Personal branding is a consideration that is frequently overlooked by those who are seeking a career change or wanting to improve their upward mobility within their organizations. Too often, it is misunderstood and seen as being self-aggrandizing, egotistical or even perceived as “brown nosing.” While there are ample examples of this, these reflect poorly thought out and executed strategies.

To start, branding is generally regarding as creating an image in someone’s view that involves the characteristics of a product or service. Ideally, creating the impression of the perceived value being better than competitors and/or associates an expectation as to what the product is. Examples are Walmart and its “everyday low price,” Starbucks and the Apple logo, that most immediately relate to with iPhones or iPads.

This also applies to people. Think about the way some people have branded themselves, including Colin Powell, John Huntsman, Steve Wozniak, Jack Welsh and numerous other corporate and political leaders. Branding yourself helps to define who you are. It is a great way to associate great value with a product (that product being you!). Branding is not just about winning a job or promotion; it is being seen as a solution to a problem and be recognized as someone who can add value. Trust is essential. People want to work with, hire or promote people they know and feel good about.

As a starting point, we suggest nine steps to building your personal brand.

1)         Self-Reflection. It will help you identify the tools you have and the areas you need to improve.  It is something that is an ongoing, life-long process and not something that you do when you start out, then put it on the shelf. 

2)         Continuous Learning. It is imperative that you regularly benchmark your skills against others and develop a plan to keep your skills on the cutting edge. Lifelong learning is essential to build your brand. Earn a degree. Participate in continuing education programs. Attend conferences and workshops. Spend time with a mentor.

3)         Prepare Marketing Strategy. Prepare a mission statement so you will set the direction of where you want your brand to go. Keep this to no more than two or three sentences, or about 30 words. Create a vision statement stating how and what specific tactics and methods you will use. Develop a marketing plan on how you will communicate your value. Volunteer, speak, write and help people. Remember how you dress, speak, respond to blogs and emails have an impact, as do the photos you post or share online.

4)         Build a Relationships Network. This is an extremely powerful tool. Keep in touch with your network. Make sure your network knows of any recent successes, without coming across as being pretentious and egotistical. Find opportunities to weave your personal mission/vision statements into conversation with your network.

5)         Prepare Marketing Pieces and Message. This refers to the letters, resumes and inquires that you prepare in response to a position. This also includes cover letters, articles, research topics and your biography. Consider how you will incorporate your mission/vision into your promotional pieces and how and where you will distribute these.

6)         Deliver your Message. Again, remember to dress appropriately and professionally as appearance is a key part of your packaging. Opportunities to deliver your message vary from informal settings, to emails, conversations, formal presentations, interviews, meetings, comments on blogs and interest groups.

7)         Follow up. Good follow-up communication will assist in creating a positive association with your brand. It sets the image that you are consistent, reliable and you get back to people. Return calls as soon as possible as this establishes trust. Respond to all requests as this shows responsibility. Write a thank you note after interview or in appreciation for something someone has done for you. Write an acceptance/decline letter upon receiving a job offer. Keep in touch with your network.

8)         Technology. Create a presence, build a website and get your name out there. When setting up your public profiles, remember this is setting the tone, look and feel of your brand. The website lists 20 social networking sites for business professionals. This ties in with your message strategy. Be sure that all your endeavors are focused and relevant to both your skills and your career goals.  

9)        Metrics. Don’t shy away from looking yourself up online via search engines, LinkedIn profile stats, Google alerts or using any of a variety of tools available. Like any product launch, you need to see if it can be found and the perceptions of potential customers.

Creating a brand allows you to associate value with your product, which is you. There are many competing brands, and you must position yourself so employers choose you by branding yourself. In the end, you’ll stand out and be recognized as someone with expertise in your field.