Monday, June 16th 2008 at 1:24 p.m. was the date and time I sent my first tweet: “sitting on jetblue flight 12“.

I remember it well. I was flying from Ft. Lauderdale airport to John F. Kennedy to visit our new Fresh Diet co-packer in New Jersey. I had heard about Twitter that very morning from our second tech hire, Julio (who, ironically, left us for Twitter two years later). As someone who always tries to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest tech trends, I was fascinated by what I was seeing. In real time, people from all over the world were sharing their thoughts. Having been fully engrossed in my business, The Fresh Diet, for the previous 18 months, there was only one thought that entered my mind—open a Twitter account with the handle @FreshDiet. So I did just that and began tweeting away. It wasn’t until almost two years later that I opened my personal account @ZalmiD and another few years until I actually starting using it regularly. If only I had opened that personal account sooner, how much farther ahead of the game I would be now.

Over this past year I have been getting more and more social media related questions from entrepreneurs. What should my Twitter handle be? Should I have a personal Facebook page and a Facebook business page? The discussions run the gamut, but always seem to come back to one key question: When it comes to social media, do I focus on my business or my personal brand? It usually takes a few years under the belt to get to this question, as most entrepreneurs in the first years of their business don’t really care about a personal brand. However, the bigger the business gets and the more success the founder has, the more opportunities arise that didn’t exist earlier. With the world we live in today, one of those opportunities is a “personal brand.” A personal brand can be a whole business of its own, and many entrepreneurs can plant the future seeds today even if it’s the last thing on their minds.

Two months ago I received an email from a good friend and fellow entrepreneur, Jennifer Irvine, Founder & CEO of The Pure Package. Jenny started a meal delivery business just like mine back in 2003 out of her home in London, England. We connected in 2008 and have stayed in touch over the years, visiting each others’ kitchen facilities and exchanging priceless advice. Although Jenny runs a successful business, is the author of two books, has gotten her business countless media appearances in England and has won numerous awards, she’s never truly capitalized on her greatest asset—her personality. So when I received her email in February with the subject “personal development,” I was thrilled to reiterate what I’ve been telling her for years—that she needs to take advantage of her strong personality by building her personal brand more.

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Jennifer Irvine Founder & CEO of The Pure Package

Photo Credit: annabelkarmel.com

My first suggestion was for her to create a Facebook page under her name as a personality. Although she had a personal Facebook account and pages for her two brands, The Pure Package and Balance Box, she did not have a page for her own personal brand. She quickly heeded my advice and launched a page as a public figure under her name Jennifer Irvine. In just two months she has over 1,400 likes with $0 ad spend. Compare that to the 2,471 likes at her Pure Package page that has been around for years or the 1,089 likes at her Balance Box page. The numbers speak for themselves. People and customers love to connect with entrepreneurs and founders outside of the business.

Looking back, I wish I would have realized the value of building my personal brand earlier. There are many things I could have done, like creating my @ZalmiD twitter account early enough to have the handle @Zalmi. More importantly, I would have been able to lay the foundation for my personal brand early enough to make it even stronger today. This would have also clearly separated myself from my company and given us each our own voice. I have seen many entrepreneurs that tweet personal thoughts under their company’s twitter handle, and that is never a smart idea. There is no need to do that if you create your own personal brand.

As I continue to play catchup, building my personal brand and helping others build theirs, I am excited by the opportunities our new world offers. It has never been easier to get your name and story out there and, most importantly, to connect with others. But do it early on, because while your business name may change, most likely your birth name will always stay the same. Just imagine how far ahead of the game you will be in the future, if you start building your personal brand today.

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