Building your personal brand as an entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time cultivating their business brand, so it can seem counterintuitive to also spend time building up your personal brand. But as the face of your business, a strong personal brand can add a lot of value to your company—think Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Martha Stewart, and Arianna Huffington. After all, people ultimately want to do business with other people they like

Building your personal brand doesn’t have to mean becoming a celebrity, however. The most important element of personal branding as an entrepreneur is simply building up a positive reputation among your customers and your peers. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Tips to building your personal brand

1. Define your personal brand.

Similar to a company brand, you first define your mission, core values, and passions. But unlike a company brand, you’re free to get more personal. You’re welcome to say you’re family-oriented, or that you love knitting in your free time, or that you’d take surfing over being in the office any day. Just remember that authenticity is key

2. Cultivate a positive public presence on social media.

Unlike your company social media accounts, your personal social media accounts show off who you are as a person. Fortunately, you don’t have to be everywhere at once—pick one or two public platforms on which you’ll be most active, otherwise you’ll get bogged down in trying to manage too many things as once. 

Consider which platforms are most suited to your customers and audience. Are your clients more active on Twitter, or would LinkedIn be suited to your industry? Or perhaps as a creative, visual platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube are better suited to your style. The important thing is that you are active on those platforms, and that it’s you personally who is managing the accounts—unlike a company social account, it’s difficult to cultivate your personal brand voice if you’re having a social media manager handle your posts. 

3. Publish. As much as possible.

What do you know best? What are you passionate about? Now tell the world what you know! Whether it’s writing blog posts or articles, recording podcasts or videos, creating content about what you love is one of the easiest ways to build recognition for your expertise and strengthen your personal brand. It can also be cathartic to talk about issues that matter to you outside the professional realm of your company. 

There are a bevy of publishing tools at your disposal. If you don’t want to create a blog on your website, you can tap into platforms such as LinkedIn PulseMedium, or Tumblr to share your writing. iTunes Podcasts and SoundCloud are good platforms for podcasting, and YouTube and Vimeo are the perennial favorites for hosting videos. 

Guest posting and content syndication is also a good strategy when publishing. Being a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Forbes, Quartz and many other outlets can garner mass publicity and exposure in ways self-publishing may not. While it’s advised to work an experienced content marketer to manage your personal content production, it is doable on your own with a little research and persistence. Keep in mind that some peer advisory groups for entrepreneurs also offer publishing benefits as part of their memberships. 

4. Seek out opportunities to showcase your expertise. 

A little public relations and public speaking can work wonders for your personal brand. Use your PR company to pitch you as an expert or thought leader, or have them pitch you for general management or business stories as an entrepreneur. Oftentimes publications such as Fast Company and Inc. compile anecdotes from business owners about their advice for other entrepreneurs

If you’re just getting started and a publicist is out of budget, platforms like Help a Reporter (HARO) can help connect you to reporters for free (or for a low monthly cost). Simply register to be a source, and you’ll receive media opportunities delivered to your inbox daily. 

5. Mentor and teach in your community or online. 

Hosting workshops or signing up to mentor other entrepreneurs is a way to both give back to your community and gain recognition for your expertise. If you qualify as a mentor, sign up through programs such as Business Mentor NY or through one of your local business groups. 

For workshops, the easiest way to get started is to partner with a community center, college, or co-working space, as they will have the means and resources to help promote your workshop to the public.

Another option is teaching your own class via platforms such as Skillshare or Udemy, which both have platforms especially suited for creative entrepreneurs. Take for example Jeff Staple, founder of Staple Design and Reed Space in New York. His online classes on fashion manufacturing, branding, marketing, and sales are among the most popular on Skillshare—more than 12,000 people have taken his intro class on starting a creative company! 

6. Associate with other strong brands

Your personal brand can be strengthened simply by associating with other strong brands. Most career websites will tell you to first start with the three C’s: company, college, colleagues. Join alumni groups and professional associations, and become active in industry organizations. This can help you to secure speaking opportunities at conferences or events.

The intersection between your personal brand and company brand

As an entrepreneur, it’s sometimes hard to know where the line between your personal brand and company brand is drawn. In many cases it can feel as though they are one and the same. What people think of you as a business owner typically reflects on the opinion of the business. 

But for the sake of long-term growth—for both your business and your personal career—it’s good to do your best to maintain a separation of the two. For example, if you scale and grow your business, you may want to ensure that your company brand is an honest reflection of your entire team, not just your personal brand. So use your best judgment to decide if something that you post, write, create, or present should be associated with you, your company, or both.