5 personal branding mistakes startup founders should avoid

Done right, a founder’s personal brand can act as an asset to their startup

Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are arguably two founders who have successfully conquered personal branding. However, even they have had their failings. In the 90s, Bill Gates was considered a bit of a jerk. He was known for bullying his employees. He also did very little to counter perception that Microsoft was using its money and power to stifle other tech companies and hinder innovation. That’s quite different when you consider his reputation as benevolent philanthropist today.

Zuckerberg has stumbled as well. Just last year, he dealt with scathing responses to his attempts to force Hawaiian landowners to sell him their properties. Seeing the damage his reputation and personal brand were taking, he opted to back away from those efforts.

Both men were able to recover from their mistakes, in large part because they were rich and established enough to weather the storm. For new startup founders this may not be the case. Instead, the best approach is avoiding these five personal branding mistakes in the first place.

1. Trying to Lead With a Personal Brand

Personal branding cannot overcome poor products and services. They definitely cannot overcome poor treatment of customers, employees, or communities. Creating great products and services, and implementing great customer support processes should always be the first priority. Only then is it time to focus on personal branding.

2. Drawing Attention Away From Corporate Branding

Don’t confuse personal branding with celebrity. This can draw attention away from startups, and build resentment among partners, employees, and investors. For big brands like Facebook and Tesla, having a CEO who is a bit of a celebrity is sustainable, even beneficial. For smaller startups, it’s a distraction. It can result in too much focus on one person to the cost of the startup.

One brand that stands out as knowing when to put corporate branding first is Kiasu Print. By offering a wide variety of products related to printing, and having exceptionally detailed product descriptions, they easily establish themselves as a reputable company that knows their niche. This is a case where recognizing that the corporate brand is much more important than any company principal’s personal brand is key.

3. Failing to Focus on Showing Leadership

Trustworthiness, thought leadership, and expertise should be center to any personal branding efforts. These aren’t things that can be faked. Leaders with the best personal brands understand their industries. They start by building relationships with influencers. Then, they do the hard work of becoming influencers themselves. This is done by creating relevant content, being responsive to customers and others, and never being afraid to express strong opinions.

Also read: Branding is fundamental to digital marketing, and here are 7 rules to live by

4. Creating a Personal Brand That Cannot Sustain Reality

It’s one thing to establish a personal brand that focuses largely on certain aspects of a founder’s persona. It’s also acceptable to make a personal brand a bit larger than life. On the other hand, it is a huge mistake to concoct a personal brand that is not based in reality. The truth is, people talk. Ex employees and former partners, even well meaning acquaintances can purposefully or unintentionally torpedo personal brands that have been fabricated.

5. Never Reading Your Own Press

The phrase, ‘don’t read your own press’ was originally coined as a means to discourage people from getting caught up in their own celebrity. When it comes to CEOs, this isn’t good advice. Today, reading your own press includes taking in negative feedback as well as positive. By doing so, it’s possible to find potential cracks in reputation or areas where branding efforts are falling flat. It’s much easier to fix personal branding gaffes if they are caught early and dealt with proactively.

Done right, a founder’s personal brand can act as an asset to their startup. Then, even if that venture fails, a personal brand can be key to one’s ability to shake off that failure and successfully move on to another. Several Asian entrepreneurs have managed to accomplish the difficult of personal branding quite beautifully.


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A Roadmap to Personal Branding for Geoprofessionals: Part 2

In our previous post on personal branding, my colleague Tonya Kauhi walked through how to define your persona—the qualities that make you, you. We originally intended to do this series in two posts, but realized it makes sense to break them up into three posts so you can focus on one step at a time. For this post, I’ll talk about how to define your promise, and in our third post next week we’ll talk about how to promote your personal brand story.

What is a promise?

When someone asks where you get your hair cut, you might say something along the lines of, “Oh, I go to this woman who works out of her home because it’s a very cozy environment and she understands my hair type.” Or maybe you respond, “I go to MasterCuts because it’s affordable and I can walk in any day of the week without an appointment.”

There’s a reason we use the same hair stylist, babysitter, pet sitter, carpenter and other professional service providers again and again. While there are a number of qualified people out there with similar skills, what makes the one we choose special is the unique value that person or company provides to us.

As a geoprofessional, you also have a unique value that you bring to your clients. This is what we call your promise. Whether you’re just starting out in your career like me, or further along like Tonya, knowing the unique value that you bring to clients and your team will distinguish your work from others and help your company earn work, secure your role on key projects and provide insights that can help you further your career.

How to Define your Promise

To start defining your promise, ask yourself the following questions, spending approximately five minutes on each question.

What makes you unique?
Consider your strengths and skills. What do other people say about you when they are giving you kudos or feedback? Think about the path you took to get you where you are today. Every one of us has a different background that gives us a unique way of approaching our work.

Additional questions to contemplate:

  • When working in a team, what role do you usually fill?
  • What came across as the most positive aspect of your work in your last performance review?

What are the results someone will achieve by working with you?
Think about your persona attributes that we covered in the first part of this series. How do these translate into improved work products and increased value? For example, if you are a GIS analyst and your persona attributes are creativity and willingness to work hard, those might translate into beautiful maps with a good eye for color and that you meet all of your deadlines.

Additional questions to contemplate:

  • Why do clients go to you rather than someone else?
  • What do you do differently than others in your profession?

What personality characteristics make people interested in you?
Think about your passions, personal history, and what you do for fun. Do you volunteer for an important cause? Have you traveled the world? Are you hoping to change the world? Do you have a background in a field unrelated to your job?

Additional questions to contemplate:

  • What drove you to your career path?
  • What makes you stay in your career?

Next Steps

Next week we’ll post our third and final segment of this series on how to combine your persona and promise to promote your personal brand. If you want to get a jump start on that, or work the first two step in more depth, you can download the workbook Mapping your Unique Value: a Roadmap to Personal Branding (PDF – 565KB) that Tonya and I put together along with our co-presenter Amber Raynsford of The Watershed Company for a recent workshop at the 2014 Washington GIS Conference hosted by the Washington State Chapter of The Urban & Regional Information Systems Association (WAURISA). You can also see our slides from the workshop.

If you want to hear about this topic in person, Tonya is presenting on it this September at GeCo in the Rockies 2014.

Personal Branding for Doctors Made Simple

personal branding for doctorsWhen you went to medical school, you probably never imagined that you’d have to attract “customers” and market yourself as a brand.

Instead, you likely subscribed to the Field of Dreams approach to business. Build it, and they will come. All you had to do was apply yourself to your studies, survive med school, create your practice, and the patients would be flocking to your doorstep.

But then you opened your practice and realized that being listed on the health insurance companies’ rosters wasn’t sufficient. Your practice isn’t growing at the rate you had hoped, and you’re beginning to realize that you aren’t just a doctor, but a marketer, and a personal brand in your own right.

Why Branding Is Important for Doctors and Solo Practitioners

Establishing and upholding your brand is important for several reasons:

  • It differentiates you from the other hundreds or thousands of doctors in your area.
  • It gives you the confidence to share what it is you do for people, when you’re in a social setting.
  • It creates an emotional connection between you and your patients.
  • It helps the people you meet become your ambassadors, referring their network to you.
  • It builds your reputation (and reputation is everything).

Personal Branding for Doctors: How to Brand Your Practice in 6 Easy Steps

Now that you understand the importance of having a personal brand, how do you actually create one? While there are steps you can take to create the brand, the first (and most important) is to know who you are and why you do what you do, and who it is that you help. Everything else will stem from this.

1. Know Yourself

Why did you become a doctor? It certainly wasn’t because it was a quick path to wealth and fame. You worked hard and put in many a late night (and early morning) to get where you are today. Understanding your driving force will help you communicate and connect better with potential and existing patients.

2. Know Your Audience

It’s important in every industry to understand and communicate who you work with, but possibly even more so in the medical field. If you are a pediatrician, you will have a different audience than if you are a plastic surgeon.

If you are a gynecologist, let’s just say that you won’t be targeting men. When you market yourself in any way, especially in face to face interactions, you’ll want to lead with who it is you help.

3. Develop Your Voice

This may be the easiest step of all… and the hardest. You already have a voice. You’ve had one since you were a little kid running around with a plastic stethoscope. You still use it when you talk to family and friends.

Unfortunately, you’ve suppressed that voice in your conversations with patients and potential patients. Why? Because you want to come across as professional, knowledgeable, and as someone who garners respect.

Put yourself in the patient’s shoes for a moment. Many are anxious at best, terrified at worst, and they don’t want to talk to a textbook. They want to speak to a human being who can empathize with them and support them in whatever they are going through.

Being educated doesn’t have to equate to being robotic. Find your natural, conversational tone, and allow it to shine through.

4. Create Your Value Proposition (What Makes You Different)

You are just one tiny voice amidst thousands. So what makes you different?

What is it about you or your practice that sets you apart from others in your field, and how will that affect your potential patients? Are you a marathon runner with personal experience in getting your body into optimal shape?

“Do you have a sense of humor that puts your patients at ease? Is your waiting room state of the art with personal entertainment systems so everyone isn’t forced to watch soap operas?”

Even better, do you instruct your office staff to schedule appointments far enough apart that patients spend little to no time in your waiting room? These are the things that will set you apart from your competition and have new patients knocking down your door.

5. Uphold your Brand

Now that you’ve put all of this effort into establishing your brand… make sure you stay true to it. Word of mouth travels fast.

With websites like Healthgrades.com and ratemds.com, patients do their due diligence before visiting a doctor. Your reviews speak for you and if they aren’t good, you’ll never have the opportunity to prove them wrong.

6. Have an Amazing Business Card

You may think that as a doctor, you don’t need to network. If you’d like to grow your practice and thrive as a medical practitioner, you’ll need to abandon that way of thinking.

You’ll need to be out in the community with your 30 second “commercial” in mind, and business card at the ready. While the commercial will break the ice and create the connection with potential patients (or ambassadors of your brand), the business card is the tangible piece they will take away from your meeting.

This business card needs to be beautiful, professional, and most importantly… memorable. A unique design on quality cardstock will ensure that your card doesn’t end up in the discard pile.

Working as a doctor does not make you exempt from the world of business and marketing. By creating a solid brand and upholding that brand, you will have a constant stream of new patients, and a stable of happy existing patients singing your praises.



Do You Use Wikipedia for Personal Branding? via @writerspotlight

Until recently, personal branding was not as popular as it is today. All it involved was having a simple business card. Today, though, the tables have turned and personal branding is heard in every niche, more than the regular digital marketing or typical business promotion strategies. But, before discussing the idea of Wikipedia for personal branding, it is important to know the exact meaning of personal branding and its importance.

What is Personal Branding?

Personal branding is a process by which businessmen, entrepreneurs and individuals who wish to become a known name differentiate themselves by stating or articulating their Unique Value Proposition, either professional, personal or both. Personal branding may be easy or difficult to execute, depending on the competition that exists in a particular niche. It is leveraged across various platforms like social media and reputed sites, with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal.

With personal branding one can increase his/her recognition as the face of a brand or as an expert in a particular field, thus enjoying a good reputation, appearing more credible to clients, excelling in their career faster, and helping their company have more business and become dominant in the market.

This process of self-positioning was first spoken about in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in his classic book, “Think and Grow Rich.” For an individual to establish as a brand, three things are cited as necessary, and those are:

  1. Value Proposition – what does that individual stand for?
  2. Differentiation – How is that particular individual different from others?
  3. Marketability – Good reasons for an individual to be marketed?

So, can Wikipedia help you with personal branding, with respect to all the points mentioned above? The simple answer is YES.

Build Your Personal Brand with Wikipedia

The different ways Wikipedia can help you build your personal brand are actually pretty exciting. Taking your reputation, authenticity, prestige and credibility to a different level is actually very easy when you have a Wikipedia page or your own Wikipedia articles doing all the talking on your behalf.

Some of the benefits of having a Wikipedia page include:

  1. A Wikipedia page will help you establish your expertise in your field. The first step towards establishing your expertise is to know what exactly it is you want people to know you for. This is a little sensitive as every niche has its own competition and recognizing this beforehand will help. Your own Wikipedia page makes your job easy because the pages usually rank high on search engines for a wide range of search queries, meaning it can instantly put you on the first page of Google and other search engines for terms related to your field.
  1. A Wikipedia page will help you tell people about your achievement. If you are one of those people who wish to make it big in your career, become the face of your brand, or get known as an expert, apart from working hard, there is something else you need to do. You need to tell people about your achievement and what you are really about. With Wikipedia pages, articles you can easily do this and reach greater heights a lot faster than with your own blog page alone.

Tips for Creating Your Own Wikipedia Page

Now that you know a Wikipedia page can help you with your personal branding, it is time to know how to create a Wikipedia page for yourself.

Wikipedia page creation is a simple process but with stringent rules. What makes Wikipedia rules stringent? Wikipedia does not entertain any kind promotion on its pages. That’s the basic rule.

Now, let’s consider the normal tendency we humans have, and that is self-promotion. The more we know about something or someone, the more our content about them is likely to become promotional. And it is not any different when it comes to self-creating a Wikipedia page or article about yourself. Even when you manage to create a non-promotional content, that content is unlikely to have a neutral tone.

So, what’s your best option for creating a non-promotional Wikipedia page?

The best option to create your Wikipedia page or articles is to hire an expert writer. There are organizations that offer Wikipedia page creation services where experienced writers create the content for you without violating Wikipedia policy. This is in compliance with rules laid down by Wikipedia. The best thing about hiring experts to create your Wikipedia page is you have better control over the neutrality of content that appears on your Wikipedia page, and that can minimize the risk of Wikipedia deleting your page.

With your Wikipedia page, articles sailing through the site’s approval process, you can tell the story of your company or business to a larger audience, as well as add photos of your products. Most importantly, the Wikipedia page can help you generate traffic to your site, build credibility and significantly grow your brand online.

See Also: How to Build a Solid Reputation Online as a Writer.



Personal Branding: What Makes You Different from Others?

How much have you really thought about your personal branding? If you are currently looking for a new job, you are very well aware that the number of people looking for jobs outnumbers the jobs that are now available. 
If you happen to be one of those job seekers, you realize that you are competing against the odds.

The question is:

“How can you make yourself stand out when there are so many other candidates pursuing the same job?”

The answer is personal branding by focusing on what makes you unique.

Let’s assume that you have an outstanding CV and that you make it to the top of the stack of CVs of people to be called for an interview. You, and maybe nine or ten other equally qualified people for the position, that is.
 Because companies have so many candidates to choose from, they are interviewing more people so that they can select the “best.”

When you are lucky enough to be invited to an interview, it is essential that you have gone through the personal branding process and are ready to sell yourself, to let the interviewers know what makes you unique, what added value you can bring to the position- in other words, why you are the best person for the job. 

By doing some basic personal branding preparation, you can determine your uniqueness and where you should focus your attention.

1. The first step in this personal branding process is to identify your five strengths.

These strengths are the areas where you do very well.

This may take some thought on your part. What are your strengths? Think about previous performance appraisals – what was said or written about you? What would your co-workers or ex-bosses say about you?

List the skills and experiences you have that would be required in the type of job you are seeking. For instance, a technical job would focus on programs, languages, and platforms, so e.g. if you have 5 years of Java or C++ experience, then write it down. If you have 10 years of project management experience, managing projects with budgets of up to $30m, then this is going to sound more impressive than just saying you are an experienced Project Manager.

Give some thought to those skills in which you excel, those that are referred to as the “soft skills.” These skills can be viewed as transferable – you can take them with you to any job you hold. Examples of these skills are your communication and people skills, or your time-management and project-management skills, or your ability to build strong relationships, or your ability to influence others.

Lastly, think of the personal traits that make your personal branding unique. Maybe you never miss deadlines, or perhaps you are willing to do above and beyond what is asked, or perhaps you have a great attitude. (Don’t dismiss these traits-many people have been fired for negative personal traits rather than for lack of knowledge).

When you have identified your five strengths, make a list of those strengths and some examples of when those strengths have helped you achieve results on the job. It will be essential that you can not only identify your strengths, but that you also have examples and stories of times when you demonstrated those strengths and your personal branding in the past.

2. The next step in the personal branding process is to look at the job postings and ads.

In fact, look at several job postings that would be of interest to you. Your goal is to find key words and phrases. For this exercise, don’t limit yourself to geographical location. Look at jobs of interest located anywhere. 

When you have several postings, read each word and sentence carefully, taking notes as you do. What are they looking for? What words appear consistently in almost every posting?

Now, take a piece of paper and divide it in half. On one side of the paper write, “What they are looking for,” and on the other side, “What I have to offer.” Each time you apply for a position, it will be invaluable for you to know how you stand against what they are looking for. This exercise will help you see how close a match you are and where you should focus.

I can’t tell you how many CVs I receive every day where the applicants do not seem to have thoroughly read or understood what the requirements are. I keep receiving CVs of IT consultants for senior business development roles or graduates applying for Director roles – these people are only wasting their and my time as their applications get immediately rejected.

3. Your last step in the personal branding process is to add your personal branding (i.e. your uniqueness) to the “What I have to offer” list.

Some postings will list additional skills required, which make it easier for you to see what is important to them.

An example would be, “Must have excellent communications skills, strong organizational skills, and be a willing team player.” If these words appear in most of your posting examples, then make sure that these are a part of your focus. Can you work these words and your five strengths into the interview to demonstrate your fit – and then some? Some postings will be more vague 
about what it takes to get the job done and will require reading between the lines to determine what other skills are necessary.

In summary, by narrowing your uniqueness to these five basic points, you can guide the conversation to include this information. By focusing on five strengths, you will be prepared with examples of times when you have used these strengths. 

Whenever possible, give examples to show how you have “been there and done that,” and can do it again. It will be necessary to demonstrate your personal branding and that you have what it takes, and then some, to be unique in this market.

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Personal Branding: Where to Start When You Don’t Know How

Launching a personal website, launching a brand, launching a business. These were some of the key search terms on Google when people wanted to begin building a brand. Many of the personal branding articles share ambiguous advice without real actionable steps to act upon. Launching your brand does not need to take months and months of preparation. What it does require is countless hours sitting in front of a computer and a determined mind to get things done. Here is the secret formula to launching your brand in a nutshell: Vision + Plan + Action= Brand. Decide what you want to do. Decide how you are going to do it. Do it. That’s basically it, but don’t worry. I’ll elaborate.

Design your vision.
Launching your personal brand is easy when you can visualize exactly what it is you want to create. You can design your vision in a variety of ways by thinking through various aspects. You must uncover your unique purpose that drives your passion. With purpose fueled by passion, you are able to imagine all the possibilities available to you and paint a clear picture in your mind of what your brand looks like, who it touches and what it communicates.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What do I want to share?
  • What collateral materials must I create?
  • How do I want to be seen by others?
  • What is in my personal inventory?

Having a clear picture of what you want the final product to look like will guide you in the creation process. If you are not crystal clear on what you want, it will become very easy to get distracted because you are not sure of where you are going. Make sure that you are committed to your vision and ready to begin designing your blueprint to success.

Create a plan.
Once you have a picture in your head of what you want to create, you can begin to put together a plan of execution. Think of your brand as a puzzle comprised of many pieces that need to fit together. You have your design, communications, marketing, messaging, aesthetics, etc. Create a spreadsheet and give yourself tasks to complete each day. Below is an example.

Week 1 – Website Design

  1. Monday: Design simple wordmark, pick colors and fonts
  2. Tuesday: Write professional bio
  3. Wednesday: Write contact page
  4. Thursday: Write blog post
  5. Friday: Design website homepage

The most important part of the plan is setting and meeting deadlines. If you do not hold yourself accountable, you will not be successful in creating or maintaining your brand. By breaking up projects into small manageable tasks, you can begin to see progress as you cross each item off your to-do list. Have something or someone to hold you accountable.

Take action!
The last step is to launch. Don’t get so caught up in the planning that no action is taken. Remember that it will not be perfect and doesn’t have to be perfect. If you wait until you are 100% satisfied, you will never launch. You are your own worst critic. Publish the website, start the blog, get on Twitter and figure it all out as you go along. It is a learning process and adjustments and improvements will constantly be made.

Guest Expert:

Emmelie De La Cruz is speaker, trainer and consultant in the areas of social media and personal branding. Through her courses and workshops, she teaches millennials how to use social media strategically and develop a digital identity that will help them succeed professionally. When she’s not working with students, she’s training higher education administrators on social media and managing John Jay College’s student life channels. Meet Emmelie on Twitter (@EmmelieDeLaCruz) or learn more at

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Personal Branding Video Shoots

Personal Branding Video Shoots in Johannesburg

Keen to ramp up the impact of your profile or platform?

Go on, I know you want to! Even if the thought of facing a video camera leaves you breathless. No worries. I’ll be right beside you every step of the way, guiding you to present the best of who you are and what you offer. Together we can explore a range of video shoot options for you, in our Johannesburg studio or on location, depending on your personal or business objectives. Then it’s lights, camera, action . . . and we roll!

We brainstorm in advance to create the best setting and style for you. It’s also an idea to bring along something personal to add character to your setup, such as a signature mug or journal, for example. The sky’s the limit in terms of creativity but we make sure to keep everything aligned with your personal and professional brand. Tip for your outfits: avoid busy patterns and wear well fitted clothing that hugs your curves. It’s more flattering on camera and yes, your curves are sexy! Clear, bold or pastel colours that complement you work well, or else neutrals, in each case considering your choice of setting and/or backdrop.

For videos that feature you presenting your content, I help you prepare a compelling script before your shoot, so that we can focus on filming – and your rockstar presentation – during your session. Scripts aren’t essential but they’re brilliant for refining your message and adding impact, whether or not you want to use a teleprompter. Here’s a 3 minute sample video from a studio shoot. You’ll see that it includes some slides and branding, which are completely optional and can be tailored to your requirements in various ways.

Professional Make-Up

You can choose to do your own make-up or have it professionally done as part of your video shoot package. To help you shine on camera (without having any unwanted shine), I recommend the professional route. It contributes to gorgeous results, tailored to the specific lighting conditions. This can include touch-ups and tweaking during your shoot, to complement your outfits and add variety to your video portfolio.

Feeling unsure, nervous, excited?

That’s perfectly natural. Video shoots are collaborative, creative processes, which means venturing into the unknown. This can be scary and exhilarating at the same time. It can also swing open the door for a quantum leap into your genius zone – a place of pure joy, success and fulfilment. The fastest way to get there is to have faith in your inner nudge and take action now. Remember, I’m here to help you shine!

Do you have different video shoot requirements?

If you’re looking for a specific Johannesburg-based video shoot for individual, business or training purposes, to capture an event or showcase a product, I can certainly assist personally or through the commercial business that I co-own with my husband Dave, offering a range of genres including architecture, aerial, corporate, commercial, events, interiors, modelling portfolios, portraiture and products.

Since launching our company Outdoor Video & Photographic in January 2001, we’ve been providing bespoke photography and videography to help corporate, commercial, entrepreneurial and individual clients share their message effectively and maximise the power of their marketing. For more information, visit our website www.ovpimaging.com (2014 SA Best Photographic Blog Winner, 2015 and 2016 Runner-up).

Our company’s success is borne out by long term relationships with blue chip clients such as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Barrow Group, Capital Property Fund, Group Five, FirstRand, Yamaha SA and NFB Financial Services, among others.


A transformational video shoot is an invaluable investment in your personal fulfilment and professional success. We offer standard packages or bespoke solutions to suit your requirements – however quirky, romantic or businesslike.

Video Shoots from R6,000 each

For details and bookings, email naomi@naomiestment.com or call +27 83 307 7694


Video Shoots