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A personal branding roadmap: 10 tips to stand out in the startup world

Personal Branding has been buzzing around the entrepreneurial world for some years now. For some founders, personal branding may come intuitively, naturally: They know how to position themselves in the spotlight, write about their experiences, share their learnings, reflect on mistakes, and celebrate successes.

There are remarkable examples of entrepreneurs who have built their personal brands and somehow “moved beyond” their companies, such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson, or Gary Vaynerchuk. All of them have carefully orchestrated their public image: the provocateur, the adventurer, the marketing magician. As Gary Vaynerchuk once said: “It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have. Your reputation online and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person. You can’t hide anything, and more importantly, you’ve got to be out there at some level.”

I would probably not have put it as strongly as Gary did, but I would also argue that investing in building your personal brand as a startup founder can bring advantages both for yourself and your business. After all, venture capitalists largely invest in you; potential new partners will do business with you; and a co-founder or key team member will join the company because of you—so having a strong “founder’s brand” can be beneficial.  It’s like having a global business card in the public domain that you never have to hand over physically. Eventually, your reputation will precede you—the first thing people recall when they think of your name or speak about you.

Understandably, personal branding is not for everyone – a lot of founders prefer to be less publicly visible and remain under the radar. However, if you are interested in the topic, and if you haven’t done any strategic brand building yet but would like to get started with it, here are some tips that I’ve put together for you.

One thing should be mentioned right at the start: Just like for a company, brand building does not happen overnight. It takes persistence, effort, and work, over months and years, to build it up. But one thing is certain: it will be worth it and can be quite a fun and insightful task too!

Define who you are and who you want to be

Dolly Parton once said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose!” What does she mean by that? Firstly, it’s about becoming aware of your own personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and—most importantly—accepting them. Dolly has thus defined a basic formula for personal branding, and it is quite simple: you are you, and you start with nothing else. So, it may sound strange at first, but the start of building a personal brand is asking, “Who am I?” A basic rule of any successful brand development is to be authentic. Pretending to be someone completely different doesn’t help—it will never attract anyone in the long term.

Here are a few questions to help you work out your own SWOT:

  • Life Journey: How did you get to where you are now? Which hurdles did you have to overcome? Was there a particular “turning point” in your life?
  • Unique Selling Point: What are your strengths?
  • Passion: What do you particularly enjoy doing? What is your passion?
  • Expertise: Which topics do you know much about?
  • Mission: Why do you do what you do?
  • Value System: What is particularly important to you in life? What values do you stand for?
  • Vision: What is your vision for the sector/industry you are working in?

If you have answered these questions for yourself, you may have already started the strategic thinking process about your own personal brand. That’s good! Next, do a status quo check and take an hour or so to Google/Bing/Ecosia yourself and actually check what is currently out there about you in the digital space. What kind of image is currently being painted of you?

Set some goals

Jeff Bezos once said, “Personal Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” So, the next big questions point directly to that notion: What would you like to be known for? What reasons do you want people to seek you out? What should they think and say about you in your absence? If you were ever invited to do a TED Talk, what topic would you choose? Reflecting on these questions for the first time can be a truly enlightening experience.

Once you have a clear understanding of these aspirations, it’s time to consider the goals you wish to achieve with your personal branding efforts. These goals can vary widely. Are you aiming to become a thought leader in your industry? Do you aspire to be invited to speak at conferences? Is your goal to increase your follower count? Are you looking to make new international connections to expand your business? Perhaps you want your personal brand to aid in your search for talented individuals for your company. The objectives of personal branding should always be clearly defined, as they guide the selection of target groups and the channels most suitable for your branding efforts.


Choose your channels

In my opinion, many companies fall into the trap of believing they need to be active across all available channels in their marketing efforts. This approach often leads to the creation of generic content that may not be well-suited for different platforms. The same caution should apply to personal branding: Unless you’re dedicating your full time to being an influencer, it’s unlikely you’ll have the bandwidth to engage effectively with every channel.  Therefore, it’s important to identify the channels that:

  • Best suit your personal style,
  • Reach your intended audience effectively
  • Best match for your content and objectives.

A prime example is the German lawyer Solmecke, who has found success specializing in YouTube videos where he answers legal questions. This platform allows him to reach a broad audience and discuss complex legal topics without time constraints. Additionally, he can share snippets of these videos on other social media platforms.

Focus on the channels where you feel most comfortable and best fitted. Of course, LinkedIn is considered the ‘classic’ platform for personal branding in a professional context and should not be overlooked, but it can, of course, be complemented by other media.

Update profiles and include Value Proposition

Have you identified the media channels that could work best for you? Fantastic. Now, it’s crucial to ensure that not only your “main” channel but also all your profiles across different platforms are up-to-date and resonate with the message you wish to convey. A significant value-add would be to clearly communicate what followers can expect when they connect with you. This approach positions you effectively right from the start, aligning audience expectations with your personal brand’s value proposition.

Find a style of your own

Finding your signature style is crucial. Do you approach communication with formality, or do you prefer a more personal touch, addressing your network directly on a first-name basis (or “per Du,” as they say in German)? Are you known for your irony, humour, or seriousness? The key here is authenticity. Personal branding coach Verena Bender emphasizes this as the most critical aspect of developing your brand. She advises: “Authenticity is crucial. You should not pretend to be someone you’re not. This doesn’t mean you have to disclose your deepest secrets, but it’s important to stand by your values. Being a ‘flag in the wind’ does nobody any good. Personal branding, by its very nature, is about YOU as an individual. That’s what sets you apart.”

In general, a personal and approachable writing style tends to resonate well. People value the sensation of connecting with the “real you,” rather than encountering a sales-oriented, formal PR voice

Quality before quantity

Maintaining your mission at the forefront of your followers’ minds requires regular posting. However, this doesn’t mean you should produce content for the sake of it. Instead, consider devising a personal content plan that outlines what you wish to publish and when.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Relevant knowledge pieces on developments in your sector
  • Story of how you came to where you’re at now – your life path
  • “Making of” your product/solution 
  • Behind the scenes of working with your team
  • “How to”- advice
  • Your workplace/team
  • Your opinion on current news
  • Events and shows you attend
  • Testimonials from people your Startup works with
  • Learnings from your entrepreneurial journey

Depending on how much time you have, you could establish your own new formats, i.e. a podcast or a weekly LinkedIn series on “your” topic

Tell stories

People are naturally drawn to stories. Therefore, storytelling should be a cornerstone of your personal branding strategy. A post that shares a piece of your personal journey is inherently more engaging and tends to garner more reach than a simple statement like, “Interesting article”.


Create varied, interesting content

A good personal brand thrives on offering added value to people in your network. This means a good mix of curated content, which should consist partly of your own content, but can also include interesting articles from relevant media or shares from other experts in the industry. A good way to illustrate this is to think of your digital channel as a newspaper, and you are the editor-in-chief who prepares the most relevant news for your readers.

Entering into dialogue

Your personal brand benefits from active participation in the online world. Waiting passively for others to like your posts will result in slow progress. However, being proactive by commenting, sharing, tagging others, liking posts, and engaging in open discussions will naturally boost your visibility. This principle holds true for personal branding: it’s better to give than to receive. Look at the people in your network. What interesting posts have they published that you can share? Which interviews or blog posts can you recommend to your followers? Remember “A dialogue leads to connection, which leads to trust, which leads to engagement.” – Seth Godin

Networking offline

Networking is more akin to farming than hunting. It’s crucial to highlight, amidst the extensive discussion about the digital world’s role in personal branding (such as building a brand through social and career networks), the indispensable impact of offline activities. Attending events, showing your face, engaging in further training, participating in conferences, and networking evenings all play a significant role in branding. In essence, the goal is to meet new people in the real world, add them to your network, and—if regular face-to-face interactions aren’t feasible—continue to nurture those relationships digitally.

Keep the ball rolling

Unfortunately, personal branding is not something you can just put on your “to-do list” and check off two days later. If you have decided to strategically build your own brand, then you need to Show perseverance. Of course, this doesn’t mean posting something every day just to be visible – that’s annoying in the long run. But good content should come at “regular-irregular” intervals (in my opinion, there is no key here) so that the branding effect takes place. 

Verena Bender said: “No one, and I’d like to emphasize this again: absolutely no one has become sustainably visible overnight! I have spoken to many well-known personal brands and everyone agrees that it takes constant work and that not everything always runs smoothly. And I’ll tell you something else: personal branding is a process and it’s never finished. Just as we humans continue to develop every day, so too does our personal brand”

Meike Neitz
Meike Neitz
Meike Neitz is the Founder & MD of embassidy, specializing in startup consultancy and tech ecosystem building between Europe and Africa. She is a Digital Ambassador, event MC, and coach in pitch training and storytelling. Her diverse career includes roles in international project management, startup investments, and communications. She is passionate about supporting startups and fostering global tech collaborations.

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