Why Building Your Personal Brand Can Take Your Startup to the Next Level—and Where to Start

UPDATED: May 7, 2024
PUBLISHED: November 2, 2021
Why Building Your Personal Brand Can Take Your Startup to the Next Level—and Where to Start

Most entrepreneurs today realize the value of establishing a strong and memorable brand for their company or product, but how important is it to develop a brand for yourself as an individual business owner? Do you really need to develop a strong personal brand to have a successful startup or small business? 

Not necessarily, and it can depend on the type of business you’re talking about. But if you’re looking for a competitive edge in a crowded market—and you’re looking for a way to break through to the next level in sales and profitability—a memorable and compelling personal brand can often be an invaluable asset. 

What is personal branding anyway?  

Technically speaking, personal branding is a deliberate and thoughtful effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning and elevating them as a credible authority or influencer in their industry. 

In his book Your Small Business Boom, small business author and USA Today columnist Steve Strauss describes personal branding this way: “Your brand is your name, reputation, value, personality, expertise, differentiation and promise, all rolled into one.” 

As a business owner, building your personal brand intentionally will allow you to tell your story as you want it to be told, to establish yourself as an expert and leader in your field and to connect with your customers and clients beyond your products and services alone. 

Famous examples of successful entrepreneur “brands” abound. Think Richard Branson, Gary Vaynerchuck (aka “Gary Vee”), even “Real Housewives” star-turned Skinnygirl mogul, Bethenny Frankel. But even on the lower profile or local level, it’s easy to find examples. For example, your city probably has at least one locally renowned “celebrity chef” restaurateur or retail shop owner whose popularity and visibility in the community or on social media helps drive their business.   

What’s the ROI on personal branding for your business? Here’s what to consider. 

Not every type of business realizes the same ROI from personal branding, of course. According to Strauss, personal branding is traditionally most effective for “for service businesses where you and the business are one and the same (e.g., lawyers, writers, marketers, etc.).” 

But there are exceptions to this rule—and a lot can depend on your target audience. For example, beauty, fashion and retail brands whose owner/founders establish a popular and engaging presence on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram that positions them as tastemakers and trendsetters can absolutely spark sales for their products through this personal branding.

However, keep in mind that personal branding takes time, and some resources that may in many cases be better spent running business operations than in raising your individual profile. For example, if your business is an electrical contracting business, will it really move the needle with customers (i.e., homeowners or commercial facilities managers) to be especially, personally well-known in that field?   

Getting Started: Key Steps in Personal Branding  

Assuming you’ve decided that personal branding is a worthwhile investment of your time and resources, where should you start? Here are the basic steps involved. Obviously, the below is simply the basic outline for personal branding and there is much more detail involved in every step. It’s likely you’ll want to consult professionals in design, branding and PR for further guidance, but this is a good place to start.  

1. Pick your niche. 

Be specific and narrow. Look at what you’re good at and what makes you unique. Stay in that lane. Also be sure that you have honed in on something that people actually want and is marketable. 

For example, if you’re starting a PR firm, what is one way in which you approach client work that sets your firm apart? It could be a focus on news-oriented storytelling and media relations based on your background as a former journalist. 

Kim Berry of White Barn Home, a home decor retailer specializing in “modern rustic, farmhouse chic” furnishings often built from reclaimed barn wood with a Western aesthetic, is a good example of this focused approach. Kim, who owns and runs the business with her daughter, Kylie, maintains a strong presence for her shop both through posting of products and the shop on Instagram and Pinterest, as well as her own personal posts showing her horses, riding and personal Western styled home. The home page of her website features Kim and Kylie because their faces are a tangible asset for the business. Because their personal style is so popular, people frequent the store to ask for her personal advice on incorporating rustic elements into a modern home.  

2. Ensure your company and personal branding assets reflect this niche and expertise. 

Your own website is the most obvious place to start here. Does the site truly reflect your personal brand values and aesthetic? Does it have a space for your face and voice? At the very least, you should have a fairly robust and personalized bio with a photo on your site as a founder. But you might consider taking a more proactive approach to weaving your personal story (and face) into your brand throughout your site and social media pages. 

You might also consider contributing to the company blog and/or linking to your personal Linkedin profile or Medium profile as well as a vehicle for posting content relevant to your point of view and the industry. 

It’s also a good time to assess—beyond your current website—the current status of your brand in the marketplace. The easiest way to do this is simply to do what we all do when we’re looking to find out more about someone: Google it. What shows up first? Is it your personal Facebook profile or Linkedin page? Are either or both of those up-to-date (and reflective of your desired personal brand today)? Click on the images tab—are the photos that pop up  those you’d want prospective customers or clients to see? Do you even show up at all, or are the search results dominated by someone else with a similar name? 

When it comes to LinkedIn specifically, be sure at the very least your profile is up to date. But also take a critical look at what message is coming through in the recommendations, the type of content you are sharing, liking and commenting on. At the very least, invest in a professional photo, a compelling headline and a carefully crafted summary to ensure your LinkedIn profile attracts the right kind of attention.

Repeat this exercise with Twitter. Are you active and updated there as well? It’s probably a good idea to use that same or a similar professional picture you’re using for LinkedIn and make sure that your Twitter bio captures your story and that your tweets are consistent, too. You can pin a notable piece of content to make sure that it’s the first thing people see when they visit your profile (instead of your random tweet about “The Bachelor”).

If it makes sense for your business, drill down with a similar scrutiny on Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest if you’ve been posting regularly there as well. It could be time to create new profile pages to separate less appropriate friends- and family-only content from more brand-relevant materials. 

3. Create content that speaks to your target audience

Establishing (and/or polishing up) your existing online presence is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personal branding. You’ll also need to generate original content that further communicates your market positioning and unique point of view.  That can mean creating and sharing relevant articles, blog posts, Linkedin updates, speeches and possibly even podcasts or books. Especially if you’re aiming for industry thought-leader status, you’ll need to take a proactive effort at making your perspective known to others. 

On the lowest investment level, this can simply mean following industry trends and posting or sharing materials with comments on various social channels, along with following and engaging with other industry influencers in that space. 

Taking it to the next tier, however, can provide higher ROI. That entails writing (or having ghost written) opinion pieces and guest articles for publications and blogs, presenting at industry conferences… and possibly even writing a book or creating a podcast on a topic. 

When it comes to this content (for example, slides at an industry speaking engagement), pay attention to the details and visual representation of your brand. It’s important to map any materials you publish back to your company’s brand identity to maintain consistency for your audiences. 

4. Amplify that content and use it to engage with your audience via social media and traditional media. 

It’s one thing to create and even publish compelling and insightful content on your own channels. But to get the maximum value out of your material, you should strive for engagement and interaction. That means truly monitoring for comments and engaging with your audience online and in social media, along with seeking out opportunities to appear on or in media coverage as a subject matter expert. Yes, we’re talking about public relations; either hiring a professional to help proactively pitch your story and expertise to media outlets and offer you as an expert source or guest or carving out the time to pursue this effort on your own. 

5. Have a strategy and stick to it. 

When it comes to personal branding, having—and sticking to—a solid strategy is a critical and oft-overlooked key to success. Whichever formats and platforms you choose, whatever content you create and put out there, be sure to do so with intention. You should be checking back in with how all of these activities fit your vision and roadmap for the business. If you can’t see a clear connection, it might not be worth your time.

Photo by Vadym Pastukh/Shutterstock

Shayne Tilley

Shayne Tilley is Head of Marketing at 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. He is a wrangler of collaboration, diversity, and creativity who helps bring more opportunities to people all around the world. For more information please visit99designs.com.