From the beginning of my career, I always prioritized building a meaningful professional brand and online presence. But when I quit my job in 2014 to launch my own independent public relations agency, I saw it as an opportunity to catapult it to the next level.
The fact is, as a new entrepreneur, you immediately gain a level of freedom and flexibility with your personal brand that you likely didn't have before. You can build a presence on social media free of management's oversight. You can leverage your new title -- founder, owner, president, CEO -- to position yourself as an industry expert or thought leader. And you don't need permission to write or speak publicly on behalf of the company.
While this newfound branding autonomy is amazing for some and nerve-wracking for others, it's important to pursue this opportunity with purpose and confidence to elevate your personal brand and translate it into tangible business success.
Two brands are better than one.
When I started my company, unlike many public relations business owners, I didn't name it "Hart Communications" or "Brian Hart Public Relations". First of all, I would have sounded like all of the aging agencies occupying my space -- and I certainly didn't want that. Secondly, I wanted the brand to represent a team and a vision rather than focusing on one person. And lastly, I wanted to create a distinct brand to grow parallel to my personal brand, not one that could easily be conflated with the other.
Building two distinct brands also allows you to double your digital reach and visibility by giving you two Twitter accounts, two Instagram accounts, a personal LinkedIn account and a company page, and so forth. Better yet, it allows you to cross pollinate between the two by liking and sharing posts from one to another, boosting engagement and tapping into each network. But before you get to that point, you'll want to clean up and enhance your existing personal accounts.
Optimize your digital presence.
During your transition to entrepreneurship, take an inventory of your entire social media presence. That old Myspace page from high school you thought you deleted could still be lingering around. Thoroughly scrub anything unflattering or irrelevant to your professional brand.
Next, update and enhance your profiles. A new company calls for new head shots, so start there and upload those photos to each profile. When you switch over from a candid selfie to a professional shot, it's almost symbolic of your brand shifting into a new epoch. Then, update your bios consistently across each account. And finally, update other details as appropriate and make sure each profile is complete.
Once the profiles are up to snuff, decide which platforms offer the most value to you as a new entrepreneur, and create an active, engaging and relevant presence on them. For me, I decided Twitter and LinkedIn were by far the most important networks to grow my reignited personal brand, so I focused on perpetually expanding my connections and followers, which directly led to several leads and new clients.
Make sure the content you share and conversations you engage in are congruent with your new brand, and keep in mind that your behavior -- both positive and negative -- will be a reflection on your own character and personality, as well as that of your business.
Establish influence and credibility.
As a new entrepreneur, you now have the opportunity to engage the media on your own accord, free of previous media relations policies or restrictions. This is a chance for you to build third-party credibility for yourself and your new business alike by getting featured in the news and quoted as an expert source. This should be a priority, as it is an essential part of earning respect and relevance in your industry, community and among your target customers.
As the new owner of a public relations agency, I had the advantage of being able to take the do-it-yourself approach to building my own media presence early on, and those ongoing efforts -- along with professional accomplishments to back them up -- have yielded awards, influence and a robust digital footprint.
For those new entrepreneurs who lack public relations know-how or simply don't have the time to do it effectively on their own, it's best to seek internal or external help. When you're an entrepreneur, you can't opt out of public relations - neglecting it early on, or at any point in your career as an entrepreneur, is bad public relations.
In today's personality-driven business climate, your individual influence, credibility and relevancy will be key to achieving sustained success. So if you want to set your new venture on a path for success, view your leap into entrepreneurship as a rebirth for your personal brand and a chance to take it to the next level.