- Mark W. Schaefer investigates the significance of a strong personal brand, how to get started and how it saved his career after contracting the coronavirus
- A powerful personal brand gives you an array of advantages and opportunities, namely visibility, customers, and funding
- You have to be unequivocal about the nature and niche of your brand and occupy a space that is under-served
- Not only is career momentum built when initial advantage (that is, wealth and powerful familial connections) is applied to a seam, but it is also facilitated through a robust personal brand
- A seam is a fracture in the status quo, for instance, a shift in the style of taste, a technology change, or even a pandemic
- In line with the seam, it becomes extremely important to make your brand align with the needs of the market
Like many people, when the coronavirus crisis hit, my business tanked. And then on top of everything, my wife became infected, and a few days later, I also tested positive.
There was a period of about seven weeks when my household was in a quarantined, non-functional haze. I was not getting enough oxygen to my brain during my illness, so I couldn’t read, think, or concentrate for nearly weeks.
As I started to wake from this pandemic fog, I went through a period of severe disorientation. What was my place in this new world? I was a keynote speaker without a stage, a consultant irrelevant to clients in a deep crisis, a college educator without students, a popular author with an unbelievable 90 percent drop in book sales when the virus hit in March.
But by July – just a few weeks later — my business had bounced back in a remarkable way and I had one of the strongest financial months of my career. I had a powerful realization. I had been saved from this shipwreck by my personal brand.
The work of the personal brand
Here is something I’ve been preaching for years: If you are known in your industry, you have a permanent, sustainable competitive advantage.
And that’s exactly what happened to me. Even in a crisis, new doors kept opening because I had put in the work on my personal brand for so many years.
I have been consistent and tenacious with my content and online presence, and people remembered that. I’m still being sought out as a speaker, consultant, and personal business coach when others are falling into a deep business trough they may never get out of.
Every time I created a piece of content over the years, I was making a deposit into an insurance policy for my career. Now, it’s paying off. I’m making the “withdrawal” on the authority, reputation, and presence I worked so hard to establish.
What does this mean for you?
In this period of unspeakable suffering and cataclysmic business change, I’ve been saying as often as I can that it’s not too late for you to work on your personal brand, too.
In fact, it’s more important than ever.
- If you have a small business, then you must realize that your personal brand IS the brand
- If you’re an entrepreneur, a strong personal brand might give you the visibility and attention you need to get the funding and first customers you need
- If you work for a company, a personal brand can create new opportunities, especially if your job gets eliminated and you have to compete for a position in a climate of high unemployment
- If you work for a non-profit, you are probably getting hit hard right now. You have a better chance for a returned phone call with donors if you’re known
Getting started on a personal brand
Creating a personal brand in this environment might seem overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, when I did the research for my book known, I found that every person who has become the “go-to” leader in their field did the same four things. No exceptions.
- You have to be clear about what you want to be known for. This is harder than it sounds. You have to be able to complete this sentence: “Only I …”
- You’ll need to figure out some space you can occupy that is under-served. Zig when others are zagging
- Content is the fuel for your personal brand. You only have four choices of how to do this. So pick one and rock on!
- A social media audience alone will not help you make your dreams come true. You need to build an actionable audience that believes in you
The personal brand and “the seam”
In my new book ‘Cumulative Advantage’, I report that career momentum builds when an initial advantage is applied to a seam.
Initial advantage might come from wealth, powerful family connections, or an elite education. But if you don’t have those benefits (like me), you can also create your own advantage through your personal brand. Without a doubt, being known and trusted in my industry is my competitive advantage.
A “seam” is a fracture in the status quo. It’s an undefended or under-defended niche. It could be a shift in style or taste, a technology change, or even a pandemic.
We are witnessing more shifts right now than any other period in our lifetime. We have shifted the way we work, shop, learn, connect, teach our kids, and entertain ourselves, to name a few. And each of these shifts represents an opportunity.
Whether I blog, speak, or consult, I am a teacher. The emerging seam of the pandemic was an opportunity to teach something new. People needed to learn how to deal with this new stress and uncertainty.
I shifted my content to align with the needs of the market at that moment and I was rewarded because people trusted me.
- Traffic to my blog doubled
- I compiled my best posts into a free ebook called ‘Fight to the other side’ and gave it away (I didn’t even require an email address)
- Based on the success of the ebook, I created a custom online speech designed to inspire Zoom-weary leaders. The speaking requests began to pour in
- Within a few weeks, I was back to a normal business pace, although others in my field continued to suffer setbacks
- The new speech also led to interest in consulting sessions with a giant pharmaceutical company, a CPG company, and a tech company
- I also used this transition time to write a new book about creating momentum, something I had been planning and researching for about a year
- By year-end, my revenue was nearly the same as 2019, something I regard as nearly miraculous for a consultant and speaker
Without question, adapting to this crisis could not have happened if I had not established my personal brand first.
I’d like to share an inside secret of personal branding success. Consistency is more important than genius.
That may seem strange … perhaps even counter-intuitive in a world that reveres gurus.
I started blogging in 2009. I published at least one post a week (and usually two) for 650 consecutive weeks. I’ve hosted my ‘Marketing Companion’ podcast for nine years and have never missed an episode. I’ve written nine books.
There have been some weeks when I wondered why I should keep creating all this content. It takes a lot of time and sacrifice.
But when I look back at my career, I realize that every business benefit eventually sprang from the audience that loves the content I create. And now in this crisis, I’m so, so, so grateful I kept at it. I’m successful today because I didn’t quit.
Starting is difficult. It can even be nerve-wracking.
In six months, it will be easier, more rewarding, and even more fun. But you have to begin and you have to give yourself 18 months before even thinking about a pivot.
This is so important. If this is the right time for you, I hope you’ll start making those deposits in your own personal brand account this week. The work I put in for those years saved me in a crisis and if you begin now, it can save you in the next one.
Mark W. Schaefer is a keynote speaker and marketing strategy consultant.