What is the one thing that successful startup founders have that struggling startups fail to implement?
It’s not that they have a strong pitch. Their idea or company isn’t any more innovative than your own. It’s not even their business and marketing plans.
Successful startups happen when the founder(s) establish a personal brand.
It should go without saying that modern marketing relies heavily on your personal brand. Think of influencers, YouTubers, and even startup founders like Jeff Bezos. All of these people have capitalized on their legacy by making sure that people know who they are.
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Sure, Amazon holds up well on its own. But it’s because people like Bezos position themselves as leaders in these growing industries that they are able to surpass their competition. Now, Bezo’s startup is a staple in the modern era.
You don’t have to have a turn-of-the-century invention in order for your startup to be successful. What you do need is the drive and a willingness to shamelessly promote yourself, the founder, as a thought expert.
The development of your personal brand as a startup founder is a vigorous strategy that ensures people know who you are. If you can build a strong personal brand, no one will even question whether or not your idea holds value.
What is a Personal Brand?
So what is personal branding and how can startup founders use it to their advantage?
A personal brand is your experience, your reputation, and your online presence all huddled under a single umbrella. Actors get hired because of it, authors get book deals because of it, and founders get to partner with investors because of their personal brand.
Many founders never even consider marketing themselves because they are too focused on their startup idea. However, before you even begin working on your product prototype, your business plan, or your pitch deck, you need to establish your online persona.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Even if you have come up with a revolutionary concept, that won’t matter to your customers or investors if they can’t research who invented it and why they should trust them.
Your personal brand establishes your like, know, and trust factors. People simply like to buy from other people. That’s why these factors are paramount in making your business work in the modern economy. And while some brands try to only utilize influencers to present their products, these startups aren’t going to be able to sell any future concepts without that transparent personal brand online.
Why Startup Founders Should Care
Do you know who Pierre Omidyar is? What about Jerry Yang?
Pierre Omidyar is the founder of eBay. Jerry Yang is the founder of Yahoo.com. The reason these people aren’t household names is that they don’t have a strong personal brand. And while fame and notoriety isn’t the end goal for startup founders, it might explain why Amazon took the forefront in online shopping over eBay and why Google is vastly preferred over Yahoo!
How Personal Branding Works for Founders
Your own brand can do a lot for your current and future endeavors. It’s well-known that angel investors and venture capitalists put their stock in the person that they are working with, not the idea. You can be the founder of the next leading app, but if your attitude sucks or investors can’t learn anything about you through a quick Google search, they are going to be detrimentally less interested, and therefore, less likely to fund your idea.
The same can be said for journalists and, most importantly, your customers. Journalists won’t write about your startup and customers won’t buy from you if you haven’t built up your own history of expertise.
If you can build your personal brand to the point where you become a voice in your industry, you can start to market your startup. Once you follow my steps below on creating your own persona, you can start looking for ways to get featured on high authority websites. That way, people will already know and trust you enough for you to make sales right off the bat.
Ideally, you want to build your personal brand first. You can work simultaneously on your startup idea while you are promoting yourself as an expert in your business industry. By the time you have your pitch and your prototype ready, you can work your personal brand magic to promote and sell your concept. Your personal brand should also bleed seamlessly into your startup’s own brand so that you can secure the two into one package that investors won’t want to pass up.
Startup Founders Guide to Personal Branding
I’m not trying to motivate you to invest in your brand just because I’m a personal branding strategist. The fact that founders need their own platform is not a new prerequisite. Forbes also advises the personal marketing effort. In one article they say,
“…You can also help them [investors] discover you through a concerted personal marketing effort. This means putting yourself out there where investors are bound to find you, including a website, social networking sites, guest posts on established blogs and personal blog posts, conversations on Quora, and traditional media outlets.”
The more transparent you are about your journey and your experiences, the better it is for your startup. But first, you need to gather all the right tools and get on the right platforms in order to display that transparency.
Below is my step-by-step tutorial on how startup founders can build their personal brands to extrapolate their business.
Step 1: Get Your Own Website
I’m the CEO of two businesses: Online Profile Pros and Claire Bahn Group. Each of these has its own website and social media platform.
You may be asking yourself what the point is of having two separate websites. And the answer is simple: they all present different ideas and pose a different call to action. Online Profile Pros is built to tell you everything there is to know about online dating profiles, while Claire Bahn Group gives you options to utilize the efforts of professional photographers and personal branding experts (me!) to help build your authority.
You will see my picture and my name plastered on the face of these websites because I have built my brand as an expert in personal branding strategies. Even if people don’t know who I am someone can come over to my website and see that I have an online presence. They’ll see that I provide valuable information (i.e. the blog you’re reading right now) to showcase, simply, that I know what I’m talking about.
Your website is your place to showcase your expertise. Think of it as your online resume. If you have taken the time to put your thoughts on your own platform, it shows people that you have potential. It’s also a great way to highlight your past experiences. You can include past client work, previous startups, and even reviews!
Step 2: Get Your Own Social Media
I cannot tell you how many excellent startup Instagram pages I have found with no ties to the founder. Either that or the startup founder has their social media profile on private.
This immediately sends up red flags for people looking into your startup. Your personal social media should serve two purposes:
First, it should humanize you by showing that you are, indeed, a real person with a life outside of your startup. Second, it should provide value to your potential clients through education, entertainment, or both. Your social media should be an even blend of personal posts and advice in your field. I have a full blog on content for your personal brand, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Posts about your family, travel, and past experiences (in moderation).
- Share tips and tricks relevant to your product or service.
- Make posts about your everyday routine.
- Showcase your accomplishments and your struggles.
By establishing a social media presence, potential venture capitalists can get a feel of who they may be working with. It makes it easy for them to see what you bring to the table apart from your business strategies. Remember: VCs invest in the people, not the idea. If you’re on social media, they will instantly be more attracted to your pitch over your competition who still hasn’t even joined LinkedIn.
RELATED: What Is Social Media Branding?
Step 3: Startup Founders Should Write a Mission Statement
This is not the same thing as your startup’s mission statement. This should reflect your personal mantra. It’s what we strategists refer to as your personal branding statement.
Your personal branding statement should highlight what it is you help your target audience achieve and how you provide that solution. Your individual mission statement is not something as simple as “I invent things” or “I’m the founder of a startup.” It follows the formula: Your Action + Your Target Client = Your Solution.
By defining this statement alongside your personal brand, you are setting a precedence for what you believe in. And that belief should flow into all of your startups. Once people can see that you provide consistent value, they will be more inclined to take interest in your startup.
Step 4: Cultivate Your Sphere of Influence
When you get to the pitching stage of your startup, you look for opportunities to present your company, right? You might look for ways to connect with angel investors online or you might join a startup accelerator.
One way to position yourself as an expert before you even get to this stage is to cultivate your sphere of influence through your personal brand. You can do this by engaging online. This step is vital (and time-consuming) to building your online reputation. You need to be liking, commenting, and sharing posts by your target audience and by other startups.
If you can provide value (i.e. insight into your work history, tips for others in your position), that’s even better. Again, this is done through producing consistent and valuable content on social media, through blogs, and eventually through press features.
Once you have solidified your influence, you should start applying to conventions as a guest speaker. If you’ve worked with a personal branding strategist and have a presence with a decent-sized audience, you may even have industry conventions asking you to speak at their event.
Step 5: Have Investors Come to You
To be fair, you’re not likely to have an investor send you a direct message on Facebook or Instagram. They still want to establish a professional connection with you. They are more likely to try to contact you through your website or maybe LinkedIn.
However, if you have a winning personal brand, it speaks for itself. As I said earlier, investors and venture capitalists fund the founders of a startup because they believe in them. If an investor can’t even find a website about the founder of a potentially interesting startup idea, they won’t be coming to you. Wouldn’t you rather it be the other way around?
If you have a website that showcases your expertise, you have an active social media presence that is captivating and relatable, and you’ve been featured in publications and conventions, then you can forfeit some of the legwork to get noticed by investors.
You should define your startup, not the other way around. Your personal brand and your startup brand should complement each other in a way that makes people believe in what you’re selling.
Truth be told, developing your personal brand is hard work. It’s 50% quantity and 50% quality. You really shouldn’t favor one over the other. Grainy selfies and pictures of your dinner with bad lighting won’t capture anyone’s attention on Instagram. And if you’re only posting one day a week, you can forget about those press opportunities.
Can you forgo the personal brand and just focus on your startup’s image? Unfortunately, no. And that’s proven by the fact that the most iconic startups are led by founders who unabashedly showcase themselves online and at networking events.