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Startups, use your secret weapon - yourself!

Posted by Chad O'Connor  February 16, 2014 06:00 AM

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Customers are talking. They could be your customers, your competitors’ customers, or people still outside of your market waiting for a company to connect with them. From websites to social media, the twin powers of information and choice have shifted in the customers’ favor. More and more, customers are looking to connect on a personal level with companies. An easy connect with customers is to develop a personal brand.

Entrepreneurs don’t have the option of being invisible, so what are the most beneficial ways to stand out? Serial entrepreneur and business consultant Wheeler del Torro recommends a developing an online persona for the CEO, founder, and/or leadership team. As del Torro explains

"Each connection company founders and CEOs make with the public increases the number of channels the company can access beyond traditional marketing. Posts, speaking appearances, guest blogs, videos, books and articles draw attention back to the company."

From a customer perspective, leaders who are out in the public with their personal brand can seem more accessible and likable. Quantifying how many people “like” someone, use their services, support their ideas… and a seemingly endless array of other data is a simple process for customers. Customers can – and often will - check the background of a company and their leaders and will make purchasing decisions based on what they find. If a founder or CEO is able to make a connection with customers, it can become a relationship that is difficult for competitors to replicate.

I dove into the benefits of personal branding while researching my book RAY-ganomics: The New Rules for Becoming a Millionaire, which explores the pathways to financial success in the changed economy facing the Millennial generation. “Branding” can be the subjective difference between who gets a job, which companies get investors and how much help comes along in the process. Is it everything? No. But is it a good start.


To build a strong personal brand, the first step is to audit where your brand is now. Your digital personal brand is a searchable, traceable record of your photos, projects, opinions, relationships and anything else you post or others post about you.

Audit the Online You
The first step is to Google yourself. Focus on the first page of results. How many of the links are sites that you are monitoring or providing the content for, like a blog or Facebook? How many are sites by others, like a post you are tagged in or a new article about a club or school you are connected to? How many of them are surprises? Once you have a clear picture of your digital first impression, repeat the process with Google images. With rare exceptions, anything coming up on the first page of Google image searches (or before the scroll) should be appropriate enough to not raise the eyebrows of either a boss or elderly relative. At least one photo should be a professional-looking headshot.

After auditing Google, repeat the process with the top 3 social media sites you frequent. What you post or link to your social media outlets should be at worst neutral and at best supporting the messages and value of your brand. Scroll through your 10 most recent posts on each site and quickly write down what the posts communicate. Is their message positive? Are they aligned to your business? Would they better serve you tucked away in an offline diary or photo album? Social media has an incredible power to communicate and should be complimentary to your aspirations and your company’s goals. Delete any comments, posts, tweets, photos etc. that detract from the message of who you are, your goals and your company. Also, delete any half-started or fake online profiles that will distract from your brand.

Develop Your Online Persona
Once your have a clear picture of your current brand and have cleaned up any problem areas, it is time for the hard part: deciding what parts of yourself you want to publicly communicate and where you can best align with your brand.

This isn’t to say that you have to have the final answer – the definite essence of you. You need to be able to reevaluate and redefine as you (and the company) grow. Map out an idea of who you are now and where you would like your role and your company to go in the next few years. Then add in other features like current projects, affiliations with clubs, organizations or schools, or connections to nonprofits. Once you have mapped out your personal brand, it can guide what types of content and channels you incorporate.

As an entrepreneur, you content and channels should align with your company interests and identity. If you have a fun, youthful company brand, your personal brand’s tone and content should be similar. As a public face of a brand, being your authentic self is important, but in a form that is strategically beneficial to your company. Plenty of CEOs have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a “personal” social media account once you become the face of the company – for better or worse, your online voice reflects on the company.

Strategic personal branding can open doors to opportunities that can help you reach your goals. With thoughtful management, your digital brand can transform from a simple record to an asset for your company.

Rayna Verbeck is the author of RAY-ganomics: The New Rules to Becoming a Millionaire (Spring 2014) and co-founder of the Small Bytes & Apps Entrepreneurship Conference at MIT February 22, 2014.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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