People Want to Know and Like You. Invest in Your Personal Branding Now.
The earliest days of a new startup are an exhilarating, sleepless whirlwind of hope, fear and stress. You're probably doing just about all you can handle, wearing way more hats than any one professional should as you pour your heart and soul into your fledgling business.
As someone who has built a consulting business from scratch, I know the last thing a budding entrepreneur wants is something else to do. But what if I told you there's one key area of your marketing plan that, if you focus on it, has the potential to pay huge dividends, not only in terms of sales but in attracting investors and top talent, building consumer trust in your brand and more?
I'm talking about the oft-overlooked, neglected and left-until-last practice of personal branding.
From pre-launch to beta to full launch, your startup's marketing plan inevitably focuses -- if not exclusively, then certainly overwhelmingly -- on building the profile of your new company. You'll try hard to avoid making any unnecessary waves in social media, to clean your act up a bit and make sure you aren't posting anything too controversial. After all, you don't want to attract negative attention to your startup.
But what sort of positive attention do you, as the founder or an early team member or investor, bring to the brand?
1. Consumers and investors alike want to know you.
Crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo, Kickstarter and Fundable get people excited about fun concepts and unique products. But there are tens of thousands of crowdfunded startups out there at any given time and many more in the market raising private funding. The startup ecosystem is incredibly crowded and competitive, from funding to public relations to getting noticed online.
How do the most successful entrepreneurs stand out? You have the outliers -- the crazy, insane successful startups people just seem to throw money at because their products are potentially market-changing (like a 3D printer for consumers at a $299 price point) or go viral (as in a popular or much-hyped video game).
In absence of that certain "je ne sais quoi" that will launch your startup effortlessly into the stratosphere, you need to tell people your story. And in order to share your story successfully and in a compelling way, you need to recognize that people want to know who they're dealing with.
2. What makes your startup stand out?
Building your personal brand is critical, and it can start long before you ever pre-launch or seek out funding. Simon Anguelov, a 20-year old San Diego startup founder, learned this in spades when his first round of Kickstarter funding fell through after failing to meet its funding goal.
"It's hard to get viewers unless you have a presence on Facebook," Anguelov told TIME magazine. He didn't have a social-media following when he started that first round of funding and so focused there before he tried again. His second effort at crowdfunding just a month later had him over halfway to his goal in the first day. Through his enhanced online presence, Anguelov was able to share more of the story behind his startup and, importantly, about himself.
Consumers and investors want to get behind the best idea, but they're also looking for the founders with the greatest chance of making it happen.
3. Building a personal brand people can believe in.
Give people a vested interest in seeing you succeed. Focusing on shaping your personal brand and getting it out into the universe (and Twitterverse) inspires people not only to cheer you on, but to share your story with their network, as well.
The flip side, of course, is the fact that as you're marketing the company, people are going to come looking for you. Journalists will seek out your social profiles as they decide whether or not to act on that press release your marketing team sent out. Investors will scan your online presence, looking for indicators of trust, reputation and stability.
What does your personal brand tell them today, and what could it say with a small investment of time and effort?
Here are a few actionable steps you can put into practice today to begin building a brand consumers and investors can get behind:
Update your social profiles. Years-old information screams laziness and does nothing to get people excited about what you're doing today. Try a tool like Buffer or HootSuite if you're having trouble posting or visiting your own profiles regularly.
Get a professional headshot. LinkedIn says that profiles with images get 14x more views, as showing your face instills trust. The cropped out party pic won't it, either. Put your best face forward with a sharp, clean, high-resolution close up of your mug.
Use keywords strategically in all of your online content. Always use your name and company name in your file names, so when you publish them online, they're tagged by search engines as relevant to searches about you and your business. When people search for you, you want to show them the best content about you, and that you've created.
Create a web to direct people to your other profiles. When a person has contacted you by email, or introduced themselves at a conference, or stumbled across one of your social profiles online, you don't want the interaction to end there. Use your email auto responders, business cards and other print material, and each of your online profiles to share your other profiles with contacts. Encourage them to connect with you on LinkedIn or Twitter, where you can keep in touch.
Delight your audiences. Focus on offering information that is actionable, useful, relevant, engaging and offers some utility for your audience members. Give people reasons to engage with and share your social content and watch your personal brand grow.
Your personal brand can be an incredibly effective marketing vehicle for your startup. Focus here and make sure that when investors, audience members and potential customers come looking, you're there to greet them online in a way that leaves them no alternative but to get behind you and follow along!
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