Keeping your personal brand organized: An interview with Dan Schawbel

I’ve written a short article about office organizing that appears on page 25 of the August 2009 issue of Personal Branding Magazine. (You can check out a free sample of the magazine online.) Since we talk about office organizing quite a bit on Unclutterer, I thought it might be fun to instead let the magazine’s editor, Dan Schawbel, talk to us about a topic he knows in great detail and one that we rarely discuss on the site — personal branding.

In addition to being the editor of the magazine, Dan is also the author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand To Achieve Career Success. If after reading the following interview you want to learn more about personal branding, I recommend checking out Dan’s book, his site, his magazine, and his column in Business Week.

What is your method for helping people to identify their personal brand to stand out in the crowd?

There are four steps in the personal branding process I’ve developed: discover, create, communicate and maintain. You can’t create a brand unless you know what you want to be known for or labeled as. This isn’t a job title we’re talking about here. It’s all about positioning yourself in a crowded market by developing a personal brand statement, which contains your expertise and your target audience. For example: Top doctor for young adults in San Diego. As long as this statement is backed up, then you can stand out, demand a premium salary and become more respected and well known. Right now you’re asking “what if I’m not an expert” and the answer is simple, become the expert. I started off as a “personal branding spokesman.” Once you become proven, you can transition, but you have to start somewhere.

Brand discovery can be challenging, so you may want to survey the people who know you best. Ask them to describe you and give you feedback on what they think you enjoy. Ask yourself “what makes me stay up at night”? Write down your strength and what projects and/or college classes you enjoyed. Once you discover your brand, it will change the way you see yourself, give you confidence and ultimately make you successful, as long as you put the effort in.

What are the key elements of personal branding every worker should be scheduling time for in their day?

Each day, there are a lot of tasks you can do, depending on how much time you have allocated to building your brand. If you haven’t discovered your brand in the first place, then you should invest time in figuring out what you’re passionate about, what you’re expertise is (or what you want it to be) and what your support system looks like. You need all three to succeed and I call this the “triangle of success.” It’s not about finding a job anymore. Instead, you want to position yourself for the career you desire. You should do your homework to see what’s out there and make a list of your strengths, weaknesses, the opportunities you have and the threats (or factors that may impede on your success).

Another thing you should do is to follow conversations online, using,,, and others. Set alerts and/or search for your full name, topics in your field and competitors. This will keep you up-to-date with the latest happenings in YOUR world, as well as keep you relevant and knowledgeable.

I also recommend that you publish one blog post per day. The post should relate to the career you want to create and be unique. It’s hard to stand out in the blogosphere now with over 200 million blogs, so you have to be creative to stand out.

It’s so tempting to waste time on social media sites instead of using them efficiently for work and personal branding. Any tips on how to use these services in a productive way?

You have to first recognize your current situation, both financially and responsibility wise. If you have three six year old children, two pet dogs, and a full-time job, then you might not be able to invest twenty hours per week using social media sites to build your personal brand. Second, you’ll want to concentrate on only a small amount of social media sites, or your brand will be spread too thin and you won’t be able to manage it. I recommend that you join Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (the big 3), while discovering and joining social networks in your industry. For instance, if you’re a real estate agent, join or if you’re an entrepreneur, you may want to join

It’s quite easy to waste time on social media sites because they are fun and there are a lot of features and people to connect with, along with unlimited opportunities. The smart thing to do is to allocate a certain amount of hours per week to each social media site that you can benefit from and keep to that schedule.

How do you keep networking contacts organized? Do you have any services or advice to recommend to others for keeping all the information gathered at networking events stored in an organized and meaningful manner?

I use a simple Excel spreadsheet to log all of my contacts and worksheets within that spreadsheet to separate different types of contacts. For example, one worksheet is called “media contacts,” where I list the names of all the journalists I’ve corresponded and another one is “personal contacts,” where I list the names of friends and family. is another great tool to organize your contacts and export the list, which you can print out as well., a company owned by my friend Jason Alba, is a highly regarded networking database tool, which allows you to track jobs you apply for, in addition to personal and professional relationships. I wouldn’t consider myself the most organized person at all. I use most of my energy executing ideas and index my contacts later. For instance, I’ll use Gmail and create a category and put in contacts who have emailed me to be stored there, until I have time to log them.

What do you believe is the most difficult area of personal branding to keep organized and clutter free?

Aside from building a strong network contact list, it can be hard to manage your online presence as it moves through the web. The reason is because we’re all constantly moving and we’re swimming in an ocean of information everyday, so it’s hard to make your brand consistent. Also, technology has changed rapidly. Just Monday, Facebook bought FriendFeed, Facebook launched it’s own real-time search engine and Google launched a test website for their new search engine. You have to keep up with everything that is going on and if you subscribe to, and, you’ll have a pulse over the greater tech industry. The web is a cluttered place, so you should find the blogs with the most value and review them everyday. This can obviously be tedious, but you don’t want to be left out, while your competitors are paying attention.

Is there ever a time along a career path to stop maintaining relationships with others in your industry?

If you do that, then you will be in severe shape, especially if you lose your job. I’m a firm believe in the power of networking and the social equity that brings. For instance, when I needed an intern this summer, I tweeted about it and several of my contacts retweeted that internship opening. In turn, I received many resumes and eventually hired three interns. Without the social equity to make that happen, it would have been a gruesome summer. The older you get, the more important it is to have a strong network, especially in your industry. I did a poll on my blog and 60% of people got a job through networking. For executives, that number jumps up to over 75%. Building your network before you need it is required for career success, both online and offline.

12 Comments for “Keeping your personal brand organized: An interview with Dan Schawbel”

  1. posted by Laura - The Journal of Cultural Conversation on

    This is one of the most interesting and powerful interviews I’ve read in awhile. I like the ‘triangle of success’ concept. Many thanks, Dan, for sharing some insights of personal organization – just as valuable to me as organizing my space externally!

  2. posted by Rebecca on

    Dan is a good friend of mine and really knows his stuff. He also works harder than anyone I know and purely on personal branding – talk about living an uncluttered life 🙂

  3. posted by Jay on

    You may find my views old fashioned or even offensive, but I have to say, that I can only be sceptical of the whole concept.

    First of all, “personal branding” is not new. It’s called “building a good reputation” and it has been around for ages. Look it up.

    By the way, the term “personal branding” is in my opinion utterly braindead: while the word “branding” can be applied to commercial products and cattle (a more archaic form of a product, if you will), you don’t use this word on people, since they don’t get searing hot metal stamps pushed against their asses. People create a name for themselves, a reputation, not a brand.

    But I digress.

    Think about the people, who actually make decisions in companies and consider how many of them use social networks like mentioned above. I must note, however, that I live and work in Europe, so it may be different in the U.S. and I can only speak from an european perspective. But nevertheless, at some point a personal brander will come to an inevetible and horrible conclusion, that social networks are full of other personal branders such him- or herself, but no real decision makers. Face it, if we are not talking about small companies and the tech industry, you won’t find any execs or decision makers on social networks, who are active. It’s like a rocking party of dorks and the girls didn’t show up.

    My point is, that networking is critical for a career, but it is based on trust. And trust comes from consistent results, integrity and a strong work ethic. You cannot substitute that with a high follower count.

    If you want to promote that trust through the Internet and social media, you have to give your audience content that is worth something. And face it, your opinion is seldomly a valuable and practical contribution (I am aware of the irony of that statement, but there is no URL with this comment).

    And nothing against Mr. Schawbel, but looking at his example, I see a person, who got a personal brand, by promoting personal branding. Kind of like people who got rich quickly by selling “How to get rich quickly” books. When the means are the cause, than I am afraid credibilty suffers.

  4. posted by Dan Schawbel on

    Jay, good points and thanks for the comment. We’re already branded though, whether you call it reputation or personal branding, one thing is for sure, you have to take control of perceptions by establishing yourself. Really successful people are known for something unique, as well as their personalities. Right now, personal branding has become more obvious because technology allows everyone to have a voice and some individuals to become more well known than various companies.

    Personal branding is also about aligning your passion with your expertise, while developing a support system. This means that it gives people the confidence to make money doing what they love. To me, that matters more than anything.

  5. posted by Eric on

    This was a very helpful interview. As a stay at home dad with three daughters and three dogs, my time can be quite disorganized.

    My wife even made a comment as she left for work that I should get up earlier to prepare for my day with the kids.

    I also realized that my strengths, passions and area of expertise intertwine with what I am trying to achieve as far a building my brand.

    Dan’s response to not being an expert, but a spokesperson, really helped me to get clarity as well, while I work to develop my brand.

    Great work!

  6. posted by Jessica on

    I have to admit I was too turned off to read the whole interview but I just hate the term “personal branding”. Give me a break, people aren’t companies or goods to be purchased. There’s just something really icky about applying “business speak” (which is already obnoxious in the work world) to our personal lives.

  7. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jessica — You’re welcome to disagree, but I think that you should have at least read Dan’s interview before critiquing what you “think” are his ideas. As we suggest with all of our content on Unclutterer, even if something doesn’t specifically speak to you, that doesn’t mean that it can’t spark an idea for being more organized in another area of your life. For example, his advice to keep up on industry news is very pertinent regardless of if you think personal branding is a good method for you.

  8. posted by Michelle on

    I’d add that you should focus your branding efforts on being seen as someone who can provide valuable information, not just someone who self-promotes.

    I’ve noticed that more and more of my Facebook and Twitter friends have been posting nothing more than statements that boil down to “Here’s my awesome blog post!” or “Visit my site!” That just clutters up MY life, especially if I already subscribe to your blog’s RSS.

    Promote some of your own work, by all means, but also remember that most social media are best used for conversation–that’s how you make real connections. If you use these tools merely as billboards, you’re probably building a different reputation than you think.

  9. posted by Timbuk on

    Sounds like voodoo and kind of cynical to me. I went over to their site and wasn’t very impressed. There’s not much preview content. I was going to buy a back issue pdf for $4.00 to get a better look, but they said it might take up to 48-hours for them to email it to me. Guess they’re too busy updating their daily blogs of accomplishments to speedily respond to paying customers.

  10. posted by links for 2009-08-13 on

    […] Keeping your personal brand organized: An interview with Dan Schawbel Personal branding is another interest of mine, and this article provides some good jumping-off points for me to review (tags: personalbranding branding organization) […]

  11. posted by Johnmcc on

    I am afraid I have to agree largely with Jay.

    Personal branding is a nonsense to me, I’m interested in someone’s character – not their outward image/brand. Character comes through such things as quality work and keeping commitments to me and others, not in maintaining an online social network.

    Reading the interview it seems that Dan has read What Colour is your Parachute, re-hashed it and included mention of some recent online social networking tools.

  12. posted by Dr. Hubert Rampersad on

    A Roadmap for Building an Authentic Personal Brand

    Authentic Personal Branding is a journey towards a happier and more successful life. Your Personal Brand should therefore emerge from your search for your identity and meaning in life, and it is about getting very clear on what you want, fixing it in your mind, giving it all your positive energy, doing what you love and develop yourself continuously. Your Personal Brand should always reflect your true character, and should be built on your values, strengths, uniqueness, and genius. If you are branded in this organic, authentic and holistic way your Personal Brand will be strong, clear, complete, and valuable to others. You will also create a life that is fulfilling and you will automatically attract the people and opportunities that are a perfect fit for you. If you are not branded in this unique way, if you don’t deliver according to your brand promise, and if you focus mainly on selling and promoting yourself, you will be perceived egocentric, selfish and a unique jerk, and branding will be cosmetic and a dirty business… more ;
    Join our Personal Branding University on Twitter .

Comments are closed.