Every idea you pursue and every business you start is different. They emerge from different problems and inspirations, you use different business plans and strategies to form them and the results are unique to each venture. The one thing that remains consistent is you.
John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing defines personal branding as ‘the art of becoming knowable, likable and trustable’ and having a personal brand that is ‘knowable, likable and trustable’ is essential to the success of any serial entrepreneur.
What does it mean to have a personal brand?
People understand brand as it applies to large companies like Apple or Microsoft. The company name tells you something about the quality of the product and the ethos of the company.
However, brand also applies to the individual. The influence of people like Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki or Seth Godin comes from the strength of their personal brand. People want to buy into the products, ideas and trends they promote.
As a serial entrepreneur, you want to take control of what your personal brand says about you and, by extension, the ventures you undertake. Your brand is ‘transferable from one company to the next and serves as your best protection against business factors you can’t control.’
Who is personal brand important to?
A business can’t grow unless people buy into it. The decision to become a part of your business is based on what that business, and by extension its founder, stands for. This matters to:
- The customers deciding who to buy from
- The employees you want on your side to build up the business
- The co-founders you need by your side to turn ideas into reality
- The vendors and industry experts you need to build relationships with and work with along the way
- The investors who might be interested in your idea.
You need those people to like, know and trust the person behind the business if you expect them to take an active role in it.
What is your personal brand made of?
Your personal brand can be broken down into four main elements: your identity, image, values and story. Building the right personal brand for serial entrepreneurs starts with understanding these things.
Personal brand goes beyond basic entrepreneurial traits like ‘persistence, resiliency, leadership, humility, attention-to-detail, street smarts, transparency and both obsession with one’s company and a burning desire to win.’ You have to answer:
- What are your personal identifiers?
- What qualities do you want associated with your name?
Your name needs to mean something whether it’s twenty years of business experience or repeated success with tech startups. People need to know what gives you an edge every time you turn an idea into reality.
Work out what you are really great at, hone it and flaunt it. Help people, offer advice, appear at events and become known for your particular specialisms.
Brand isn’t just character qualities and identifiers. Your image also plays a big role.
Politics is an arena where the effect of image has been tested time and again. The results of numerous studies show that ‘a candidate’s appearance — not beauty, but a look of competence — can generate a significant vote swing.’
Take time to craft and care for your image. This includes your:
- Personal appearance
- Business cards
- Marketing materials
If image affects decisions, you want to intentionally create a personal image that speaks to your competence as an entrepreneur and your individual style of business.
Steve Jobs said, ‘Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.’
When it comes to a personal brand, examples of core values might be:
- I put quality above all else, even money.
- I always know and use the best tools.
- I aim for simplicity and agility.
- I surround myself with those smarter than me.
Your values guide your decisions and will become evident the more consistent you are in following them, eventually becoming synonymous with your name.
There’s a story of a Nordstrom personal shopper who pulled out all the stops to get a struggling father of the bride a perfectly tailored Armani tuxedo overnight. It’s a great story for Nordstrom, but also a story that defines that employee’s personal brand.
There’s something about a good story, the ‘delivery system for the teller’s agenda,’ that Jonathan Gottschall says makes us ‘drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this seems to leave us defenceless.’
People respond to stories, so while you may have personal identifiers based on facts and your resume, your story is just as important to your brand.
To tell your story, start with:
- How did you get to this point?
- Why do you choose to be an entrepreneur?
- What sets you apart?
- What are your values and why are they important to you?
- Who do your ideas help and how?
5 steps to build a personal brand for serial entrepreneurs
Your story, your identity, image and values all serve as a foundation of personal brand, but building up your brand is a conscious effort. You must:
1. Build your network
A network is important to any professional, but it’s vital to a brand. It’s your community; a tribe of like-minded people who find your brand resonates with them and are willing to support and promote it.
Networking works two ways with personal brand.
- It builds your brand as you make new contacts and expand your reach.
- It defines your brand in the quality of the people or brands you do business with.
There is power in social proof, in the quality and quantity of people who are connected to your brand, but also in your ability to build lasting relationships so that even as businesses change, the relationships important to your success continue. How do you make sure that happens?
2. Maintain your online presence
You have to have a presence apart from the businesses you start. Your online presence usually comes down to three main platforms:
- Website. You need to be findable. Purchase a domain name for yourself separate from any business. It serves as a sort of portfolio and launch pad to build your brand online.
- Blog. This is a personal decision, but if you want to establish your brand as an authority on a particular topic, generating content is a great way to do that.
- Social media. Social media allows you to connect with others and post content, by you or others, which is relevant and valuable to the people you market yourself to. Use one image for all profile pictures to help people recognise you.
It’s worth maintaining your online presence because you never know who will search for you online. You want to be findable, but also sure your online presence says what you want it to say about your personal brand in both appearance and content. So if they’re there, keep those drunken Facebook picture on tight lockdown.
3. Perfect your elevator pitch
Not every connection is made online. You need to be able to explain yourself, your brand, when you answer the question ‘What do you do?’. Note that this is a different question than ‘What are you working on right now?’
Make your explanation clear, concise and conversational, but also in context. You need to know who you are talking to and what about your brand will resonate with them
Your goal is to establish a relationship so you need to be able to explain why people should want to be associated with your name.
4. Remain true to yourself
Consistency reinforces the identifiers, values and presence you’ve worked hard to insert into your personal brand. People demonstrate brand loyalty because they like knowing what they’re going to get.
Just as important, however, is adaptation and evolution. Lloyd Schefsky, author and serial entrepreneur, notes that success comes through reinvention, through ‘founders reinventing themselves and their business to meet the evolving marketplace.’
If something about your approach changes fundamentally, or you need to adapt to changing times, communicate that to your network along with why. Don’t end up with a false façade – no one responds to a fake.
5. Repeat as necessary
Make it a priority to go through the motions until you’ve built a personal brand you are proud of. Build up your brand so that when it’s attached to an idea, others are proud to be a part of it too.
(Hat tip to Markus Spike for the photo)