Personal branding is widely hailed as an indispensable career strategy, often for good reason. I’ll admit I’ve used it myself to support my career and businesses.
The concept is simple: Spend time developing a persona for yourself that shows off your expertise, connects you with new people, and promotes your content and accomplishments. It helps build trust with new people, introduces you to new circles, and can help you earn more sales and job opportunities.
So it’s no surprise that both entrepreneurs and marketers are both usually fans of personal branding. But for all its usefulness, there are some real risks of the whole endeavor backfiring. These are six common personal-branding pitfalls to vigilantly look out for.
When you first get started with a personal brand—or a blog, for that matter—your best bet is to choose a highly specific niche. For example, Mattress Clarity focuses specifically on reviewing types of mattresses, and Cupcake Project focuses specifically on cupcake recipes. Easy enough. The goal here is to differentiate yourself from the competition and give you a unique angle that you can pitch to the media, networking contacts, and/or prospective customers. It’s a valuable strategy—at least at first.
The problem is, after spending a few months or years building your expertise in a given domain, it’s often tough to get recognized outside of it. It’s similar to how certain actors get typecast after playing a certain character type again and again. If you aren’t careful, you could pigeonhole your entire career. Sometimes, demonstrating your versatility is the more strategic bet.
Personal brands don’t develop overnight. Entrepreneur and marketing guru Neil Patel, for example, has a strong personal brand, but he’s only only gotten to this point after building multiple successful companies and pouring thousands of cumulative hours into his content strategy, which is largely based on instructing others on how to do the same.
The point is that personal branding is a huge investment of time and resources. You’ll need to spend many hours every week updating your social media profiles, publishing new content, and engaging with your audience. And at some point, you’ll have to question whether all that extra time is generating the results you need. There’s no guarantee of ROI here—despite a good track record for the strategy overall—and you may find it’s too much effort to keep up with.
As you build your personal brand, you’ll need to decide on a “brand personality.” Even though you’re still you, you may need to project a certain charisma, energy, or emphasis on certain qualities you wouldn’t ordinarily showcase.
When you first start out, this personality will likely stem from your own personal qualities—and it should. Otherwise, you’ll seem inauthentic right off the bat. But as you develop yourself further and make ever more connections, you may find yourself deviating from your true self. At some point, you’ll start feeling insincere. Not only can that take an emotional toll on you personally, it could also dampen the impact of your brand overall.
There’s also a risk that your personal brand oversells your qualifications. For example, let’s say you start writing blog posts that venture outside your area of expertise, for the purposes of getting featured on a wider range of media outlets or appealing to new audiences.
Eventually, a recruiter might come to you and make you an offer for a position that you aren’t qualified for. How do you handle that? Do you come clean or just try to “fake it ’til you make it”? Similarly (and even unwittingly), you might project a false sense of yourself that interferes with your ability to sell your core products and services. It’s one thing to tout your best qualities and another to push them so hard that you fall into false marketing. Knowing where that line falls can be tricker than you might expect.
As much as I try to project my own personality and “true” self in my blog posts and other work, sometimes I feel my personal brand has become more “brand” than “personal.”
Having an interaction with a reader over social media is great, but that’s no substitute for a conversation over coffee. Since personal branding is so useful when it comes to hiring, this can actually interfere with potential job opportunities as opposed to attracting them; recruiters may judge you based on your personal brand without ever getting to meet you. Ultimately, a really well-focused brand may actually disqualify you from hearing about opportunities that lie outside the clearly delineated arena you’ve planted a stake in.
Of course, there’s always the possibility for negative publicity. If you misquote someone in an article, misrepresent yourself, or otherwise get involved in some type of controversy, you could attract more negative than positive attention. And the more you put yourself out there, the more this likelihood rises. This is simply a built-in risk of content creation and social media marketing in general, but the problem with personal branding is that there’s no easy way to minimize it.
And once you’re marked with a stigma or saddled with a bad reputation, it could follow you around for the rest of your life. All it takes is one Google search to bring up the incident, which could be a major hindrance in your future.
But while there are definitely some potential downsides to personal branding, it’s still a valuable strategy for entrepreneurs and job hunters alike. I’d even argue that it’s a necessity in the modern world. As long as you’re aware of the risks, you can work proactively to mitigate them while maximizing the benefits. And like any other career venture, it’s important to reevaluate your efforts along the way, calculating your ROI and simply trusting your gut. If it ever feels like it’s no longer worth it, you can always back out.