I enjoy coaching people through their business and marketing problems. Often, I am meeting with somebody who is starting from scratch and it’s an opportunity to explore the best practices available and make an impact on the world. So much fun!
The other day I was working with an amazing entrepreneur who is really going for it. She is working hard and building content and credibility very quickly. At one point I said to her, “This is the exact advice I would be following myself if I were just starting out.”
This conversation made me reflect on where I am now and what I would change if I were starting over. I thought that would make an interesting blog post. So here we go — An open an honest assessment of what I would do differently if I were starting over today:
1. Double down on the email newsletter
In the earliest days of social media marketing, the first practical opportunity to create content was blogging. Creating videos or podcasts in 2008 was still complicated, requiring expensive gear and editing software.
I was in luck. I was a good writer and I enjoyed blogging, so I was in the right place at the right time.
But is that where I would start today?
The type of content you choose to produce is a complicated puzzle, but ultimately it gets down to this: What do you enjoy? I truly like writing, but if I were starting over, I would probably create an in-depth weekly newsletter compared to the blog I have now.
I’ve blogged for 13 years and I’ve developed an audience that expects free and useful content every week, in a blog post format, within certain topic areas. So I’ve sort of created some boundaries.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a blog. It’s easy to share on social channels, builds SEO strength for your website, and the short format lends itself to quick production.
The format of a newsletter can be a little more artistic, in-depth, and personalized. It would also allow me to be more timely. When I write a blog post, I tend to favor content that can be evergreen and relevant for years, instead of focusing on what’s happening right now.
At this moment, I have a great blog audience and I don’t want to mess it up — so I’m sticking with the current format for now. But starting over, I would favor a newsletter with selected content then posted to a blog. Making a change to a new format is always a possibility but not my top priority right now.
2. Focus on the email list
When I was coaching my friend this week, I mentioned that her most valuable asset is her email list. Email connections are people who have opted-in to YOU. They’re open to your ideas and might even buy something from you someday.
By now, I have a pretty large email list, but in the early days, I was not as intentional and strategic about it as I should have been. My email list is 100 percent organic, meaning, I have never run a promotion, an ad, or a contest to build the list. I have never bought names or engaged in any other social media trickery to add addresses. And I never will.
I was five or six years into my “second career” before I realized how vitally important the email list is. If I were starting over, I would have been more intentional about that asset. I know that sounds old-fashioned, but your email list is about the only thing you can always count on in this world.
Social media connections are weak relational links. Your email list is an actionable audience.
3. More intent on the personal brand
I’ve written the best-selling book on personal branding (KNOWN) but this book was forged from the lessons of my years of failure. Like most people, I fumbled around trying to find the right combination of presence, content, and engagement to begin to build a brand.
Let me be clear. In many respects, I fell into my success.
The Mark Schaefer brand is not the result of a plan or vision. I eventually stumbled on the right formula through trial and error and was rewarded for my work. But I wasted years on that learning curve. I’ve had a great career but I would say my greatest contribution to the business world is the KNOWN book. You don’t have to be as clueless as I was. There is a proven, repeatable path.
If I had to do it over again, I would have embraced the idea of a personal brand much, much earlier in my career. I started my own business in 2008 — and can you believe it — I didn’t even have my face on the front of my website until 2016! True.
I didn’t want to be front and center. I resisted the idea of a personal brand. I had to be pulled into it! I definitely needed to embrace this earlier in my career. Ignoring this was a big mistake.
4. More video
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know one of my mantras is “The Most Human Company Wins”™
Here’s a good way to be the most human company. Show your face. Show your smile. Let them hear your voice and your passion. And the best way to do that is through video.
I have been self-conscious about creating videos. It feels like “look at me! look at me!” Just doesn’t fit with my personality.
I’ve become more intentional about my YouTube channel and I’ve peppered my website with videos now. But I should have started earlier. I don’t regret focusing on the blog, podcasts, and books. You can’t be great everywhere. But I should have created more videos, even if it was just once a month.
5. Reaching out for help
I’ve never had a mentor. I hate asking for help. I’m sort of a lone wolf. Probably a function of my upbringing.
Being self-reliant can be a strength, but overdone, it’s a liability and for me, it truly is a weakness.
The biggest change I would have made in my career is to seek help, align with mentors, and become more active in like-minded communities.
I’m getting a little better at this by the way. I was invited to a mastermind group last year and it’s a lot of fun. I just should have done it 30 years ago!
So those are the different paths I would take today. Overall, I think I’ve done a good job adjusting to opportunities and market changes as they present themselves. I’m on a path of continuous learning and improvement and I can definitely see where I should acted sooner on some opportunities.
I would be interested to learn from you — What would you have done differently in your career? Leave a comment below! We can learn together.
Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital 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 to your company event or conference soon.