Why you don’t want to be Chris Brogan


chris brogan

I have been mentoring a bright young guy trying to start a marketing business. I just received this note from him:

I’m still full of questions about this whole marketing business thing. I think I am setting the bar too high for myself and failing.  I’m comparing myself to friends like you and Jay Baer and not seeing the same results.  I am trying to lower the goal, but when I am surrounded by what you guys do I don’t really know what that goal is.  

Here is my response (I told him I was going to make a blog post out of this!) …

When I started my own business in 2008, I didn’t have any roadmap so I looked around to see who was doing it well and what I could learn from them. My role model was Chris Brogan, who had the number one marketing blog in the world. So my mantra became “Be like Chris.”

Chris was constantly pushing the envelope and he has taken a lot of punches over the years when he tried something new. But every blogger owes him a debt of gratitude because many of the rules of the road we take for granted today were pioneered by him. But he was more than an innovator and role model. He was a content-producing cyborg. Sometimes he was publishing two or three times a day. And it was all so good, and it was all him: funny, raw, poignant, smart, and above all, honest.

So that’s what I tried to replicate … and I nearly killed myself trying to keep up that pace. Brogan is a singularly unique talent as a blogger and the biggest mistake (among many) in my early career was trying to be somebody else.

Don’t be Chris. (Or anybody else.)

I am speaking from experience when I say that it’s difficult to not compare yourself to others and want to replicate their success. After a couple of months I realized that I was not Chris Brogan … sure, I could build on what I learned from him but I had to find my own blogging voice, my own path, and my unique audience. Over time, I discovered that I was pretty good at being me and really, that’s the only choice we all have!

Obsessing with the success of others only leads to disappointment. You will never be me, or Jay Baer, because you haven’t lived our lives, you don’t have our experiences and personalities. But the lesson you will learn soon is that nobody can be you, either.

Don’t be another somebody else. Be more of the best you.

Here are a few pointers to help you settle into your own space:

Block it out. If you are having a hard time staying centered and you’re obsessing with comparisons, stop reading our blogs, tweets and posts, at least until your confidence comes back. If comparisons are a distraction, ignore them.

Be patient and let your audience help you. Starting out, you probably put a stake in the ground and thought “this is what makes me different.” I did that at the beginning too — and I was wrong. I thought I knew what made me different but it didn’t really come together until my audience TOLD me what made me different. And the only way to learn that is to publish consistently for a long time and listen. My “niche” is still evolving as my readers tell me what they appreciate most.

You need courage to rise. To stand out on the web, you need to be original. And to be original, you need to dig down deep and have the courage to show your personality and passion through your content. There is only one you. You have no competition, including me and Jay. Be you and attract your own audience.

Don’t obsess with your “niche.” The job you’re doing now — is this exactly the job you thought you would be doing five years ago? The answer to that is almost always no. You carve your path in life by discovering your opportunities all along the way, Blogging works the same way.  If you don’t know your niche yet, don’t let that stop you from creating content. Just start. It’s likely that your specialty and interests will evolve and perhaps even transform over time until things become more clear.

So the answer to your question is, don’t look at me or anybody else to establish your “goal.” You will never be happy or fulfilled by judging yourself by external measures. Look inside and start with the “why.”  Why are you doing this? How are you being rewarded by the journey? If the journey isn’t meaningful and you don’t have internal peace, do it another way.

Don’t ever be me. Be the best possible you.

All posts

  • This is the rub and the heart of the matter.

  • Josh St. Aubin

    I really needed this today Mark. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others, but at the end of the day, you have to be the unique you that you are. If everyone was the same, things would get very boring and this whole blogging/content marketing thing would flop because who really wants to read the same things from the same point of view over and over again? With that said, it’s hard not to look at others to measure yourself and get discouraged by how amazing some of these people are. I just try to remember daily that my voice is my own and hopefully what I say will resonate with someone else.

  • Todd Lyden

    That’s all well and good… now tell me how to be you! hahaha

  • I just love this: “I discovered I was pretty good at being me”.

    I think each of us at some point in our lives compare to others, try to replicate others´ attitude, so we can get the same attention and have same success.
    But the truth of the matter is that you can never be someone else and the reason is only you can speak with your own voice. And even if we have the same ideas/opinion as others, we still express them in our particular way. That´s what makes us unique.

    As Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”:)

  • Considering most personal brand successes from the 2009-2012 era have disappeared including Chris your advice is excellent. That group made waves showing how people can be personal brands during a recession with lots of idle folks around to give them eyeballs. Now with people working most of their communities are dead and most of their advice while potentially working for individuals never worked for actual businesses. This was the first mention of chris brogan i have seen in over 6 month and I am being really serious.

    So if you want to be a personal brand consultant or speaker great. But if you actually want to work with businesses…what works for them isn’t what works for personal brands. The problem is before this was proved out they were being pitched as one in the same. I used to blog about this years ago and so far I am 17 for 18 in being right (my one loss was I used to believe in content marketing for SEO purposes which proved to be very wrong).

    You are right. Be yourself. Success
    is a personal thing and only what you feel it is. Plenty of very humble
    poor people who never did anything in the business world are tremendous
    successes in life. Many people with success in business are failures in
    life in the sense that they sold themselves and their time for money and
    do nothing but work. Your choice. I am ok with whichever path someone

    I have a cousin who got very high up in CAA in LA in the
    late 90’s. She was working 80 hour weeks had no social life no
    vacations no boyfriend. But she had money. She new hollywood stars. She was always working even when she went out at night. I was making $50k (less than her bonus each year) lived by
    the beach had an incredible social life and I was really happy. Much
    happier than her if you met us both (per her parents). BUT people view
    these all differently.

    Anyone who is Taoist like me knows we
    each have a path. Don’t fight it follow it to your own happiness. Follow
    the Way and ye shall be rewarded.

  • Thank you sir.

  • I once interviewed a guy who blogs about nothing but growing tomatoes. He is a huge success and even has advertisers. I’m convinced that everyone is amazing in their own way but it might take time to find it. Hang in there Josh! Stay centered.

  • Be careful what you wish for: https://www.businessesgrow.com/2014/11/11/speech-will-never-hear/

    We’re all human. We all suffer. Nobody has a perfect life. : )

  • Great quote Corina. Wish I had used that in the original post! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective Howie.

  • Todd Lyden

    Mark, thanks for re-sharing- one of my favorites you’ve done… I ALWAYS tell folks to read Sinek’s Start with Why… which is sort of what you are doing…
    course, that doesn’t mean we can’t emulate the best right?

  • Perfect. This is something that should impact a lot of upcoming bloggers that feel the same way that person feels 🙂 It’s hard to see that success can come from someone else than Jay Baer or Chris Brogan, because they see everything these guys are doing and think that’s the only road to success.

    I understand that we have to pave our own way. I think it’s ok to mimic these guys a little, but put our own “spin” on the whole perspective. What do you think Mark?

  • Well said, Mark!!!!

  • I am constantly inspired by new people coming into the field. Yes, there is a lot of sameness (ie boring). Yes there are tons of people trying to copy others (sometimes blatantly). But there are always a few who get it and find their own fresh new path. I am constantly learning from the new people coming in and love to see new ideas and approaches.

    A common saying is that we “stand on the shoulders of others.” I don’t think you need to stand at all. You need to RUN! I recognize the contributions and influences of people like Brogan, but I am never going to just stand there. I will always be pushing forward. I sincerely take the approach that I need to earn my audience every day. That takes an incredible amount of hard work.

    A common mistake is that people get into marketing because they think it is easy. It’s not. I would say of any traditional business function, marketing is the most difficult right now because it is so crowded and has changed so much. If you’re not willing to put in an Olympian effort and keep pace, it won’t work out, whether you are influenced by others or not. Thanks for commenting Wade!

  • Thanks Steve.

  • Thank you Mark!
    Funny you are writing this now – just at the end of last year I realized that I tried to be too much like you! I was so in awe of the knowledge and insight of you and other great authors I follow that I stopped blogging myself.
    However, I love to create and realized that I do have something to contribute. Thanks for this encouragement!

  • So happy to hear this. Sorry I got in the way for awhile : ) I appreciate your support over the years sir!

  • emulate and improve! : )

  • Mike Toner

    “Block it Out”- This is one of those mantras that is so hard to accept, especially for us social media types. I’m afraid if I stop reading, stop following I’ll miss something! #FOMO

    I think Tim Ferriss wrote about ‘tuning out the world’ in order to create and articulate ideas that stand out. This post, coupled with Geoff Livingston’s post today on building an online persona, really got me thinking about the importance of putting in the work in order to earn the accolades. Keyword here, earn.

    Do the work. Quit talking about it and BE about it. Everyone wants to BE social… so if you’re reading this now, jump in, comment, talk, connect. It’s not that bad…

  • Philip_Cummings

    These are fantastic points, Mark. I’m reminded again of a quote credited to Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I believe this is true in most every aspect of life.

  • Yeah “block it out” is hard but I have done this a few times. I have also have to trade “FOMO” in for getting rid of toxic people in my stream. A lot of advantages to blocking! : )

  • Super quote! Good to hear from you Phil!

  • Mark,

    This is perfectly put. The one point I’d like to highlight and encourage those coming up to really hold onto is the “Courage” piece. Courage may initially sound like an overly dramatic word, as courage is often associated with war and battle… But then internally, war is exactly what wages every time our fingers hit the keyboard.

    Thank you for this and if Brogan is reading, thank you to Chris as well. For everything.


  • It’s a good point and some of our conversations have brought me to the realization that I hate all of the butt kissing social brings. It’s not me.

    I have a new plan, and it’s one that you have inspired. I think I WILL run. Run towards the person I have been keeping quiet all of these years. I will never take away the things that people like you have brought to the industry. I recognize it and respect it. Never being in marketing before, I assumed that I should just pick up where everyone else is. There was always something nagging in the back of my mind that this wasn’t the right thing, but it was the accepted thing for me to do.

    But I think I’ll do what I have been thinking all of these years. Thanks again..

  • Jacob Sapochnick

    Great Advice Mark, needed it on this Monday morning. I still want to be like you, but in a movie start kind of admiration:) Have a great one!

  • Interesting. Look forward to hearing about it!

  • I have often written about the need for courage and agree with you 100%

  • Thanks my friend. : )

  • See, and here I was *sure* you’d take a crack at his hair. But no! You’re being you, and you’re too nice of a guy to do that!

    Seriously though, this is great. I love the part about looking at where you were five years ago … it’s not easy to find your voice as a writer, to find your unique value proposition, to find your niche. It takes time. But comparing yourself to more established folks isn’t the way to make it happen.

  • Mark, Excellent advice. Just have one question please. Do you mean to say that one should NOT have a Role Model to inspire?

  • Oh no. I did take a crack at his hair. But it was private : ) Thankd for dropping by Eleanor!

  • No, of course not. We all have role models and we stand on the shoulders of others but in the end copying other people will not be a winning strategy.

  • Kristine Allcroft

    Once again, a beautifully written heart-felt post.
    One of the neat things about blogging – or any writing for that matter: the author’s personality always comes through in the words. The warmth and compassion of your response to your “mentee” strikes a chord with all of us – no matter how long we’ve been at this.
    The person you’re mentoring is lucky to have a piece of your bandwidth!
    Thanks Mark for being you 🙂

  • Kristine Allcroft

    and when your synaptic connections fire we get more great blog posts! 🙂

  • Thanks so much for the kind words. This post is dead-on. The other truth, however, is that Chris (and you and me) benefit from first (or second) mover status. It’s tough to break through as a blogger now because there are so many blogs and RSS/subscription has waned. If someone wants to “make it” (which is itself an oft-misconstrued label because many of the popular bloggers are better at blogging than at running a business) today, they might be better off trying to be the “best” at Instagram or podcasting or Slideshare or something else. You still need a blog, of course, for SEO if nothing else. But I’m not sure if I started today that I would make the blog the hub (see Jay Today videos, for example)

  • Thanks so much for the kind words!

  • I think it depends on the business and the saturation of the niche. Certainly specializing in a quieter platform is a smart option in some cases!

  • It’s a hard lesson to learn, but necessary! This is an amazing post and much needed by a lot of us lost internet marketing sheep who’re roaming the fields with blindfolds on. Currently, I am striving to be the best possible me! Thanks for sharing this.

  • TheSocialMarketers

    Mark – great post. Again.

    I would like to write a short answer to what Jay said though. Again… Don’t hold it against me I’m really a fan of yours 🙂

    It is funny: 2 to 3 years ago – I would have agreed totally with what you just wrote. For years I was of the opinion that blogging (at least for newcomers) is essentially dead. And I have written loads of posts about this – for reasons I currently cannot talk about most of them are now offline. Through personal experience I have now changed my mind. Here is why:

    About 4 month ago Susanna and me started creating a new brand – this time for ourselves (The Social Ms). We included a blog without expecting too much traffic. We actually started implementing this via Tumblr (had to move to WordPress). Four month later we now actually have quite a bit of traffic – and over 3000 email subscribers. And are growing. Not bad for four month.

    Granted, we didn’t start at zero. But it is still a new brand and it is actually active in the most heavily fought for niche on the planet: Online Marketing. (Excluding online gambling and dating and everything like that.)

    Starting from scratch today with a blog is possible – but it needs different approaches than 5 or 10 years ago. SEO won’t be your first traffic source, you need to actively spread your content around, you need to go for social media traffic.

    As Mark once wrote: Good content doesn’t rise to the top on its own anymore – but giving it the proper care can make it rise to the top.

    I thought it important to not forget that.

    Before I talk too much here – I guess I will need to write a full post about this soon.

    – Jonathan (The Social Ms)

  • 3,000 emails in 4 months is great progress. Congrats! But let’s make sure we remember that the point of the original post was:: how can you get to Mark’s level. I’m not suggesting you can’t get to that level with a blog, and maybe you have the “it factor” that will allow you to do it even in these blog-competitive times. It’s just that I’m not sure if I started today that I would make the blog the hub of the strategy. A spoke, for sure, but maybe not the hub.

  • TheSocialMarketers

    Disagree again – just because of this: Our blog is turning itself into the hub – and getting me into trouble in the process because I planned it differently.

    This might not work for everyone – but it is possible.

    Ok, late here in Germany – and I’m getting slightly drunk… Signing out for the night!

    – Jonathan

  • Years ago I wrote a post saying I am not Chris Brogan and was shocked when Chris commented on it.

    It reminded/taught me that we are all people and that good things come when we treat our readers and prospective readers as people.

    If we are ‘selling’ anything online besides our knowledge it is ourselves and if you want to sell yourself you have to be yourself. It is easier than trying to be another anyway.

    P.S. The rumors are false I am not Seth Godin or The Bloggess.

  • I didn’t say it was impossible. Just unlikely. And even though your blog is successful – more successful than you’d imagined even – doesn’t mean it is at Mark’s level (which was the point of the post, and my original comment). So, I am genuinely delighted for your success, and am going to go visit the blog right now. But, let’s not move the goal posts to fit the narrative. You have a nice blog. You have proved you can have a nice blog. You do not have Mark’s blog (yet).

  • TheSocialMarketers

    Ok… thought I was off for the night but it seems I need to apologize: Never was it my intention to say that I am at Marks level (or at yours). At least at the moment.

    I am fan of both you and Mark. I am also currently creating a (still new) blog. I shared my current experiences – which means I can elaborate on whether it is currently possible to do it this way or not – you’ve already been through this five years ago.

    A direct comparison of our experiences won’t make a lot of sense – too much of what we do differs. But what I am experiencing right now means that I am actually positively surprised that it is still possible to create a blog.

    Now whatever I do: You will always be 5 years ahead. I will always look up to you both – as you have shown me (a part of) my path.

  • It’s all good. No apologies necessary. I’m exciting that it’s working for you! And I genuinely hope it gets HUGE for you. Schaefer needs some competition.

  • A great lesson and thanks for stopping by Jack. Always an honor to have you comment.

  • Powerful statement Cynthia. Thanks for letting me know this post had an impact on you!

  • TheSocialMarketers

    While I’m not sure I want to compete against you both – taking you out for dinner/drinks just took the top 10 spot on my wishlist for 2015 🙂

  • You had me at free. Thanks for the dialogue.

  • : )

  • Amen Mark!

    Chris tweet endorsed 2 of my eBooks because I was ME, not him, in writing those books. I view him as about the best guy on earth, business-wise, but one thing he always taught me through his blogs and newsletter was to find my authentic voice.

    I guess I did; otherwise he wouldn’t have endorsed me with some sweet tweets 🙂

    Loving the message, keep on inspiring!


  • LOVE this Mark! In my personal branding and social media marketing class we are just starting on strategically building our digital footprints. I think this is so helpful for them to understand. I tell them “don’t be a ok version of someone else, instead be the best version of you that only you can be.”

    Of course this advice is much easier to give than take so I’m grateful for this post. It reminds me to focus on my courage and being myself and helping my audience. Appreciate you!

  • Thanks for passing along this story Ryan

  • Great comment Don and I agree.

  • Pingback: Blogging Success: 7 Reasons New Bloggers Fail()

  • Mark, this is refreshing advice. I mean, who hasn’t tried to (or wished they could) emulate Chris Brogan at some point?

    For me, a lot of it (great social media) still revolves around the conversation and actually engaging with people. Chris still does that very well one-on-one. You do it from what I see. Jay Baer does it. Quite a few do it. But I’m sure that gets harder and harder the “bigger” you are. So kudos for both starting the conversation and sticking around in it…

    On another note, I look forward to meeting you at Social Media Marketing World in March!

  • Hello Mark,

    I love this piece! This is refreshing and much needed! So, thank you!

    I always tell people that it’s ok to look up to someone or have a mentor, but you must do things your own way. You can try and copy, but nothing feels better than allowing your voice to shine.

    The only thing I would add to your post is this: Celebrate every little victory.

  • Awesome Brandon. Look forward to seeing you soon.

  • Great advice Cendrine. Celebrate every little victory … and then keep moving forward!

  • Pingback: Why you don’t want to be Chris Brogan - Kaizenlog()

  • Pingback: Business Blogging: Five Reasons You Have No Readers by @EleanorPie Spin Sucks()

  • Pingback: Blogging Success: 7 Reasons New Bloggers Fail » SGLABS()

  • Pingback: Blogging Success: 7 Reasons New Bloggers Fail » HandyWebmaster()

  • Pingback: 75 Minutes With Mark Schaefer | Content Marketing Corner()

  • Pingback: Why You Still Need a Blog in 2015 - The Traffic Generation Podcast (The Social Ms)()

  • Pingback: Why You Still Need a Blog in 2015 – The Traffic Generation Podcast (The Social Ms) » HandyWebmaster()

  • Pingback: Time to Reassess Real-Time Marketing - Selection-media.com()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details