The term "branding" has been tossed around for a long time, but today nearly every individual has a personal brand.
Most of us may not have consciously cultivated our brands, but they exist nonetheless. They are the sum of your involvements, social media handles, online presence and relationships. The question is: are you going to take control, guide and cultivate your brand? Or are you going to waste the opportunity of a lifetime?
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a handful of trailblazers who have learned through years of success -- as well as a few failures -- how to fine-tune the art of personal branding.
They come from disparate backgrounds, but these experts agree that building a personal brand is crucial. Here are seven rules (plus a bonus) to get you started.
1. Brand for the long haul.
"Your personal brand is one of the biggest investments you are ever going to make. It's an asset that will maximize the value of existing opportunities and create new ones," said John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co, author and keynote speaker.
Set up different "branding baskets" and brand yourself separately from the projects in which you are involved. If you just focus on branding your company or startup and it fails, you lose all that work. But a personal brand can transcend the failure of any project.
2. Be real. No faking it.
A brand cannot be built on a manufactured personality or an alter ego. Simply put, there is no "fake it until you make it" here. If you are only after appearances, you will inevitably be exposed as a phony.
"It would be like putting on a black belt if you weren't a martial artist, and walking into a martial arts school," Evans said. "Once you start fighting with another black belt, you will be laughed out of the gym."
You may feel like who you are isn't good enough, but remember, authenticity is about including imperfections. "Like any good story, it needs to include some of your weaknesses," explained Leonard Kim, a managing partner at InfluenceTree, which helps others build their own brands.
"Without that, I'm not looking up to you as the expert that you proclaim to be," he continued. "You don't get to the top without going through the fiery pits of hell first."
3. Be a thought leader.
"The purpose behind personal branding has evolved recently into a new area known as 'thought leadership,'" Hall said.
Thought leadership refers to leaders or go-to people within a field or industry who have been recognized as authorities and are trusted sources within their areas. People head to them for advice and guidance.
"Rather than being just focused on making yourself look good, now it's about leading an industry through thought," Hall explained. "That results in not just building yourself up, but also the companies you are associated with."
Often, a company's top executives act as its thought leaders. However, that is not always the case. So if you are not in a leadership position, don't be discouraged!
"I typically recommend a strategic campaign, having the CEO and other execs focus on big-picture topics, such as trends," Hall said. "And then other employees can get into the nuts and bolts or more specific topics in the industry."
4. Have a PR plan behind the brand.
It also is important to think strategically. Hall explained: "The first step in launching a branding campaign is having a blueprint that lays out how public relations, marketing and recruiting all play into your plan."
He went on: "It's vital to have all of these things planned out so you can consistently build on that campaign and also maximize the value of your efforts."
According to Hall, the key to building a personal brand is to produce quality content. "One thoughtful piece of content will give you continuous value," he said. "Other writers or journalists may use it on their sites. That may help you attract new talent and employees, maybe even speaking gigs."
"Most importantly, this all helps you stay top of mind," said Hall, referencing a topic he is passionate about: Top of Mind is the title of his new book.
5. Create a buzz around yourself.
"The best way to build your personal brand is to offer real value," Evans said. "The more you impact your customers' and followers' lives, the faster you will build a following."
It is a technique that worked well for Leonard Kim when, in 2013, he began writing on Quora. He quickly amassed more than two million views and was eventually named a top writer for the site.
On the site, he has written about his journey from being unable to pay his electric bill, and nearly becoming homeless, to ultimately finding the road to success. This journey in essence became his brand.
"I was able to go from relatively unknown to where I am today by sharing my deepest and darkest moments and the lessons I learned," Kim revealed.
6. Brand toward Millennials.
With so many distractions out there, it may seem impossible to hold the attention of Millennials. However, it can be done, said Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg and Hello Bar. "Just be innovative with the tools you have," he advised.
"Millennials suffer from ADD -- myself included -- because we are inundated with information unlike any generation before us," Patel said. It's important to work with the information flow, rather than trying to counter it.
Advertising and branding can work hand in hand with apps and online tools in order to create interest. Eventually you will create brand loyalty, and that is something Millennials respond to. One recent example of how apps can interact, create buzz and engage an audience is Pokémon Go.
This method could lead to brands and influencers creating their own AR games, partnering with AR game developers or even purchasing sponsorships and offering in-app purchases within other companies' AR games.
7. Avoid these pitfalls.
Don't be inconsistent. According to Hall, "The number one reason why people fail at building a personal brand is they don't do it consistently. You want to be remembered as a leader in your industry."
Branding success doesn't occur overnight, though. You have to be consistent so you start sticking in people's mind. It can take years to make that happen.
Don't make it all about you. "Building a great brand is not about what you get, it's about what you give," Evans said.
If you frame yourself as having value to offer while building your brand, you will build the best personal brand you can imagine.
Don't try to do too much, or you will end up doing none of it well, Patel said. "Focus on some core skills and showcase them -- you can't be everything to everyone." Know your limits, and pick your battles.
Bonus: branding breakdown.
Still not sure what to do? Leonard Kim has you covered with this exclusive pocket guide on building your brand:
• Create a website, one preferably named after you.
• Write a bio and put up a stellar headshot.
• Secure your social media handles and make them consistent on all platforms.
• Be personable and easy to relate to. Showcase your personality along with your interests.
• Write or video stories of what you've learned, backed by your personal experiences.
• Share your content on networks with preexisting audiences like Quora and Medium.
• Network and talk to people. Comment on other people's content.
• Get in front of problems before they go public. (Write about any problems or issues to control the narrative.)
• Constantly improve your content by studying the content of others.
• Make relationships with media outlets and ask if they will syndicate your content.
• Stack your successes. Use small wins to get bigger wins.
This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on August 24, 2016.