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The 10 Biggest Personal Branding Mistakes People Make

Personal branding has risen in popularity over the past few years — and with that popularity, we’ve also seen mistakes pop up. Which begs the question, how can you create a personal brand while avoiding the biggest pitfalls along the way? Let’s discuss that question.

What is a Personal Brand?

Before we get into our top mistakes, let’s ensure we’re all on the same page about what a personal brand is and why it’s important. We personally like this definition from Influencer Marketing Hub

“Your personal brand is how you promote yourself. It is the unique combination of skills, experience, and personality that you want the world to see you. It is the telling of your story, and how it reflects your conduct, behavior, spoken and unspoken words, and attitudes.”

You might think of some of the biggest names in your industry. When it comes to PR and marketing, for example, you might think of Michael Brennen or Neil Patel. Both have worked hard to establish expertise and credibility in their field.

But their personal brand goes beyond mere knowledge. As you follow them, read their content and even engage with them, you get to know the person behind the name. As you get to know their personal brand, you’re drawn to their personality and become a loyal follower. And that is what makes a personal branding strategy so successful.

But why should you have a personal brand? There are a number of reasons we recommend it, including…

  • It gives you an outlet to share your strengths and passions.
  • It helps to establish your expertise.
  • It helps to create genuine relationships with your audience.
  • It puts you in control of how people see you.
  • It can attract new clients and potential employers.

There is no doubt that a personal brand goes way beyond simply marketing yourself and can help you in countless ways.

But how can you do it right and avoid some of the biggest mistakes that people make when beginning their personal brand? Let’s look into that right now. 

Personal Branding: The Biggest Mistakes You Need to Avoid

1. Being Fake

AKA, pretending to be someone you’re not.

We’ve all been guilty of this from time to time. We think we’ll lose out if we’re not who we think people want us to be. And sometimes in small measures this works out — but when taken too far, it can be tiring and impossible to maintain. Plus we’re living a lie.

In the long run, pretending to be something you’re not damages your brand. Audiences want authenticity and sincerity from the personal brands they follow. When they discover that you haven’t been honest, it backfires and any trust that you’ve worked to attain is broken.

So, forget the idea of conforming your personal brand to others’ expectations. Instead, focus on showcasing your positive qualities. Be honest about who you are and what you stand for. This will gain you more than pretense ever could.

2. Waiting Until Something Goes Wrong

This is akin to weather-proofing your home in the middle of a hurricane —  too little too late. The time to do it is when the sun is shining and you have the wherewithal to adequately protect your home.

Turning this example towards personal branding, the best time to start building your brand is when things are calm and you can focus on doing it right. That way, if misfortune occurs,   your reputation has been solidly built and “weatherproofed” to handle it.

Once something bad happens, you won’t have time to build your reputation. You’ll be under the gun doing damage control. The sad truth is that a reputation, once damaged, can take years to recover. 

3. Focusing Too Much On Yourself

You might be thinking, “Well, yeah, it’s a personal brand, isn’t it?” And you’d be right. You use your personal brand to attract people to you. But that doesn’t mean your brand should be self-centered — rather it should show off your personality and values while focusing on your audience.

Stop chasing  likes and follows and concentrate on building a relationship with your audience. Just as with any relationship, if you focus too much on yourself, it won’t last long.

Similarly, you need to be interested in your audience. What do they want to know? What are their concerns? How can you help them? By shifting the focus to others,  you’ll attract more people and have a more authentic personal connection to your audience.

4. Underestimating the Time Commitment

A personal brand does not arise, fully formed, overnight. Just like a beautiful flower, it takes time to cultivate and hone it to get to the final, impressive result.

Don’t think that you’re going to become a big name within a few months. Expect it to take  time and effort. Your brand is the culmination of a number of things, such as networking, writing articles, collaborating with others and engaging on social media. It takes time to establish yourself and distinguish your brand from competitors.

The amount of time it takes can vary widely, depending on your industry, your already-established name recognition and your position. Don’t give up. Realize that it takes time and be ready to put in the work to get results.

5. Going It Alone

If you build a personal brand based solely on your interests and preferences, at the end of the day you risk being the only one who is impressed. When you bring others into the conversation, you inevitably gain valuable feedback and insight.

Search out input from others. This could be your friends, family, colleagues or a firm that specializes in personal branding. Ask others questions that go beyond “Do you like it?” This could be such questions as…

  • What would you say are my strongest qualities?
  • What impression do you take away?
  • How can I improve?
  • What is your first reaction to my brand?

Discussing your branding with someone can help you to take a step back from your narrative and honestly appraise it. It can help you to avoid such pitfalls as offending or missing a key group of your audience.

6. Dismissing It As Not For You

You might be among those who think that a personal brand is just for big whigs — c-suite senior executives who are a public figure for their brand. And you would be wrong.

Branding yourself is all about controlling how people perceive you online and off. Whether you like it or not, you are perceived in a certain way, whether in a company or seeking a job. Why not work to be perceived the way you want. Whether you’d like to distinguish your resume in a job hunt or advance within your present company, how you’re viewed is in your hands.

7. Using Shady Social Practices

We all know the power of social likes and follows — when we see a brand has more likes, we tend to think they’re more credible.

Unfortunately, this has tempted some to participate in shady practices, such as buying followers or entering agreements that guarantee inflated numbers. This might seem like an easy solution to your problem and you might even reason that others do it so it can’t be that bad. But practices such as these inevitably backfire.

For starters, this kind of artificial audience isn’t going to provide genuine engagement. Second, people inevitably find out, which will undermine your credibility down the road.

Instead, make a concerted effort to locate your target audience online and engage with them. This includes joining groups and participating in them. Share meaningful content and engage on other posts — this kind of engagement will get you bona-fide likes and followers that you don’t have to pay for.

8. Not Creating Content

If you limit yourself to sharing other people’s content, then you’re like a band that only plays covers from other bands. It’s nice and there’s nothing wrong with it, but you’re not establishing yourself on your own merits.

And the bottom line is that when you share content from other thought leaders, you’re telling your audience to check them out. Your audience won’t see the need to follow you when they can follow others and get their content directly.

Make the effort to put your own voice into the mix. Share your knowledge and expertise with your audience in a format that you enjoy. Whether you write an article, create a video, craft an infographic, or sit down and record a podcast, it’s content that is going to bring your audience back to you.

9. Disregarding Influencers

Creating content is a great first step, but if you just create it and expect people to flock to you, you won’t get far. Instead, you need to drum up attention for your content. A great way to do this is through influencers — those who have a large and loyal audience, usually on a social media network. 

Collaborating with an influencer gives extra reach to your content and gives you more visibility. It doesn’t have to be the biggest influencer in your industry — look within your own circle of friends and colleagues and you might find someone who is interested in working together. If you’re just beginning, consider asking friends to share and promote your content to their audience.

As you get more established, you might find it beneficial to enter into a mutual give-and-take with a larger influencer in your industry where you each benefit the other. You might also consider entering into a paid relationship if the anticipated payoff is large. Take time to research influencers to find one that fits your personality and budget.

10. Over-Selling Yourself

We’ve all seen this mistake, not just when it comes to personal brands. Think of the last time someone used such words as “best” or “unparalleled” to describe his/her brand. Unless you’re a social media mega star, it sounds over the top. You leave people feeling underwhelmed and unimpressed. 

Don’t fall into this trap, Whether it’s in your personal messaging or in headlines of content you write, avoid superlatives that are hard to live up to. Instead, let your content and brand speak for itself. Pay attention to the quality of your content and aim to truly help your audience.

The goal is to let others praise you and your content. When people see your expertise for themselves and label you as an industry guru or say that you offer unparalleled insight, such accolades are a hundred times more valuable than any titles you could give yourself.

In review…

Don’t let these common pitfalls damage your personal brand. Avoid them and proactively put yourself (and your business) on the map.

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Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx, author, coach and marketing and branding authority is the founder of Thriving at 50 Plus, a coaching program that helps baby boomers find more purpose and meaning in life. Wendy over the last 30 years has helped many business owners and executives become well-known, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™. Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets.

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