How to Sell Successfully When the Product Is You

Create. Live. Sell. Combine all three to build a powerful personal brand.

Written by Cindy McGovern
Published on May. 17, 2023
How to Sell Successfully When the Product Is You
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Think of someone who is unforgettable.

It might be a dear-departed grandmother, a superstar where you work or a best friend who is always there for you. They could be a star athlete, an inspiring author or a celebrity who seems to do no wrong.

How to Build a Personal Brand

  1. Devote time and thought to planning and creating a brand that you can live up to every day and that will be easy to sell because it’s authentically you.
  2. Live that brand every day. Everything you do and say leaves an impression on others.
  3. Sell your brand. Learn how to sell yourself at work, on job interviews, in your neighborhood or on the phone with a stranger.

What is it about that person that is so memorable? What comes to mind when someone mentions the person’s name?

Chances are good that it’s something specific, something you can describe in just a couple of words. There’s something the person does that is so consistent, it’s like a trademark. It’s something reliable, something you absolutely know about the person, something you could describe using the word “always,” as in, “She always makes me feel welcome” or “He always looks sharp.”

A great example is Dolly Parton.

She always looks the same: big blonde hair and a bigger smile. Sparkly clothes. High-heeled shoes. She always acts the same: Full of sass. Funny. Humble. Mega-talented.

That look, that personality, that voice: They’re her trademarks. They never change. You can count on them. She never waivers from them.

Dolly Parton wouldn’t be Dolly Parton without that heavy makeup and a teased blonde wig.

She knows it. You will never, ever see her look like anything but the Dolly Parton you think you know. You can count on that. She lives that look. She lives that trademark. It’s her signature.

It’s her personal brand.

It’s not something she created so she could describe herself that way to others. It’s not an image she created just for marketing posters and album covers and concerts. It is quite literally who she is, day in and day out.

Yes, Dolly Parton is, indeed, her own creation. And every day since she decided to present Dolly Parton to the world with a signature look and personality as unmistakable as her Grammy-winning soprano, she has lived that creation. And she has sold that version of Dolly Parton to the world to the tune of $600 million, her net worth in 2021.

What have you created for yourself? What do people say that you “always” do or “always” present yourself as? What is your signature, your trademark? What are you selling about yourself to others?

In short, what is your personal brand?

Dolly Parton’s personal brand is one of the most successful in the world because she has done three things with it: She created it with intention. She lives it consistently. She uses it to sell herself to the public.

Create. Live. Sell. One without the others is not a powerful personal brand.

If you create a brand but do not live it, you’ve got a slogan or a wish, not a brand. If you create a brand and don’t use it to sell yourself, you’ve got little more than a to-do list whose items you never checked off.

And if you’re living a brand that you have not thoughtfully created, focused, honed and tested, you really don’t know what you’re selling, do you?

Combining three personal branding actions (Create. Live. Sell.) will make you unforgettable. It will make your brand unmistakable so nobody will assume you are something you don’t intend to be. It will make you more successful at work and in your life because it will help you present yourself as the person you want others to see and know.

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Create Your Personal Brand

Like all things in life, your personal brand will be more successful — and so will you — if you spend time planning it.

Think about the last project you did at work that turned out exactly as you wanted. Did you dive into it headfirst without considering how much time it would take you, when you would find that time, who might be able to help you, whether you had a budget for it and what your boss’s vision was for it?


When we start anything without a good plan, we tend to flounder. We thrash around trying this and that until something works. Where I come from, we call that “throwin’ spaghetti at the wall and seein’ what sticks.”

Throwing spaghetti at the wall is a big waste of time. Writing a term paper without first doing the research is going to take you twice as long as one that you started after you gathered your information, made an outline, and cleared your schedule. Going to the grocery store without making a meal plan for the week and writing down a list of needed ingredients means you’ll have to make extra trips to the market every time you start cooking. 

The same goes for your personal brand. You can’t wing it. You have to plan your brand. You have to intentionally create your brand, or it might not stick. Even worse, others might assume your brand is something entirely different from what you think it is — and that might stick.

Then you’ll have to spend your time undoing that damage and — it is my hope — you will then hunker down and do the work of creating a brand that you can live every day and that you can use to sell yourself in the precise manner that will get you exactly what you want, need, and deserve.

Book jacket for Sell YourselfWhen you take the time to create a personal brand that reflects who you truly are and who you intend to become, you take control of your own story. When you give serious thought to how you want others to think about you, experience you, talk about you and remember you, you control the narrative.

You leave your reputation up to you, not to others.

Just as importantly, creating a thoughtful, deliberate brand will become a road map for your behavior and choices, from the company you keep, to what you say to whom, to the way you dress and present yourself in every situation. If you think deeply enough about the brand you create, it will stop you from doing, saying or engaging in things that could lead people to think about you in a light other than the one you want to shine on yourself.

Like Dolly Parton, you can become your own creation. If you are satisfied with yourself just as you are, a well-planned personal brand can help you stay the course as you consistently show up as authentic and comfortable in your own skin. If you’d like to stretch into territory that is somewhat unfamiliar, careful planning can result in a brand that shows others you belong there. If you want to completely turn the boat around and go in a new direction, you’ll first need to consider how to do that, whether you can pull it off and what changes or sacrifices it will require.


Live Your Personal Brand

How many prized possessions do you ignore because they’re tucked away on a shelf or in a cabinet or even out of sight in a closet?

Maybe you’re happy to own them and having them is enough. They don’t really do anything for you except perhaps make you smile every now and then when you pull them off the shelf to dust them or show them off to visitors. They don’t have any useful purpose. They don’t get you anything.

If you go to the trouble to create a personal brand but you don’t use it, on the other hand, having it is most definitely not enough.

If you make the effort to curate and craft a brand but you don’t follow through on it, do you really have a brand? Or at least, do you really have the brand that you took the trouble to create?

You can dust your brand off and reread the rationale that went into it, and it might rev you up for a while. You can show off your brand by telling others what it is. You can know that you created a brand and all the facets that are part of it. You can write your brand down and keep it in a safe place.

But that kind of brand doesn’t have any useful purpose. It doesn’t help you reach your goals.

Creating a brand with no intention of incorporating it into your everyday life — of living it — is a futile exercise and a waste of time.

What if you created the brand of an “energetic, polished professional” but wore tattered sneakers to the office and barely spoke up in staff meetings, except on days when the CEO was scheduled to meet with your team?

Your brand would be “passive, kiss-up, and unprofessional.”

No brand, no matter how well planned, is your brand until you live it every day.

You can’t write a brand down on a piece of paper, or tell others what your brand is, or label yourself with branding words and expect everyone to believe any of it if that’s all you do.

In other words, creating a personal brand doesn’t finish the job. Creating the brand is only Level 1 of the three-tiered branding process: Create. Live. Sell.

Living a personal brand means never — or at least rarely — deviating from the qualities you have decided you want to show to the world.

Creating a brand but not living it is like planting a tree but never watering it; writing a book but never showing the manuscript; registering for classes but never going to campus or even logging in.

You might get a smidgen of benefit from each of those exercises, but you won’t get a lush umbrella of shade on a hot day, or your name on the cover of a bestseller or a diploma.

The plan won’t execute itself. The intention alone won’t put your best foot forward. And the creation of a personal brand doesn’t mean that’s your brand.

Not unless you follow through. Not unless you bring it to life by living it.

How do you live it? You live up to it. You live like it’s who you are. You live like you are the brand.

Of course, you’re not the brand. The fact is, the brand is you.

Living a personal brand means never — or at least rarely — deviating from the qualities you have decided you want to show to the world. If your brand is “nice,” then be nice. If you’re not nice, you’ll blow your brand. If your brand is “go-getter,” then go get ’em. If you slack off, refuse challenges, and make excuses, your brand will be the opposite of go-getter.

Living your brand means speaking, behaving and even dressing and existing in a way that is consistent with the qualities you have chosen to brand yourself with. It means resisting the urge to say or do something that contradicts those qualities. It means being on guard at all times so you don’t slip. It means knowing your brand so well that adhering to it is automatic, authentic and easy.

Or at least it becomes easy over time.

When you commit to living your brand, you make a pact with yourself. You have done the creative legwork to fashion a brand that not only suits the real you but can position you to achieve whatever is next for you.

Living your brand is like keeping a promise to yourself to be your best self so you can live your best life. It’s an awareness that if you are not true to your brand, your dreams are unlikely to come true.

If you want to live your dreams, then live your powerful brand.

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Sell Your Personal Brand

When you truly live your brand, it’s easy to sell it. Selling your personal brand is the best way to sell yourself.

Finish this sentence: “I want to sell myself as…” Do you want to sell yourself as a dependable employee? A respected leader? A social media influencer? The words you filled in are the essence of your brand. If you want to sell yourself as a reliable, careful house cleaner who is worth paying top dollar for, then create a brand that gets you there, and then live that brand.

Your brand might include a plan to always be on time to the homes of clients; to own up to it if you break something — but to take every precaution so you won’t have to. Your brand might involve cleaning the homes of others as thoroughly as if your own family lived there. Your brand might include being friendly to clients and their families.

Every time you live up to your own brand, you sell it. In the house cleaner scenario, you’re selling yourself as reliable, careful, honest, friendly, thorough and willing to do more. Those aren’t just claims; you prove that your brand is authentic every time you walk into a client’s home. You give your clients a reason to say you “always” arrive on time; you “always” go the extra mile; you’re “always” trustworthy.

When those clients list your “always” credentials in conversations with their neighbors, those neighbors are going to want you to clean their homes, too. Chances are good that they have experienced house cleaners who maybe aren’t always professional, consistent, responsible and trustworthy. Chances are good that those neighbors are willing to pay extra to someone who is.

What has happened is that those neighbors have bought what you sold them. You branded yourself as a competent, dependable house cleaner, and that’s what they were looking to buy. They had a need and they believed you could fill it. So they hired you to fill it.

That’s what a sale is.

All sales are based on trust. You’ll never sell anything— including yourself — without first establishing trust. When you create a brand based on your finest qualities and you live up to those qualities every day, you have a brand that leads others to trust you. Sell that brand. When you sell that brand, you sell yourself.

Always, Never

Try this exercise: Write down five words or phrases that you would like others to associate with you. Then see if you can write “always” or “never” before any of them.
Always — on time. 
Always — keep my promises. 
Never — raise my voice.

Think of your personal brand as a sales tool. Think of living your brand as making a sale. What you’re selling is you — the same you that your brand says you are.

Celebrate those sales. I can’t tell you how many clients and friends I’ve known who have felt like they were bragging or even downright dirty for branding themselves based on their awesome qualities and then using those brands to get something they want: a job, a raise, a new client, a sale.

They believe salespeople are manipulative and dishonest. They don’t want to come across that way by selling a brand that only showcases their best qualities. What they might not realize, though, is that when you live and sell your best self, that’s good for others, too.

It’s a win-win kind of sale. What’s the least bit dirty about that?

Excerpted from Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live, and Sell a Powerful Personal Brandby Dr. Cindy McGovern. Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Cindy McGovern. Excerpted with permission from McGraw Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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