. What advice would you give to those just starting their personal branding journey?

A: Don't be a brand whore. Do you know how many companies have wanted me to do an energy drink for them because I named my book Crush It!? It might be fun one day, but right now I think it would undermine the personal brand I've built.

You have to understand your own personal DNA. Don't do things because I do them or Steve Jobs or Mark Cuban tried it. You need to know your personal brand and stay true to it.

Q: The name of your media company is a derivative of your surname. Will that make it tricky if the Vayner in Vaynermedia ever wants to sell it?

A: Having your personal name in your company name is not right for everyone. Again, I think you have to know your DNA. I know how to make a brand larger than life, and I have no plans to sell Vaynermedia, so the name makes sense to me. Plus I get a little extra respect in meetings since my surname is on the door.

Q: What mistakes do you see business owners making as they prepare to sell their business?

A: People think you should nip and tuck your expenses before selling your business, and I say the opposite. You don't want some financial type to buy your company because you are efficient. You want someone to fall in love with what you are doing and buy you with emotion.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company. Follow him on Twitter @JohnWarrillow.

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