The concept of personal branding has become popular in recent years, perhaps originating in a 1997 Fast Company article by business author Tom Peters.

“We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc.,” he wrote. “To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

What’s your brand? And are you in charge of its marketing – or do other people and influences dictate what it stands for? The answers to these questions will help you identify and then reach your professional (and personal) goals.

“Our personal brand is the promise of what we have to offer,” says Kevin M. Yates, a learning technology manager at McDonald’s. “A strong personal brand sets us apart and creates unforeseen opportunities. If your personal brand is strong, it’ll do the work for you. But let’s be clear: You don’t start out with a personal brand. You have to build it.”

Creating Your Brand

The first step in developing your personal brand is self-awareness. “Find one thing you believe passionately about, have mastered as a skill and capability, can speak to easily, brings you joy, and allows you to operate in authenticity,” says Yates. “Build your personal brand about that.”

Are you an instructional designer passionate about developing a great learner experience? Do you manage a leadership development program aimed at evening the playing field between genders? Maybe your niche is risk management through training or measuring business impact. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that’s needed, something you are qualified for and something you are interested in investing your time in.

Cultivating Your Brand

Networking is an often dreaded activity, but it’s important in nurturing your personal brand. According to a Northeastern University Graduate School blog post, “The more connections you make — and the more value you can provide in your interactions — the more likely it is your personal brand will be recognized.” At networking events, talk about your passion; it will not only demonstrate your personal brand, but it will also make the conversation more engaging for both parties.

Yates uses content to help cultivate his personal brand. “I gave voice to my personal brand in written and spoken word,” he says, including in blogs and articles, on podcasts, and at conferences and workshops. And, “I stayed on message,” he adds. “My message is narrowly focused on what I built my brand around: facts and measurement for L&D’s impact.”

At the same time, “One of the pillars of my personal brand is value. With that in mind, I want to ensure my content is adding value. I don’t want to post for the sake of posting or gratuitously share content.”

Authentic Self-promotion

Yates emphasizes the importance of authenticity. “Maintaining my personal brand means being true to self and being authentic,” he says. “Build a personal brand around what is uniquely you … Find your voice, your joy and let that lead the way for how you develop your personal brand. Anything else would not be your personal brand.”

Many professionals are hesitant to promote themselves, but it’s important for your personal brand — and your career advancement. Fortunately, there are ways to do it so you can maintain your humility and relationships. For example, “Rather than blurting out self-aggrandizing claims relevant to nothing, effective self-promoters work within the flow of discussion and offer useful information,” writes journalist Tom Krattenmaker in a Harvard Business Review article.

“Make social media your friend, or at least your begrudging ally,” writes author Adam McHugh in a blog post for Quiet Revolution, and use it for conversation. Give personal as well as professional updates related to your personal brand, and make meaningful connections with your followers.

Be humble but not falsely modest. “False modesty is easily identifiable when it comes to self-promotion,” Yates says. “Promote your value, not yourself.” Demonstrate through your words and actions what you can do and what you offer.

“You are your biggest promoter,” he concludes, but if you’ve put the time into building your personal brand, you’ll have an authentic network “that will help you promote your personal brand without you having to ask.” After all, these types of relationships are the ones we’re looking for at work (and life) anyway, right?

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