South Africa is an incredibly enterprising nation, from the hawkers selling anything you might conceivably need in your car at the traffic lights to the world-famous entrepreneurs that have come out of South Africa, like Elon Musk, Patrice Motsepe and Khanyi Dhlomo. As government begins to turn its attention to fostering youth enterprise, there is a whole new generation of potential entrepreneurs waiting for their turn. The challenge, however, is that competition is stiff and funding is scarce. I believe that as young people seek to build their own businesses, one of the best ways that they can stand out (and attract funding and first customers) is by building their personal brand.
I believe that as an entrepreneur, building your personal brand is a vital and foundation step in building your business. People need to buy into you before they will buy into your business idea or your products or services.
If you’re a youth entrepreneur, it’s even more important because you need people to see past any gaps in your experience and choose to buy into you anyway. Without a credible personal brand, you run the risk of potential investors and customers thinking you are too young, too inexperienced or too risky. Building your personal brand helps you to package all your strengths, talents and skills in a way that showcases them and presents a compelling brand that people want to associate with.
You may think that building your business brand is more important, but remember that when you’re a start-up, you are the brand. Part of pitching your business is pitching yourself. It’s important to create a credible personal brand that gives you an air of distinctiveness and sets you apart from everyone else pitching for the same funding, potential business partners or customer base as you.
Good ideas are not hard to find. Investors want to know that the person behind the idea has what it takes to turn it into a successful business.
As someone who has invested personally in multiple start-up businesses, I can tell you that I invested in a good entrepreneur, as well as his or her good idea. Good ideas are not hard to find. Investors want to know that the person behind the idea has what it takes to turn it into a successful business.
Grow through personal branding
Here are my seven top tips for youth entrepreneurs looking to build their personal brands:
- Define your personal brand. Write a brand positioning statement for yourself that encompasses what sets you apart from everybody else, your unique skills and talents, and why your potential funder or client should choose you over your competitors. Know it, own it, believe and embody it!
- Build or expand your digital footprint: Before I do business with someone, I often check them out online. When you ‘Google’ your name, what comes up? Being constantly associated with a specific area establishes you as a leader or expert in that field. Find places to comment, share, speak on the topics you know most about. Make sure there’s nothing compromising about you on the internet that could damage your personal brand.
- Pick a few attributes you want to be known for and demonstrate them at every opportunity: Establish a track record of competence in your field and reinforce it at meetings, pitches and networking opportunities by sharing your thoughts, asking smart questions and engaging with people in a meaningful way. This will keep you top-of-mind and boost your credibility.
- Love what you do – it shows! Passion is your personal brand’s fuel and it’s contagious. Let your energy motivate those around you.
- Have a global perspective: there is opportunity to learn, gain new perspectives and information at every turn and you will be surprised when that information can be used. Make sure you invest in yourself and in broadening your perspective, whether it’s through reading, training or mentorship.
- Develop a personal visibility campaign: Think about platforms you can use to market your personal brand, whether that means facilitating a workshop, developing a keynote speech, submitting articles to professional journals, getting active on social media or joining an industry body.
- Associate with the right people. Your personal brand will benefit from association with other people’s personal brands. Find a good mentor who is willing to coach you (and humbly take on their advice). Identify people in your network who you admire and build relationship with them. On the same note, steer clear of people who do not share your ethics and values – association with them can damage your personal brand.
Finally, remember that most ‘overnight success stories’ actually took years in the making. Be ready to persevere. As you seek out the right partners, opportunities and business models, keep investing in your personal brand and it will pay dividends.
*by Donna Rachelson. Donna is a specialist in branding and marketing, is the author of three books: Play to Win: What Women can learn from Men in Business; Branding & Marketing YOU and Branding & Marketing YOU Through Teams. As a successful businesswoman and investor in businesses, Donna is passionate about empowering entrepreneurs and women, uplifting them with her unique brand of practical, results-driven guidance. She is founder of Branding & Marketing YOU and currently Group CEO at Seed Academy – a training and incubation ecosystem for entrepreneurs.