[Sponsored Post: Cliftons Hong Kong is a leading provider of corporate meeting rooms, conference and seminar venues. Part of the globally recognised Cliftons group, our locations in the Hong Kong central business district provide our clients with a polished and professional environment in which to conduct their business.]

I’ve been asked by a lot of people for an article that introduces personal branding. I went searching through my archives and found that I really didn’t have an up-to-date article that goes over personal branding at a high level. More and more educators are interested in this space and most of my posts are for someone with basic knowledge and skills. Before we step into 2009, I’d like to go over the basics of what you need to know to get started on your brand for next year. “Building my personal brand” should be on all of your new years resolution lists.

The history of personal branding

Tom Peters crafted an article for the August 1st, 1997 issue of Fast Company Magazine, entitled “The Brand Called You,” which explored the evolution of career development, and exposed a new mindset for the new millennium. Basically, instead of relying on a company for career guidance, it’s up to you to take ownership of the brand called you. Personal branding called for everyone to become a “free agent,” which not everyone bought into back then. Now there are tools available for you to grasp your brand and shape it (social media).

Web 2.0’s impact on personal branding

Before web 2.0 changed our world, it was really hard to get enough press to really stand out. There weren’t blogs, so you’d have to get your local newspaper, or mainstream media to write about you. You could go to a networking event and meet five to ten people each time. You could sit in your college class and meet ten new people. Web 2.0 amplified how we network, first impressions and personal visibility and self-promotion forever.

Me 1.0 was hidden behind a corporate brand, without an outside voice and not being able to afford excessive promotion (PR & advertising). Me 2.0, as I call it, is when you get to stand in front of your company, at the cost of your time and with the ability to carry your voice across the world in a matter of seconds (think Twitter). I’ve captured this change in my new book, rightfully called, Me 2.0.

Why personal branding was inevitable

There are two main reasons why personal branding is becoming a core part of our culture. Sadly, it’s nothing revolutionary! First, we are all being judged all the time, even when we’re sleeping (our online profiles are still up!). Second, we have to constantly sell our ideas to teachers, managers, venture capitalists, our friends and family, to make things happen in our lives. We have to convince them to take action.

Personal branding defined

In 2007, I gathered a group of international brand and career experts to collaborate on a single definition for personal branding. After analyzing the definition and reciting it in a few presentations back then, I felt it was too long, thus no one could remember it. For 2008, I shortened it to “how we market ourselves to others.” Personal branding is a process.

Personal branding: how we market ourselves to others.

The personal branding process (DCCM)

1. Discover: The first thing you need to do is to figure out who you are, what you want to do in life, while focusing on your strengths, passions and goals. After that, you should create a development plan that aligns your short-term and long-term goals and, finally, a personal marketing plan.

2. Create: There are traditional and non-traditional ways to create your personal brand. The traditional ways include a business card, professional portfolio, resume, cover letter and references document. The non-traditional ways include, a video resume, LinkedIn profile, blog, Twitter and your existence on the various other social networks. While you create your brand, ensure that the content, including pictures and text, are concise, compelling and consistent with how you want to represent yourself.

3. Communicate: After you’ve created your brand, it is only natural (and human instinct) that you want people to see what you’ve done. Depending on your audience (hiring manager, teacher, clients), you may want to tweek your materials accordingly. To properly communicate your brand, through self-promotion, you need to have your story down pat and find the right sources that would be interested in what you have to say. I would recommend promoting others before you promote yourself as well. Communication consists of guest posting on blogs, writing articles for magazines, becoming your own personal PR person (pitch to the media), attending networking events and speaking.

4. Maintain: As you grow, the brand people see has to grow at the same time. For every new job, award, press article, and client victory (to name a few), everything you have created has to reflect that. The reason is simple:

You want to use what you did in the past to get what you want in the future.

Also, as you become more popular, your reputation will be knocked around and tossed throughout the web, from blog post, to tweet, to video, and more. You’ll want to keep a close eye on where your name is. To do this, I have created a post giving you free tools to do so.

Personal branding depends on your career status

High school student: If you’re in high school, personal branding still applies to you because getting into a top college is very competitive. Your goal is to position yourself as worth of a top school, so getting good grades, good SAT’s, interviewing at schools, networking with alumni who can endorse you, writing a compelling essay and all things social media, will help you.

College student: A college student is interested in either getting an internship, starting a business or getting a corporate job upon graduation. They have to compete on experience and network extremely hard in order to get a job. They need to position themselves as superior relative to their peers. This means, becoming a leader in college organizations, meeting as many people as you can, forming a personal branding toolkit and starting when you’re a freshman are critical to your success.

Corporate employee: If you work for a company, and enjoy doing so, then personal branding becomes the cornerstone for how you move up the hierarchy and become recognized as a leader.

Entrepreneur: An entrepreneur needs to think about branding his or her company, as well as him or herself in the process of establishing a business. The entrepreneurs brand must reflect the company, yet be set apart from it simultaneously. The entrepreneurs brand is VERY important in securing venture capital. For instance, if Jason Calacanis wanted seed money, he has a better chance of getting it than someone without a track record of success (he sold Weblogs Inc for millions).

Consultant: These individuals are obviously all about personal branding because it’s all they got. Many consultants brand themselves as masters of a specific trade (at least the good ones). They are able to track value and attribute it to the work they provide for clients.

3 laws of personal branding

Authenticity: You need to be yourself because everyone else is taken and replicas don’t sell for as much. Furthermore, you need to define your brand before someone else does for you!

Transparency: It’s better to be straightforward and honest, then lie, and have your actions work against you.

Visibility: The notion that if you aren’t known, you don’t exist.

5 benefits of personal branding

Promotions: Anyone who is ambitious and works at a company will want to move up. By building your personal brand, you become the best choice for a promotion.

Happiness: By aligning who you are with what you do and appending goals to it, you can turn “work” into a “hobby.” You can position yourself on a topic you love, so you get paid to do what you would count as a hobby.

Compensation: Personal brands command premium prices. Just like Apple and Gillette can charge more for products you can get for less, you can do the same.

Business: People want to purchase from other people who they know, like, trust. When you make those people happy that they chose you, by giving them great results, they will refer you to even more people.

Perks: Strong brands get perks. For instance, I get free books from authors and other bloggers get free products, such as limited edition Pepsi cans. Celebrities, like Halley Berry, don’t have to pay for anything because of who they are.