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In a tough economy, wise businesses adjust their brand strategies to focus on what’s most important. By the same token, the uncertainty of the “new normal” economy requires professionals to be more focused and deliberate in developing and promoting their own personal brands.

That’s right: personal brands. Do you have one? If you don’t, you should.

What is a personal brand? It’s the unique stuff that makes you YOU, inside and out. It’s the impression you make on others with your appearance and your way of interacting with people, but it’s also your innate talents and the knowledge you carry with you from your past experiences.

Developing a personal brand is not the same thing as self-promotion. Just as marketing is not the same as sales, managing your personal brand is not the same as wearing a suit and shaking as many hands as possible at conferences. Developing your personal brand takes introspection and thoughtfulness, as it all begins with understanding who you really are and what you want to accomplish.

You may have heard of the term “elevator speech”:  one minute or less of talking points to get a point across. While I don’t recommend you invade others’ space in a crowded elevator to share your personal brand, there is some value in developing a succinct personal vision statement that you can share with others who need to know who you are and what you’re good at.

A personal vision statement should encompass not simply what you’ve accomplished in your career, but what your strongest skills are, and how those skills could be applied even beyond your current profession. Most people have multiple jobs over their lifetimes, and many switch careers at least once or twice, so be sure your vision statement doesn’t limit you to a single role or industry. Being open to change, and understanding your most valuable talents and how to market them, is as valuable as having a solid resume.

Speaking of resumes, what if you lost yours? Could you recreate the timeline of your past career? Most people couldn’t do it from memory. To both develop your personal brand and keep a record of your career, I strongly recommend keeping a journal of major milestones along your professional path.

Take the time to write down the details of your professional life, and keep your journal somewhere safe. I keep mine the old-fashioned way: on paper, so I don’t have to worry about the accidental loss of a digital file. Document when you start a new job; what your responsibilities are; what your salary is; the results of your performance reviews; and any promotions, raises, commendations or awards you receive. A journal is also a perfect place to record the challenges you encounter on the job and, more importantly, how you resolve them.

Journaling creates a permanent record you can draw from when writing a resume, developing a personal brand or rehearsing for an interview, but it also forces you to look at your career with a more focused, strategic, disciplined eye. Just as athletes and musicians practice to get better, good leaders become great because they work at it. Taking the time to think about major events, important discussions and big decisions after the fact allows you to evaluate your own performance and learn from your experiences. As you write, think to yourself: What did I do right? Did I make myself clear? Did I correctly anticipate others’ responses? What would I do differently if I could do it over again?

At the same time you’re updating your journal, take a few seconds to add any major milestones to your resume. This will ensure that you always have a current resume on hand if you should need it.

Challenging yourself to document and evaluate your professional interactions is an important part of developing your personal brand. The more time you spend working on your personal strengths, the stronger your personal brand will be. And whether you’re in the job market or content right where you are, a deep understanding of your inner thought processes and past experiences makes you better at what you do – and more valuable to an employer.

© 2012 John Gregory Self