The Art of Effective Self Promotion


The moment any entrepreneur comes to the realization that their “if you build it, they will come” strategy missed the target, they quickly find themselves faced with the difficult task of getting their word out in a world full of attention seeking businesses. 

When it comes to self-promotion and the art of tooting your own horn, a fine line exists between building name recognition and overdoing it to the point of becoming an annoyance. Establishing your brand in the marketplace takes time. People frequently feel that nagging fear that they are not doing enough, fast enough, which often results in pushing too far. I often think back to a conversation I had with my aunt (who happens to be a former race car driver) after I had just completed a day driving a F3000 race car. “Did you spin?” she inquired quickly. “Yes,” I said. “Good. Now you know where the line is. You can’t push it to the limit until you know what the limit is.” So when do you know when to be loud and when not be?

Yesterday, I was scrolling through a bunch of Tweets and came across a link from one of my favorite Tweeps titled “How to Self-Promote–Without Being Sleazy.”

In the article for Inc., Tara Hunt (@MissRogue) shares her own experience as a person who has been involved with over 30 start-ups. She shares the discomfort she “felt about brazenly promoting [her] own business.” Tara points out a few reasons why some people may find self-promotion challenging.

It feels skeevy. Nobody likes a braggart. I was told as a young girl, “Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.”

You’ll lose followers. Related to the first point, many people find self-promotion to be in bad taste.

It seems unauthentic. If you’re so great, why isn’t everybody talking about you?

Quoting a Psychology Today article, Ms. Hunt writes, “research has demonstrated that there is a clear trade-off to being seen as more competent and being liked,” and “that friends are more likely to feel uncomfortable with your self-promotion than strangers.” She also suggests that “Those that sit back and wait for others to speak up for them are seen as less competent.”

Some of the best ways, according to Ms. Hunt, to “toot your own horn tastefully (and keep your friends)” are:

Tell the story of the struggle behind the success. Great! You won an award or got funding or the like. Show how hard you worked and the obstacles you needed to overcome to achieve this milestone. It’ll soften the blow for those who are still in the middle of a struggle.

Be excited, but be humbled. It pays to throw an ‘aw shucks’ into a news broadcast. I’ve watched many peers do this brilliantly. “We just launched our beta. It’s really rough, but I’d love your feedback.”

Give credit where credit is due. When you are promoting, it helps to acknowledge the support and advice of people you are close with. “If it weren’t for those late-night chats, I would have never gotten through the rough parts.

Enlist the help of your friends to get the word out. Maybe your friends are tired of hearing you talk incessantly about your start-up, but have you ever sat down with them to get them on board? Asking for help shows your friends that you need them.

You know your brand, you know yourself and you understand what you have to offer better than anyone else. Now is the time to establish some work habits that will allow you to make self-promotion less of a corporate kind of thing and more of a lifestyle.

Do you feel uncomfortable promoting your own business? What do you see as essential for effective self-promotion?

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3 thoughts on “The Art of Effective Self Promotion

  • This is one of those things I am compelled to sit on the sidelines and listen to the advice. It is a very delicate balance and tough to do. I am not sure when to speak up and what to say and when I am saying too much. The only bit of advice I could offer on this subject – be helpful towards others. If they need help with something or you can give them a resource (one that isn’t your own) and are genuine in your desire to build a community and contribute, I think that will go a long way.

    As for the personal side of getting my name out there, when to speak, and how loudly, I guess I am still learning.

  • Thank you Rich for raising this issue.
    Indeed, as Jeremy points out, being helpful towards others is a good thing to do.
    Still, you need to be very sensitive and give in a nice and gentle way without pushing your own business.
    It is like the art of networking where you first need to ask the person, what you can do for her instead of asking what she can do for you.
    In terms of competency, I believe that if you can build an expertise and provide some info and interesting, original knowledge that can solve people’s problems, then you’re on the right track

  • Thanks for this post, glad to know we’re not the only ones 🙂 It is so hard you have to take it slow and steady… our friends and family have been amazingly helpful in these early days! It’s not the quick fix, but it definitely beats some spam tactics used by some!

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