The Advisor’s Guide to Overcoming the Fear of Self-Promotion

By Dr. Jack Singer

In my work with financial professionals, I find that one of the most common fears they experience is the “fear of self-promotion.” This fear manifests itself in difficulties in asking for referrals, hesitancy in listing their skills and competencies in their marketing campaign, and getting caught up in the “always be modest” syndrome.

The media these days has a field day with self-promoters they label as narcissists, so some of the fear of self-promotion could be based on how advisors believe they will be perceived by colleagues, clients, and potential clients.

Let’s be clear about this: Concentrating on self-promotion for to feel good about yourself or to promote your business is not the definition of narcissism. In these days of social media, where people put their whole lives on Facebook, for example, it’s sometimes hard to differentiate between shameless, narcissistic promotion and a healthy marketing strategy.

Fear of Others’ Negative Opinions

One of the worst words created in the English language is “modesty,” because so many of you avoid self-promotion and feeling good about yourself, believing you will be judged by others as a bragger and self-centered.

This fear of being judged negatively by others is part of what I refer to as the “People Pleasing” personality syndrome. These habits lead to avoiding confrontations at all costs, getting easily intimidated by others and sacrificing your own needs for fear of disappointing other people.

Financial professionals who suffer from these traits rarely perform up to their capacity, have reservations about emphasizing their skills and talents when marketing themselves, and often have difficulties asking for referrals, unconsciously believing that they are undeserving.

Fear of Being an Imposter

A heavily researched psychological syndrome is the “Imposter Syndrome.” Essentially, this involves a deep-seated belief that no matter what you accomplish, it will never be good enough and it’s only a matter of time before others will discover that you are a fraud. Obviously, this fear and its consequences erode at self-esteem and self-confidence.

With an athlete, for example, he truly believes that his excited coaches are actually wrong about his talent and abilities, and they will find out sooner or later, so the athlete braces himself for ultimately losing.

With financial professionals, it can manifest itself with such beliefs as “I will never be knowledgeable enough to be at the top of my game, my clients will realize this and eventually some of my clients will “fire” me because of incompetence.”

The “Imposter Fear” can manifest itself in you downplaying your abilities and achievements, being overly modest, holding back on marketing your practice, and being hypersensitive to any criticism, seeing that as proof of your underlying incompetence.

Certainly, having this fear will lead you to avoid self-promotion, because in your “heart of hearts” you don’t believe many of the good things you must say about yourself in order to gain the confidence of clients, etc.

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Fear of Failure or Success

Many financial professionals walk a shaky balance between being afraid of promoting themselves for fear of failing and being judged negatively as a result, and fearing success because they don’t believe it will last or that they even deserve success. You can imagine how this conflict can render you frozen and unable to decide how to act in a variety of situations.

Pessimistic Explanatory Style

I have written extensively about this unfortunate syndrome and how to overcome it in my book, “The Financial Advisor’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide.” In essence, people who view their success as a “fluke” or luck, brace themselves for what they consider to be inevitable failures down the road.

When setbacks do occur, they tell themselves that “it figures, because bad things always happen to me.”

You can imagine how people with this problem would also fear self-promotion. “Why market or promote myself when I really don’t think good things will happen to me or my business?” or ”Marketing has never worked for me in the past, so why waste my time and money on it now?”

Overcoming the Fear of Self-Promotion

Like all fears, being uncomfortable with self-promotion responds very well to using cognitive-behavioral strategies for overcoming this fear and several are contained in my book.

Using a “Mental Toughness” routine for dealing with fears and lack of confidence is one of the strategies I explain. A key to this strategy is first identifying the triggering, negative self-talk patterns that cause the fear of self-promotion, then eliminating those thoughts, and finally, replacing them with optimistic, healthy, more realistic self-talk. One way to do this is by using “Positive Affirmations.”

Positive Affirmations for Financial Professionals

“Positive Affirmations” are powerful, optimistic statements that you verbalize and repeat to yourself frequently and consistently. Research shows that you can eradicate fears in an average of 21 days, by consistently giving yourself healthy affirmations. Your subconscious mind absorbs these affirmations and pushes away the negative, self-defeating self-talk that had caused the fears in the first place.

Here are some examples:

  • “I have studied hard to develop a skill set that is very valuable for helping my current and prospective clients to make rational insurance and investment decisions”
  • “I don’t need to be perfect in order to be a very effective financial consultant for my clients. I don’t have to know the answer to every question asked of me. If I don’t have the answer to a question, I know exactly how to find it.”
  • “I am talented, intelligent and perfectly capable of providing outstanding services to all clients.”
  • “ I am a committed producer/advisor and I always have my clients’ specific needs and goals at the top of my priorities. I dig deep with each client, making sure that I understand their needs and provide them with the best products and services available.”
  • “I feel great about putting my best foot forward, describing my unique capabilities in all of my marketing and self-promotional activities.”

Use your creativity to come up with some unique affirmations that pertain precisely to you. Remember, modesty does not count!