(As appeared in Forbes.)
I have to say I am sick of hearing people talk about personal branding. Let’s not think of it as a brand, let’s understand it as your reputation. That reputation plays heavily into your success as an entrepreneur, particularly at securing other people’s money. And a reputation isn’t something created, it is something authentic that results from what you are and what you do. But, is it attractive to investors?
I attended an entrepreneur event at Kennesaw State University with Daymond John, founder of FUBU who appears on ABC’s Shark Tank. He said that the “sharks” of the show don’t buy ideas—they buy the people behind the ideas. That’s why you see perfectly nice people with sometimes great ideas walk away with nothing. They don’t project the right brand—the brand of someone who has many more amazing ideas dying to get to market. So let’s talk about what your brand means in the context of pitching investors.
The entrepreneurial brand that appeals to investors
The personal brand investors look for is one of innovation and leadership. Of course your reputation likely includes character attributes like integrity and tenacity, but for an investor…they want to see whether you have entrepreneurial DNA. Investors want to know where you’ve been, where you’re going and how big you can be. Your reputation or ‘brand’ will make all the difference in whether a prospective investor wants to have a second meeting with you. Your personal brand is the collateral you put up.
How big a stage do you play on
Are you a hometown hero…or someone with a national presence? Leadership and professional associations are vital to building a brand that is attractive to people that will bank on you. Being a member of the downtown Chamber of Commerce and participating in Toastmasters or a local charity can make you visible to local bankers or angel investors who can help you become a large, successful local business. However, if you want to be a bigger fish—a regional, national or global player, one that will be calling on New York investment firms—they buy into innovators who have already begun building credibility, influence and charisma on a larger platform. They are looking for a bigger personal brand…a proven thing, a sure thing…not a one hit wonder.
Here’s where you can control your destiny: Understand where influence occurs, and build your brand in more influential circles and markets. Write books and opinion pieces. Seek speaking engagements and presentation opportunities. Become a trusted source for journalists and respected bloggers covering your industry. Enter national awards competitions. And by all means, associate with ‘headlining’ business leaders and innovators who can lend credibility to your efforts—and likely open doors for you.
What you do & who you associate with shapes your brand
Your past employment and volunteerism shape your personal brand too. Here’s my story: I have run four agencies—been president of three and owner of two. I’ve served on several boards for civic and professional organizations. My reputation is an amalgamation of my credibility and experience as an entrepreneur, a manager and a servant of the community. I wrote a book, AdVenture , and have appeared on local and national TV and radio. I have represented several areas of expertise from entrepreneurship, marketing, women’s leadership, non-profit business growth and education.I work to build my business and personal brand, which is both rewarding…and hard work. This has enabled me to get meetings with Fortune 20 companies, New York and LA investment firms and to sign clients that other agencies would love to have. This was possible because my experience combined with my larger personal brand influenced others.
Be a leader in the club your investors want to be members of
The bottom line: You need clarity about whether your aspirations ‘fit’ your personal brand. How big of a pool are you comfortable swimming in? If you have enough of a presence—locally, regionally, nationally or internationally—you can gain access to key relationships and the capital you need to scale. Remember what Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Your brand will provide the extra accelerant you need to convince others that you can do anything you put your mind to.
If you want to grow on an exponential scale with an increasingly greater sphere of influence, you will need to put time and energy into not only building your business and ideas, but selling yourself as a visionary to markets that have never heard of you. Does your personal brand suggest you will be kind of individual that will make good on someone’s investment in you? Demonstrate that you have the cache, connections and DNA to not only succeed with this venture—but also replicate that success again and again.
Like the blog? Follow me here and on Twitter @MoiraVetter. What do you think entrepreneurs want to know about managing or securing capital?