Networking No-No: Presenting Yourself as Bigger Than You Are
Someone in my network reported meeting a young man through networking who claimed to own 10 businesses. I’m not doubting the report, but I am doubting the claim.
I’ve owned one business for almost two decades. During that time, I have pursued multiple profit centers that didn’t always gel with one another. At times, it was amazingly stressful and unprofitable trying to chase multiple goals for even just two or three profit centers. I cannot imagine owning and running 10 businesses simultaneously as a solopreneur.
So was this chap some sort of superhero? Or was he a multimillionaire (billionaire?) with resources of all kinds at his disposal, including human capital to do his work? If he is the multi-business mogul he presents to be, what was he personally doing at a networking event for small local businesses?
Without knowing for sure, I can’t refute the ambitious claims. And if they’re genuine, I want to meet this guy. But I’ve encountered characters like this at networking events over the years. They present themselves in such an over the top way that it’s difficult to believe them.
"Behold My Empire!"
The 10-business mogul from the opening example could have been trying to impress everyone he met with how accomplished and successful he is, especially at such a young age. Since then, I saw another blogger online who claimed to have 18 income sources.
But I’m going to call shenanigans on it. Why? Because these days it’s entirely possible to own several micro businesses. For example, you could have a business on Fiverr, a money making blog, books for sale, a speaking business, run live training, offer an online course, do consulting and coaching... you get the idea. While I would call these “profit centers,” I’ve noticed that lately people like to call them “businesses.” I’ve even been prone to using that term when I talked about shutting down one of my profit centers a couple years ago.
When these mini moguls network in person, they often have a plethora of different business cards to hand out. Or, if caught not having the right or enough business cards on them for the opportunity standing in front of them, they’ll whip out one of the others, while explaining, “I just gave away my last business card. So here’s my card for one of my other businesses, and you can reach me here.” They’re not too worried about appearing unprepared (even though they are). In fact, they might even think that they’re showing just how busy, multi-talented, and in demand they are. Sorry, posers, I see right through the facade.
"I'm the CEO."
Years ago, I knew a guy that owned a franchise. His business card clearly stated that he was the CEO. I always thought that was a bit odd. He wasn’t the CEO of the franchiser company, just the franchise he bought from them.
I’m guessing that this guy had some corporate aspirations in a former career. Because he owned this franchise location, he was going to (finally) declare himself to be a CEO. I think “Owner, Such-and-Such Location” would have more clearly stated who he was and what he did. CEO is offputting and no one would classify him with the titans of corporate America.
"We Serve Everyone from Freelancers to the Fortune 100."
This is next to impossible, especially when a solopreneur says this. The sheer variety and depth of expertise required to meet the needs of this large a spectrum of customers is immense. And though all of us solopreneurs slip into it occasionally, even using the word "we" suggests you're a business with a large staff and capabilities.
Just because you sell something—anything!—to a Fortune 100 customer does not automatically mean you serve the Fortune 100. Let’s be honest, typically the Fortune 100 has enough human resource capital in-house that hiring outside people is only likely for some very narrow special purpose—such as a for a one-off speaking engagement—and not a standard practice.
Plus, saying you serve a big corporate market might signal to potential small clients that you’re expensive and won’t understand their “little” needs.
The Bigger Reason Not to Be a Networking Braggart
Socially, bragging and puffing oneself up is considered bad etiquette. So that's one reason not to do it when networking.
But the bigger reason not to present yourself as much bigger than you are is managing expectations. If a potential customer believes that you are a large operation, their expectations of you will be equally large, even to the point of being impossible for you to fulfill. The result is unhappy customers.
Customers who think you're a larger operation may also treat you in the same way they treat many large corporations (think utilities, banks, health insurance, etc.): Demanding and maybe even disrespectful. This can be demoralizing for super small business owners who can take everything personally.
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© 2017 Heidi Thorne