5 Definitive Steps to Build Your Personal Brand

How do you like it when someone talks about you behind your back?

Not much, right?

How would it change things if someone wasn’t talking about you behind your back, but thinking about you? Does that make much of a difference?

It’s an important question. Of course you know you don’t want people talking about you behind your back, but most people never really stop to think about what other people are thinking about them, and that’s just as important—if not more important.

If people were going to talk about you behind your back, what would you want them to say?

Who you are in the minds of the people around you matters. In business today we have a popular term for this idea: personal brand.

Should a personal brand matter to you? Think of it this way: People are going to think about you no matter what. But if you give some time and attention to developing a deliberate personal brand, you can influence what that narrative looks like.

Here are five steps to developing your personal brand.

Step One: Define Your Brand

I don’t want to be too simplistic, but the first step in developing your brand is defining your target. What are you shooting for?

Every brand has a word or cluster of words they are shooting for. Coca-Cola? Refreshing, summer, or fun. Disney? Happiness, wonder, excitement. Apple? Smart, intuitive, edgy. Get the picture?

What is the word or words you want to own in the minds of the people around you? If you aren’t sure, here is a great question to ask yourself. In fact, it’s the number one question in personal branding:

What do you want other people to say about you?

If people were going to talk about you behind your back, what would you want them to say?

Your answer is the definition of your personal brand.

Step Two: Play to Your Strengths

Imagine if WalMart tried to change its brand to sell high-end products to the richest consumers. How long do you think that would work for them? Or what if Ferrari tried to make a cheap economy car? Do you think that would work?

Truth is, you already have a personal brand. Changing a brand is hard, but it’s not impossible. But flipping a brand on its head and making it stand for the exact opposite of what it already stands for will never work.

Now that you have defined your brand, you need to tap into your existing personal brand and look for your strengths. Here again, you can go back to the number one question in personal branding, and simply focus on the good things other people would say about you. These are your brand strengths.

Don’t try to flip your brand on its head. Just look to your current strengths, and pivot in the direction of new strengths that compliment your old strengths.

So maybe you are known for being the life of the party, a great guy to be around. Don’t try to flip your brand to being humble and quiet. Instead, pivot that strength. So instead of saying “He’s the life of the party, a great guy to have around,” they’re saying, “He really cares about other people and how they are doing. He’ll do anything to make sure the people around him are as happy and comfortable as they can be.” See the difference?

Step Three: Be Unique

Coca-Cola is the only Real Thing. Pepsi can’t be the real thing. That’s just not how it works.

Don’t try to be someone else’s brand. One of the big mistakes in personal branding is setting out by looking at the people around you—maybe it’s a friend, a coworker, or a neighbor—and thinking, “Hey, she’s awesome. I’ll just try to be like her.”

One of the biggest mistakes in branding is trying to tell other people what your brand is.

That’s never going to work. Anyone who knows anything about branding will tell you that it’s impossible to have identical brands.

Make your brand unique to you. Define it, play to your strengths, and make it all about you as an individual. Each of us is a unique blend of talents, abilities, tastes, and styles. Make your differences shine in the minds of the people around you.

If you want to have a strong personal brand, you have to lean into how you are unique. It is how you are unique that will stick out to others the most, not how you are the same.

Step Four: Do One Thing Well

Now that you’ve defined your brand, harnessed your strengths, and leaned into what makes you unique, it’s time to start doing.

The strongest brands do one thing. They do it over and over and over. They do it well past their own boredom with it.

One of the biggest mistakes in branding is trying to tell other people what your brand is. As soon as you try to tell someone what they should think about you, you look inauthentic and self-serving. The real secret to branding is this: don’t tell people what to think or say about you; DO the things that will get the people to think or say your personal brand back to you.

That’s the difference between successful branding and empty words.

But there is another mistake that quickly follows the first: trying to do too much.

The strongest brands do one thing. They do it over and over and over. They do it well past their own boredom with it. They find the one thing that will drive home their personal brand, and they dive into that one thing until it is stuck in the minds of the people around them.

So the one worker who wants humility to be the hallmark of her personal brand? She always looks for opportunities to praise others and give credit away. She always looks for how she can lift other people up. She always gives opportunities when she can. Humility is her one thing, and she does it over and over and over again. And she does it very well.

She doesn’t try for humility, and generosity, and kindness, and courage, and tenacity, and ingenuity, and on and on. She does one thing. And she gears all of her actions toward that one thing.

That’s the secret. Do the things that will get others to think or say your personal brand back to you.

Step Five: Know That Every Positive Quality Comes with Negative Backlash

My mom will never use a Mac. “That’s just too high-tech for me,” she’ll say.

No matter how good your brand is, it will never be perfect. And that’s okay.

The fact is that every strength comes with a corresponding negative connotation. So someone might say the humble person is too quiet. Or someone might say the outgoing leader is abrasive. It’s just the way it goes.

You can’t change this, but accepting it and understanding it can change how you manage this aspect of your brand.

If you have to have a personal brand, you might as well manage it, and manage it well.

For example, if you have defined your personal brand as innovative and are leaning into your strengths as a big idea thinker, you can also prepare for the negative connotation that some people might think your head is in the clouds or you ignore the details. By acknowledging this reality and working to avoid it, you can minimize the effects of this negative connotation.

Take some time and do some introspective thinking around your brand. What is the negative connotation that comes with your strengths? What steps can you take to minimize the negative connotation?

Remember, you can’t eliminate the negative connotations—and you shouldn’t want to. They are a sign that the positive aspects of your personal brand are shining through. But by answering these questions, you can continue to influence the narrative around your personal brand.


Some people don’t think personal brand is important. That’s fine. But they have a personal brand too. And if you have to have a personal brand, you might as well manage it, and manage it well.

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