MJD Editor Rachel Kaufman’s Note: We’re beta-testing a partnership with Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog where we syndicate content from the blog on a weekly basis. This one’s from Dan Gershenshon, a Chicago-based consultant.

Back when I was in High School, our cross country team coach had an unusual and corny yet strangely motivating expression. Prior to the beginning of each season, during the summer, he would say, “Make sure your hay is in the barn.”

What did he mean by that? I’m no farmer, but I’m pretty sure he was describing one of the important steps of preparation a farmer has to make before a long winter. And since cross country is a sport that requires longer distance running, the preparation you put into building up your endurance beforehand by running 300 miles in the summer – instead of waiting until the beginning of the actual fall/winter season to begin training – will give you greater results for the long-haul.

Strangely, my old coach’s expression has merit all over again for personal brands.

It’s time to re-examine how you position yourself now. Because the preparation you make now in terms of personal brand development and then executing that strategy give you a much greater chance of establishing and strengthening your presence in the marketplace.

Why now, you ask? After all, why not wait until sunnier days come upon us?
Think about how you view sources you now trust. Even when you had a need for a solution from an expert in that category, was that trust always instantaneous and so compelling each and every time?

No. I’ll bet you didn’t have that instant connection. I’ll bet in some cases, that connection and trust took time to sink in. You had to absorb it. You had to hear and read things from this person multiple times to get the whole story and reinforce the feeling that, yes, this person was one you could feel good about.

That’s how people work because like it or not, they’re naturally skeptical of many claims. No matter how genuine those claims are.

With this in mind, let’s fast forward to a time and place where the economy is not recovered but at least better than where it was. Some would even say that day is today. Your competitor has laid the groundwork for personal brand building with multiple efforts. He’s ventured in social media more than he ever did. And he’s revamped the look of his company’s website to encourage greater repeat visits.

And you? Well, let’s say at this point you’re just now ready to start talking about how you’re going to strategize your personal brand’s direction with some efforts that take place months from now – you know, the stuff your competitor’s been doing well ahead of you.

Provided the message is on target, which do you think the audience is more likely to respond to first — the brand they’ve been hearing from multiple times or the brand that just shared its first new message in a good long while? My money’s on the one that put itself out there in an effort to establish a rapport long ago.

Now let’s come back to the here and now. If you’re interested in taking proactive steps, then take a good, hard look within and ask yourself some tough questions that are not the no-brainers they appear to be initially. For example:

Who is your target audience?
You say you know who they are? Good. Tell me exactly which zip codes they live in and their purchasing behaviors. Then tell me where a potential secondary audience might be.

What are your competitors doing better than you?

It’s fun and easy to say where they’re failing in comparison to your strengths. Work harder than that. Tell me where they’re kicking your butt. Your personal brand is not perfect. Nobody’s is.

What’s the state of your website?
Is it a 1-time-only experience where people get what you’re about and then leave? Most are, unfortunately. No interactivity and fresh content….no reason for them to come back.

What are the threats on the horizon for your industry?
Tell me how people in that field may be affected and what you intend to do about it from a marketing perspective right now. Don’t tell me you’re going to wait until the threat is here and very real. Give people the guidance they’re looking for.

How are you showing that you’re a trusted authority people can turn to?
I’m not talking about what you do. I’m talking about speaking to events and trends in your industry or in the news that you have spoken to consistently through blogging, podcasting, video, newsletters, articles placed or another option.

This is only the beginning. The point is that from answers to questions like the ones above, you can begin to get honest with yourself about what you need to do from here. I’m quite certain that your house is not in perfect order at this point, which is fine. The time to ask them and then execute answers to them is now. Not later.

Animals go into hibernation for the Winter. Personal brands don’t have that luxury.

Dan Gershenson, a veteran of several advertising agencies, is a Chicago-based consultant focused on brand strategy and content marketing. Dan has guided a variety of CEOs and Marketing Directors at small to medium-sized companies, providing hundreds of strategic plans to help businesses identify their best niches and areas of opportunity. When not providing people with a road map for their brand or showing agencies how to position themselves differently, Dan blogs on Chicago Brander, mentors advertising students and cheers relentlessly for the Chicago Bears. Dan graduated from Drake University with a degree in Advertising.