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Five steps to a winning personal brand for entrepreneurs

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By Martin Zwilling


Although most people believe that being a successful entrepreneur is all about having the right idea, I’m convinced from my years of experience as a startup advisor and investor that’s it’s more about you as a person. If you can brand yourself as someone to remember, and someone who can deliver, I assure you that you will have no trouble finding investors, as well as customers.

So how do you develop that reputation such that everyone believes in you, and customers jump to try your solution first? The key points are comparable to those involved in branding a business, as outlined in the new book, “Be Different!: The Key To Business And Career Success,” by noted business leader Stan Silverman. You have to stand out from your peers and competitors:

Build a reputation for getting any job done, and doing it well. The best entrepreneurs are not just dreamers of the next big thing – they have to be great facilitators and problem solvers. By definition, every successful startup has to be different from the competition, with many unknowns, new challenges to overcome, and new customers to be attracted.

If you don’t have a successful prior startup to demonstrate your ability, it’s time to be creative. Pull some examples from your private life, prior jobs, or academia, where you demonstrated personal initiative, determination, and results in overcoming challenges. It it’s too early to show a track record, it may be time to find a partner who believes in you, and can complement your strength as a thinker. Most successful startups I know were built by a team, rather than a lone entrepreneur, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Highlight your expertise and results as a thought leader. These days, with the pervasive presence of social media, blogs, and online access to information, it’s easy to get your message out there, and engage a following. People need to see you as an “influencer,” who is able to sell your new ideas, as well as communicate the future.

For example, Elon Musk has long been a bold and provocative thought leader on space travel. He used his expertise on rocket ships to sell the future potential in interviews, blogs, and public speaking opportunities, long before he started SpaceX as a company.

Demonstrate honesty and integrity in everything you do. Investors and customers do not want to deal with entrepreneurs or startups whose reputations are tarnished or questionable. For brand image, it simply means truthfully communicating the challenges faced, and then putting in the honest legwork to address those challenges.

Without excuses or disavowing responsibility, you must deliver on all promises, past and present, pay attention to the common good, and surround yourself with people offering solid character and a positive attitude. Show total respect for all customers and investors.

Show that you are a leader that others want to work for. A little known fact is that potential investors, including myself, often visit a startup to gauge the level of respect and commitment of employees to their leaders. Leadership dissent in the team is the quickest way to kill an investment, and customers will tell you it is the quickest way to kill a brand.

We have all experienced or heard stories of entrepreneurs that refuse to listen to their team, such as Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, when their pin-prick blood test could not be validated, causing a billion-dollar startup to fail and promising careers ended.

Always project a positive attitude of a world of possibilities. Entrepreneurs with positive, but rational, attitudes are supported and move forward with their plans. Those with a negative attitude, including competitor bashing, do not. When starting a business, as we all know, there will be difficult periods, and we want to know you will keep going.

Investors, for example, listen for the words you use when you are faced with a specific difficulty. Instead of saying, “I have a problem,” you might say, “I am faced with an unexpected opportunity.” Customers want to hear about creative solutions, not problems.

In addition, unlike a business brand, a personal brand is broader than just one business segment. An entrepreneur with a great personal brand, such as Elon Musk, can work in any number of segments influencing people and the market. Your name is your brand to make your business.

The next time you approach someone with a great new idea, make sure you include your brand story as well. At the very least, both together will make a great first impression, and that first impression image will last longer and have more impact than any solution image you can offer.

Veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, professor, and investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post, etc.

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