Brand Yourself

Whether you work for a corporation, run your own business, or freelance, use your name to gain significant power and influence

Little did Tavis Smiley know that being fired, after five years, as thehost and executive producer of Black Entertainment Television’s (BET) BET Tonight With Tavis Smiley, would turn out to be a major career transition. In fact, it was the start of the branding of Tavis Smiley.

“I didn’t realize my value because I hadn’t gone outside [of BET] to find out,” notes the author, lecturer, TV-radio personality, and political analyst. Even though Smiley had interviewed some of the world’s top personalities, and snagged President Bill Clinton’s first interview following the Monica Lewinsky incident, Smiley wasn’t prepared for the flood of offers he received.

Within weeks after leaving BET, Smiley sealed an unprecedented trio of deals — as a correspondent on both ABC’s Good Morning America and CNN’s Primetime Live; and as host of a one-hour syndicated talk show for Buena Vista Television. “We did this all within eight to nine weeks,” says Smiley. “And it only took that long because of all the paperwork.”

The hot streak kept blazing. Smiley renewed his contract with ABC Radio Networks to continue his popular political commentaries on The Tom Joyner Morning Show, along with his syndicated spots, The Smiley Report, to air afternoons on black radio stations nationwide. National Public Radio tapped him for a daily one-hour morning show to air on 600 stations. Add to this, a two-book publishing deal with Doubleday and a product deal with Hay House Inc., a self-help book publishing company in Carlsbad, California. The result is a multimillion-dollar package of contracts.

Smiley made his name work for him and you can too. Whether you’re a corporate exec, business owner, or freelancer, you can gain power and prestige by branding yourself. Branding means equating your name to a certain topic, product, or service. Through branding, your expertise is transformed into a valuable commodity. So brand yourself by following these steps:

STEP 1: FIND YOUR NICHE
First, you have to find your brand. Do this by “looking at the patterns of your life,” says Norma Thompson Hollis, founder and CEO of Black Speakers Online (www.blackspeakers.net; 310-671-7136), which represents Smiley, success expert George Fraser, professional orator Patricia Russell-McCloud, and businessman Stedman Graham. “There are themes in your life that keep popping up.” This could be your brand. Fraser, for example, used his love of networking to teach others how to schmooze with the best of them. Today, Fraser is considered one of the foremost authorities on networking and building effective relationships. His SuccessGuide: The Networking Guide to Black Resources has been self-published in 20 versions in nine cities.

Before presenting your brand image to the world, reassess your life, career, and what you want to achieve. “What are your strengths? What are you already known for? What are you passionate about?” asks Bob Baker, author of Poor Richard’s Branding Yourself Online: How to Use the Internet to Become a Celebrity or Expert in Your Field (Top Floor Publishing, $29.95). “Done right, you’ll be promoting your brand for many years, so make sure you choose an identity

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