How to build your profile as a female founder

“I’m starting to think my profile could be an asset for the business,” a brilliant female founder confided over a virtual Zoom coffee a couple of weeks back (I miss real life, barista made flat whites and hugging clients hello but that’s a sidebar). “I always want to make it about the business but I think I could be a bit of an asset.”

It’s not the first time I’ve listened to a female entrepreneur try to justify raising her profile. A common thread running through my PR career is brilliant women reluctant to build their personal profiles. There’s a discomfort that comes with self-promotion. At the same time female founders often have to work harder than their male opposite numbers for their leadership to be valued. Shocking weeks away from 2021? Yes. Painfully true? Also yes.

I get it. I’ve built a career developing brand building strategies for startups and their founders. Developing my own profile?  Another story altogether.

As a founder, developing an authentic profile is about sharing your personality and leadership – it’s how you connect with your team, investors, and customers. It’s also how you build industry leadership, attract investment and create new growth opportunities for your business.

Your audience wants to know who you are and what you stand for, and of course, how that plays into your startup’s brand. Here’s how some brilliant founders have navigated the path to building a higher, more authentic profile.

Align your profile to a bigger purpose 

“Purpose” has sadly, become a bit of a marketing buzzword. But the resonance of aligning yourself with a mission that goes beyond your business can be a key ingredient to a sustainable profile. It immediately connects you to a wider conversation that people care about. 

June Angelides, MBE, is an investor, speaker and entrepreneur. As founder of Mums in Tech, having a clear mission has driven the momentum behind her profile.

 “I never really thought about raising my profile. I was doing things that would raise awareness about Mums in Tech, however it kept leading back to people wanting to know more about me, how I had created it and why. Being mission driven was very key to connecting with people. I turned up everywhere with my baby and buggy and passionately talked about wanting to get more women into tech. It was infectious. Everyone wanted to help. I’m sure having adorable babies on site was a big plus too.”

Even as a business of one, having a clear mission, is something we can all do.  Communicating what your stand for creates real clarity around your brand. A starting point can be as simple as supporting a charity you care deeply about.

Shape your thought leadership - authentically

Thought leadership is where female founders can play to their strengths – start meaningful conversations, provide value and respond to the big questions their customers care most about.

Identify the topics you want to focus on; push these to the forefront. Keep it focused – I recommend no more than three. You then of course, become associated with that topic and become the go-to in your space. Super-charge this by making it an extension of your business.

 As founder of financial wellbeing startup, Blackbullion, Vivi Friedgut’s recognised as the go-to commentator on financial health and fintech innovation. “Thought leadership is about knowing what you care about and getting comfortable sharing your perspective on those key industry issues. Yes, it’s about what you know, but as important, is what you can offer to shape the industry and the way people think about it. Lean into your expertise.”

 Vivi says trusting yourself is essential as you develop your thought leadership.  “Here’s the thing: you need to have thoughts and opinions that are original to you.  And be prepared to stand by them.”

The key here is being clear on what you don’t stand for. As a female founder, Vivi has often found herself being invited to comment on the challenges of being a woman in tech.

“I really want to switch up the narrative on the female entrepreneur story. If the story’s about empowerment, I’m in. Otherwise, thank you, no. I’ve missed out on some big media opportunities but being authentic and honest and consistent is more important to me and more aligned with my mission and the culture I am trying to build at Blackbullion. I don’t want to pretend to have opinions I don’t have.

Own your niche – then own it some more

Niching into your expertise is another powerful way to create a distinct profile. Charly Lester, is a freelance CMO, the marketing prowess behind brands like Lumen and widely recognised as the go-to in the world of online dating.

 “I think the key to expertise is knowing your niche. If you can identify a niche, then you can truly 'own it'.  Geek up on it, and become a leading talking head who knows all about that subject.  Once people start identifying you as a leader in that space, the opportunities start coming directly to you, and the more stuff you do, the more your profile builds automatically.”

This is echoed by June. “Having a profile has made a massive difference because there is more data about me out there. People can Google me and read the blogs, newspapers, podcasts and all sorts of mediums I have interacted on and determine if I am credible. It has opened doors in more ways than I could have imagined.”

 Owning your niche makes you easy to find, and easy to follow.

Storytelling connects at a personal level

For female founders, the power of story is often an untapped goldmine. Think Sara Blakeley packaging up Spanx from her front room, or Gwynnie (seriously, we’re friends) starting her Goop newsletter at her kitchen table. 

Storytelling gives you a framework to shape how you share your value, your ideas, your purpose. Your stories help your audience relate to your personal experiences– it makes you all the more relatable, builds trust and relationships.

It happened for June. “The first article that was written about me was by Christine Armstrong when she was at Management Today. She came to a Mums in Tech class and experienced it. That first piece was the start of something. It made me realise how important it was to help the audience understand what we were about. Telling my story was key and overnight, I became an accidental role model. It helped women to look at me and realise that if I can do it, so can they.”

 It’s easy to forget just how powerful our stories can be. Kim Palmer is founder of femtech app Clementine. “It was only once I started telling my story around mental health, stress and the challenges of high performance as a mum, that I realised how much it needed to be heard. As women we can attach judgement to our own stories, feel it’s a weakness to show vulnerability or think we need a glossy version of our narrative. Authenticity always shines through.”

Reframe your relationship with profile

When I work with founders, I encourage them to think about the contribution they’re making through their profile. Think about how your message helps – shared expertise, inspiration, sometimes even entertainment. Being in service to your community immediately shifts the energy.

Charly agrees, “I think there's a big difference between self-promotion, and simply knowing your worth.  The more confident I've become in my abilities, and the more I know I can bring to other peoples' businesses, the more confident I've become in showcasing my skills and achievements.

June adds that having this profile has empowered her to leverage her platform, to create event more impact with her message. 

“It’s important because I now have a platform to encourage people in the world of startups, finance, tech and motherhood. I am a massive advocate of flexible working and I am very intentionally sharing the things I do because I want people to see that it is possible. I also share the ups and downs. I would never want anyone to feel that it is all rosy. I am also able to use my influence and networks to open doors for others and to me,that makes it all worthwhile.”

Know that this is your space, your voice.

Build and lead your community

As founders, part of the creative solution we offer is filling a gap between what our audience is looking for and what the market offers. Growing community is part of this; it’s how we create movements, and sustainable brands.

Vivi explains, “From a business perspective, we’ve always known the value of creating fans before customers. We’ve grown a community that connects our clients, enables conversations and creates a space for them to forge relationships.  Products have been co-created, new collaborations formed and an army of fans has fallen in love with our mission. Those relationships are a huge part of why we’re in business.”

Kim agrees, “The Clementine community is the one place I feel incredibly comfortable showing up.  I’m committed to and utterly invested in what our tribe wants and how we can best serve them.  When you create a community, their success is my success and it’s something I get excited to shout about.”

The quote I may use on repeat is Seth Godin’s: ““People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”

You are your business’ magic. Your voice, your message, your story, all make up a point of difference within a crowded landscape. And in a post-Covid world, where female-led businesses have been most impacted, the world needs you more than ever.  

It’s what I said to my friend, questioning her profile, those weeks back. You are the asset.