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Networking No-No: Presenting Yourself as Bigger Than You Are

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

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 lately that 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.

Be real!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 21, 2017:

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Jennifer, you are so right! I love the small folks who talk about "departments." It's actually hard to keep from laughing. :) Thanks for chiming in and Happy Holidays!

Jennifer Wilber from Cleveland, Ohio on December 20, 2017:

It always makes me feel less inclined to want to do business with people who try to present themselves as something bigger than they are. Sometime even owners of businesses with several employees do this too. I’ve heard business owners talk about this or that “department” to clients, even though I knew they only had one employee in that particular role. You’re just setting yourself up for failure if you routinely promise more than you can deliver.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 19, 2017:

No worries, Suhail! I'm grateful for your support and participation. Have a great day!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 18, 2017:


I apologize for acknowledging your response with much delay. I was on work related travel. Thank you for the feedback and great advice, especially this one: "You just need to present yourself as believable to the people that matter to you and your business."

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 13, 2017:

Suhail, you bring up an interesting scenario.

When we put ourselves "out there" with articles, networking, social media, etc., we open ourselves up to judgment, whether deserved or not. From your account, it does NOT appear that you were positioning yourself as the ultimate expert in the field, or that the article was the last word on the subject. Owning a LGD and keeping up with the research does, in my opinion, give you some "street cred." So chalk it up to "haters gonna hate" and move on. Sounds like the troublesome person already moved on to her next target.

I'm sure you also realize that some communities and fields are extremely hostile online, and will pick apart the most minor of points.

True, in assessing the people I describe in this article, I may have been somewhat judgmental myself. However, as a potential client or referral partner, I am doubtful of their qualifications and would not work with them for that reason. You just need to present yourself as believable to the people that matter to you and your business.

Thanks for presenting a different perspective on the situation! Truly appreciate your support. Have a great day!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 13, 2017:


This was a great read and I wanted to share something that may go tangential to what this article is about, but then may be not.

I don't claim to own livestock and the livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), but I have done lot of research through reading books on LGDs; watching videos uploaded on the net by various breeders; and meeting with LGD owners, which I believe is called secondary research. Besides, I also own an LGD. So, with all the knowledge acquired through those means, I wrote an article that was endorsed by many of my LGD breeding mentors, and posted it one facebook group. To my utter astonishment, few people went for my scalp. They claimed that people like me have no first hand experience with livestock and LGDs and write trash. I defended myself, but one particular lady got on my nerves. Finally, I called her out asking as a livestock and LGDs owner, what have you done for the community? Have you written any research papers introducing the nice work that LGDs do so that general masses could know them better, projected LGDs work relating to protection of livestock and wildlife alike, any significant work that you have done that has benefited the community? She disappeared.

What is your take on it? By the way, I had not boasted and had stated upfront that I am posting the article to seek members' feedback.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 13, 2017:

Linda, like you, I just have to shake my head in wonder at these claims of success. And let's say these folks do indeed own that many operations. Then I have to ask, "Are all of them profitable?" Okay, I better stop before I get on my soapbox.

Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely week!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 12, 2017:

You've shared some interesting stories and some good advice, Heidi—a great combination! Ten businesses and eighteen sources of income certainly sound doubtful.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 06, 2017:

Hi Alan! Love "look at the body, not the shadow it casts" and the analogy of the magnifying glass turned round. That is the situation in a nutshell.

And I think many have a "God complex," too. Just sayin'.

Thanks so much for adding your perspective to the conversation! Have a delightful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 06, 2017:

Hi Larry! Indeed, if we call could be as important as we pretend to be, we'd be a world of kings and queens. :) Thanks for the chuckle and have a great week!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 06, 2017:

All too brief, Heidi, although what there is of it tells a lot: look at the body, not the shadow it casts. Probably sells paperclips to one bunch, sellotape to another and staples to a third. Some people like to turn the magnifying glass round on themselves after using it to riffle through the Yellow Pages to find new contacts. We could all do that, make ourselves look like eager beavers instead of ants.

To Sally: our monarchs talk of themselves as 'we', Freud might've said something about that, in English 'Grossenwahn' means delusions of grandeur. Maybe that's all it is, 'the Napoleon complex'.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on November 06, 2017:

I am Legion! Respect my aithoriti;-)

I wish I could be half as important as I can pretend to be, lol. Great read on etiquette and scams.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 06, 2017:

Flourish, I think we've all encountered those who get promoted to their level of incompetence. Yes, it can be very humbling to get your comeuppance. Thanks for putting the exclamation point on that aspect of the situation! Happy Monday!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 06, 2017:

Sally, I think people who have worked for others are more prone to this flaw than others. For solopreneurs, it's something that they need to watch in their conversation. Thanks for chiming in and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 06, 2017:

Bill, you're too humble! But you've got the right idea by considering outsourcing the marketing function. Thanks for being a role model. Happy Monday!

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 05, 2017:

Excellent reasons just to portray yourself truthfully. I had a co-worker who used to name drop big time and portray her capabilities as way above what several of us knew them to be. Then she was put in charge of a large project which failed miserably and it became very clear she was putting up herself beyond what she could deliver. It was a humbling experience for her.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on November 05, 2017:

I never understand why someone refers to their one man or woman business as 'we'. Which is the better option?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

I've got the opposite problem: I often present myself as less than I am. :) If I had the money I would just pay a marketing firm to take over all of my marketing. It would save a few headaches for sure. :)

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