I get asked a lot of questions about self-promotion. Mostly I give answers like find something you are great at doing and be nice to people. It’s a killer combination, really. But people always want more advice than that. So, here are five tips that I give a lot. And I live by them.
1. Specialize, which means saying what you don’t do
In order to talk about yourself in a memorable way, you need to say something specific. This is why specializing is essential for effective self-promotion.
A good example of this is promoting yourself as a personal trainer. If you say you can train anyone, then you are the same as everyone else. If you say you help people work on their core strength without free weights, then not only do you separate yourself from the crowd, but you say something so unique that you encourage more questions.
It’s always scary for people to specialize because they think they’ll lose clients. But turning away clients is actually the best way to get them. You have to say no to people to establish yourself as an expert in something, and experts get hired more often than non-experts.
2. Stay the most focused when things look the most difficult
We each have a wide range of talents. And it’s easy to get frustrated when things are not happening fast enough. So it makes sense that we’d try something new, to see if it might work faster.
I did this a lot while I was trying to be a freelance writer. I can write a wide range of stuff, and it took me a while to figure out the intersection of things I like to write and things I could get paid well to write. I knew a ton of opportunities in both of those categories, but I could think of very few things at the cross section of the two categories.
Which is why I found myself writing online dating profiles. I could tell I’d be good at it because it’s a lot like writing a resume. And I could tell there was a big market of people who would pay well for the service. So I gave it a try with my ex-boyfriend’s profile. I told him his was bad and I could fix it. And I did. And then I wrote myself a plan to promote myself as a dating profile editor. And then I threw it out, and focused on my real, long-term goals.
I did this all the time on my way to where I am now. The important thing is to recognize when something is a brilliant idea and when it is a way to avoid facing your true goals when they are difficult.
3. Be the tortoise, not the hare
Self-promotion is about building a long-term reputation for yourself. Establishing trust and respect in the marketplace. This is not something you do in a few months. So you need to get some work habits that will allow you to move self-promotion from a project type thing to a lifestyle type thing.
So first of all, get out of your head that you work well under pressure. You don’t. No one does. Not when you are promoting yourself. Because in the end, what will make you stand out is your ability to find creative approaches to your chosen specialty. And it is a myth that creativity happens best under pressure. Also, you need sleep. People who get enough sleep are more creative.
Another hurdle for being good at self-promotion is that it’s hard to quantify success. There are some metrics, like blog rankings or Academy Awards, but they never show the whole picture. One of the biggest risk factors for burnout is doing lots of work without being able to measure your success. So it’s important, with self-promotion, that you make daily goals for doing something small – reaching out to someone, publishing something, showing up at an event. This way you can show yourself that you are making measurable progress in the self-promotion realm even if the real measure – like new clients – will come months later.
4. Mitigate the fear of starvation
Getting your name out there takes time. And while you’re doing it, there is a nagging fear that you won’t be able to and you will starve. You might be encouraged to hear that this is actually a feeling that is essential to grand success.
But here’s some practical advice as well: Don’t say no to anything. Just because someone is offering you a stupid project or a project that you would never want your name on, don’t turn it down, just raise your fee. It’s rare that someone would offer you work that you wouldn’t do for a million dollars. Start there and go down. For most of my freelance life I was willing to write anything for triple my regular fee.
Another good way to freelance without starving is to change how you think about time. If you keep a paying job and do self-promotion on the side, until you have some traction, then you are giving yourself time to learn how to be your own publicist before you depend on that for food money.
5. Know yourself, really, so you know when to shut up
Most people err on the side of not talking themselves up enough. We each need to learn the right way to toot our own horn. However sometimes you really do have to let your actions are speak louder than words.
I am struck by how well Oprah balances this. When her school was getting trashed, she got out into the press and defended it. But it turns out now that she was the only mainstream media figure to come out against the Iraq war before we went to war, and she does not make a big deal about this at all.
How does Oprah know when to be loud and when not to be? She knows her brand well because she knows herself well. She understands what she has to offer so clearly, and what her goals are so clearly, that she knows she needs to stand up for the school in order to protect her brand, but making a big deal out of her early position on the war would not help her meet her goals.
Make it a point in your life to have the same level of self-knowledge that Oprah has. Don’t underestimate that piece of the self-promotion puzzle.