How Your Personal Brand Can Impact Your Startup

Everyone talks about the importance of a personal brand, but is it really worth taking the time to work on your own brand while you're also building a startup?

There are two answers to that question. The first is yes, because your personal brand can enhance your startup's marketing, credibility with investors, and trust among customers. The second answer is also yes, because everyone has a personal brand, whether they manage it themselves or not. You might as well make yours shine.

Here are some ways you can make your personal brand pay off as you grow your startup--and a couple of mistakes to learn from, too.

Your personal brand can enhance your startup's credibility

Do you already have a track record of starting successful companies or scoring big victories for your employer? If so, make your experience a main element in your personal branding to show potential investors, hires and partners that you know your stuff. Entrepreneur Richard Branson, for example, has such a long history of business wins and such a bold, positive social media presence that any venture he invests in these days automatically gets a boost in buzz along with the cash.

Brand like Branson: Talk about what you've learned from your successes, your mistakes, and your mentors. Give credit to the people who've worked for you and who've inspired you.

The flipside is that if your personal brand is tarnished, it can hurt your startup, too. Uber was already up to its bumpers in bad press this year because of allegations of gender discrimination, the news that it used its “Greyball” program to avoid local regulators, and concerns about driver pay. Then a video surfaced of CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver and the PR wreck started turning into a pile-up. Kalanick's former partner has described sexist behavior she witnessed at company events she attended with him, and media outlets are digging up Kalanick's embarrassing old tweets. Meanwhile, the #deleteuber campaign on social media has led to more than half a million customers closing their accounts.

The takeaway: Treating people with respect should be a cornerstone of your personal brand. Also, use good judgment on social media.

Your personal brand can help your audience relate to your company

Oprah Winfrey's life and career have been a master class in personal branding. The story of her rise from poverty and abuse to local TV news anchor to media billionaire is the stuff of American legend. What's always made her unique is her ability to make her audience feel that she understands their challenges and dreams and wants to help them succeed.

Brand like Oprah: If you've faced obstacles on your path to success, it's okay to talk about them. Share what you've learned to offer encouragement to other entrepreneurs or customers who are dealing with similar challenges.

The flipside of connecting on an emotional level is the risk of perceived betrayal. A couple of years ago, it looked like actor Jessica Alba was on the path to making a fortune from her relatability. She started The Honest Company because she wanted less-toxic personal-care products for her young children. What parent can't relate to that protective urge? Alba's enterprise was valued at $1 billion in 2015. Now, after lawsuits over sunburns and controversy over ingredients the company promised not to use in its detergent, potential corporate buyers have backed off and the company is getting a new CEO. The reputation of The Honest Company has taken a hit, in part because parents felt personally misled about the products they were sold.

The takeaway: Your personal brand can't make up for major missteps with your business.

Your personal brand can get people interested in your business

Even for people who don't get anxious when they think about their finances, it's not always the most exciting topic. Ramit Sethi--founder of GrowthLab and author of the best-selling personal-finance-for-Millennials guide “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”--fills his social media feeds with a mix of life advice, fitness tips, how-to guides, and weird emails and success stories from his readers. This is more interesting than just reading about how much of your income you should save for retirement each month, although Sethi's social media touches on that, too.

Brand like Ramit:Your personal brand should relate to your business, but it should be about more than just your business. Your personal brand space is where you can be yourself and share the causes, hobbies, and interests that make life good.

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