As business owners we know that branding our business is important, but what about branding ourselves? Today I have the honor of interviewing Dan Schawbel, the leading personal branding expert for Gen-Y. The New York Times calls him a 'Personal Branding Guru" and you'll often hear his name tossed around in the same sentence as Seth Godin's.

Q. Dan, what is personal branding and why is it important today?

A. Personal branding is how we market ourselves to others. It's a timeless concept. The two reasons why branding has always existed on a person level is that we always have to sell ourselves in various situations, from trying to impress our managers so that we can take on bigger projects, to convincing our friend to see a movie. Also, we're always being judged based on first impressions, most of which occur online with a simple Google search. From the clothing you wear, to how you behave and interact with other people, to your body language, everything is tied to your overall brand.

Corporations are starting to act more like individuals because consumers demand brand engagement and two-way conversations. That's why you see employees tweeting and updating their status messages under a corporate umbrella. The same strategies companies use to brand products can be leveraged to brand people, such as blogging, search engine optimization, and press releases.

For anyone interested in having a successful career, whether you're a job seeker, consultant, student, employee or entrepreneur, your personal brand is everything. It's your reputation, the size and strength of your network, and what unique value you can contribute to a company or your clients.
What are the benefits?

Just like corporate brands, people can demand a premium price (a higher salary) based off of brand value. Coca Cola is more expensive than a supermarket brand, yet it tastes similar. Consumer's are willing to pay more for Coke because of media attention, commercials, distribution in major chains such as McDonalds, the history and story of the brand, and the overall experience people have when they drink a Coke. Another benefit is that you will become more visible and be recognized by your peers, hiring managers, other successful business people, and entrepreneurs. With visibility comes speaking engagements, jobs, clients, celebrity and the opportunity to make a difference! People will want to work with you, work for you, and support your career.

The network that you develop because of your brand can protect you from today's uncertain work environment and allow you to grow your business. Branding also gives you a sense of being, confidence and purpose.

Q. What are the steps in personal branding?

A. The four steps in the personal branding process, as outlined in Me 2.0 are:
• Discover: In order to really understand who you are and carve out a career path moving forward, investing in self-discovery is critical. In fact, if you don't spend time learning about yourself, your values, personal mission, and unique attributes, you will be at a disadvantage when marketing your brand to others. Start by asking yourself "what do I want to be known for, and then select a niche so that you can position yourself in the marketplace.
• Create: Your personal branding toolkit may consist of a blog, website, business card, resume, video resume, reference document, cover letter, portfolio, social network profiles, or a combination. Your brand must be consistent and reinforce each part of your toolkit.
• Communicate: Now it's time to use everything you've created to let people know you exist. You can communicate your brand by attending professional networking events, writing articles for magazines and media sites, commenting on blogs, connecting with people on social networks, and reaching out to the press.
• Maintain: As you grow, mature, and accelerate in your career, everything you've created has to be updated and accurately represent the current "brand you." Also, you need to monitor your brand online to ensure all conversations about you are positive and factual. You can do this by using a combination of tools, including a Google Alert for your name.

Q. Why should entrepreneurs care about personal branding?
1. If you don't brand yourself first, someone else will brand you.
2. Venture capitalists, angel investors, and partners want to work with strong personal brands that have successful track records.
3. Your personal brand is transferable, so if your business fails, you don't have to start from scratch again.
4. People are searching for you or people like you online, and if you don't have a solid brand presence, you won't be taken seriously.
5. A lot of entrepreneurs, especially internet entrepreneurs, have to build large networks before they generate media and investor attention.

Dan Schawbel, recognized as personal branding guru by The New York Times, is the bestselling author of Me 2.0, a national speaker, and the publisher of both the award-winning Personal Branding Blog and Personal Branding Magazine. Dan is the youngest Business Week columnist, and just started his own company called Millennial Branding, LLC.