Things we’ve achieved at Icebreaker.vc portfolio by doing some founder personal branding:
👉 Inbound leads that converted into clients (the most obvious one)
👉 Inbound C-level key recruits
👉 Inbound next round investors
Taking a startup from an idea to a profitable company and potentially to a lucrative exit is busy work. As a founder you would be forgiven to think that developing a personal brand is not one of your priorities. Forgivable as the thought is, it is also wrong.
Having a strong personal brand as a founder can make the difference between your startup being a success or another failed idea.
Here are the reasons why you need to consider your brand, and how to go about building it.
What is a personal brand?
Creating a personal brand is about much more than narcissism. According to Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, your personal brand is “what people say about you when you are not in the room”. This may sound flippant, but the quote carries a lot of truth.
A personal brand really is a widely recognized, public perception of you based on your knowledge, expertise, achievements, and experience within a community or an industry. As a startup founder your personal brand defines your profile both online and offline.
Never underestimate the importance of your personal brand. What people say and write about you as a founder can make all the difference to your company’s success.
What can a personal brand bring to your startup?
Being known as an expert in your chosen field will automatically lend credibility to your startup. Especially in the early days of a company’s development, the founder is often synonymous with the business.
If your name is established in your industry, you can transfer this credibility to your new venture. The stronger your own brand is, the more of your credibility will automatically transfer to your business. This can serve to fast-track brand building for your business.
Attracting the Right Team
Talking about the vision you have for your startup and how you are planning to achieve your goals helps bring the new company to life. Inspiring others with your idea will help you attract the best possible team. This is crucial, especially in the early stages of a startup.
Without a large budget to hire staff, it’s crucial that each new team member is fully on board with your company’s mission. Having a personal brand will help you attract people who share your passion and care about the company.
The early stages of a startup often require your team to work long hours and complete tasks outside of their normal job description. You will find it easier to get this kind of support if your employees have bought into you as a brand as well as the company.
Having a strong personal brand will help attract clients. In fact, it may convince clients to seek you out as opposed to you and your team having to chase after them. In your first few months, this will save you time, and it will make it easier to generate income. Cashflow is crucial for startups. Being able to generate income supporting clients rather than finding new ones will help you succeed.
Your first clients are often people who buy into you as a founder and your vision. They have the potential to become brand ambassadors and a source of referrals.
Over time, you will find a strong brand will make it easier to win higher-value clients. Your startup will win bigger projects. As your name becomes established as an authority in your industry, your demand increases, and you can charge higher rates. This will allow you to scale up faster, grow your company, and become more profitable.
Access to Investment
It’s true that investors look at business plans and figures. However, all things considered, investors and business angels invest in people. Having a personal brand will not only allow you to attract their attention.
It will also help strengthen your startup’s position when you are approaching your next round of financing. With your personal credibility well established, your business plan has an advantage over your competitors.
If potential investors see you as a leading, trusted figure in your field, they are more likely to put their faith — and their funds — in your business.
Above all, establishing a personal brand will help widen your sphere of influence. Even if your business is focused on a niche product or niche market, this is important.
As you start out in any industry, there may only be a handful of people who know of you and your skills and expertise. By building your own brand you are becoming known to more people.
Becoming known more widely often leads to further networking opportunities. These, in turn, allow you to build your own network. As your network grows, you find that your personal brand will become a key to access further opportunities for yourself and your startup.
Whilst your personal brand is not solely responsible for your startup’s success, it will make a valuable contribution, especially in the early stages of building the business. With that established, it’s time to look at how you can create your personal brand.
How to go about creating brand you
Consider getting outside help
As a founder you are busy working on your business. Taking a startup from an idea to a viable product and eventually to an exit means that your schedule is full. Your time is taken up by activities that may seem more important than building your own brand.
However, as we have shown above, building your personal brand is integral to the success of your startup. If you are too busy or feel awkward about promoting yourself, consider getting help.
It’s often easier for another person to write about your achievements as a founder. Many founders feel that it is too narcissistic to promote themselves. A copywriting service like ContentFly could develop your profile and build your brand.
Bear in mind, though, that sharing your vision for your startup and for your industry is a personal matter. The more of it you share with those who are building your brand, the easier it is for them to represent you.
Do you know how you are perceived in public right now? Creating a strategy to build a successful brand is impossible if you don’t know where you are starting from.
It may sound a bit too simple or just plain vain but google yourself. Take a look at what others can find out about you in a few seconds by entering your name into a search engine. Prospective investors will take the time to do this, and so will potential business partners and clients.
If your name appears as a leading voice in your industry, your startup will find it easier to access investment or land meetings with lucrative clients.
Googling your name can also help you identify potentially damaging information associated with your and your company’s name. Once you have identified negative pieces of information, you can look at opportunities to remove them or correct them.
Treat your personal brand like your startup
Just like your startup business, your brand deserves a strategy, thorough planning and clear objectives. This is important whether you decide to build your own brand or hire external help. As a founder your personal image is more than an afterthought.
Establishing your personal branding strategy requires similar steps to creating a marketing strategy for your business. This includes thinking about your key messages — your vision for your company and your industry.
More importantly, without well-established, measurable goals it is impossible to judge whether your brand building has been successful. If you are at the beginning of your personal brand building process, it’s helpful to set goals for the process itself. Like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your business, they will allow you to stay on track.
You also need to identify the best places to communicate those messages. For most founders, a combination of different media outlets works best to reach different audiences.
Above all, successful brand building requires consistency and reaching out to your audience systematically.
Website and Blog
Having your own website and blog is an excellent way to establish your personal brand. Building a website may sound like a large task, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to be a programmer either. Customizable templates allow you to create a simple, personal page with the help of drag and drop tools.
Your own blog is the perfect tool to establish your voice online. You can share your expertise, but also highlight your journey as a founder. Never underestimate the public’s interest in other people’s personal experiences. It’s human to want to know more about other people as well as share their knowledge and thoughts. As a target, a minimum of one blog post per month is a great start.
Saying that, neither your website nor your blog need to be confessional. You choose how much you want to share and whether your focus will be your topic of choice or your personal experience as a startup founder. Remember, you can always ask others for help with ideas and drafts.
- KPI example: One blog post out /month.
Like your own website and blog, social media platforms are an excellent place to build your brand. Both allow you to control the content you share. Whilst websites and blogs lend themselves to share more in-depth content, social media is perfect for regular, brief updates and images.
Posting approximately three times per week (or 12 times per month) is very effective for personal branding. This may sound like a lot of work, but like many things in business it’s all about planning and preparation.
Scheduling apps like Hootsuite or Buffer allow you or your team to prepare posts ahead of time and schedule them to be posted when it is convenient.
Posting your own content is one way of taking advantage of social media exposure. Commenting on other people’s and organizations’ posts is another. Setting aside ten minutes per day to react to or comment on another post is time well spent.
- KPI example: 3 social media posts out /week.
Reaching out to journalists is another part of building your personal brand. By contacting journalists and media outlets you accept that you are not fully in control of the published information.
Blanket-emailing press releases will not yield the best results. Instead, spend some time researching the media you want to target. If your startup operates in a highly specialized industry, contacting a general newspaper may not work.
Once you have identified the media, take a look at individual journalists. Connect to those who write about your industry. LinkedIn or Twitter are great places to do that.
Commenting on journalists’ articles and stories is a perfect way to establish a relationship before reaching out with your own story. Even if your story or press release is not printed, journalists’ feedback is valuable and will help your next pitch. Make sure to take it into account.
Avoid bombarding journalists with press releases: one strong story per month will work better than too many small stories.
- KPI example: 3 journalists contacted /month.
Contributing to other media
Beyond press releases, social media and your own website, there are opportunities to contribute to other media that will help build your personal brand. Podcasts, YouTube vlogs, and guest appearances on other blogs are examples of these.
A little research will allow you to highlight the most promising targets. In fact, you may find they are podcasts you listen to and vlogs you follow. Reaching out to the producers will take some time. Arm yourself with exciting topics to stand out from the crowd of potential guests.
Aiming for one guest appearance per month is a great target to set.
- KPI example: 1 guest blog appearance or similar /month.
Summing It All Up
Founding and establishing a startup means working long hours. A founder’s time is generally taken up by developing a viable product and bringing it to market. All of this needs to be done whilst winning the support of investors and business angels. Without funds, there can be no product development, research, and marketing.
As a founder you may find yourself doing a little bit (or a lot) of everything. It is only natural to feel like you are already stretching yourself thin. Developing your personal brand may seem like it’s not a priority.
However, having a strong personal brand will help make your startup successful faster — and lighten your load.