The subtle art of personal branding for startup leaders

The subtle art of personal branding for startup leaders

Monday July 09, 2018,

9 min Read

Every startup has a unique story, and every story has a protagonist with his own story, wherein the two complement each other in the act of branding. Personal branding is a concept where one promotes his message, thoughts, and ideologies to spread out his and his startup’s story so that he can establish a robust and trustworthy brand for his audience.

Image: Shutterstock

Why personal branding matters for startup leaders and CEOs

The concept of personal branding has come a long way from the day of its inception. Investing time, resources, and energy in personal branding helps CEOs/founders/leaders institute themselves as industry thought leaders and as a natural leader in totality. This not only helps them outwardly in getting more business and investment opportunities but also inwardly by instituting confidence in their existing team and attracting new talented intrapreneurs to join the team. It opens the door to a plethora of new growth possibilities.

The emergence of unique ways and new ideas are changing the world rapidly. It is important for these ideas to spread and settle in the market at the very beginning to stay relevant. This makes it inevitable for the owners and supporters of these ideas not to go out and shout loud about the same.

According to a recent survey done by Brandfog:

  • More than 80 percent of the respondents consider social media- savvy CEOs as better and effective leaders.
  • 82 percent of the respondents said they are more likely to trust a company whose CEO and leadership team consistently engage on social media and 77 percent are more likely to invest their time, energy, and money in such companies.
  • 93 percent people believe that social media engagement of CEOs helps brands build better connections with customers, employees, and investors.

As rightly quoted by Zig Ziglar, “If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” To make people like you and accept your idea, you first need to reach out to them.

Personal branding 101: critical personal branding trends

The first thing with personal branding is to get your story straight. You need to master the art of storytelling. Create a narrative description of the past events which lead you to the success and/or closer to it, formulate your descriptive story, relook and edit it to make it interesting, and identify the tipping and gripping points to depict whats unique in your story. Create a shorter version of the story and a brief introduction to the idea which is easy to understand.

Key online trends

“About us” – the much-needed introduction to the company and your leaders

Designing and formulating your website’s about-us and media coverage page is one of the anchoring steps from where you start spreading your brand . Your “about-us” section should clearly highlight your vision and the problem you intend to solve for others.

This section of your website should give a clear and profound exposure to your core team and leaders. You can add a descriptive story of your journey and how and why you started. It should project deep clarity and awareness about your value system.

Your media coverage page should properly highlight your mentions in the popular publications (online/offline). Events you have participated in, initiatives you have taken to help the community, video links, blog links – all should be compiled at one place with images and snippets of the media mentions. Your website should be well connected with the social media pages of your business. Social media has its say from two angles – your official business page which talks about you and your initiative, and your personal social media presence. Both should create separate entities but ideally similar brand personalities.

What about PR (Public Relations) initiatives?

Kickstart your PR when you are ready to showcase what you have built. Reach out to popular blogs and websites which write on startup stories, new ideas, evolving management principles, and leadership theories. The PR has to be organic and not paid. Your story should have an element people will take interest in or connect to. The element of inspiration, motivation, innovation, or being offbeat is something which makes it worth reading.

Build a constant relation with these websites and blogs, and make your contribution by writing regular guest posts on your area of expertise. This will not only help you in establishing yourself as a thought leader, but will also help others learn new things from your experience and knowledge. Contributing back to the community is always appreciated.

Constantly writing and posting your views and perspectives on the current industry trends and topics is important to stay relevant as a leader.

Follow the following basic five-step PR strategy:

  • Be truthful, and make your story connecting, inspiring, and interesting
  • Reflect your interpersonal/technical qualities
  • Show your vision in the simplest manner
  • Propose a solution to a real-life problem, and/or take a stand for a cause
  • Integrate PR with your website communication, blogs, and social media distribution strategy

The whats and hows of social media, the most crucial link in personal branding

An integrated social media branding strategy is difficult to execute and takes time, but is very successful if done right with patience. You not only have to be active on social media but also make it valuable for your followers. Share your knowledge with others to guide them on their journey, and tell them what you stand for. It should not be all about you; rather give your audience reasons to get curious to know all about you. Social media is to outreach and interact, engage and contribute. You need to create, build, and maintain very strong and emotional relationships with your audience. Your equation with your audience will impact the success of your personal brand.

Apart from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, social media does include quite a few niche platforms and professional communities as well, like Quora, Pinterest, Medium,, Alignable, DeviantArt, Goodreads, and more, where you can find your direct target groups. You need to find one or two core platforms (apart from the common top five channels) which are most relevant to you and your business, and make the most out of them and other common platforms in an integrated manner for holistic reach.

You should constantly post about issues you support, ideas you have, thoughts which inspire, and humour which connects. Try to bond and empathize with people you interact online by constantly investing in making relationships productive. Knowledge brings humility, and from humility comes worthiness. Instead of narrow thinking, you should be magnanimous and noble, and the approach should be uniform. If you do so, the entire world will be your friend.

Here’s a simple seven-step strategy for social media personal branding:

  • Put in the right effort – consistently
  • Learn from the experts/follow the industry influencers
  • Avoid extremes and keep broad views while sharing
  • Evaluate according to the response
  • Follow the path of right conduct
  • Engage with the audience
  • Contribute to the community, share what you know with your audience

Conducive offline trends – the next level

Public speaking approach

Leaders become great with their speeches and have a great impact on the destiny of their brand. Words have the power to inspire, persuade, and influence millions of people, and when delivered in the form of public speaking, they help you stand out from the rest. The ability to speak on various platforms gives a personal touch to your digital identity. When you interact with the world one-on-one, it can bring out an energetic personality which is real and can be seen.

Being a good public speaker allows you to make a difference in your life, business, community, and career, and is a super-advantageous trait. Even if you think you are not a polished speaker, let it not stop you from practising to become one. You only should know your story well and have clarity about presenting your idea. Just go out and share your story with passion, determination, and confidence.

Strategy to start with public speaking

Keep a progressive approach to the application of knowledge and experience in your talks. Keep a strong perception of yourself and exude a high level of intellectual energy. Public speaking platforms include youth and startup talks, college fests, guest lectures, corporate events, and media channels (conventional or non-conventional), where you can go and speak or interviewed on.

Participation in social activities and supporting causes

Taking a philanthropic approach is the next step towards becoming a robust personal brand. You don’t have to do anything big – even a small step towards it will make an impact. Actively participating in a small social activity, supporting a social cause, or taking a stand on any issue helps in constituting high emotional quotient with society. Participating in and hosting events in support of causes and sharing about your initiatives on social media and blogs helps in reflecting a positive image of your brand.

Participation in awards and felicitation activities

Getting nominating for your idea and leadership skills in various awards and getting felicitation from prestigious institutions, magazines, media channels, and the like helps you in increasing your brand value and building better industry connect.

Publishing a book/videos/podcasts

Your experience, knowledge, and observations can be compiled in a book or a series of videos or both to give a sense of direction and inspiration to the new industry entrants. It's a long process and also the most effective offline trend.

To conclude, you as a brand will get established by efforts, and not by wishful thinking. It takes years of consistency, practice, and learning to build a strong personal brand. Understand the important thing that in personal branding it is not about yelling “I” or “Me” – it is all about how much and in what manner you contribute to the community. Constantly work with patience to create that one tipping point which will make your brand viral. Just go and get started!

Praveen Sharma is the Business and Marketing Head for communities including,, and

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)