5 Questions About Personal Branding

Author says everyone should learn how to tell the world what makes them “special.”

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Dan Schawbel is a master of personal branding: He runs a popular website on the topic and just released a new edition of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future. He says almost everyone can use his branding techniques to improve their careers and boost their earning power. I recently spoke with Schawbel about his ideas and advice. Excerpts:

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How did you first start to realize the importance of personal branding?

I realized the true power of personal branding when I became my own case study. It took me eight months, meeting fifteen people, and getting rejected twice to get my first job out of college at a Fortune 200 tech company. Then, after several months working full-time, I established personalbrandingblog.com, as well as Personal Branding Magazine. I also published articles in the media, started an online TV series called Personal Branding TV, and launched the Personal Brand Awards.

Fast Company wrote about my six-month personal branding journey, and my company hired me internally to be the first social media specialist back in 2007. This title is fairly common in both large enterprises and small firms now. Instead of going through a rigorous interview process, I was being recruited for a job I got to co-create based on my hobby outside of work. My personal brand communicated my expertise and passion to my employer indirectly through a single press article. From that moment on, I was convinced that other people could replicate what I had done for myself and I wrote a book proposal for Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future.

What exactly is personal branding?

Personal branding is the process by which you identify what makes you special, and then communicate that to the world. Your brand is a celebration of who you are, what unique promise of value you can deliver to your employer or clients, and your personality. Everyone in the world has a personal brand, from Oprah to a random doctor in New York City.

Personal branding forces us to take a hard look at ourselves and decide how we want to be positioned in the marketplace and what we want to be known for. You can’t be everything to everyone, which means that you need to have a focused approach so you target a specific audience that would be interested in your services. As a brand, you should have a platform by which you connect with your audience, such as a blog, or a TV program. This way, you can let your audience know you exist and what purpose you serve in their lives.

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What’s the single most important thing people wanting to establish their brand need to do?

You need to brand yourself for the career you want, not the job you have. Your entire branding strategy needs to be focused on your long-term aspirations. This way, you will only attract the opportunities that you’re interested in, and filter the rest out. By commanding your online presence, using keywords, a tag line, written content, and a professional picture of yourself, you can tell the world how you want to be judged and what you’re looking for. I’ve never bought into the “law of attraction,” but the internet has allowed us to use our online presence as a magnet to pull the right people in and repel the wrong people.

Are there common mistakes people make?

People make a lot of mistakes when it comes to personal branding, namely because they want overnight results. Too many rely on Twitter as a branding platform, yet it is increasingly becoming ineffective, since 71 percent of Twitter posts are ignored. One tweet isn’t going to make you famous, or get you a job either. I see a lot of people who over-promote because they don’t understand the most important principle of relationships: providing value before asking for anything in return. I also see a lot of people who spam blog comments, and who are careless about their online profiles. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who don’t even fill out their entire LinkedIn profile.

Does everyone need to think about personal branding, or only those in certain types of professions?

Everyone in the world needs to think about personal branding, from the gardener to the senator. There are certain professions that need to be more concerned about branding, such as real estate agents, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and others in the service industry, where they are selling themselves before any product. Everyone already has a brand, but few people take the time to unlock their unique abilities, and even fewer put their face online for the world to judge.

Everyone is capable of doing great things, but you need to put in the effort in order to be a successful long-term brand that people remember and care about. An unexpected profession where personal branding is important: plumbers. If a plumber comes over and is friendly to you or stays for an extra fifteen minutes without charging you, you will tell your friends about them and they will build their brand and business.

Kimberly Palmer is author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back (Ten Speed Press).