Building Bridges: Leveraging Your Employer to Enhance Your Personal Brand

I've spent the last 6-months attempting to outline a blog discussing how a strength coach can effectively attack the discussion of personal brand development with his or her employer in a fitness business similar to Cressey Sports Performance. I sat in front of the computer screen for extended periods of time second-guessing every angle I could come up with, and then it suddenly dawned on me...

I have about a half dozen employees who've effectively created their own brands while functioning as coaches here at CSP Massachusetts. Why not approach the one who already writes far more eloquently than I ever will and ask him to take on the task?

Today's guest post comes to you courtesy of CSP strength coach, Tony Bonvechio. He's taken his own personal brand from "0 to 1" in the past two years, so he's got some invaluable insights to share. Enjoy!

“I've been battling internally with leaving full time work in a field I don't love to pursue coaching, which is what keeps me awake at night as you can tell by the time stamp on this email. I admire everything that the staff at CSP does so I know the temporary discomfort of no job will be worth what I'd learn from the internship.”

That’s a direct quote from a cringe-worthy email I sent to Pete Dupuis at 12:11 AM on April 14, 2014, inquiring about the Cressey Sports Performance internship program. Luckily, Pete overlooked my email awkwardness and the rest is history.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in two years at CSP, it’s that a surefire way to find success is to create value for others.

It can be tough to ask your employer to help build your brand and not theirs. But if you shift your thinking and focus on what you can do for them, you gain leverage. Do a bang-up job to enhance your employer’s business and they’ll have no choice but to promote your personal brand.

Eric Cressey and Pete Dupuis have gone above and beyond to help me build my personal brand, Bonvec Strength, into something I’m extremely proud of and something profitable. My brand has benefited from a two-way-street mentality: nearly everything I do to build Bonvec Strength directly or indirectly helps the CSP brand and vice versa. That goes for my co-workers too, and I’d challenge anyone to find a fitness facility that has so many viable personal brands under one roof.

Just a few of the brands that have taken shape here at CSP

Just a few of the brands that have taken shape here at CSP

What can you do to build a bridge between yourself and your employer to enhance your personal brand? It all starts with a desire to make everyone around you successful. Here are four things you can start doing right now to make yourself and your employer better:

1.    Be a Role Model

Being a part of the CSP team means being a role model. It means setting an example for the athletes we train. It means being a leader for coaches who learn from us. It means helping the fitness industry get better as a whole.

Fortunately, I had perfect examples to follow. From work ethic to training philosophy to social media etiquette, I was surrounded by people who embodied the term “role model.”

If I expected Pete and Eric to help me leverage my strengths, I knew I needed to be a reflection of all the things the CSP brand represents. I had to coach hard, train hard and learn hard. I had to learn to talk to parents and show them that their kids are in good hands. I had to have the appropriate online presence, from giving quality information to not dropping f-bombs even when the trolls deserved it.

Once the leaders of the CSP brand could trust me to represent them well, they were extremely open to helping me develop my own brand.

2.    Develop Rare and/or Valuable Skills

During my internship, I read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and it changed my life. It helped me realize that skill, not passion, is what separates the great from the good.

A light bulb turned on in my head. I’d been passionate about fitness for years, so why wasn’t I gainfully employed yet? Simple: I hadn’t developed any rare or valuable skills.

The CSP internship took care of the valuable skills: coaching, programming, assessments. These skills weren’t rare, however. All my colleagues had these skills too. Pete said to me in one of our first meetings, “You’ve got a short window to make a mark in this industry. How are you going to differentiate yourself?” That question burned deep in my brain for months.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had some rare skills in the tank too. They just needed to be leveraged.

My background in journalism gave me a leg up in producing content, from articles to videos to webinars. Eric and Pete could trust me to put out quality stuff without too many typos and “um’s.” And my baseball playing experience gave me plenty of context to draw upon when coaching athletes and talking to parents about why training at CSP would help their son or daughter. By developing my ability to communicate “baseball-specific” concepts, I could enhance the client’s training experience and help close more sales.

Pete has often said they hire coaches not to bring on Eric Cressey clones, but to fill a personality or skill gap. I like to think I do a bit of both.

How are you different from your peers, not just in a way that makes you stand out, but also compliments your employer to make the team better? The answer to that question is the key to building your personal brand too.

3.    Do Stuff for Free

After finishing grad school, I thought a hefty paycheck was right around the corner. An unpaid internship seemed out of the question given my advanced degree. I throw up in my mouth a little when I think of how delusional I was.

Turns out, doing stuff for free led to some of the biggest payoffs.

Four months of unpaid interning led to a full-time coaching job.

Writing guest blogs for Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore led to a paid gig at MyFitnessPal, one of the most-viewed fitness websites in the world.

Volunteering with Greg Robins at an Optimizing the Big 3 seminar led to a partnership with the Strength House that jumpstarted my online training business and has taken me to cities and countries I never thought I’d see.

You’ve gotta crawl before you walk, and you gotta do stuff for free before you get paid. No one’s going to pay someone who doesn’t possess rare and valuable skills – not the big bucks, anyway. Delayed gratification sucks, but it’s necessary to build a skillset and reputation that people will pay for.

4.    Make the Most of Every Opportunity

There are no shortages of opportunities to leverage the CSP brand to build a personal brand. But as the saying goes, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

In my first meeting with Eric, I told him I would love to start a powerlifting team. Within a month, we had an all-women’s group training three days a week in preparation for their first competition. Within a year, we have nine paying members.

When Pete approached me about bolstering CSP’s social media efforts, the idea for Technique Tuesday was born. What started as a simple 2-minute video has grown into a weekly series that’s amassed over 100,000 views and dramatically expanded my online audience. All it took was asking Pete’s permission, about five minutes of filming per week, and a year’s worth of consistency.

Had I never sought out these opportunities, knowing full well it would require some long nights and early mornings, it’s likely my personal brand would still be minimal. I also aimed to make these endeavors as hands-off for Eric and Pete as possible, knowing full well that their lives revolve around the business and their families, not me. If I could bear as much responsibility as possible, I’d have a better chance for their approval of my projects.

It’s easy to shirk extra tasks that may not have immediate payouts, but if you embrace every opportunity with the mindset that you can grow it into something valuable, the dollars will follow.

Are You Building Bridges… or Burning Them?

 Before your employer can boost your personal brand, they must see the value you bring to the team as a whole. Focus on helping the team that surrounds you, and your bridge will build itself. Then, once your value is undeniable, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even though it’s a “personal” brand, you can’t build it alone.