Experts outline a plan of attack to get your company and your personal brand noticed.
15 min read
Not too long ago, an entrepreneur named Matthew messaged me on Facebook with a refreshingly honest request for help, writing: “This is my fifth year and I would honestly like to know how to get my name out there.” What he had in mind, Matthew continued, was, “getting my company in magazine columns… even magazine covers…”
What he wanted to create, he wrote, was … buzz. It’s what all entrepreneurs want, typically in the form of three overarching goals:
- Create a brand that is a household name, or at least is well-known within its industry.
- Build a reputation as a founder respected by employees and customers alike.
- Get recognized as a thought leader.
There is no hack that can instantly deliver any of these items, but that first one — building a business/personal brand that gets industry recognition — is definitely attainable in a relatively short amount of time if you put the right strategies to work (not to mention a lot of hard work.) We consulted with a range of experts to help Matthew, and any other aspiring entrepreneur, achieve that much-coveted press and brand buzz.
1. Getting press coverage
“The one thing I really hated was that people would pitch stories that clearly showed they had never looked at my publication,” Robin Schatz told me.
Schatz is a friend of mine and the former assistant managing editor for healthcare coverage at Crain’s New York Business (as well as a former editor at Bloomberg News and Businessweek and an expert freelancer). She has seen a lot of pitches and was routinely shocked at just how uninformed many of them were.
“They saw I was the healthcare editor and would pitch me consumer stuff about yoga classes. Or stories about nutrition. Things that had nothing to do with the business of health care,” Schatz said.
“They would pitch things from, say, Wisconsin or somewhere, and send me an email blast,” Schatz continued, noting that her publication is based solely in New York — It’s right there in the name, Crain’s New York Business. “They made no attempt to tailor the pitch to my publication.”
Takeaway advice: Don’t contact any newspaper/magazine/website editors to write about your company until you’ve looked at their publications and understood what they cover.
Then, offer something relevant, new and newsworthy that they haven’t written about a hundred times before.
How do you do that? Start by asking yourself: Has my company created a product/service that specifically addresses a common pain point? Think of Sara Blakely and Spanx, Steve Jobs and Apple, etc. Next, ask yourself, What is it about my company that is unique?
“If I read one more pitch about somebody who ‘started his company on the kitchen table or in his garage’…” Schatz told me, sighing. ”What makes that company tick? What makes an entrepreneur special?” These are the elements of a good pitch, she said.
Even if you have no earth-shaking new product to present, think whether your company has formed a new partnership or strategy whose history might be informative for your fellow entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, journalists are looking for a “good story.” Here’s an example:
Schatz writes about food startups for Forbes. And a young couple who’d started a Colorado-based pancake-mix company called Birch Benders pitched her about their relationship with their mentor. He’s a smart, experienced food entrepreneur whose business specializes in peanut butter.
But this mentor isn’t just any food entrepreneur: Justin Gold founded the nut butter company Justin’s, which in 2016 was acquired by Hormel for $286 million (Gold continues to direct innovation and sustainability for the brand).
Schatz’s resulting article, “What Pancakes Learned From Peanut Butter,” ended up as a fun narrative about how this mentor relationship evolved and helped the startup pancake company take off. It related how Birch Benders co-founder Lizzi Ackerman approached Gold at his company’s booth at an industry expo, presented herself as a fellow Coloradan and boldly invited him to coffee. It detailed how his growing interest (and small stake in the company) helped Birch Benders grow to 16 employees and a distribution level that today includes 9,000 retail outlets.
The story undoubtedly lifted Birch Benders’ name/buzz value in the business world. But from Schatz’s journalistic point of view, it was also a “good story,” offering color, quirkiness and advice for entrepreneurs interested to read how two food groups met and fell in love.
2. Getting speaking gigs at conferences
“This year, I think I’m on track to do 55 conferences,” Jess Ekstrom, the 27-year-old founder and CEO of Headbands of Hope, recently told Entrepreneur.
For seven years, Ekstrom’s Raleigh, N.C.-based for-profit company has sold beautiful, whimsical headbands for customers, and has also donated them to children with cancer.
That makes Headbands of Hope a message business; and early on, Ekstrom discovered that speaking at conferences helped her get that message out. “We’ve grown every year of our existence, and the times when I’m speaking the most, you can clearly see spikes in sales during certain months that I’m speaking at a larger conference that has 3,000 to 5,000 people,” Ekstrom said.
“It started for me just as a way to get the word out about my business, and it’s turned into this almost whole other business of its own,” she continued. “It not only helped with the exposure of my company but also as a way for me to get paid in order to talk about my business.”
Recently, Ekstrom said, she’d spoken at such conferences as Leadercast, Micron and Junior League; and though her followers might expect to see her at women’s conferences, she said, she’s also regularly hired to speak to techies and data analysts.
Huh? “I was curious why that kept happening,” Ekstrom admitted, laughing. “And I realized that a lot of times, speakers get booked to be a ‘breath of fresh air.’” Those very different audiences provided her a breath of fresh air, too. They taught her not to “funnel” herself into speaking to people just like her. “Oftentimes, you can be even more effective speaking to a group that you don’t know,” Ekstrom pointed out.
“I speak about meaningful work and using purpose to navigate failures,” she added. “I’m very transparent about mistakes I’ve made with my company.”
Takeaway advice: Being a speaker isn’t about using your time to tell a room full of people about your business. This isn’t a pitch. Use examples from your business to point out bigger takeaways that the audience can learn from and apply to their business.
“Then use that to develop a keynote,” Ekstrom said.
So how do you get a gig? “There are so many conferences popping up,” Ekstrom pointed out. “Entrepreneur conferences, women’s conferences, chamber events — all are looking for speakers.” Start at the local level, then use that local experience to pitch yourself to even bigger conferences, via testimonials and referrals. What’s key, Ekstrom advised, is letting the world know you’re a speaker by posting that status on your Linkedin profile or online bio.
So to become known as a speaker, Matthew, first craft a compelling and informative story to tell other entrepreneurs, then get the word out that you’re ready, willing and able to jump on stage (even for free when you’re starting out.)
But don’t worry, your services won’t be free forever. “It’s really not too long of a road to get well paid,” Ekstrom said. Someone just starting out can charge $500 to $2,000, she said; with a few testimonials to your name, you can jump to $3,000. The compensation Ekstrom received was considerable, “It was one way I was able to fund my business without investors.”
Today, the online course about speaking that Ekstrom offers and a book deal with HarperCollins are alternate ways she’s using to promote Headbands of Hope. But, overall, her advice for fledgling speakers is to just do it. “The more you speak, the better you’ll get,” Ekstrom said. “So, find excuses. Hold the microphone. Get comfortable.”
“Life’s most defining moment is when you discover what you want and then what you do about it,” Ekstrom says on her demo reel. What she tends to talk about in speeches is “how to turn your vision into reality.” This a theme anyone can take and run with, so use it as a jumping off point to craft your own presentation.
3. Offer strong content online, maybe with professional help
“We always want clients to have a really strong content presence on their own website first,” Kelsey Raymond says. She’s CEO and co-founder of Influence & Co., a St. Louis, Mo.-based marketing-content company that helps businesses build the buzz they crave.
“Some businesses approach our company with that content already in hand: a great blog they’re publishing twice a week, white papers, an email newsletter,” Raymond told Entrepreneur, where many of her clients regularly write as contributors.
“But a lot of our clients don’t have that foundation yet,” Raymond continued. “So, then we will start helping them create their blog and having consistent content coming from people at their company. And we will help them with their email newsletters and white papers or infographics or case studies.
“We really see that if you don’t have that strong
foundation, that if you get articles published on an online publication — and somebody sees your name, then goes to your website and can’t find a lot of information about you — it feels like a disconnect.”
Takeaway advice: Make sure your web site thoroughly explains your company, and create a blog that displays your expertise and offers useful information.
Determine what is useful by asking yourself, “What topics are people asking you throughout your sales process or current clients are asking you?” Raymond suggested. “What are the questions that you get a ton of?
“The second thing to consider is who from your company should be the authors of these blog posts?” said Raymond. Ideally, a company’s founder should be contributing — or at least someone with an outward-facing role like sales, she said. Raymond’s company does not ghostwrite articles for clients, and she encourages people to use their authentic voice. “People don’t connect with companies; they connect with other people,” she said.
Start locally (Raymond): “The strategy that we recommend that we see works best is, we always want clients to have a really strong content presence on their own website first.”
Choose your target publication(s) for relevance, not status (Raymond): “Just because your target publication is a huge ‘name’ publication doesn’t mean it’s going to be most valuable to you. There’s a ton of niche and trade publications that have really engaged audiences with the people that you’re actually trying to reach.”
Choose a content writer or company you can afford: If you’re just starting out, consider a solo freelancer from Fiverr or Upwork or a similar network. The content execs quoted here are good at their trade, but they’re not cheap: Tailored Ink gives clients two pieces a month for $2,000 without guaranteed placement. Influence & Co. charges $3,000 up to $50,000 a month. Contently, the largest such company out there, offers a subscription model starting at $24,000 for access to its Talent Network. Individual assignments are then negotiated with writers.
Beware of link sellers: Never engage with a company that claims to be selling links within articles that they claim they’re posting on various web sites. No reputable publication allows this, and any links you bought will immediately be erased when they are discovered. This is not buzz, and these links will do nothing for your site’s SEO value.
Give your hired writer breathing space (Lazauskas): “One of the biggest misperceptions is expecting an article to be perfect right away … you have to get a sense of how you each work. So, usually the first draft you get from a writer isn’t going to be exactly what you want.” Also, be clear: “You have to give a really good brief and be clear about what you want to be changed in terms of voice and tone, in terms of the amount of reporting involved. You want to lay that out as much as possible.” Also, be patient! “I think people assume that writers can work way quicker than they can. They’ll say, ‘I want to pay you $100; you should be able to do this in a couple of hours.’ Good writing takes time.”
Realize that volume isn’t as important as passion (Lung): “If you’re in a red ocean, there are already a lot of sharks swimming around, so volume probably isn’t as important as some people think it is. You could probably better use your time to really think about what you’re actually passionate about, based on your personal experiences and what you do for a living, and how that translates into advice columns.”
Be helpful, not “sales-y” (Lung): “There’s been a whole shift in digital marketing toward creating content that’s helpful rather than sales-y, and it’s been happening for 20-plus years; but I feel that a lot of small business owners especially still don’t really grasp this; and when they finally have the budget to get the word out about their business or personal brand, they’re too focused on what they’re selling and making.”
Be ready to divulge a few company secrets (Raymond) “Something that we have to coach clients on a lot is that they have to be willing to give up some of the ‘secret sauce’ … We always tell clients that are in consulting or any sort of professional services, ‘You’ve got to be willing to give up … some of the secrets of the things you tell clients when they pay you, because that’s how you’re really going to actually add value to the audience.’”
Be in it for the long haul (Lung): “I always have to explain that, no, content marketing isn’t a two-to-three month play; it’s a 12-month play, and your goal is to create an evergreen library of helpful content — basically, free advice, so people who stumble upon it can actually glean something useful from your experiences.”
Have an end game in mind (Raymond): “What we always talk to clients about is, ‘What action do you want people to take after they’ve read your blog?’ And, for a lot of clients, that action is that they want them to fill out a contact form on their website to get more information about their company. Or they’d like them to subscribe to their blog so they can keep in touch.”
A study of the work Influence & Co. did with app developer Rocksauce Studios, the content company said, resulted in 90-plus pieces of content published across 42 publications; 37,000 shares; and an audience amounting to more than 63 million on social platforms.
Okay, Matthew, that’s our advice on building buzz! Now, go out there and get buzzworthy. We look forward to seeing what you achieve!