Guest post by Sima Dahl, president of Parlay Communications.

I’m passionate about personal branding and social networking. As a blog topic, it gets a lot of digital ink. So why is it that so many of the business professionals still know so little about it?

Networking is an essential skill for everyone, but if you’re in sales or own a business-to-business company, it is critical. Remember the golden rule of networking: People buy from and make referrals for people they know, like, and trust. So how can we use personal branding and social networking to encourage sales and referrals?

The first step is to determine your personal brand position.

Simply stated, this is who you are, what you do, and why you’re special. Think of your brand as a promise to deliver a certain level of service. When ABC announced Bristol Palin would be part of new “Dancing with the Stars” lineup, more than a few eyebrows went up. If Bristol is a star, she needs to work on her brand. Here’s how she’s most often described:

  • Single teen mom
  • Unwed teen mom
  • Sarah Palin’s daughter
  • Teen mom and daughter of Sarah Palin

One CNN opinion article says Bristol “remains the nation’s most famous teen mother.” Politics aside, I’m sure we can agree Bristol needs a new brand manager. Off the top of my head, how about advocate for the Candie’s Foundation or even star of the ABC Family series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.”

The second step is to engage in social networks.

It wasn’t that long ago that business networking meant chatting over the picket fence, at the Rotary Club, after church… it was almost exclusively done face-to-face. No more. Much of today’s networking happens online because it is efficient, effective, and, my personal favorite, it can be done in your jammies.

Don’t get me wrong; face-to-face networking is still important. But now you can use social networks such as LinkedIn to follow-up and stay connected. You can keep tabs on your connections, gently remind them of your brand value, and take measures to stay top-of-mind. For the attorneys and financial planners and real estate brokers and insurance sales reps and the millions of business owners who rely on referrals, engaging on LinkedIn is a must.

The third step is to mind your intent.

Intentional networking is about building personal brand champions… people who instinctively act on your behalf by making introductions, sending referrals, sharing information or leads – any action that helps you move forward. Intentional networking requires you to be crystal clear about your brand value and your goals. Optimize your profile with keywords and use status updates wisely.

And this is perhaps most important of all – embrace a pay-it-forward mindset. You have to give before you get. You earn sway within a network by exhibiting the very same behaviors you’re trying to elicit.

Remember, it works if you work it. So what are you waiting for?

Sima Dahl is a consultant, speaker, and author. Her company, Parlay Communications, helps businesses and business owners raise their visibility and generate leads through smarter marketing, branding, and social media.