I recently completed a professional profile for some company marketing materials. I puzzled over how to fill in “specialty” because I’ve always considered myself a generalist, sometimes zealously so. Being a generalist gives you breadth of knowledge and experience as well as flexibility to adapt to your surroundings. Generalists can survive reorganizations and take on new and exciting challenges. Generalists are less fearful of change; they are usually resourceful and adept at the bob-and-weave techniques necessary to avoid political punches. Generalists are often called upon to fulfill a variety of roles, including HR, PR, marketing and sales.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that while it is fine (and necessary) to be a generalist in practice, specialization is the key when it comes to self-promotion–you must know what you do and do it better than anyone else. And as I’ve recently discovered, one good way to specialize in yourself is by creating and living by a personal marketing plan.

Fresh from just such an exercise, I offer the following suggestions, but keep in mind that my personal process has been summarized for this format. My actual journey was very detailed and introspective. To get a more in-depth how-to, I suggest you research some widely available books and seminars on the subject.The first step is to define your business “self.” It is very important to know your personal drivers and motivating factors. By knowing what you want and how you wish to be perceived, you can make progress in creating that identity. Begin by answering the following–or make up your own related–questions:

“I want to be known as (the best/an expert) in _______________________” “People will mention my name when they are asked to think of _______________________”“I’m really good at _________________”“___________ is what differentiates me from others in my field.

Next, hone your answers into a personal mission statement. This can serve as a roadmap for your success. You can post your personal mission in your office or as your screensaver–anywhere you can regularly “check in” to make sure you are on track. Here is a generic example:

“To be recognized as the top commercial real estate broker in the Anytown industrial market. To have instant name recognition based on excellent community standing, word-of-mouth referrals, 20 years of experience and a growing list of Fortune 100 clientele. To have an intense focus on customer follow-up that sets me apart from my peers.”

Two close friends of mine have careers that ended up very different from their education, skill sets and desires. It is not that uncommon. However, for these particular individuals, I believe this happened because they failed to self-promote. Although their careers have been rewarding, in the absence of any self-promotion, their management defined them as they saw them. They were promoted into positions their management saw for them. When their names would come up in conversation, they were never regarded for their leadership skills or business acumen. Instead, they were described as detail-oriented, tech-savvy, and top-notch computer programmers. While this was technically accurate, it was accurate only to a degree since the perception did not reflect their actual goals or career aspirations.

Why the apparent disconnect? It is difficult to achieve your personal goals if you do not communicate them appropriately. Many people limit the discussion of career goals to yearly performance appraisals. How many times did you re-visit last year’s performance appraisal with your boss? How about with the boss above your boss? How many companies rely solely, if at all, on performance appraisals when promoting from within?

Don’t rely on one-off opportunities for self-promotion. If you can create a good personal mission statement and begin to promote yourself as the embodiment of that mission, you’ll notice that others will see you that way as well. Remember, you broadcast a message to everyone you meet. When was the last time you took a close look at the message you’re sending?

When you start living your personal mission statement, you will actually make conscious and unconscious modifications to your image, your manner and your approach. You will also align your image to the specialization you want to promote and thereby make it easier for others–management and customers–to think of you as that person.

Vik Bangia ([email protected]) is director, corporate services for CB Richard Ellis Inc., where he specializes in best practices, business integration and transition management. He was previously with Unocal Corp., where he specialized in information technology, corporate real estate, asset management and environmental remediation activities.

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