After I founded two startups, I took a break. It was not an intended break. I was at the World Trade Center when it fell, and I was so traumatized that I had a hard time leaving my apartment for anything, let alone work, for about a year.
But I had to support myself, so I decided that I’d try writing. I had already been writing a little for the tech press about what it’s like to be a woman running startups. I had never really been published for anything else. And it was going to be hard to write about my life as a business owner when I was scared to leave my apartment.
So I started writing career advice. And miraculously, my career as a writer took off immediately. I got a column in the Boston Globe, then it was syndicated to more than 200 newspapers, then I got a big book deal, then I launched a blog that Business Week called “the number-one career blog for generation Y.”
As soon as I felt like I could function normally in the world again, I thought...I should be doing more with all this writing stuff. I should start a business. I just didn’t know what to start. So I kept building the brand. I promoted my book, I did speaking gigs, I grew my career blog, and I kept focused on the title of my original print column: Brazen Careerist.
The focus was good, because by the time I had an idea for a company—a career management platform for gen Y—I had a solid brand name to attach to that company to grow it quickly. Brazen Careerist has since been able to expand to offer a range of services—for example, virtual events for recruiting—because the brand gave us a jump-start in marketing and PR.
Many people are able to build for themselves, but turning it into a company is something they get stuck on. Your brand does a lot more for you at the helm of a company. Sure, it’s hard to launch a company, but the benefits to being able to run a business that is not completely focused on you are innumerable. And now that I’ve launched three startups, it’s clear to me that having an established brand allows the company to gain traction much faster.
So how do you do it? Here are five steps.
1. Build a brand that stands for something. It can be anything, really, but it needs to have a life of it’s own, besides just your name. This way you can take the part of it that is not just about you and grow it. In my case, Brazen Careerist was my unique take on career management, but it was career management.
2. Find your paying customers. Most brands have brand enthusiasts, but not all enthusiasts have money. You need to focus on the demographics that are energized by your brand vision but also have money to spend as a result of that.
3. Figure out what your ultimate goal is. If you want to work at the company for a very long time, then creating a company that you don’t sell is fine. But if you want to sell the company, and ultimately go do something else, then you need to have a vision special enough that someone else can incorporate it into their own company—as an acquisition.
4. Accept the reality of a paycut. To build something big, you have to take risks, and one of those is hiring people to help you. By this time, you are probably used to siphoning all the extra cash in your business to your own bank account. Now you will have to start putting that money back into the business because you need high growth to fully leverage a brand’s established market presence.
5. Check your ego. Building a great brand about your own personality and intellect is a huge achievement. But to get to the next stop in your career, you’ll need to let other people get out in front of that brand. One of the most rewarding moments in my own company, Brazen Careerist, was when my co-founders started going on TV to talk about our field with equal authority to my own.
Want more information on this topic? Tune into my webinar, How to Turn Your Personal Brand into a Company on Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. EST. It’s free! You can click here to register.