Especially in the social media era, personal and business branding have gone hand in hand. Consider the personalities that made their corporations thrive — people like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. These business icons are not only leaders. They also had a personal brand that others understood, which made them desirable to work with.
When determining a company’s branding, it can be very useful (even if it often takes some convincing) for leadership to have a personal branding message and philosophy that resonates with investors, clients, customers, and employees.
Why personal branding is important for leaders of start-ups
Ideas are key
It’s crucial to be recognized as the next “big” thing, and the best way to do that is through a coordinated branding effort. While it’s wonderful to have the next great idea, no one will realize that you do unless you have a marketing apparatus set up that lets people know. Then, you’ll want to have a branded narrative to go along with your product that gives a company more cache.
Personalities make or break companies
People invest in people, not ideas. Because of this, investors are looking for someone in whom they have trust and confidence. They need to trust that the person will do their best to ethically move forward with their money, and confidence that they have the skills and talents to grow that investment. A personal branding effort for the leaders of a start-up can begin to foster that kind of trust and confidence by highlighting these attributes and building an aura of good will.
Talent is looking for a leader
When small companies compete with larger ones they are often at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring. Most likely they can’t offer as competitive of salaries or benefits packages. So, how is it possible to court the talent needed to create the next industry-disrupting business? By having a compelling mission. People at every talent level like to feel as though they are making a significant difference in their work. Using proper branding methods, it is possible to accentuate the mission of a start-up and their leadership in order to appeal more strongly to talent. Only by tempting the best talent with a leadership-driven mission will you be able to really make the next steps in your business journey. To court new talent it’s crucial to project a charismatic idealist at the helm who seems as though they have a compelling vision. How do you create that aura?
How do you create a great personal brand?
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos acknowledges that personal branding is both crucial and difficult to control. Bezos says that a personal brand is “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” How are you supposed to direct the narrative when you aren’t there? Creating a compelling story about yourself or company leadership in general is about consistency of mission and ideology.
When you create company branding it’s important to be sure that the stories that are told and the decisions being made in everything, from the carpeting in the office to the major relationships that the company is forging, always link back to the mission.
As a leader in a company, the personal brand of that person wants to tell the same story, in keeping with the mission of the company they lead. The belief of others in the exciting qualities of a company is only as strong as their belief in leadership and their motivations. When the actions of leadership are very on brand, it is helpful to make sure that there is a marketing and PR push regarding this. And there are a number of useful strategies to employ in crafting a personal brand that elevates a company.
Use social media and blog posts to the fullest
In order to have a personal brand, you need to get your name out there. Small businesses are raising their profiles on Linkedin very effectively. It’s a low cost (generally free) way to build your brand. The CEO of Trufan, Manu Goswami, recommends searching blog spaces to see what is trending and to use the most relevant topics as a starting point. It can be very effective for leadership to create simple blog posts of 200 words or so, or create short videos that speak to trending topics in their industry. Using Linkedin has the added effect of connecting with top tier talent that is potentially seeking a new position.
When you are doing a million other things to try to keep a start-up afloat, writing blog content may seem very low on the priority list, but it’s precisely this kind of personalization of a company and connection with the personality of a CEO that emphasizes uniqueness and authenticity while creating lasting retention for clients looking for something new. Leadership accessibility and an understanding of the motivations that surround a company needs to be the difference that makes it possible for something new to thrive. If no one knows what makes you different, they have no reason to invest in you over a large corporation, which likely has a monolithic mission.
Reach out to larger entities for their help in personal profile raising
While you might view a large competitor as the enemy to your progress, that may not be the case. According to a recent study by Unilever, corporations and start-ups have a more symbiotic relationship than perhaps is otherwise understood. For example, look at how much established car companies invested in rideshare disruptors. Everyone wants to be part of a compelling narrative and a good idea, especially corporate entities. It makes a win-win if you can get a corporate leader to offer a positive quote about your service while you give them a push on your blog or site. This contributes to their own level of authenticity and connection with the kind of agile innovation that a start-up is undergoing.
Ultimately, it may be that start-ups and corporations work side by side relatively consistently. Unilever’s study says that by 2025, most start-ups and corporations will physically inhabit the same space, with start ups as a part of an innovation wing of larger corporations. This symbiotic relationship is already very popular, but is a great way to visualize entrepreneurial success.
Even if you are resistant to becoming part of a large corporation as a start up, it is possible to create a relationship that makes sense, collaborating on panels and talks, podcasts, or other promotional materials so as to build the reputation of your company within the context of another larger entity.
Keep producing content and give away as much as you can
Another way to establish yourself as a compelling brand is to give clients as much as you can for free. And a simple way to do that is to provide material that has no specific monetary value. You could say that digital content of various kinds falls into this category.
While digital content takes time and energy to create, it is not like giving away swag at a convention table. It is something you can give out an infinite number of times to an infinite number of potential customers without spending more than it took for the initial build. The best way to do this is with educational content. Compelling educational posts that surround your brand and is related to your product, presented confidently by leadership, can help develop a relationship with clients before they even use your product. Entertaining content surrounding you brand is also useful. If there is something about your company that you can connect with fascinating imagery or clever content, that should be a big part of personal branding.
What should it pay to be a leader?
Part of your brand as a leader wants to be as someone who is a part of a company financially as well. While those that stand in leadership positions in start-ups often find themselves doing the hardest work of their lives, the monetary payoff is mostly deferred to an imagined down the line success. While there are many examples of CEOs working “for free”, this can create a kind of ugly dynamic in a start-up corporation. Ultimately, the story of not paying leadership creates the narrative that the company does not have value, which is not what one wants to project. And, in fact, S-corporations and C-corporations must pay the leadership in order to comply with tax regulations. By setting a reasonable salary, leadership can demonstrate legitimacy while also showing the actual accounting costs of running a business, rather than living somewhere that is not scalable or sustainable.
How Leaders pay themselves
According to Payscale, the average entrepreneur salary is approximately $72,000 annually. Most entrepreneurs in leadership pay themselves with an owner’s draw where money is taken from profits or through a regular salary.
The large benefit of the owner’s draw is the possibility of having money when you need it, though this is not a consistent way to run a business. There are some excellent reasons to stay with a regular salary, including simplicity when it comes to personal taxes. In addition, when pushing a personal brand, the idea that leadership is no different from other employees, makes for a feeling of camaraderie and connection, something important when pushing a new company forward. This means that your salary needs to be basically competitive with the others in your company.
Want to know more about what a leader is worth beyond the abstraction of branding? Fundera put together an infographic below to clarify how entrepreneurs pay themselves for all their hard work.
Ultimately, the branding capacity of leadership cannot be overstated. Through mission connected personal branding, a company can get a real foothold and have the ability to propel a unique vision forward.
About the Author!
Meredith Wood is a vice president at Fundera. She is a monthly columnist for AllBusiness, and her advice has appeared in the SBA, SCORE, Yahoo, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, American Banker, Small Business Trends, MyCorporation, Small Biz Daily, and StartupNation.