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You have a personal brand, whether you know it or not. You can trash it without even trying, but it's hard work to cultivate a positive, sustainable personal brand.

Personal Brands are Easy to Trash and Hard to Cultivate

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have a personal brand. It is cultivated by what we say, how we look and what we do. We can trash our personal brand before realizing we even have one.

Entrepreneur carried a post by Jon Michail, a personal brand image adviser, that lists 10 ways to tarnish your personal brand. “Unfortunately, many people systematically undervalue themselves without even being aware of it. And before they even understand what is happening, their brand has lost all value, and it will be tough to get it back.”

Ways to lose personal brand value, Michail says, include weak presentations, poor grooming and hygiene, selling out and inflammatory content. Inconsistency, lack of professionalism and bizarre wardrobes also don’t help.

He advises, “Trying to please everyone is a definite way to lose a reputation. Instead, choose and stick to a specialty, then use this niche to find related content and create relevant networks in-person and on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.”

Personal Branding’s Increased Importance
Personal branding has taken on heightened importance as attention spans of online viewers shrink and casual online encounters become defining. First impressions may be the only impressions you get.

A common impediment is failure to realize you have a personal brand, whether you chose it or not. For many, you are who you look like or what you sound like. The impression you make can be based on seconds, the bare minimum of first impressions.

The purpose of personal branding is to stand out – to cause someone to pause to learn more about you. A personal brand with some dimension can persuade a viewer to dig a little deeper into who you are, what you stand for and what you offer. A less obvious benefit is creating an initial bridge – someone willing to spend time learning about you, which is the path to establishing trust.

The key to building your brand is recognizing you have one, whether you knew it or not. There may not be a perfect way to assess your personal brand, but paying attention is an important ingredient. Asking people can be awkward, but listening to how others regard you can be enlightening. You also can ask good friends for a frank assessment – and not get mad if those assessments are candid and pointed.

Cleaning up you brand is the surest way to keep your brand from the trash bin. Michail’s suggestions make sense – improve your presentations, sharpen your grooming, show some integrity, curb the combative rhetoric and be consistent. Let your followers and viewers know what you stand for through consistency, professionalism and commitment. Have a direction that others will be interested in following.

Like reputations and careers, personal brands evolve. We get older and more experienced. Our interests and directions change, as do the interests and directions of our followers, so responsiveness and adaptation become important branding characteristics.

Brands Should Reflect Values
More fundamentally, brands should reflect values. If you don’t believe in yourself and what stand for, why should anyone else?

In a perfect world, personal branding would be natural. People would gravitate to you. Unfortunately, social media and algorithms don’t adhere to gravity. They require finding ways to attract like-minded electrons in the multiverse. Depending on random attraction is brave but foolhardy.

Michail describes how to destroy a personal brand, Goldie Chan offers advice on how to create one. “Creating a personal brand can be a daunting, mythical task,” Chan wrote in an article for Forbes. “And one of the easiest ways to get lost in the process is to not know where to start.”

Chan’s advice starts with having “focus”. “Decide what your key message is and stick to it,” Chan says. “Keeping your message focused for your target demographic will make it that much easier to both create content around your personal brand and have others define you.”

Other key ingredients to a successful personal brand, according to Chan, include authenticity, telling a story and consistency. A surprising ingredient to success, she says, is acceptance of failure. “Even Oprah Winfrey began by going through several style iterations on a small local show before defining her voice into one of the most influential personal brands in the world.”

There is no tried-an-truth path to success but there are some reliable roadways. Living your brand is one of them, Chan says. ““Your personal brand should follow you everywhere you go. It needs to be an authentic manifestation of who you are and amplify what you believe. With this in mind, your personal brand is not only a reflection of a series of job functions like marketing, finance or creative but also ideals like giving back, thoughtful leadership or mentorship.”

A personal brand is a lifelong project that constantly evolves and changes.

Leaving a Legacy
The ultimate personal branding success is leaving a legacy. To leave a legacy through your brand, Chan says, you need to let others tell your story. “The best PR is by word of mouth. Creating a personal brand in the public sphere is no exception to this rule.”

“A personal brand is a lifelong project that constantly evolves and changes,” Chan says. “Even the experts who build or enhance the biggest brands in the business know that there are no hard-set rules for creating a personal brand.”

A good description of personal branding is a way to help you control the narrative about yourself and introduce you in the best light possible. It’s also a way to stand out from the competition. In a world where everyone has a website and an online presence, personal branding can help you make yours stand out from the rest.

The best advice to enhance your personal branding – avoid turnoffs like poor presentations and bad grooming and aim for focused integrity, adding value and leaving a legacy.