Surprise! It’s not about passion. Five lessons on building a huge personal brand

known book

By Mark Schaefer

I’m proud to announce the official launch of my sixth (and best) book, KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age. At the end of this post, you can download a chapter for free!

And you can see a “trailer” for the book here:

Click here if you can’t see the KNOWN book trailer.

Instead of telling you what KNOWN is all about, I’m going to share what I personally learned from writing this book. After all, when you study and write about a single topic nearly every day for 14 months, you pick up a new trick or two. Arguably, I’ve earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in personal branding!

You will learn a TON from reading my book. There’s no fluff here — My goal is to have at least one insight or lesson on every single page of the book. And here are five big lessons I personally learned from what turned out to be an epic journey.

In the beginning

First I should explain WHY I wrote the KNOWN book.

The seed of the idea was planted about three years in an exchange I had with my friend Jay Baer. We went back forth debating this question: Can anybody become known today? He wasn’t quite sure, surmising that there was an intangible “it factor” that’s difficult to pinpoint.

I could not get this out of my mind. Is there a “process” people could learn to become known … a repeatable, accessible path?

Being known is not the same as being famous. It’s not about having millions of fans and red carpet appearances. Being known is about approaching your web presence with an intent that creates the proper authority, reputation, and audience to realize your potential and achieve your goals … whatever they might be.

My first step was to read everything I could get my hands on about developing a personal brand — every book, post, and research paper. I found there was a lot of fluff out there. Everything seemed to be about finding your “passion” … but then what? How do you activate that? How do you turn that into an actual result?

I literally became obsessed with figuring that out.

So I started talking to people. I searched out individuals who were the best-known in their field … and it kind of snowballed! I ended up interviewing nearly 100 people from all over the world from business, education, real estate, construction, music, fashion, art, banking, and many other professions. I discovered something profound. Every person, in every field, in every region of the world, had followed exactly the same four steps to become known!

So I began to dissect this revelation, twist it, turn it, and figure out how this could be a path for anyone. And that is the premise of the book.

Lesson 1: It’s not all about passion.

This is a pervasive myth in business right now — success comes from following your “passion.” But I learned that sometimes a hobby is just a hobby. In fact, research shows that the number one reason for failure is that people follow a dream without any audience to support it.

Do you like the show “Shark Tank?” What’s the number one reason the sharks shoot down a business idea? Because it’s not scalable. It’s the same with a personal brand. If you have a dream, there has to be enough people out there to help you make it come true.

Of course it’s important to find something you love, your voice, your distinctiveness in this big world. But finding your passion is not nearly enough. How do you put that passion to work to achieve your goals?

Over the long haul, if you can’t connect with an audience big enough to matter, what in the world are you doing? In my book, I provide proven exercises to help you refine your “passion” into something that works — a sustainable interest that has a PLAN behind it!

Lesson 2: The critical impact of purpose

As I interviewed these amazing people, a theme emerged. Every person told me something about how their work had a positive impact on others. Everybody had a purpose besides just selling themselves, or selling a product. They had a deep sense of contributing to the world somehow.

To become known in the world, you need to be consistent and have some grit. You can’t give up easily. Studies prove that people who have grit are able to persevere because they’re driven by a higher ideal. They have a sense that people need them and depend on them for something.

This truth flies in the face of a lot of the Internet culture about “the hustle” and constant self-promotion every day, everywhere. You have to have a purpose. To make it in the long-term, you must realize it’s not about you. It’s about them. 

Lesson 3: There’s no overnight success, literally!

In my sample of people who successfully became known, it took an average of 2.5 years for a personal brand to “tip” and gain traction. In fact, only one person made it in one year (his secret is in Chapter 5) and on the other end of the spectrum, author Brian Meeks sacrificed for five years before he accomplished his goal of quitting his job to pursue writing full-time.

The last question I asked everyone was “If you could provide one piece of success advice to my readers, what would it be?” Nearly everyone said something about resilience, tenacity, and consistency. They told me that the biggest problem is that people quit too soon.

Perseverance is more important than genius!

My learning here: Passion is common. Endurance is rare.

Lesson 4: A focus on space

This was such a profound lesson for me — even if you have everything together and work your butt off, you can’t succeed unless you’re in the right “space” (or channel) on the web.

A couple months ago I gave a talk about my ideas in the new book. A man came up to me afterward and said, “I have been working so hard for years, producing great content every week, and in the first 10 minutes of your talk I realized what was wrong — my niche had already been filled with people who have been known far longer than me.”

Finding the right space to occupy is an absolutely critical step. My book takes you through exercises to determine the existing competition, and eight strategies to find a space, even in a highly-competitive field.

The internet is just beginning. There’s room for you, too.

Lesson 5: You don’t have to be an expert to succeed

I know this is common sense but it was a fact that smacked me in the face. All these people we look up to? None of them started at the top! Every person had to learn along the way and build their brand step-by-step.

Many of the successful people in this book were broke, destitute, or on the brink of personal disaster before they started their march on the path to become known. They stumbled, they were insecure, they did stupid things they regretted.

Years of hard work are often mistaken for innate talent. You might assume that being known for something is unattainable because you’re not the best at something. That’s not true. The people you’ll meet in this book share a trait: They didn’t start as natural experts in anything. They became known through commitment, constancy, and repeated practice.

To be known, you don’t have to be a subject matter expert. But you must have the determination and patience to become one. A professional is simply an amateur who didn’t quit.

The KNOWN book: It’s your turn

known bookI would love for you to buy my book KNOWN and discover the path to unlocking your online potential. It’s thoroughly researched and fun to read (or listen to in an audio version I narrated). I guarantee there is no better resource anywhere to help you create an effective step-by-step plan for personal branding success. I’ve also created an accompanying workbook with space for you to record the exercises, bonus material, and templates.

The person who’s known gets the business. More doors open, more opportunities are created, more customers come to you. To be a speaker some day, or write a book, or be named to a board, you must be known. It’s really the only sustainable career advantage we can build for ourselves!

Are you ready to become known? It’s your turn. And my book will show you how.

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