Entrepreneurship30 September 20207 min

Why personal branding matters for startup founders (and how to do it right)

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Everybody’s doing it, but we don’t always know what they’re doing it for. Serious entrepreneurs can be wary of personal branding, seeing it as overly self-promotional. But building your personal brand is essential to building your company’s reputation, and ideally it should reflect your true values. This #WisdomWednesday we’ll explain how authentic personal branding can help build your reputation, and your business:

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It’s more than a brand: it’s your ethos

As a startup founder, you are your company’s public face. How you are perceived is also how your company is perceived. Are you seen as innovative, eccentric, friendly, chaotic, polished? Guess what: whatever people think of you is going to rub off on your company. So how do you want people to see you? It’s not just about marketing: this comes into play well before you get your first customer. Investors want to know who you are and what you represent, even before they get around to evaluating your idea.

The truth is, personal brands have always existed: in the simplest terms, it’s about building your reputation, or name recognition. In the age of Insta, we may tend to think of personal branding as polishing a façade, spouting recycled opinions, or carefully curating an online persona in order to build a certain image. But focusing on the how of building up a persona before understanding what you stand for puts you at risk of creating something that comes across as empty and contrived. In the end, nobody is going to buy that. The key is starting not with how you want to be seen, but with knowing who you are, and communicating that in an honest and authentic way.

The thing is, in the end your true colours will shine through. So start with defining personal ethos: what are your qualities, your convictions, your mission in life? Are you creative, an animal lover, dedicated to sustainability? Your personal reputation and the work you consistently do will prove it. Building your personal brand is simply a matter of putting that out into the world. In order to build trust, you have to be more than a pretty picture. Real people are imperfect, multi-faceted, and always evolving. To build an authentic brand, you don’t have to package yourself like a box of Froot Loops. The important thing is to build a personal ethos based on a sense of purpose, and people will connect with you, flaws and all.

If you want your business to represent a certain social or environmental issue, make sure you’re not just paying lip service to a trending topic. Be able to show that you have a true connection to the cause and that you are concretely implementing it in your company. Our mentor Vincent De Smedt is a great example of this. His business,Edmire helps companies develop sustainable, innovative products to make our world a better place. If you take a peek at his LinkedIn page, you’ll see that his posts focus on sustainable solutions and building a better world. What you see is what you get!

Start with what you have

The good news is, building an authentic personal brand isn’t that complicated. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: just work with what you already have. Start with assessing what you’re already known for and the type of help or knowledge people already rely on you for. Then take a look at the content you’ve produced already: which blog or social posts have gotten the most reactions? Do you have ideas for topics that you’ve been wanting to cover in a blog or webinar?

The things you speak or write about don’t have to be exactly the same as what your company offers, but there should be a connection. Ingrid Renders and Anne Cornut of Maison Slash are a great example. Besides running the platform and magazine for rock ‘n roll parents, they recently published their own book on parent-friendly marketing. Not too much of a stretch considering the work they do: all they had to do was take a good look at their own values (see above!) and the lessons they learned with Maison Slash.

Our mentor Rutger Bevers organises (virtual) networking events with his startup Conversation Starter, and puts his words into action. Both during his events and on social channels like LinkedIn you’ll see him regularly starting up a dialogue with others, exercising his strong belief in the power of the network.

Starting with what you have also means taking a good look at your own strengths and expertise. Use them to create content that reflects what you know, not just what you think. For example, if you believe artificial intelligence is going to change the ecommerce landscape, go beyond stating your views to sharing advice with ecommerce businesses about how to harness AI. This will give people a taste of the expertise they can count on when they go into business with you!

Experiment with your platforms of choice

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding which platforms to use to build your personal brand. It all depends on your audience, your industry, and your company’s goals. As important as it is to create visibility, don’t get on a certain platform because it seems like the thing to do. Just because everybody and their mama is on Instagram doesn’t mean it will help your specific business grow. Create content that says something about you, is relevant and useful, and publish it where people will benefit from it. Unless you’re in the food industry, we really don’t need to know what you had for lunch.

So take the time to see where the people you could serve are hanging out, and then put yourself out there. Self-publishing blogs or articles on LinkedIn or Medium can be a great place to start, and then you can share your article on other social media of your choice. If you gain a good following, you can also pitch guest articles to industry publications or platforms.

There’s also still a lot of value in connecting to people offline. This may be a little tough in the time of corona, but one-on-one conversations with others are golden. Even simply checking in with your mentor once a month, or a no-strings-attached chat with one of our partners can help to keep you on people’s radar and develop your personal brand. In any case, we’re big believers in the mindset of our mentor Sebastian Matoso: “Question things, but also dare to take action. By testing and experimenting you’ll quickly find out what does and doesn’t work.”

How are you putting your personality out there to build your brand? Let us know!