About seven or eight years ago I was having drinks with two friends, both of whom had blogs.
One commented that even though she was blogging for fun, as a reality TV junkie she had secretly always dreamed of being famous.
In response, our other friend hid under the couch.
I took the middle ground stance.
Although I don't have Hollywood aspirations, I do want to be well-regarded in my industry and respected for my talent and expertise.
As it happens, my talent and expertise is in branding, communications and public relations -- helping business owners define and present their brands to specific audiences.
Although PR alone will never make you famous, all of us have numerous tools at our finger tips to build and shape a personal brand in any industry.
Whether your career is full-time in the corporate world, you have a side hustle, or you're bootstrapping a small business, the first step to establishing and building a solid brand for yourself is to find your target audience.
Before you do any brand building, you want to figure out who your target audience is and where you can find them.
Once you do that, you can assess whether each of the tools, resources and tactics below are suited to help you build your brand, reinforce it to your existing audience and find new important stakeholders -- clients, customers, business partners, investors, media -- where they spend the most time.
Here are several actions you can do today to build your personal brand.
Audit your existing (past and present) online presence
Unless you've been living in a bunker for the past ten or fifteen years, it's unlikely that a Google search for your name will turn up zero results.
The most very basic thing you can do for your brand is to know what people are seeing when they research you or your business online.
If the first two results from Google are your college sorority party photographs and a link to the nasty Yelp review that you wrote to your dry cleaner in 2008, your odds of getting that social media marketing job just dropped about 95%.
True story: my friend Sarah (who is now a married mother and an exec at a pretty visible professional association) met her boyfriend Mike at a party through some mutual friends. As many of us have done in our dating lives, Mike Googled her.
The first image result that came up was Sarah sitting on a toilet at a New Year's Eve party our junior year in college, not exactly sober, wearing the toilet paper package as a hat. It was funny at the time, which I remember because I was there when our friend took the picture.
Luckily, Mike thought it was funny, it never reached her employer and she was able to get it deleted before it did any harm, but those kinds of things happen all the time and when they go viral, they can do serious damage to someone's reputation.
If you're looking to build a public brand, know what is out there in your Google search results.
Scrub your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter page and make sure there is nothing in advance that would embarrass you if it landed in the hands of your biggest client or the CEO at your company.
Yes, we've all posed for photos on vacation after way too many tiki cocktails or had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction in front of a camera, but do what you can to trim the fat from your social presence before you become active anywhere new.
Respond to your online reviews
One of the most common PR questions I've heard from the real estate agents at my company is what they should do if someone leaves a negative review of their business or personal brand on Zillow/Trulia, Facebook or Yelp.
No matter how good you are at what you do, you are going to have unhappy clients, especially in the real estate industry where you're dealing with people who are making the single biggest purchase and commitment of their entire lives -- an emotional one, no less.
One downside to living in the hyper-connected digital age is that when people need to blow off steam, they can do it in a very public way.
There are also people out there who will just never be happy, no matter what you try to do to please them.
When I was a business owner, I had clients that were never satisfied, no matter how many PR placements I generated or how many hours I spent working on their business.
They always wanted more, and sometimes for the same or even less money. At the time I was too young to know how to recognize and walk away from these types of clients,
I was lucky that no one took to the Internet when they didn't like how a reporter positioned their brand in an article, Unfortunately, online review sites don't place more weight on a negative review from a legitimate customer. There is no way for the review site -- or the average reader -- to know if someone is disgruntled client that you never had any chance of pleasing.
The best thing you can do is treat every review, negative or positive, as an opportunity. It's easy to respond to positive reviews to thank the reviewer and show appreciation for their words of kindness or satisfaction.
It's trickier to dig deep and respond politely and professionally to a negative review. When you respond to a negative online review, keep it simple, think before you use the words "I'm sorry" and do whatever you can to guide the conversation offline.
Define your values and purpose
When anyone is launching a new brand, it's important to first define what you stand for and how you want too be known. Gap Inc. didn't open the doors to its first store as a worldwide clothing and accessories retailer.
They opened one store in 1969 and they sold denim jeans.
As they found success selling denim jeans, they built upon their core offering and expanded over the years, offering new products, new product lines and eventually, developing new brands under the Gap umbrella.
When you're beginning to build a brand, it is important to dream big and think about where you want to be in 5, 10, 20 or 40 years, but it's equally critical to be pragmatic and honest with yourself about where you are right now.
No one is going to roll out of bed and become a top-producing real estate broker on their first day at work, but you can take the steps to reach that initial goal by staying focused.
Before you begin marketing your brand, think about what it is you can offer right now and who your target audience is.
Here's an example: I know a real estate broker who focuses her business on first-time homebuyers. The value she brings her clients is that she can help first-time home buyers navigate the overwhelming, emotional process of purchasing a first home,
Some people might say that she is short-sighted to exclude other demographics from her marketing, but she is actually being very strategic.
As a young professional herself, she knows where her target audience hangs out on and offline and is targeting her advertising and marketing to that very specific audience.
As this agent sees success in marketing to this audience, as her sales increase and as her business grows, she can add services and offerings and market them accordingly.
That is not to mention, as time goes on those first-time buyers will eventually upgrade their starter homes, move to the suburbs to accommodate expanding families, purchase summer homes, downsize, etc.
If you want to be everything to everyone, a great way to start is to be invaluable to someone and you can always add and grow as the Gap did.
If you start off expecting to be able to juggle all of the balls without dropping one, you are going to find yourself struggling. Start with a narrow focus, and expand from there.
What other steps do you think business owners need to take before they set out to build brands?
Thoughts on new and traditional media, current events, life in Chicago and the occasional small Chihuahua photo.