5 Lessons from teaching personal branding classes for five years


Looking back on my career, I would say my greatest contribution to the business world is a book I wrote called KNOWN. The choice is simple because nearly every week, I get a note from somebody telling me this book on personal branding changed their life or business. It’s rewarding to see that my book is even being used as a textbook in universities! But even with the framework of the book, I saw that some people were still getting stuck. So I started teaching personal branding classes, and anyone can sign up for this course.

Over hundreds of hours of instruction, I’ve learned a few things myself. Here are five lessons I’ve learned from teaching these personal branding classes:

1. The hardest part

Step one in the process is defining what you want to be known for, which is harder than it seems!

In my personal branding classes, I call this defining your “sustainable interest.” This is different from a hobby, a passion, or a dream. It is the intersection of your talents with a need in the world.

People tend to get stuck in these ways:

Over-thinking it.

You’re never going to get it right at the beginning. You just need to take your best shot and follow the plan. Your brand will evolve as you learn, grow, and respond to customers


A sustainable interest can’t be about “providing the best service” or “having the friendliest staff” Those are nice selling points, but almost any business can claim those traits. What is UNIQUE about you? What is the crown that you wear?


There is a lot of competition. Always will be. But there is only one you. There is room for everyone. Claim it! You can’t really dwell on the competition. Focus on what you uniquely bring to the world.

2. Consistency

100 percent human contentWhen I wrote KNOWN, I interviewed 97 people around the world who were “known” in their field. The last question I asked them was, “If you could give one piece of advice to somebody who wanted to be known in their field, what would it be?”

Almost every time, the answer came back, “Be consistent. Don’t give up.”

Industry leaders saw this as the biggest challenge, and it is.

Through the personal branding classes, I can provide every tool to head in the right direction, but I can’t make you do the work. There has to be a commitment to showing up every week.

Here’s a prediction. You’re going to get sick. You’ll go on vacation. There will be weeks when you don’t feel like showing up. Prepare for those predictable events by creating a buffer of content you can pull from in the down times.

3. Drift

When people complete my personal branding classes, they have a plan. They’ve done research, had a period of introspection, and received feedback from me and their classmates. They have a solid direction and are ready to launch.

A problem I often see is that once they start creating content, they drift into other lanes.

I’ve been guilty of this too. Instead of creating content that solves problems for my audience, I follow my whims and write about things most people may not care about.

Remember that ultimately you build an audience by being relevant to that audience and that requires that you stay in the lane.

4. Hubris

A passion is self-centered. You follow your dream, and that feels good.

A personal brand is other-centered. You’re defining your place in the world in a way that helps and serves others.

Your website should clearly state the problem you solve and how you uniquely solve it. Awards and accolades are nice,  but start with the customer and how you can help them.

5. Content focus

To stand out in this world, you have to be great. And you can’t be great in nine places.

My strong recommendation in my class is that you focus on one content form (out of four possible choices) and master it.

There is so much opportunity for those who build a personal brand and stick to it. But the key to monetization is building an audience who cares for you, and that is most likely going to be in one place.

My most important work

I regard my personal branding classes as the most important work I do right now. With AI nipping at the heels of our skillsets and even careers, having the presence, reputation, and authority to stand out in our career field is the only way we have to fight back.

It’s not too late to begin. If you would like me to help you in the best possible way, I encourage you to sign up for a class.

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

Illustration courtesy Midjourney

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