The very notion of building my personal brand makes me want to vomit. My dad and my first professional mentors were clear: The company comes before you. For years, I have subjugated myself to the good of the company. I still believe that, to a large degree.
I was once asked to temporarily change my reporting relationship from the CEO to an incoming executive recruit in order to solidify his acceptance. Sure, why not I answered. If it helps us get bigger, faster, I am all in.
In a fiscally tight environment one year, I twice deferred my salary in order to make payroll. It's what you do as CEO, I told my wife and my board. My compensation comes last in order to keep the team motivated.
A few years back, a hotshot rising young star came through town. I had recruited him to speak twice over a two-day period, but in between, he and I got a chance to sit for about three hours. We were both principals in early stage seed funds. I was marketing old school (the company came first) and he was marketing new school (what's good for you is good for the company).
Over the course of those two days, he completely shifted my thinking toward using the current tools to build out my personal brand. His message was clear: "People vote on you, and your company brand comes along for the ride."
Here are five things I focus on in my brand building:
Write a blog
Yes, you are now one of a million writers, and yes, it is a long slog to build an audience. But certain people will judge you if you don't have a voice. I have been writing on my blog for over two years, and get lots of great feedback because of it. It is very easy to set up a blog, regardless of your technical capabilities.
Write for others
Around the same time, I had the opportunity to meet Eric Schurenberg, the managing editor of Inc. magazine, who enjoyed my observations and stories of startup struggles. After reading my blog, he asked me to be a contributing writer. There are many publications that are looking for credible and opinionated writers.
Though it's not my favorite medium, Twitter is where a large subsection of my targeted audience consumes information. So I (@chrisheivly) have to be there. It's not difficult to establish a presence and a methodology to achieve a minimum return.
Every community desperately seeks qualified speakers. There are two things you need to do to effectively prepare yourself. First, get a talk track or two that you are comfortable with and practice it. Second, reach out to meetups, conferences, and business meetings and let them know you are available. It takes some time to build a following, so be patient. You will have to earn your way to larger venues. A video on YouTube of one of my recent talks goes a long way. I also signed up for a new service called Orate that connects emerging speakers with great events around the country. (Full disclosure: I am now an investor.)
Write a book
I did a TEDx Talk talk last year and turned it into a book that is being shopped around by my literary agent. The experience was ultimately gratifying, and I look forward to seeing it in print. If no one bites, I will self-publish, which in turn will create more speaking gigs.
These all take work, but the fruits of my labor are paying off, and it will pay off for you as well. Like all marketing tactics, these take time and smarts to establish, and even more time to optimize your return. You have to be consistent with your message and find your voice, so that your audience can depend on you.
I almost waited too long, but thanks to that hotshot, I am well on my way.