Anybody buying what you're selling?

5 Steps to Building a Personal Brand

By Laura Hoxworth

Before we get into it, let’s answer a couple of important questions:

What is a personal brand?

You don’t have to be a corporation or a celebrity to have a brand. You also don’t need a logo or a tagline. In fact, just by existing and doing things on the Internet, you already have a brand (whether you realize it or not). It’s simple: your brand is all of the thoughts, perceptions and emotions that people associate with your name.

These days, your personal brand is closely tied to your online presence. Of course, your offline activities and actions contribute to your brand, too—but your online image is where it really lives. Online, your brand is a combination of two things: what you put online and what others put online about you. If something is connected to your name, it’s part of your digital identity—and your personal brand.

Why should you care?

Your brand is what separates you from everyone else. When your potential new boss Googles your name (as most of them will), is she going to find an online presence that supports and expands on your resume...or just a Twitter feed with pictures of your cat and jokes with your friends? Only one of these will give you a leg up on your competition—and in a tough job market, the smallest edge can make a big difference.

But it doesn't only matter when you’re job hunting. Being active and engaged with the topics that interest you can not only help you network with new professional contacts (and new friends), it can also help you find resources and opportunities you never would have known about otherwise.

When anyone can look you up online, it’s easier than ever (and more important than ever) to make sure they find what you want them to. Here’s the bottom line: Information about you is out there. Are you going to decide what your brand says, or let someone else define it for you?

So, without further ado, here’s five steps to building a standout personal brand:

1. Monitor what’s out there.

The first step is figuring out where you’re starting from. In other words, Google your name and see what comes up. If you have a really common name, add your middle name, your city, a nickname or a username to narrow the results (and consider adding a middle initial to your resume to differentiate yourself). 

The important thing is to be proactive (and protective) with your name. Regularly check your privacy settings on social media sites and ask your friends not to tag you in questionable content. Then, set up some Google alerts with your name to help you monitor your brand in the future. 

2. Find your niche.

Once you know what’s out there, the next step is to figure out how to make it better. Ask yourself this question: What do you want people to associate with your name? If you’re not sure where to start, try sitting down and writing out your values. Start with some general words and qualities: “professional,” “creative,” etc.—then move toward the specifics: the industries or topics that you’re passionate about. Challenge yourself to put it into words by writing down a short personal bio (your “elevator speech”) that captures who you want to be in just a few sentences. It may be tempting to try to totally reinvent yourself, but try to focus who you really are. Good brands—corporate or personal—are built on truth and authenticity.

If the thought of defining who you want to be (or even who you are) gives you a panic attack, don’t worry. A personal brand will naturally evolve over time. Chances are, you have at least an idea of the things you really care about. Start with those, and it will build organically from there.

3. Create a bunch of content.

Once you've decided what you want your brand to say, it’s time to put that message out into the world in as many ways as possible. If it’s available, consider claiming your domain name and starting a personal website. Or, begin with something simpler—like an page—to post your elevator speech and state what you’re all about.

We've all heard plenty of cautionary tales about what not to put online. But what about what to put online? Personal, professional, and academic accomplishments are obviously fair game. But don’t be afraid to share who you are in your off time, too—your social life, personal interests, and hobbies can really set you apart (more on this in Step 5).

As for where to post this content, the options are endless. Start a blog. Build an enviable Twitter following. And make sure to fill out your LinkedIn page with projects, groups, and a professional photo that fits your image. The key point is to be purposeful with what you choose to share. Using your identity statement as a guide, just start creating.

4. Engage with others.

Wherever your interests lie, there are like-minded people out there who can help you learn and network. Begin by connecting with your college alumni group or work colleagues, and branch out from there. Are there other LinkedIn groups, Twitter chats, or online communities you can join?

Interested in a certain industry or topics? Find the individuals who are leading those conversations online and jump in. Platforms like Twitter make it really easy to connect with industry leaders who would be difficult to reach otherwise. Follow blogs and hashtags. Ask questions. It’s less about finding a mentor, and more about finding a community.

5. Be yourself!

The most important part of a strong personal brand is that it honestly reflects who you are—including what makes you unique. Your values and your personal statement define your brand, but your personality brings it to life. Being purposeful with your content doesn't mean totally censoring yourself. As long as you’re keeping it clean and professional, let your natural style and voice shine through. Don’t shy away from showing your beautiful face, either—good quality photos and videos help people really connect with you and feel like they know you.

In short: take the bull by the horns, decide who you are, and own it. With just a little thought and effort, you can create a strong and cohesive brand that will set you apart from the masses.

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