Starting a business is usually the result of a personal dream or need. Investors tell me that they invest in people more than the idea. Customers buy from people, not from a company, at least at early startup stages. That’s why it’s important to build a personal brand, in parallel and before your business brand. This will kick-start your business, and improve your odds of success.
So what does it mean to “brand yourself”? Branding yourself means making yourself visible, and communicating via all avenues your personal value and what your stand for, with total clarity and consistency. It’s especially important to highlight your uniqueness in some easy to remember way, so people will think of you and what you do, in case they need your product or service.
Next, do the same to brand your company. Branding guru Catherine Kaputa, in “Breakthrough Branding,” confirms that branding is all about building a recognizable identity, and associating it with benefits and positive consequences. She outlines some positioning strategies that I recommend, with the following key drivers of brand growth:
- Brand boldly – for your business and you. A common way to position your personal and business brand is to boldly “own” an attitude on a key attribute. Every product or service has specific attributes that are important to key customers, like integrity and trust, or customer focus. Craft a simple message to make that your identity.
- Dominate the category (even if you have to create a new one). Small brands that break through to grow big find a “small” idea that fills a gaping hole – a need in the marketplace that wasn’t met before – and they keep filling that need better than anyone. If you dominate the market, competitor copycats will only amplify your positioning.
- Figure out how to grow and scale the business. Businesses that scale have leverage and more rapid brand growth. Technology businesses can be very scalable because you can develop a core set of assets, such as software systems, and then you can monetize them at low additional cost. Build your business model on systems, not on people.
- Enchant your customers. At the end of the day, you’re only as good as your customers who love and appreciate you. That’s why having a special customer relationship model that’s hard to copy can propel your business growth. According to Guy Kawasaki, enchanted customers elevate your brand, like advocating a good cause.
- Put “growth agent” in everyone’s job description. Growth means change, and that doesn’t come naturally to most people. Keep everyone focused on one key objective and three measurable key results, so “business as usual” is not an option. Find people smarter than you in each aspect of the business, and hand if off as you scale.
- Strike the right balance between innovation and staying true to the brand.Ignore innovation and your competitors will quickly pass you by. Too much innovation will confuse your customers, and drain your resources. To stay true to the brand, use open innovation, and see the power of involving customers in the process of innovating.
- Take advantage of good luck and bad. Sometimes a sprinkling of good luck after bad, along with pluck, can propel your business idea into a breakthrough brand. The early startup period (“valley of death”) is your most vulnerable time but also your most opportunistic, because it is the time when you can create tremendous brand value.
As much as we might like entrepreneurship and branding to be a science, because it would be simpler that way, it is not. Being a brand entrepreneur, both for you personally as well as your business, requires learning, and is an ever-changing art without easy formulas.
An entrepreneur these days can’t afford to hide behind an impersonal website or hole up in the corner office. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs connect your customers to one another, and you, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you don’t take charge of your brand, someone else will – and they are not likely to brand you in the way you want to be branded. It’s a lot more fun to be someone you always wanted to be!
CEO & Founder ofStartup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management. Published on Forbes, Gust, Young Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review, and Huffington Post.