Most people believe that being a successful entrepreneur is all about having the right idea. Based on my years of experience as a startup advisor and investor, I'm convinced that it's more about you as a person.
So how do you develop that reputation such that everyone believes in you, and customers jump to try your solution first? The key points are comparable to those involved in branding a business, as outlined in the new book, "Be Different!: The Key To Business And Career Success," by noted business leader Stan Silverman. You have to stand out from your peers and competitors:
1. Build a reputation for getting any job done, and doing it well.
If you don't have a successful prior startup to demonstrate your ability, it's time to be creative. Pull some examples from your private life, prior jobs, or academia, where you demonstrated personal initiative, determination, and results in overcoming challenges.
It it's too early to show a track record, it may be time to find a partner who believes in you, and can complement your strengths.
Most successful startups I know were built by a team, rather than a lone entrepreneur, so don't be afraid to ask for help.
2. Highlight your expertise and results as a thought leader.
These days, with the pervasive presence of social media, blogs, and online access to information, it's easy to get your message out there, and engage a following.
People need to see you as an "influencer," who is able to sell your new ideas, as well as communicate the future.
For example, Elon Musk has long been a bold and provocative thought leader on space travel. He used his expertise on rocket ships to sell the future potential in interviews, blogs, and public speaking opportunities, long before he started SpaceX as a company.
3. Demonstrate honesty and integrity in everything you do.
Investors and customers do not want to deal with entrepreneurs or startups whose reputations are tarnished or questionable.
For brand image, it simply means truthfully communicating your challenges, and then putting in the honest legwork to address those challenges.
Without excuses or disavowing responsibility, you must deliver on all promises, past and present, pay attention to the common good, and surround yourself with people offering solid character and a positive attitude. Show total respect for all customers and investors.
4. Show that you are a leader who others want to work for.
A little known fact is that potential investors, including myself, often visit a startup to gauge the level of respect and commitment of employees to their leaders.
Dissent in your team is the quickest way to kill an investment, and customers will tell you it is the quickest way to kill a brand.
5. Always project a positive attitude of a world of possibilities.
Entrepreneurs with positive, but rational, attitudes are supported and move forward with their plans.
Those with a negative attitude, including competitor bashing, do not. When starting a business, as we all know, there will be difficult periods, and we want to know you will keep going.
Investors, for example, listen for the words you use when you are faced with a specific difficulty. Instead of saying, "I have a problem," you might say, "I am faced with an unexpected opportunity." Stakeholders want to hear about creative solutions, not problems.
In addition, unlike a business brand, a personal brand is broader than just one business segment. An entrepreneur with a great personal brand, such as Elon Musk, can work in any number of segments influencing people and the market. Your name is your brand.