Since you need to -- 25 practical things you can do to brand yourself NOW

The other day I said that personal branding is unhealthy. It can be. But on the other hand, it is often a business necessity. Here are some tips on how to do it right (without doing too much damage to your psyche). The key is to shape your personal brand around who you really are - so that you do not have to go through self-manipulative machinations as you go through the day.

1. Search your soul and spell it out. In essence, a brand is "personality in a bottle." Personality, in turn, is simply how you behave when confronted with the world. So ask yourself: "How do I act, in general?" and then write down as many personality characteristics as you can think of. (Be honest: Seemingly negative traits brand you as well as positive ones. Just ask American Idol judge Simon.) Then, list all the brands you love, the ones you are absolutely drawn to: clothes, cars, coffee, celebrities, and so on. This stuff is not for the world to see, but for you to use in defining what it is about your personality that is different and therefore valuable. You will draw on it later on as you determine what kind of words sound like you, which colors reflect your personality, and so on.

2. Narrow down who your customer is. Private industry or government? The boss or a frontline staffer? Entrepreneurs or corporate staffers? Baby boomers or Gen Xers? Americans or Europeans? End users or vendors that sell to them? It can be annoying to do this, but remember: It's a crowded playing field. You need to narrow your audience to be effective.

3. Make sure you have a unique selling proposition. This is one sentence that states the value you deliver to your customers. It is the business proposition through which you deliver your brand. Just like CNN ("the most trusted name in news"), say it at every opportunity.

4. Get your blog going. Register your blog name - it is YOUR NAME (you are the brand) - and start submitting it to the search engines – Google, etc. Once it's up there you will be motivated to get the design and content going.

5. Choose your color. Own red, blue, orange, yellow, purple, green, whatever. This is the color you are going to use in all your marketing materials. You may not have the money to develop a logo, but your choice of color is free.

6. Join an association that matters to your audience and help organize an event for the local chapter.

7. Find a conference to attend. It doesn't have to be the most expensive gathering in the world, but it should focus on your specialty area and focus on an audience that is likely to buy your services.

8. Arrange for a small speaking engagement. Your local university is a good place to start: They always need guest lecturers.

9. List yourself as an expert with a wire service such as PR Newswire.

10. Take on pro bono work for a local organization you feel comfortable with. For example, if you have school-age children, you may want to start with their school.

11. Start writing. Begin with short articles, which you will post to your website. They don't have to be scholarly. In fact, it's better if they're not. Keep it practical and include numbers: 5 ways to do XYZ, 3 things to keep in mind, 10 myths vs. facts, etc. Eventually you will put all of your articles, e-posts, and online advice into a meaningful package: your first book.

12. Start e-networking. Find blogs, mailing lists, and websites that allow comments, and get involved in the conversation.

13. Get on the editorial board of a respected industry publication. Start by volunteering to review manuscripts. Work your way up to the board.

14. Collect 3 testimonials and post them to your blog in the helpful links section.

15. Write 5 one-page case studies showing results you have generated and post them to your blog in the helpful links section.

16. Determine your fee structure. When you finally get asked about your fees, this will save you from stammering and stuttering your ill-thought-out response.

17. Create a proposal template or list of products/services. You want to focus on the content of your value to the client, not fuss about the package at the last minute.

18. Put together a list of professional helpers. You will need a decent website developer and a marketing communications consultant. Ask for some references from schools in your area if you're strapped for cash.

19. Write your bio. You will need it for speaking engagements, "about the author" descriptions, and of course your website.

20. Generate an "advice" column that promotes what you do. Of course, you will write the questions and answers, at least at first. Post it to your blog.

OK, now for 5 bonus tips of a more conceptual nature:

21. Be consistent. I define a brand as "a set of consistent processes that define, differentiate, and add value." Basically, you have to set expectations and then meet them. Everything counts: what you say, to how you say it, your clothing, your billing processes, everything.

22. Plan for fame. You lose your personal life. Is that what you want? Think it through. You may have to settle for a lesser level of renown.

23. Weigh the economic risks. If you get in legal trouble, your company could sink. (Martha Stewart, enough said.)

24. Understand that the quality of your product or service has to be impeccable. You can't put lipstick on a pig.

25. NEVER compare yourself to the competition. You need to keep your head clear and be proactive, not reactive.