Attitudes for growth:
how ego can get in the way of small business success


Many new businesses are the brainchild of a single motivated individual. And without the right attitude on the part of that individual, the business may never become successful. Recently, a number of conversations I've seen on social media, and comments I've heard from colleagues, particularly about solopreneurs and small businesses, have got me thinking about how important the separation of personal and business identity can be in the growth of a company.

What's in a name?

One of the first things a potential client hears about a business is usually the company name. The whole issue of business and brand naming is complex, and many specialist books have been written on the subject. That said, an important question to consider when you set up a company is what to call it. Will it bear your personal name, a name connected to the business activity, a dictionary word or phrase (in your own language or another), or a neologism?

There are pros and cons for all these options, but here I simply want to draw attention to a couple of the negatives of using your own name. While doing so won't preclude the possibility of growth – think of all the older retail giants named after their founders – it can make it more difficult to create the disconnect between owner and business that facilitates scalability. This is particularly true in the world of consultancy and coaching. If the company is known by the name of the founder, will every client expect to deal directly with the guru at the heart of the business? Even if the founder personally trains every associate or team member, they will never actually be that guru; not only is this going to bother some clients, but it sets up a possible problem for the future of the organisation and for the legacy of the named leader.

Using your own name for your business can make it more difficult to create the disconnect between owner and business that facilitates scalability.

That leads us directly on to the idea of long-term business plans. If yours is a lifestyle business, intended primarily to support and fund a certain lifestyle for you, or if you are thinking in terms of a family business to be passed along down the generations, it's probably fine to put your name to it. But if you are hoping to develop a truly scalable enterprise, perhaps thinking ahead and planning a sale as your exit strategy from the very beginning, you may find it easier to sell a company that has no inherent link to your name and personal brand.

Your brand or your business brand?

Following on from that last point, it can be difficult to separate personal and business brand when the name is the same. And yet it's important to be able to do just that. Although we'd hope and expect the values of key personnel in any organisation to be aligned with those of the organisation itself, everyone is an individual, so their values won't be identical.

In most cases, the business will not be a simple extension of the founder's persona. Yet if you ask a solopreneur or micro-business owner to define the business brand persona, you'll often find that they are describing themselves or an idealised version of themselves. But imagine a company that sells children's toys: there's nothing that limits the age or other demographics of the owner – they may be a tech-savvy elderly female who does extreme adventure sports in her spare time – but the logo, messaging and brand communications need to appeal, not to her, but to young parents, grandparents and the children themselves.

A business is not just an extension of the founder's persona.

If a business brand is to develop over time, to become established in its sector, and to grow strong enough to stand up and be counted, it needs to have its own clear identity, and not be subject to the whims, moods and attitudes of a single person.



Business on social

Social media plays an important role in business today. This means that it's easy for the founder of a new business to look at their own social media interactions and think that they can leverage the enthusiasm and support of their friends and family members and use this as a foundation on which to build the new company's social media following. Once again, we're looking at the self-identification of the individual with the brand persona, and not recognising the fact that the personal following, however strong, may not coincide with the target market. While it may be daunting to set up a new social media profile with no followers, it may well be better to do that than to have the new message diluted by a big initial following of the wrong demographic. Later on, when the time comes to delegate, it's also going to be a lot easier to hand over access to the business account to a social media manager than it is to relinquish your personal account.

In a similar way, it's important that an organisation owns its own social media profiles, even if these are handled by someone on their behalf. You don't want to lose all your business followers because you fall out with your community manager, or find that your social-media-savvy member of staff has left the company and taken all the followers with them because they were running the business activity from their personal account.

Some years ago, I was advised by a LinkedIn expert that a company page was completely unnecessary for a small business. Since then, I've come to realise that it's actually an important tool in the separation of business and personal identities, and can play a key part in allowing the business reputation to develop. Not only are there ways to leverage company page activity through the activity of your employees, but by separating the profiles, you give yourself space to be seen as more than just the business, and the business as more than just you.

A LinkedIn company page can be an important tool in the separation of business and personal identities.
Delegation & the creation of a team

One of the major barriers to growth in a small business is the reluctance to delegate. Frequently, the founders of owner-managed start ups will minimise their costs by doing everything themselves. They know what needs doing and simply get on and do it without needing to explain or consult. This way, of course, they retain total control. Once this has become a habit, it's very hard to let go and delegate. In addition, because they carry all the details around inside their heads and have never had to set up or document processes and procedures, the initial effort required to pass over the work becomes a major obstacle to doing so.

Assuming that you are willing to let go of something, you need to think about what you should delegate and to whom.

When it comes to “what” to delegate, one of the first things that come to mind is often social media – it can be time consuming and doesn't necessarily show an immediate return. Networking, too, can feel like a time sink, sucking away time and energy with little obvious reward. That said, both social media and networking are a public representation of the business, and delegation needs to be very carefully managed if it is to be successful. It might be better to delegate more specific technical or skilled tasks that have less need of the unique voice of your business.

The people you choose to work with early on, whether as actual employees, as associates, or simply as suppliers to your business, will have a huge impact on your future success. Despite the old saying that “opposites attract”, we tend to get on well with people who are like ourselves: we look for shared values, attitudes and interests. That's all very well when we're dealing with our social lives, but although shared values and goals are fundamental to the smooth running and success of the business, it isn't necessarily a good thing to bring in people just like yourself at the beginning.

The people you choose to work with early on will have a huge impact on future success.

In fact, it makes a lot of sense to look for people who are not very like you and who will bring a different perspective and fill the gaps in your skill set. Note, too, that the personalities and demographics of the people you choose to work with can have as much influence on the success or otherwise of the team you are building as the expertise that they bring to the table.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that when you've got someone on board who has the necessary expertise to fulfill their remit and is up-to-speed on what needs doing, their job is no longer your responsibility. Delegation means letting go. Yes, there will still be a need for you to check in with what's going on, but that's not the same as micro-managing.

In conclusion: less ego; more objectivity

Everyone has an opinion about what to do to ensure business growth and how to facilitate scaling up, but I believe that much of business success is due to the owner's attitude. All of the points I've discussed here come down to an objectvity on the part of the business owner. Personal involvement and energy may be fundamental to get a business started, but so, too, is the need to remove ego from the equation. A scalable business is more than just a facet of the founder's personality. Unless you are ready to let others take an active role, unless you are willing to step away and let those others get on with what they are best at without your interference, your business may never reach its potential

When ego is lost, limit is lost.
― Harbhajan Singh Yogi

At Tantamount, we specialise in words and design and in making sure they work together to communicate brand messages effectively and appropriately. If you need help finding the right words and getting the tone right, why not mail us on or give us a call on 0798 661 3437 and let’s have a chat?