Dan SchawbelDan Schawbel is the expert on personal branding — not only is his new book out this month, but he’s also responsible for Personal Branding Magazine and Personal Branding TV. If you have questions about personal branding, Dan is the one you want to answer them.

Why do you need a personal brand?

On the surface, it can be hard to decide why you need to build a personal brand. We asked Dan why the average person needs to brand himself or herself, and he pointed out that if we don’t brand ourselves, someone else will: “We’re already branded by the people that surround our lives. This means that everyone in the world is branded and that personal branding is therefore inescapable and just part of life. Your job is to understand who you are, what you do and who you serve, so you can better shape these perceptions and ‘own your brand.’ People will label you all the time as lazy or beautiful and it’s your job to access what people think of you and your self-impression.”

It goes beyond ensuring that people get the right impression of you, though. It’s just as important to control your personal brand so that you can use it to help you pursue the projects you want. As Dan says, “personal branding allows you to monetize your passion, have meaning in your life and become very successful in your niche.”

Even if there are some valid reasons for personal branding, you may want to know what kind of return you can expect for your efforts. Beyond the aspects of personal branding that can help you in your career or to meet your goals, Dan does say that there are further returns: “You’ll have a better understanding of who you are, and what you’re capable of. You’ll have a firm understanding of what niche you should be in and all the tools that are available to you, as well as which ones you should focus on. You’ll be more confident, learn how to network better and be able to communicate what you do.”

Why do you need a branding consultant?

With time and work, you can build and promote your brand. A personal branding consultant isn’t an absolute requirement, but there are some definite benefits to working with a consultant over doing everything yourself. Dan points out exactly what those benefits are: “A branding consultant can give you a non-bias view on your personal brand, whereas you would have trouble understanding what options are open to you. Also, a branding consultant understands the personal branding process and can guide you through it, without you having to skip around and rebrand yourself many times. Branding consultants also have strong professional connections, so they can connect you to the right people who can help accelerate your career. Since marketing requires a lot of time, it might be hard for the individual to be as effective, especially if they have other responsibilities.”

How do you choose a personal branding consultant?

Once you’ve made the decision to work with a personal branding consultant, you still have to find the right person – someone who can help with your individual goals. Dan suggests treating the search for a personal branding consultant like the search for any other professional. He says: “Just like any other consultant, you’ll want to do your homework first. Google their name and search through their website, paying close attention to recommendations, previous clients, media endorsements, and even case studies.”

Your research should go beyond basic information, to make sure that you get a personal branding consultant who actually knows your field. Many personal branding consultants have niches of their own: Dan, for instance, focuses primarily of Generation Y branding issues: “You’ll want to see which consultant is right for you because there are CEO personal branding consultants and ones for college students as well. It also helps to ask someone to refer you to one or recommend them for you.”

How can you tell if a branding technique is right for you?

There are so many personal branding techniques that you’ll have to pick and choose which options will really work for you. Dan does have some suggestions for narrowing down the field: “You figure out if it has worked on other people like you in the past to estimate if it will help you in the future. Also, experimenting is a good idea because all of this is very new, so people are bound to make mistakes. We’ve all made mistakes using social media to build our brands, which is how we learn how to do it right in the future.”

What is the process for developing and managing a personal brand?

Dan gave us the process that gets you from the beginning of the personal branding process to the end — and the process a good personal branding consultant will walk you through:

  1. Discover your brand: helping you figure out who you are and what you want to do
  2. Create your brand: develop marketing materials, such as a business card, portfolio, resume, website, and blog
  3. Communicate your brand: using various marketing and PR tactics to get your name out there, such as event networking and guest posting on blogs
  4. Maintain your brand: making sure you are constantly growing as an individual and that all your social profiles reflect that

During the personal branding process, there are certain pieces of information you’ll need to have easily accessible. Dan outlines that information: “They need to understand how people describe them, and they need to have everything they’ve accomplished in the past written down on paper. They need to distribute their brand in a way that is comfortable, whether it is a podcast series, a blog or profiles on many social networks. A person has to want to be found by others because that’s how you get the opportunities.”

It’s worth noting that you’ll want to maintain a central copy of all that information: even if you have multiple social networking profiles that you’re using to build your personal brand, they should all reflect the information listed in that central copy.

Where can a personal brand take you?

A personal brand can take you far beyond your ideal career. Dan uses Oprah as an example. He says, “Oprah is a mega brand who had a lot of trouble becoming successful, but then used the power of authenticity to connect with her audience and rose to the top with millions of viewers now watching her. The benefits are that she’s a billionaire and that she can put her name on anything and it will sell like her ‘O Magazine.’”