If you’ve just started a business and are not familiar with the term “pivot,” get ready for it. Just about every startup I’ve come in contact with has started with an awesome idea, started building, and then at some point you realize that there’s another idea with a larger potential market. So you change gears and go after it. The business focus may or may not be in line with previous marketing, branding, product, and sales initiatives. It’s a tough pill to swallow if you have to make the decision to completely re-brand your business. There may be no way around it, but for this reason (and others) I encourage you to think about how to build the brand of YOU!
As an entrepreneur, you’re your own biggest asset. You are the face and voice of your company. The relationships you build can help you fundraise, sell, recruit, etc. Companies come and go, but people and relationships can last “forever.” We hear all the time that a VC will invest in a founding team, not necessarily an idea (because ideas inevitably change and businesses pivot). Make sure people know YOU, not just your business. For many, having a face and a personality behind the business makes it easier to trust and do business with that company.
As you build your corporate brand and your own personal brand, thought leadership is a huge opportunity to get in front of industry leaders and showcase how you think about the market. You don’t always need to directly promote your product. Thought leadership can be more about showcasing your perceptions and solutions to different problems. When you have intelligent views to share, you’ll build the trust of your peers and they will expect that your knowledge will translate to your products which they will ultimately benefit from. If people trust and respect you, they will trust your company as well.
Thought leadership can take many forms. Make an effort to get involved in conferences, speaking panels, guest post on relevant online publications, social media, etc and remember that there is often a larger audience for broad industry related discussions vs. explicit product promotion. If you execute, you’ll build relationships that (if you’re good) you can translate into business opportunities and further networking. Capitalizing on some of these opportunities will most likely also help you grow your social media following which is an obvious way to build your personal brand.
Leverage Social Media
Social media is probably the easiest way to start getting yourself out there. The dilemma I’ve faced personally is that it can be difficult to choose whether you post from your personal account or the corporate account. Then you see the way Pete Cashmore, Mashable’s Founder, has sort of combined his social media presence. The display name for the official Mashable Twitter account (@mashable) is “Pete Cashmore” and his headshot is the thumbnail.
It’s worth pointing out here that people are generally more receptive to personal Twitter accounts vs corporate Twitter accounts. It feels more real and brings back previous points of this post (trust, transparency, etc, are important to consumers). So when building your brand and your business’s brand on social networks, remember this dynamic and plan strategically for dual success!
Where Do You Start?Be sure to only take on as much as you can reasonably handle. Networking and brand building opportunities are great, but not if they are dominating your time. Remember that you still have a business to run and those responsibilities certainly come first. Start small and build strategically over the long haul. Most importantly, don’t forget to monetize your efforts! Building your personal brand is not about raising your Klout score. It’s about capitalizing on what you’ve done to generate sales, recruit the best employees, fundraise from the best Venture Capital firms, or whatever your goals are. If you have clear goals in mind when you get started, the end goal should be clear.
John Levitt is the Director of Sales & Marketing for Parse.ly, a New York based technology startup that provides analytics insights to the web’s best publishers including Mashable, The Atlantic, and Reuters. You can find John on Twitter @johnmlevitt.