I’ve never been embarrassed to say what I am good at. But when I entered the world of work it took me a long time to learn that self-promotion is good when done right, and it doesn’t mean bragging. Sometimes, it just can feel impossible to be your authentic self without bragging. Below I’ve listed ways you can shine and thrive in your career without feeling like an imposter.
A history of self-promotion
Julius Caesar knew how to sell himself: In 100 BC, he published a book in Rome detailing his military victories. In 1622, Queen Marie de Médicis commissioned a famous artist, Peter-Paul Rubens, to paint 24 scenes of her daily life to build up her social reputation. Leonardo da Vinci went further: He created the world’s first CV when describing his talents to the Duke of Milan. He even claimed he could “Paint…as well as any other, be he who may.” He had no problem with self-promotion, and it worked: he got the job.
Why are people so self-promoting?
Professor Strogatz from Cornwell University points out an interesting phenomenon: your friends always seem to have more friends than you do. He calls it “the friendship paradox”. That’s because your friends are the kind of people who have friends. You won’t meet those who don’t mix with other people because they keep away from others. The same holds true in other areas. When you go to the gym, you will often get the impression that the people around you are fitter than you. That is probably true – but if you compare yourself to those in front of you. The couch potatoes are at home, so you don’t see the whole picture.
The same goes for self-promotion. You are more aware of the extroverts that give TED talks and have written Times-bestselling books than those that are successful but not in the media. It might not always seem so, but many of your colleagues and friends struggle with self-promotion just as much as you do.
Isn’t self-promotion a bit arrogant?
There are two ways to talk about yourself: you can do it because you feel the need to get external validation. That’s self-adulation. Or you promote your skills and services because you believe they can help others grow their business or advance in other ways. In the first scenario, there’s no interaction; it’s you speaking to yourself. That’s what people think of when they talk of self-promotion as arrogant.
On the other hand, you can inspire people not with what you’ve already done but with ideas and a vision. Inspiring others is powerful. In an ideal scenario, we would all operate in our zone of genius. That means you’re using the innate talents and skills and therefore come easy to you. The work you do in your zone of genius is far better than what everyone else is doing. That, in turn, will inspire others around you to explore their innate skills. In this case, self-promotion helps your employer and opens up new opportunities for everyone.
There is no one way to promote yourself
Contrary to what social media gurus tell you, there are many ways to get yourself heard and advance your career. Not all of them have to involve TED talks or elevator pitches. Here are some sure-fire ways to get you noticed without feeling icky.
Self-promotion for introverts
Those of us who don’t feel comfortable at networking events and hate presentations might feel at a disadvantage when it comes to self-promotion. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In “self-promotion for introverts”, Nancy Ancowitz advises spending time thinking and talking about our work instead of only working. A “brag-file” in which you keep your accomplishments in the form of emails and testimonials also helps to boost self-belief.
Practice talking about your accomplishments
It helps to find a trusted mentor or work colleague with whom you can practice presenting your achievements. They can also give you valuable feedback.
Get it in writing
After an important meeting, send a follow-up email listing the contributions of you and others. A clear structure helps others to remember what you’ve brought to the table even if you’re not always standing out in the meeting.
Network the right way
Do you remember the days when the person with the most friends on Facebook was considered the leader? Now, it’s much more about the quality of your network.
The same goes for businesses. Each of them will have at least one “super client”, a person who loves what they do, pays for it and is happy to promote it. Look for your super clients and make sure you go above and beyond to make them happy. In turn, they will become your unofficial salespersons and recommend you to their network.
Podcasts and interviews
There are many ways to reach people other than a presentation or a pitch. If you want to establish yourself as an authority, consider a podcast. You get to decide the topics to focus on in your area of expertise. Listeners can get to know you and your work with each new episode, and there’s no pressure to perform as you can edit the recording as often as you like. I’ve seen the benefits of my own Podcast (you can find it here ) and got the chance to interview other experts and learn from them. Many of my clients have initially found me via my Podcast, so I often recommend clients to speak on one that aligns with their field of expertise.
Twitter can be a great place to connect with like-minded people and start an interesting conversation. One word of caution: Always keep it professional and keep away from controversial topics that do nothing to raise your profile. Ideally, contribute a helpful comment or a link to a conversation with people in your field.
Have you noticed that all heroes in films struggle with something at some point? We love a good story, but we intuitively know no one goes through life without experiencing some setbacks. They make the main character more relatable. The hero’s win at the end is shared with the audience that way. You can use the same idea when self-promoting. List your struggles before your victories.
Ask for help after you’ve helped someone
The best time to ask someone for a favour is after giving them something valuable. They feel grateful for your contribution and want to help you in return. So whether you have written a helpful blog post, given a workshop or helped a client, ask them if they would mind sharing a post of yours or mention your services to the right person. Be as specific as you can and only ask for a small favour that is easy to do. If they help, thank them afterwards and see if you can help them in any way. Self-promotion works both ways!
If you’re struggling with self-promotion and feel it holds you back, dedicated coaching sessions can help you overcome your fears. Get in touch with me here to see how we can work together.