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MCLEOD: Why defining your brand matters

Do you have a brand?

The answer is yes. It doesn't matter who you are, or what you do for a living, you have a brand.

Your brand is your reputation and it affects almost every aspect of your life.

Branding expert Dorie Clark says, "Everyone has a personal brand, whether some skeptics want to admit it or not: there's no opting out."

What do people think about you? What do they say when you leave the room? That's your brand.

Some believe that doing good work alone should be enough. But it's not. How people perceive you -- the total YOU, your personality and behaviors, not just your skills and job performance -- is your brand and it affects the way people respond to you.

Clark says, "People probably have one or two impressions, and that is how they perceive you. You might get lucky and they'll be good. Or they may be erroneous. If you're not taking steps to ensure it's the right impression, you're throwing the dice with your profession life."

Clark, whose clients include Fidelity, Google and Yale University, says, "What people often misunderstand about personal branding is that sometimes people feel it means being inauthentic. But there are ways to be yourself and still make sure that others are aware of your best qualities."

In her new book, "Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future", Clark writes, "It's not about 'foghorning' your way into other people's consciousness, and telling them how great you are. Instead it's about taking control of your life and living strategically."

We've all seen -- or worse, been -- the middle-aged exec who is suddenly let go from their job and has no idea who they are or what value they offer the world other than what they used to do for their former employer.

Reinvention is essential if you want to stay relevant over the long arc of a career.

In her book, Clark writes, "To succeed in today's competitive job market and build a career that leverages your unique passions and talent, it's almost certain that at some point you'll need to reinvent yourself professionally -- and ensure that others recognize the powerful contribution you can make."

The first step is getting a handle on where you're starting. Clark writes, "Understanding what people think about you and identifying any gaps between current reality and where you want to be in the future, is critical."

Clark recommends a "Personal 360 Interview" to enhance your self-knowledge. She suggests conducting interviews or holding a focus group of trusted colleagues and friends to provide insight into how you are perceived. Questions like -- If you didn't already know what I do for a living, what would you guess? Or What are my blinds spots? -- help you understand your current brand.

From there you can begin the reinvention process. Take in the feedback; decide what elements of your brand are working for you and what you want to work on. If that sounds like work, it's because it is.

The book provides tips and tools to "leverage your points of difference, build your narrative and prove your worth." Clark, CEO of Clark Strategic Communication, also provides articles and videos on www.DorieClark.com

But at the end of the day, it's your brand. You can define your future, or you can leave it to chance.

Ten years from now, what will you wish you had chosen?

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books including "Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud."