Q: I am a realtor working for a large Chicago agency. I plan to leave it within six months and work on my own. I want to start working now on my online brand now without raising suspicions at the agency. What can I do over the next six months to ensure that I rank high on search engines for Chicago real estate–specifically in Chicago’s western suburbs?

This is a question I’ve gotten a lot over the years. Whether it’s from a product manager at Amazon.com, a Sales Executive at NewEgg.com, a journalist at Tribune, or a personal friend struggling to make ends meet—the concepts of how to accomplish this are all similar.

Step 1: Be damn good at your role

You’ll need to leverage your role at the organization instead of shirking it. This is typically where I see people make a mistake. They are so frustrated at their current job that they start to do work outside of the organization or simply stop focusing as heavily on their role at the organization. Their performance begins to drop off and their management starts to notice. It’s really difficult to get the opportunities needed to build your personal brand if your boss is breathing down your neck every day to just do your bare minimum. Plus, an unhappy boss tends to micromanage when he or she feels an employee is struggling. This leaves little leeway for the employee to work on his or her personal brand. So, do your job fantastically first and foremost.

Step 2: Find a niche

What are you doing in your role that is unique? What makes you stand out of the group? Perhaps your performance is a notch above everyone around you. Can you prove that? How can you prove that publicly without releasing information that will get you fired from your current employer? Perhaps you are highly specialized in one area of your role. No matter what it is, it should be something OUTSTANDING! If you don’t have something unique about you it’s going to be really difficult (but not impossible) to convince anyone that you are great as an individual without your organization.

Step 3: Get company-sanctioned exposure

This can be done in a myriad of ways. It can be as grandiose as leading an entire marketing campaign for a major national client, speaking at internal and external seminars, etc. Or it could be as simple as gaining the opportunity to have a Twitter or Facebook profile that you’re allowed to use for self-promotion as well as company promotion. Use your unique role, skill set, title and company’s brand to get opportunities you won’t get once you make the leap from the company to going solo. Don’t get too caught up in thinking it’s YOU that everyone wants to interact with…some will only want to interact with YOUR TITLE. Don’t take that personally. It’s your foot in the door. Turn on the charm and turn those people that only wanted to talk to your title into fans and possibly friends of you personally.

Step 4: Talk about what you want To be known for

What is it that you want to be known for and rank for in the search engines? If you want to be the leader in real estate for luxury homes in Naperville, you’re going to need that content out there and more specifically, you’ll need it out there in text. You’ve got to discuss that topic and make sure it’s in your bio everywhere online. Beyond your bio, try to have other websites interview you or mention you. When you do get exposure, try to control how that exposure is linked back to your website (you’ll get less heat from your employer if they ALSO link to your company’s site). As you get more mentions, links, etc. you will start to rank higher in the search engines and gain notoriety in the social networks.

Step 5: Be consistent!

You can’t change your mind midstream. This process takes a few months to a year to build up. You will need to be consistent in your messaging. You will need to be consistent in what you choose as your niche. Just because some other shiny object pops up, don’t go chasing after that niche. If however, you start to become known for a slightly different niche…don’t shun it. Run with it! Just be sure to stay focused on your initial goal though, too.

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