This article is the first in a two-part series on personal branding. This month we explain why a personal brand is important. Next month we’ll show you how to plan and develop one.

You don’t need to be Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, or Susan Cain to have a personal brand. Every professional has one, and so do you, the question is whether or not you are in control of it. It’s a determinant of where you are and where you may end up in your career. It is crucial that you find out what your brand is and work to shape it to your benefit.  By ruling your personal brand, you can achieve eminence in your industry, find others who align with you and understand yourself better.

As discussed in our post: A Reputation is not a Brand  “A carefully cultivated brand tells current and potential customers what separates a company from competitors. It carves out space in a customer’s mind so that the name of the company, or any image or message associated with it, calls to mind a complex web of associated signifiers. They can be attributes, items, colours, phrases, words, traits, memories, and even smells.” These associations are involuntary and often only subconsciously recognized.

A personal brand is much the same. It defines how others see you, remember you, think about you and describe you. It comes to represent you in the minds of others and in a simplified manner can be thought of as a set of adjective labels people attach to you, such as smart or bold. An individual’s impression of you will grow in complexity as he or she comes to know you, but it can be surprising how limited those associated adjectives may be, even among those you work or live with closely. Reliable, industrious, put-together, particular, and precise, or abrasive, overbearing, boorish, irresponsible, and offensive are all words people might ascribe to you. Like with a company or product’s brand, a personal brand is complex. It is influenced by many factors—from the type of clothing you wear and the words you choose, to your area of expertise and the actions you take—but though made up of many minute elements, it holds a powerful sway over your career.

How others perceive you and the image you project influences how far you go within your company, how strong your network becomes, and whether you get the job or make the sale. It is a critical piece of your professional life. A strong personal brand can reach others in your distant network before you ever meet them and help break the ice or open doors. The attributes others associate with you are cultivated over decades and yet are communicated in an instant. You can either take control and shape your personal brand or allow it to develop uncontrollably around you.

A person can propose a certain image of him or herself in the same manner a company can, but as with a company, the proposition must be authentic, differentiating and appealing. If your brand is appealing and makes people take notice, they will be interested and engaged. Then, if it shows that you offer unique value which differs from others, they will buy in. Finally, they must find it to be true, unless you want to be associated with dishonesty and seen as a swindler.

We’ll cover how to devise an authentic, differentiating, appealing brand for yourself next month, but whatever brand you want to cultivate for yourself, know that you will need to live it. You will have to get out into the world and take action, be seen and allow people to experience your brand. Speak, write, work and play, but always do so in a way that befits your brand.

For more of our thoughts on branding and marketing, read the William Joseph Blog. Be sure to return next month when we lay out how to go about creating your personal brand.