3 fears stopping you from embracing personal branding (and how to get over them)

During my social media training sessions, I like to spend a little bit of time talking about personal branding.

“What does personal branding mean to you?” I ask my audience.

…“Anyone?”

…Crickets.

That’s when they start to squirm. For many people, especially those working in legal, banking and other professional service industries, the idea of personal branding makes them uncomfortable. “That’s just not my thing,” they’ll say, although they can’t always put a finger on why.

After having these conversations with hundreds of professionals around the country, I’ve narrowed it down to three irrational fears that keep people from embracing personal branding.

1. It feels like cheating on my firm/company

My audiences often divide down the middle on the question of whether personal branding should be done on company time or personal time. For those who vote personal time, they are convinced that personal branding is primarily about advancing their own career independently of their company.

Here’s why I disagree. Think about LeBron James. As a professional athlete, James’s personal brand grew significantly during his time playing for the Miami Heat, compared with the beginning of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Heat’s success during his tenure there – winning two national championships – and the affluent setting of sunny South Beach, Florida, made LeBron James a household name in a way that he had never been in Cleveland.

When he returned to Cleveland, do you think the Miami Heat regretted the fact that he had played for them at all? No. The Heat will forever be associated with back-to-back-championships under the leadership of MVP Lebron James, no matter what team he plays for.

It’s the same with any law firm, bank, financial services firm or any other profession. Your employer will reap the benefits of every second you spend building your personal brand.

2. That’s great, but I’m not LeBron James. What am I supposed to share?

Everybody thinks they have to be somebody before they can begin their personal branding campaign. They think, “I have to be famous in order to have credibility. Why would anyone pay attention to anything I say?” You don’t need to be Oprah, or have anywhere near her level of fame, for that matter..

Your credibility comes from your experience. If you write about what you’ve done, why you did it, and how it worked for you, no one will ever question your credibility.

Sometimes it takes brainstorming with another person to realize what it is you do automatically – or what you’ve figured out without realizing it – that is worth sharing. Everyone has something. Everyone has a set of best practices they have developed that make them an expert at their job. It could be as simple as a developing an end-of-the-day checklist that you follow to set yourself up for success the next day.

That’s what defines what we call content marketing. It’s saying, “I figured this out, and I thought you might be able to learn from my mistakes.”

When it comes to sharing best practices, some people are afraid of giving away the store. “If I share all my secrets, why will people pay for my services?” The credibility you will gain by sharing your expertise will more than make up for any DIY-oriented clients you will lose by demonstrating exactly how you excel at doing your job.

3. OK, what if I do get famous? Won’t I look like an egomaniac?

I have noticed that people have a real fear of success when it comes to personal branding.

“Isn’t it just going to sound like I’m bragging? When I share stuff about me, won’t it sound like, ‘Look at me! I’m on the cover of Time Magazine!’”

I get it. I get the sensitivity to being braggadocious. Everyone has that person on their social media newsfeed who has poisoned the well for them about personal branding. They post all the time about the size of their network, or they humble-brag or fish for compliments.

Let me reassure you on this: If you’re afraid of becoming that person, you’re already safe, because you’re self-aware. The people who abuse personal branding don’t have the self-awareness to see that they’re not providing any value.

If you approach personal branding from the perspective of a servant leader, your posts will always be honorable. Think about Jim Collins’ characteristics of a Level 5 Leader from Good to Great: When things go well, the Level 5 Leader gives credit to the people out the window. But when things go south, the buck stops with her. She looks in the mirror and says it’s my fault.

Build your brand by highlighting the people around you who are doing great work, sharing the lessons you have learned from your experiences, and admitting your own mistakes.

For 9 out of 10 people, if you ask them who they are, but tell them they can’t talk about their profession, they’ll be lost for words. As people, we identify so strongly with our professions that we can’t help but live and breathe our jobs.

Why not capitalize on that tendency and take it one step further? Build your brand on the back of your experiences at your employer, shining a spotlight on the company and the people who have given you a platform to excel.

It’s time to get over your fears and build your personal brand.

Spencer X Smith

Spencer helps you save time through teaching digital marketing and social media strategies in plain English, after proving they actually work for himself first. He also is an instructor at the University of Wisconsin and a columnist for InBusiness.

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