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How a Gen-Y'er Launched a Personal Branding Firm

The 27-year-old founder of Millennial Branding talks about managing a growing stable of products and services.

Name: Dan Schawbel, 27
Founded: Millennial Branding LLC, 2010
Business: Personal branding / online marketing
Location: Boston

While some 20-somethings were spending their free time playing sports or watching movies Dan Schawbel was head-down focused on personal branding with a blog he started in 2007. Having studied marketing at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., Schawbel, now 27, thought it would be fun to explore the intersection of personal branding and digital media.

He launched Personal Branding Magazine six months later, while he was holding down a full-time marketing job. The quarterly online publication was built on a subscription- and advertising-based revenue model. His writing caught the attention of a prominent business publication, which features Schawbel as an up-and-coming personal branding expert. It referred to him as a "personal branding force of nature."

The attention caught the eyes of Schawbel's bosses at Hopkinton, Mass.-based data-storage technology company EMC Corp. and he was promoted to social media specialist. For Schawbel, the press coverage and promotion validated his theory that a person can leverage the internet and social media platforms to build a powerful personal brand. He was living proof. From there, he published his first book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan, 2009).

In 2010, Schawbel decided to make personal branding his full-time business. He formed Millennial Branding LLC, which includes event hosting and consulting services for small businesses and corporate brands. His client roster includes large companies and his former employer EMC.

Schawbel shares his three toughest obstacles in launching his startup and how he overcame them.

Challenge No. 1: Taking a side business full-time.

I was trying to start a business while employed at a major company, performing duties loosely aligned with what my company was going to be offering. My challenge was to break away from that job while managing to afford to start my business. I also had to maintain the quality of my work at my full-time job while creating demand for my own company.

Solution: Using only my personal funds, I couldn’t afford to hire employees and pay my own salary without having a full-time job. So, I decided to remain at EMC until just before the launch. There was enough demand that I projected revenue of about $100,000 for the first year. Since I had built my employer's social media communications strategy, it ended up becoming one of my first clients. That was a big help.

Challenge No. 2: Clarifying the product offerings.

Between 2007 and 2009, I developed seven websites, including Personal Branding Magazine and the Personal Branding blog. My brand was growing stronger, but my audience was confused about what I was offering. I had to find a way to create one "face" to the customer.

Solution: I hired a freelance web developer to design a portal with all of Millennial Branding's offerings on a single website. The topics were separated into categories: community, consulting, media and education. It took about six months, but it simplified the way we communicated our value and services to potential clients.

Challenge No. 3: Working efficiently and effectively.

With two blogs, a magazine, an events business and a consulting business, the challenge was to get the right people in place to scale the company.

Solution: Through word-of-mouth, searching online and recruiting some of my peers, I created a strong team of freelance writers, editors and web developers who have helped the company grow. In March 2010, I also hired three full-time employees to manage event planning, which handles events for up to 300 attendees. Since we enlist the help of other successful entrepreneurs as keynote speakers, we're able to reach more people at once.
 

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an advocacy group dedicated to fighting youth unemployment and underemployment by helping young people build successful businesses and offering alternatives to traditional career paths. Its members include successful young entrepreneurs, business owners and thought leaders. It was founded in New York in 2010 by serial entrepreneur Scott Gerber, author of the forthcoming book, Never Get a 'Real' Job.

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