One of the key characteristics of brands that are launched by entrepreneurs is that they leverage the personal passion and history of the founder. It’s hard to think of Starbucks without thinking of Howard Schultz, Zappo’s without Tony Hsieh or Virgin without Richard Branson.

Each of these founders has spent time building their businesses but also paying attention to their own brands and building up a reputation for credibility and expertise that goes beyond any one individual business venture. Many entrepreneurs tend to be serial entrepreneurs; they get involved in more than one venture.

Personal branding is particularly important here as odds are some of your ideas will be successful and some won’t. But you want people to continue to invest (time, energy, money) in you as an individual.

Personal brands are essentially how people (as brands) stand out from the crowd by leveraging what’s unique about their expertise. They do that by telling a story that’s carefully crafted, and most importantly, different from everyone else’s that’s out there.

Like a company’s brand ‘story’, an effective personal brand stands out by being rich in detail and authentic. If no one feels as though you’re being genuine, chances are they won’t want to work with you.

Read below for a few key tips and strategies that will help you build a compelling personal brand.

Link your personal and professional brands together 

One of the key characteristics of top brands is that they’re launched by entrepreneurs with a personal connection to and passion for the product. It’s hard to think of Starbucks, for instance, without thinking of its founder, Howard Schultz, or to say ‘Facebook’ and have your next breath not be ‘Zuckerberg’. And many of you know that Richard Branson’s name is synonymous with Virgin. Not only did these founders leverage their personal passions to fuel their business success, they maintained their now-iconic names in the process. These founders love what they do, and it shows: they’ve built an empire based on their passions. 

Again, easier said than done. But in the same way that the Zuckerberg took his coding genius and transformed it into the backbone of an interface now lighting up everyone’s iPhones, you can make your professional and personal brands one and the same. But it won’t happen on it’s own.

First create a personal brand plan. Figure out what you want to achieve in 2013 and then write down strategies on how to get there. Do you want to have more exposure to a certain section of the market? Boost your credibility on certain subjects? Gain more confidence to speak in front of larger audiences? Feel more comfortable charging more? All of this takes deliberate effort.

Do a SWOT analysis on the brand YOU. Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and have a plan on how to continue to build your assets and close any credibility gaps.

But make sure not to show your warts and all

While personal and professional brands should be linked, remember your personal brand is not the same as your person. It’s an idealized and managed version of yourself. Chances are you are already practicing this distinction in your social media. For example posting pictures to Facebook where you look your best and are doing fun and interesting things. You’re probably not tagging yourself in the photos where you look like something the cat just dragged in. These are the first steps to managing your personal brand.

Sometimes you can even take this a step further and create a personal brand alter ego. Like Beyonce does with her on-stage character Sasha Fierce. This persona gives her the extra boost of confidence she needs to get out and wow millions. Have you thought about your Sasha Fierce?

Keep good company

The old adage ‘You are the company you keep’ is also true in business. In addition to forming lasting professional connections and keeping abreast of the latest trends in your industry, it’s important to engage with like-minded individuals to keep your personal brand alive and well.

It’s no longer sufficient to sit by and watch the conversation happen. You have to dive right in and be a part of it. Start small – join a networking group, create a Twitter account or a Pinterest page if you haven’t already.

Even consider another, less-common creative outlet, like a video series or a blog with fresh and innovative content. Most of all, build others up in your conversations with them. Besides the obvious notion of spreading good karma, you’ll reap the positive benefits of a strong, fully-supportive audience with brand advocates at the ready. 

Make it easy to “get” you

Ever heard an elevator pitch and walked away confused and a little shell-shocked from all of the information? Okay, you’re not alone. Many experts have this issue and don’t realize it. They’re so eager to tell us every single detail that they don’t highlight the most crucial components we need to know. The end result: we walk away stumped, and they leave with one less customer or engaged audience member.

Change this by paying attention to your audience and figuring out what motivates them, what keeps them up at night. Talk about what you enable others to do – your pitch isn’t all about you, after all! Again, keep it personal and be brief: outline your elevator pitch and highlight three key points that will make you stand out. Make your brand worth someone’s time, and you’ll be remembered. 

Mind the gap, please

As important as it is to start branding yourself personally and professionally, you need to understand how to tweak your brand and make it not just better, but the best of its kind.

You wouldn’t dream of setting your business in motion without a plan, or launching your product without a strategy, and the same is true of personal branding.

Creating what I like to call the ‘Personal Brand Plan’ can help you tell your story, merge your professional and personal brands seamlessly, and keep good company while you perfect and build both. These are the first steps to refiguring the brand of you and 2013 is the perfect year to start on that journey.