Michelle Schafer is the Owner and Career Coach with Michelle Schafer Coaching
Firstly, many people fear the words 'personal brand' as it means going public with your thoughts. I want to know if you have always found it easy to 'put yourself out there'?
I've always considered myself to be an open and transparent person in my personal life, and yet I really struggled with branding when I established my business. I realized it was easier for me to share about myself and what's important to me 1:1 than it was to be public about it. I'm not sure why - it wasn't the fear of being judged by others, but more about finding the right words to articulate what was in my head and my heart. The pandemic changed all this, as I finally felt I had the confidence to publicly share my own thoughts and guidance, and not just hide behind the words of others. I realized I had a lot to share, and expertise that could be valued by people looking for work, and by leaders. I was able to share my "why" in a more compelling way, and my words and my actions all aligned with this purpose.
When it comes to building an authentic personal brand, what advice would you give professionals starting out?
Take stock of who you are, what's important to you and the value you can bring to others - and the best way to know this is through hitting the "pause" button and doing some reflection. Then, bring these elements into all your communications and marketing - how you interact with clients, what you share with others, your resume, and your LinkedIn profile. You have a story - your career story and how you started your business - the key is to ensure your messaging and presentation is consistent across all platforms and mediums. It should be clear to others what work gives you energy, and the value you are able to offer.
Do you think personal branding and reputation go hand in hand, and what can people do to maintain a positive reputation while brand-building?
For me, branding is comprised of two parts: knowing who you are and what's important to you, and knowing what your value is. You can't have one without the other. It's important to have a good idea of your values and your dealbreakers, as your decisions and actions will be guided by these (including the clients you engage with, which ones you don't). And it's equally important to know your value - you need to be able to articulate what you can truly "do" for another organization, and what results you can obtain. The two go together. Your reputation and your brand also go together. What you want to be known for needs to come through in what you deliver for clients, and this will also form the basis of why they will refer you to others (and you definitely want those coveted referrals!) If your reputation is based on things that are different than the brand you are building, there will be a disconnect between what's important to you and what clients are experiencing. This applies in business, and also applies when you are looking for work (your references should be sharing the same story about you as your brand promotes).
Can you share a success story of how you or someone you follow used their personal brand to build business or career?
It's taken me years - years! - to build my brand. And when I reflect back to when I started my business, I was building a brand from day 1 and I didn't even realize it. From the very first networking conversation I had, I was demonstrating how I value active listening, asking questions and bringing compassion into my conversations. With my first client, I showed them how I can create a safe and welcoming place for them to share and explore. With every career transition client, I share in my welcome messaging that I have experienced career transition myself, so I have personal experience that helps me support clients in similar circumstances and give them hope. And for anyone who is interested in working with me, I demonstrate my commitment to transparency by posting my packages and rates on my website (and not a lot of coaches do this!)
Which platforms do you find most effective for establishing thought leadership and growing professional presence?
Definitely LinkedIn - not only can you contribute your own thought leadership, but you can interact with so many other thought leaders and contribute and comment based on the expertise they are sharing. And those comments and new posts all get seen by your network! This interview with the fine team at Industry Leaders also helps me gain a new audience for my thought leadership - it's an opportunity to share my expertise and spark some thought with individuals reading these interviews. If I share something that causes someone to stop and think, or ask themselves new questions, then this is a "win"!
How do you ensure your personal brand stays true to who you are and your evolving goals?
It's so simple and yet complex - show your true self, without pretending to be something that you feel others are expecting of you. Stand your ground for what's important to you, and communicate this regularly and consistently, whether it's over LinkedIn or in conversation. Your public-facing "you" should match what people will experience when they meet you for the first time (or read on your resume). A brand is not a statement - it's embedded in who you are and what you do. This applies to organizations as well - it's really easy for a company to post a list of values they abide by, but if how they respond to their employees, customers and partners goes against this, then there is a disconnect in branding.
What are some practical strategies or tactics professionals can use to expand their network and build meaningful connections?
"If you don't ask, you don't get". I share this guidance with my job-seeking clients, to encourage them to network and incorporate relationship-based activities in their job search. And you will never meet new people unless you ask for a conversation. So - ask! Determine which individuals you want to connect with and learn from, and figure out who in your existing network can help you get that conversation. And at the end of each conversation, intentionally ask if there is someone else in their circle they would recommend you connect with. Building connections is all about making the conversation about the other person - not pitching yourself - so make sure you come to the chat prepared with some interesting questions! A friend of mine once said "networking is about the interaction, not the transaction". So true.
Along your personal branding journey, have you encountered any common obstacles that readers of this interview should be aware of?
Self-doubt has a sneaky way of creeping in every now and again. There were big moments at the start of my business where I felt this as I was developing my brand, and it's come up again later in my business if I fall into the trap of comparing myself to others (which can easily happen - we are human, after all!) There were times where I questioned if I was unique from other coaches, or if I should be doing more (or less) in certain areas. Or even whether I had what it took to keep my business going - and growing! I had to remind myself of my compass - my brand was a reflection of who I was, not what others wanted of me or expected of me, or what I "should" be. When I reminded myself of this, my doubt diminished and my belief in my abilities (and what I have to offer) became stronger.
Imagine you have a time machine that can transport you to the future. What impact do you envision your personal brand having on the world?
This is a thought-provoking question - it's making me stop and think for a while. I would hope my personal brand encourages more compassion, more kindness to self, more transparency, and more psychological safety to explore, ask questions, contribute ideas and learn from failure.
Close your eyes and imagine you're a bestselling author. What captivating book would you write to share your personal brand journey and insights?
I've been told a few times lately that I should write a book so this is something I'm giving more thought to! I've learned a lot about branding over the years - both as it applies to my coaching practice, and also how it applies to my clients as they look for new work. I'd enjoy the opportunity to share the similarities and differences of branding for these two purposes, and tell some stories to illustrate and highlight some lessons learned. Branding is not an event - it's an ongoing journey. It's something that requires consistent attention, evaluation and adjusting as your priorities in life shift and change.