One of the most valuable things you can do for your personal and professional life is to create a “digital paper trail” of things that you want associated with your name.

Have a job interview?

Going on a date?

Chances are that you will be googled, and while a no-show on the results might not hurt you if all else goes well, a group of five or six positive results can do 80% of the work before you even walk in the door.

Building your own online reputation

When I dropped out of college, one of the first things I did was to focus on establishing some kind of paper trail for myself. In the years since, it’s worked wonders for my career, leading to personal travel opportunities and chances to help people all over the world pursue alternatives to college.

What follows are a few steps anyone can take to take control of their digital brand and start leaving a valuable paper trail.

But first…

Before we dive in, here’s a general operating principle for establishing this paper trail early on: documentation.

It’s easy to get focused on particulars, but when you’re getting started, a good rule to follow is to simply document your activities.

Read a book? Do a short writeup about it and put it on Facebook and Amazon.

Learn something new? Answer questions on Quora each time.

Travel somewhere interesting? Put it online.

With that in mind, here are a few specific things you can do.

1. Own your name and set up a website

The best thing you can do is to simply own your name, or a variant of your name, in URL form.

While you don’t need to be a blogger, having a site that appears on the first page of Google and has an updated About page, contact page, and perhaps a few posts and a reading list is worth the small time investment.

I didn’t write on my blog for months when I got started, and still the amount of people whom I connected with because of my personal site was staggering.

A website ensures that you’ll always be one of the top results when your name is searched, and it sends a valuable social signal that helps you stand out from the masses.

2. Pick one or two topics to specialize in and create content around them

Figure out a few things you know you’d like to be known for. They don’t need to be the ultimate goal when you’re getting started, but they need to be things that accord with a very general vision for yourself.

The easiest way I’ve found to get started is to simply use your career as a starting point. A friend of mine, for example, is in commercial real estate. For him, I’d recommend he answer Quora questions on the topic and put each answer into a one-page archive on his personal site.

If you don’t like writing, you can still create content. Create a resource page with links that you’ve found valuable, make a video (or a whole channel), or get yourself interviewed on a podcast where you talk about getting started in your field.

3. “Productize” yourself

The step that very few people take with their online brands is actually one that I think is the most important: turn yourself into a product that people can buy or borrow.

Even if you don’t intend on having a career as a freelancer, consultant, or contractor, the signal that you send by advertising that people can reach out to you for paid or free assistance in the areas you specialize in are huge.

A good place to start is to set up an “Ask Me” or “Hire Me” page on your personal site.

More than just a digital paper trail—it creates opportunities

Some of the best opportunities have been created through a simple blog post. Job offers can come through showing your work.

You don’t have to wait to have experience or credentials to build your digital paper trail. Just start doing things and sharing them publicly.

Take ownership of your online presence. Use it to your advantage.

Need a way to build your online presence and keep track of your digital paper trail? Try creating a Crash pitch!

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