What makes you and your business different? What sets you apart in the marketplace? A brand quickly identifies what your expertise and style is, and it differentiates you from everyone else. A good brand conveys the essence of your business concisely and quickly, and inspires buyers to check out what you have to offer. It has personality, just as you do. Your brand should have a strong influence on others.

Keep it simple and concise. It's a fast-paced world, and people don't have time to find out who you are, what you're trying to say, and what value you can bring to them. If you have more than one interest, and you can't easily combine them into one brand, focus on what most makes your heart sing even if it seems as if there's lots of competition for a business built around that topic. Maybe the reason it's your passion is that you have a very different take or approach. That may be what allows you to quickly carve out a niche. Many people are experts on financial planning, alternative medicine, or pet care, for instance, but your personality and style may have people flocking to get advice from you regardless of how many other experts on the subject are trying to gain their attention.

It is easier than you think. I find that often, people become intimidated by the idea of creating a brand. They fear there's too much competition out there - that someone else does what they do only better, faster, cheaper, more reliably, or with more style. Don't believe it. Take the time to look at the bigger, long-term picture and design a brand that will work to distinguish you in the marketplace.

Your customers can help you determine your brand. Your brand incorporates both your credibility and your style. I keep a file of letters and e-mails I have from clients who've taken the time to write to me and give me feedback, so that I remember to promote the aspects of my business I might otherwise forget about. Ask your customers to tell you what they like best about your products and services. What's unusual about you? What's your specialty? What do you know, or do, that sets you apart from others?

Re-evaluate your brand from time to time. Even if you have established a business and a brand already, it's a good idea to make sure your brand captures the core of what you do. Then, when you go to create products, you'll know how to tailor products to your brand, and what types of products will fit into your brand's offerings.

Align your passion to your brand. An editor I know says that the best books originate in the author's personal passion, and that when authors try to chase a trend and write a book on a "hot topic" that they don't have much experience with, or interest in, the book never really gels. I think that's true of businesses, too. If it's not natural for you to be edgy and modern, don't be intimidated by statistics about how large the "baby boomlet" is or feel you have to figure out their sensibility and what makes them tick to appeal to them. If you relate to a particular audience or demographic, and you understand their concerns, needs, and desires, you may have tremendous success selling to them and only to them.

Realize that your brand could attract a "different" audience from what you expect. You might be surprised by who ends up buying your products and services, and valuing your brand. Not everyone fits neatly into a demographer's idea of what they should be interested in. For all you know, you could have a wildly enthusiastic following in Singapore or on college campuses. You might think your core audience is salespeople and discover that entrepreneurs are your biggest customer base. Keep an open mind, but be true to yourself and what you know. Your brand should encapsulate what you have to offer.

Be authentic. Never build a brand by taking someone else's idea. Although it's fine to take inspiration from others, your brand should be true to who you are. Don't compare yourself to others, either. I've seen people try to distinguish themselves by saying they're a life coach trained by Joe Smith, but I don't see any reason to ride someone else's coat tails and set yourself up as a sort of "B-level" Joe Smith.

By all means, ask your trainer to give you a glowing endorsement for your services, but find your own brand and build your own reputation. Trust that you have something special and valuable to offer that will allow you to stand out in the marketplace. You're a unique individual. Only you can create your unique brand!

Very often, I find that people feel they have to be completely different - that is one-of-a-kind, nothing like anyone else in business today. What sets people apart isn't necessarily that their business is completely different from anyone else's but that there's something that's distinct and exceptional about them, that is of great value to others. They are what makes their brands unique.

Create a "professional" image. If you are the "face" of your brand, find a photographer, hairstylist, and perhaps a makeup artist or image consultant to help you create the best photo of yourself possible. You don't have to spend a lot of money. You might be surprised at who will lend you their talents in exchange for credit (such as "Photograph by Beth Kline" run next to your photo every time you use it) and visibility. The rules for a professional photograph are fairly simple: Choose timeless, simple clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry so that the photo doesn't look dated quickly. Work with someone who can "style" you as the photos are being taken, for instance, if a lock of hair falls out of place or your collar is sticking up. If you wear glasses, be careful about the flash and where you place the lights to prevent glare. Get a high-resolution photograph so that it has the highest quality when it's reduced to a smaller size. Take a lot of photographs, and change positions, expressions, and possibly even outfits.

Consider your brand carefully and choose one that feels right for you.


Peggy McColl is a New York Times bestselling author and an internationally recognized expert in the field of personal and professional development and Internet marketing. She helps clients establish an online presence, grow their businesses, and build their brands;http://www.destinies.com.