Building Your Brand as an Adjunct Professor – Part 1

Part I: Developing Your Personal Brand

Adjunct professors know all about establishing a reputation. It’s important to position oneself as an expert by demonstrating research, study, and clarity of thought regarding a topic. The next step is to be recognized for this expertise. Do colleagues and administrators value the product of your knowledge? And finally, at the close of a term, do students provide positive reviews for the methods of sharing this expertise and its application?

What is a Personal Brand?

A personal brand is different. Developing a personal brand is a function of translating this expertise into a valuable application beyond the limits of campus boundaries. More importantly, the discipline of broadcasting this personal brand to potential clients is crucial. High visibility of a portfolio of projects and clients establishes credibility. Credibility paired with accessibility lands clients and engenders higher billing rates for established personal brands. Making the connection from expertise through developing a personal brand will deliver additional income.

Getting to Know Your Professional Self

The first step in developing a personal brand is writing a few short phrases that encapsulate who you are, what you value, and what unique capability you offer to a client. For example, if you can’t convey this from one bus stop to the next, then you’re using too many words.

Ask yourself the following questions

  1. What do I excel at?
  2. What motivates me?
  3. What kind of professional compliments do I receive?
  4. Are there work tasks that I avoid?
  5. What gets my heart pumping?
  6. How would my favorite colleague describe me?

Defining Your Audience

This is the most challenging perspective to change for adjunct professors. A personal brand is not about you. It’s about what you can do. It’s about why potential clients will be drawn to your skillset.

Think of it this way, imagine you’re about to give a lecture to an unknown audience. Which is more interesting: a presentation read from a list of bullets about the topic or a collection of stories that inspire? Only presenters who know their topic well can demonstrate expertise with stories. Factoids don’t sell; examples do. If you’ve done an excellent job defining your personal brand, the actual conversation about what you deliver is more interesting. Interesting connects and draws potential clients in.

Write down the following answers about your potential clients

  1. Who are they?

Journalists? Small businesses? Large corporations? Government agencies? Nonprofits?  

  • Where are they? Locally? Regionally? Globally?
  • What do they read? Trade journals? Scientific journals? Blogs? White papers?
  • What platforms do they use? LinkedIn? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? Niche networking sites?
  • Who are the Thought Leaders in this space? Do you agree or disagree with their points of view?
  • Who are the Influencers? Who broadcasts their messages the most? Who has the most followers? What style do they communicate in: formal or informal? What platforms do they use?
  • What gatherings are important to this audience? Are there associations to join? Are there conferences worth attending? Are there posts or webinars worth posting comments to?

If you don’t have answers to these questions, find successful people in this space and ask for fifteen minutes of their time. You can map out the marketplace for your expertise by conducting short informational interviews. There are rules of etiquette for informational interviews. Always mind the time and stick to what you have scheduled. At the close of the conversation, show gratitude and ask for additional resources. Who else should you speak to further your understanding? What should you read or follow to get closer to this audience?

Evaluate Your Personal Brand

Once you’ve laid the groundwork for your personal brand, use the following checklist to fine-tune the product you plan to broadcast.

  1. Is it unique? Contrarians garner greater attention. Disrupters inspire change. Clarifying complex concepts extends the reach of knowledge. Does your personal brand further productivity in some way that other expertise does not?
  2. How valuable is your personal brand’s application? What is the risk of not engaging with your personal brand?
  3. Are you credible? Has the product of your personal brand been published, accepted by other experts or committees, received certification, or been recognized?
  4. Are you established? How many years have you been an expert? Has your personal brand been broadcast across multiple channels?
  5. What is the size of your potential or existing audience? Is it too large to be heard or too small to support an income stream for you?
  6. Is your message consistent? You may be good at many things. Choose one. You can broaden your scope later. Bring down the noise regarding what you provide. Be one thing to one audience to start.
  7. Does your voice resonate? The smartest person in the room may not be the most effective person in the room? Does your personal brand’s audience appreciate formality or informality? The size of your words may not resonate with the sophistication of your audience.  

In Summary

An adjunct professor’s personal brand is not about the professor or his resume. Instead, a personal brand is a sales tool for adjunct professors to nurture and broadcast with the intention of enhancing one’s career. The process for developing a personal brand is perhaps more important than the brand itself. Defining the application and audience for one’s expertise will lay the groundwork for becoming an academic entrepreneur who successfully reaches beyond academia for enrichment.