Branding can be a pretty controversial topic these days.
Everywhere I go—from casual meet-ups to formal speaking engagements—I chat with solopreneurs and small business owners who are passionate about what they do and who they are. Yet they have not developed a consistent, compelling brand identity that expresses their unique perspective.
This often becomes evident when I'm handed a business card. "I don't really have a brand yet," the owner may say, almost apologetically. "But I need to get one."
When I hear this, I want to jump up and down for joy. Not everyone understands the power of branding to kickstart their business or career influence. Naturally, I'm thrilled when someone recognizes how the process can help them. But it begs a follow-up question.
"So, when do you plan to start?"
It's a simple enough question, and innocently intended. But the response ranges anywhere from nervous chuckling to a self-abashed shrug. Sometimes there's even an abrupt change of subject.
in 75% of cases, my query touches a nerve. Just the very mention of branding often sends entrepreneurs into a tailspin, even after a discussion reveals that cultivating a more consistent brand presence just might boost lagging sales and end their ongoing struggle to differentiate from more established peers.
So why is it that hesitate to do this one foundational thing that can help grow and establish our business?
What holds us back from branding?
Whenever we encounter resistance to something, there's a deeper issue at stake. In order to get past the resistance, we must unpack its underlying source. And based on my experience, I'd argue that the single biggest reason solopreneurs and small businesses don't commit to a robust branding exercise is . . . fear.
That's right: Good old-fashioned, large-than-life, lizard-brain anxiety is likely at the heart of what holds us back from owning a unique identity in the world.
Think about it. Your brand is so much more than your color palette or your logo. It is a visual and message-based representation of you. If people don't "like" your brand, you're tempted to think they don't like you.
And there's no sure-fire way to get criticism than to put yourself out there.
Yes . . . but . . .
There's also no sure-fire way to toil in obscurity, with little to no impact for the work we do. Bottom line: any time we take ourselves into the public arena, we take a risk. But we also open ourselves to the rich and tremendous opportunities that, 99.5% of the time, outweigh the criticism, doubt or dislike that keeps our imaginations awake at night.
And yet it is there: The resistance. The anxiety. The fear. As one business owner commented to be recently, "In order to brand myself, I'd have to actually have some self confidence."
This comment broke my heart. Because in most cases, the opposite is actually true. It's the act of branding that helps us get clarity and confidence about why our work is critical.
In the end, our always-coming, never-hear brand is not really about the time involved. Or the financial investment. Or even the nitty-gritty work of delving deep into ourselves.
It's about our fear of being laid bare in front of everyone.
Kinds of fear
"Great," you're probably saying. "So yes, you're probably right. I've put off branding because of fear, even if there are other factors involved. But what can I do about it? How can I get past this 'wall of dread' I feel every time I think about it?"
To answer that question, we've got to do some digging.
As with the root of resistance, we must get to the root of fear. That root will be different for everyone. The kind of transparency that gives me night sweats in my work doesn't bother the next business owner at all.
Only you can determine sort of fear, exactly, may be impeding your branding or business development process. But in my experience, those fears tend to fall into a few specific categories that all lead back to the same basic idea: self-sabotage.
Fear #1: Fear of Boxes
What it is
Self-definition and declaration, by its very nature, involves eliminating options. If you own to the world that you are one thing, you are by definition not another thing. Or at least, you are not that other thing in this business or in this professional capacity. One of the most important moments for my clients is that moment when they point to the Core Statement we have written and say, "Yes! This is me!"
At that moment, they've pretty much won the universe.
Because they recognized and accepted a definition that allows others to get to know them and work with them in a specific capacity. And that is a very, very brave thing to do indeed. Especially when our modern culture pretty much worships FoMO (Fear of Missing Out)—an obsessive need to keep all our options open just in case we might find more happiness elsewhere.
Who is most likely to feel it
For many solopreneurs and small business owners, this kind of definition feels risky. Especially if they are used to taking many different kinds of business in order to make ends meet or (like me) have so many interests that it's hard to focus. Creative businesses especially may feel this kind of resistance. The question is frequently raised, "If I declare who I am, am I limiting my business options?"
My response to that is, "Absolutely not. You're identifying the kind of options that make you feel most free, fulfilled and well-compensated. And that is actually liberating."
The broader your audience, the narrower your reach. And the narrower your audience, the broader your reach. By having the courage to identify and play to a narrow market and set of services, you are actually giving your business space to breathe and grow.
What could be less scary (or more exciting) than that?
Fear #2: Fear of Success
What it is
This one always baffles people, but it's a well-documented phenomenon in business psychology. As much as we want to be successful, reaching our dreams can be more terrifying than not achieving them. It goes back to that stage fright effect I mentioned earlier. Everyone dreams of being the prima donna, but most of us would be terrified the minute the curtain goes up.
The prima donna, if she suffers from stage fright (and she may), knows how to control it so that it does not interfere with her performance. Why? Because ultimately she's not afraid to succeed. She handles whatever a great performance brings her way. She is so committed to her craft that nothing stands in her way.
All that sounds wonderful, of course. But take a good, deep look into yourself. Is your particular form of self-sabotage always hitting you right at the moment you're about to succeed in actually doing something?
There's a good chance fear of success has come to call.
Who is most likely to feel it
Fear of success can hit any type of entrepreneur in any form of business. In my experience, however, it is likely to most affect those with sensitive, empathic natures. We are often the business owners with the most conflicted relationship to money (guilty as charged!) and the highest expectations of ourselves. We are also the least likely to feel confident about ourselves or our abilities—making success a double-edged sword of desire and dismay.
This type of fear also besets those who are highly committed to cultivating work-life flow or maintaining strong family relationships while they are in business. Why? I think it's because we constantly experience guilt about how much time our business takes. If it becomes successful, it's going to take so much more time.
This is of course not always true. (For example, if you make more money, you can afford to hire help!) Taking time to sort out your fear of success and deal with it will greatly help you in taking your next step.
Fear #3: Fear of Criticism
What it is
This is the one that most solopreneurs and small business owners most associate with branding: the potential for outside criticism. What if someone doesn't like the font we chose or our scheme of colors? What if we find out, two years from now, that a business six counties over has a similar brand message? What if we launch our new brand into the world, to hear only the music of crickets?
Social opinion does matter. And in the age of social media, social marketing and online commerce, we care about it far more than ever. Which is valuable . . . as long as we don't care about it too much.
There's a huge gap between shifting your brand approach based on audience feedback and never actually getting your brand out there because of what someone might say. Our worst fears are rarely ever realized. (As James Clear says, "The truth about criticism is that it's almost always in your head." )
Those who don't DO in the first place never get the chance to DO differently. For every nay-sayer there are ten more customers who need and want your message.
Who is most likely to feel it
If you're in a crowded marketplace where many "great" brands are "already taken," this fear is likely your constant companion. Likewise, if you're in a small, more tightly-knit market where colleagues are known to compete pretty brazenly, this may also be a big concern.
Again, entrepreneurs in the creative fields are also likely victims of this fear because so much of that work hangs on its originality. If someone decides you're not 100% original, you could be sunk. Or so the fear-mongering mind may go.
By all means, do you homework in your marketplace. But more than that, do your homework inside yourself. When you take a brand that's unique and totally "you" out into the marketplace your chances of being derivative absolutely plummet.
At some point, you have to stand up and own who you are if you are ever to make the kind of impact only you can make.
Now that we've examined the different types of fear, which one do you identify with most? Or was it a combination thereof? Either way, knowing what type of fear may be holding you back from branding is just one step in the right direction. Now you have to do something about it.
If you plan to wait for courage to strike you suddenly next week, you'll never get going. But if you take one tiny step—like downloading my free branding workbook and working through each piece step by step—you just might find your fear melting away.
Action is the only real way to fight fear. As long as we remain frozen, the fears and what-ifs can continue to plague us. By finding and taking our one next step forward, we can break down that resistance and begin to manifest the brand that's waiting inside ourselves.
We'll feel so much better about ourselves. Our customers will thank us. And most importantly, we'll have removed one more barrier to business success.
Until next time, speak freely.
What's your biggest hesitation about committing to a particular brand look, feel or message? Comment below.
Ready to expand your brand and your audience by crafting a more powerful message? Schedule your FREE 1:1 consultation here.