(By Bruna Martinuzzi)

What distinguishes you from the pack? How is your product or service special? For example, what is your personal trademark? Is it speedy service? Is it going the extra mile to exceed expectations? Whatever distinguishes you, be clear about it so you can articulate it and do it with perseverance.

How do you think your customers, associates, employees or peers feel about you? Your answer to that question defines your personal brand.

Whether you’re a small-business owner or a solo entrepreneur, you need to pay attention to your personal brand. “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding,” management consultant Tom Peters writes in “The Brand Called You.” “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

What is a personal brand? Perhaps the most succinct and descriptive brand definition comes from marketing expert John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing. He defines branding as “the art of becoming knowable, likable and trustable.” That’s how most of us feel likely about companies such as Apple, Disney, BMW and Nike. If we don’t manage our personal brand as diligently as these companies manage their company brand, people will assign a default brand to us. And this may not serve us well.

In the days of social media, it’s more important than ever to manage what others feel and say about us. Here are nine tips that will help you manage your personal brand so you can have more power and control in your business.

Increase Your Awareness of Your Identity

What distinguishes you from the pack? How is your product or service special? For example, what is your personal trademark? Is it speedy service? Is it going the extra mile to exceed expectations? Whatever distinguishes you, be clear about it so you can articulate it and do it with perseverance.

Apart from asking yourself “Who am I?” you should also ask yourself “Who am Inot?” As Peters states in his seminal book, The Brand You 50, “Experts agree: Brand is as much about what a product ‘is not’ as about what it ‘is.’ “

Deliver What You Promise

Every day, with every client and every person you serve, at every touch point, consistently deliver exactly what your brand promises. Anything less will not do. Doing so will create the positive stories that people will tell about you.

In “The Organicism of Small Business Branding”, Jantsch describes just how people experience a company’s brand: “A small business’s brand is almost always experienced more organically through stories, surprises, flourishes, people and processes. It’s much more than a logo, product package, colors and tagline. Everything the small business does is a part of who [it is] …”

Make Quality a Non-Negotiable

Do people immediately associate your name with quality? Whether you’re dealing with a major client or a small one, whether you’re making a presentation to 100 people or two people at the local diner, be stunning. Don’t cut corners, and don’t short-change people. Instead, adopt a craftsman’s approach to what you do and make your name synonymous with quality. Quality is a watermark for trust. It’s a sorting mechanism for prospects and customers looking for what you sell.

Develop a Brand Mantra

Dr. Kevin Lane Keller, branding expert and author of Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring and Managing Brand Equity, says that a brand mantra is crucial. It gives you a chance to capture, in three to five words, the essence of your brand. And a mantra isn’t just for big companies—it’s applicable to anyone whether you’re a small-business owner or a solo entrepreneur. It allows you to distill the things that make you different from others in the same field (and that your customers value). As Keller advises, a brand mantra “provides guide rails. It helps you understand where you can and can’t go.”

A key point to understand is that a mantra is internal; your slogan or tagline is external. In The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything, author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki explains the difference between a mantra and a tagline: The mantra is for you and your employees; it’s a guideline for what everyone does in their jobs, but a tagline is for your customers—it’s a guideline for how to use your product or service. For example, Nike’s mantra is “Authentic athletic performance,” but its tagline is “Just do it.” What is your brand mantra?

Keep Your Word

Your word is your branding iron. Be known as someone who keeps his or her commitments, such as showing up for a meeting, being on time for an appointment, getting back to people on an article you promised to send or following through on any action item you undertook in a meeting. The list of small promises we make is long; be sure to keep each one of them.

Drop the Mercenary Approach

If you’re known as a person who only delivers work or acts merely for money or some other reward, you’ll put an indelible dent in your personal brand.

We admire those who give of themselves to improve their corner of the world. Get involved in a worthy cause, give good customers something for nothing once in a while, do some pro bono work to help others and take part in online discussions. Share your wisdom and knowledge for free, and become a philanthropist of know-how. Develop a reputation for generosity of mind and heart.

Purchase Your Own Domain Name

Part of managing your personal brand is protecting your reputation and being vigilant about what others say about you. Purchasing your own domain name (FirstnameLastname.com) is a smart move. As Lifehacker contributor Harry Guinness points out in “Why It’s Worth It to Purchase Your Own Domain Name,”owning your own domain name gives you a better chance of controlling the first information people see about you when they search for you online. But more important, it prevents anyone who may be disgruntled with you from appropriating your domain name and using it against you.

It’s easy and inexpensive to buy your own domain from providers such as GoDaddy.com. At the very least, you should register it, even if you don’t use it. You can also use Flavors.me to create a free, personal website in minutes that brings together your content on the Internet—from social media updates to photos and videos—into a unified Web presence. Check it out.

Hire a Brand Coach or Strategist

A branding coach or strategist can help you crystallize who you are, what makes you exceptional, what’s important to you and how you can use this self-knowledge to be more successful. As personal brand strategist William Arruda aptly puts it in his branding video, “Once you’ve been through the branding process, you’re just a couple of inches taller than you were before having gone through it.”

Reinvent Yourself

Periodically evaluate your personal brand to make sure it’s consistent with how you’re evolving. Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, provides five tips for changing how people think about you and reinventing your personal brand:

1. Build your skills. Acquire the necessary skills for your new brand to give you the confidence to own it.

2. Leverage your points of difference. Be clear about what separates you from the crowd—it’s what makes you memorable.

3. Develop a narrative. Develop a one- or two-sentence statement that explains your evolution.

4. Reintroduce yourself. Update others’ perceptions of you by strategically re-educating those around you about your transition.

5. Prove your worth. Let everyone see what you’re about and what you can do so they’re comfortable endorsing your new brand.

Like it or not, we all have a personal brand, but we don’t all manage it strategically. Whatever type of company you own, don’t leave your personal brand to chance.

Get clarity about who you are and what you have to offer the world. Craft your brand message, and develop your brand story. Let the world know what you excel in and, most important, who you are.

Source: Openforum

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”