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Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion
11 Rules of Self-Promotion

It’s no secret: to get ahead, you have to promote yourself. But for most people, the thought of promoting themselves is slightly shady. Images of glad-handing insurance salesmen or arrogant know-it-alls run through our heads.

The reality is that we all rely on some degree of self-promotion. Whether you want to start your own business, sell your novel to a publisher, start a group for your favorite hobby, or get a promotion at work, you need to make people aware of you and your abilities. While we’d like to think that our work speaks for itself, the fact is that usually our work needs us to put in some work to attract attention before our work can have anything to say.

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The good news is that self-promotion doesn’t have to be shady — in fact, real self-promotion almost by definition can’t be shady. The reason we get a bad feeling from overt self-promoters is that, most of the time, their efforts are insincere and their inauthenticity shows. It’s clear that they’re not building a relationship with us but only shooting for the quick payoff, whether that’s a sale, a vote, or a positive performance evaluation. They are pretending to be our friend to get something they want. And it shows.

Real self-promotion extends beyond the initial payoff — and may bypass the payoff entirely. It gives people a reason to associate themselves with us, for the long term. It’s genuine and authentic — more like making friends than selling something. Of course, if you’re on the make, that kind of authenticity makes you vulnerable, which is why the claims of false self-promoters ring hollow: they are hollow.

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The main rule of self-promotion is to be the best version of yourself. That is, of course, a little vague and is bound to mean something different to everyone. But here’s a few more specific things to keep in mind when working to get the word out about you and your work:

  1. Add value: What separates you from everyone else who does what you do is the particular value you bring to your clients, customers, or users. The same applies to your marketing efforts — people tune out if you’re just blathering on about how great you are. Instead, apply your particular expertise in demonstrable ways — by adding insightful points to a discussion or blog post comments, by creating entertaining and informative promotional spots, etc.
  2. Be confident: If you are telling people something that adds value to their lives, there’s no reason to feel as if you’re intruding. Stand up tall and show that you have faith in yourself, your abilities, and your work. After all, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, why should anyone else?
  3. Be sensitive to context: Always be aware of and responsive to the person or people you’re talking to right now, and the conditions in which you’re relating to them. You can’t just write a pitch and deliver it by rote every time you meet someone — you need to adapt to changing environments (are you at a cocktail party or a boardroom meeting?) and the knowledge levels and personalities of the people you’re talking to (are you describing your invention to an engineer or a stay-at-home dad?). The idea of talking points is useful here, because you have an outline to draw on but the level of “fleshing out” is based on where you are and to whom you’re talking.
  4. Be on target: Direct your message towards people who most need or want to hear it. You know how annoying it is to see someone plugging their unrelated website in a site’s comments or in your email inbox — if we only got legitimate offers for things we had an immediate need for, it wouldn’t be “spam”. Seek out and find the people who most need to know about what you do; for everyone else, a simple one-line description is sufficient.
  5. Have permission: Make sure the people you talk to have given you “permission” to promote yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to start every conversation with “Can I take a few minutes of your time to tell you about…” (though that’s not a bad opening in some circumstances); what it means is that you should make sure the other they’re receptive to your message. You don’t want to be bothered when you’re eating dinner with your family, in a hurry to get to work, or enjoying a movie, right? In those moments, you aren’t giving anyone permission to talk to you. Don’t interrupt other people or make your pitch when it’s inconvenient for them — that’s almost guaranteed to backfire.
  6. Don’t waste my time: If you’re on target, sensitive to context, and have permission, you’re halfway there on this one; but make sure to take no more time than you have to, and don’t beat around the bush. Once you have my attention, get to the point; be brief, be clear, and be passionate.
  7. Explain what you do: Have you ever come across a website or promotional brochure that looked like this:

    Advanced Enterprise Solutions Group has refactored the conceptualization of power shifts. We will rev up our ability to facilitate without depreciating our power to engineer. We believe we know that it is better to iterate macro-micro-cyber-transparently than to matrix wirelessly. A company that can syndicate fiercely will be able to e-enable faithfully.
    (With thanks to the Andrew Davidson’s Corporate Gibberish Generator)

    Some people (and corporations too) have a hard time telling people what they do. They hide behind jargon and generalities.

    Don’t you be one of them! Explain clearly what it is you actually do and, following #7 below, what value you offer your audience.

  8. Tell me what you offer me: Clearly explain what’s in it for your audience — why they should choose you over some other freelancer, business partner, employee, or product. How is what you have to say going to enrich their life or business?
  9. Tell me what you want from me: You’ve made your pitch, now what? What do you want your audience to do? Tell them to visit your site, read your book, but your product, set up a meeting with you, promote you, or whatever other action you want them to take. This is rule #1 for salespeople — be sure to ask for the sale. It applies just as well if what you’re selling is your talents, your capabilities, or your knowledge.
  10. Give me a reason to care: Be personal. Explain not only what you do but why what you do will make my life better. Both iPods and swapmeet knock-off mp3 players play music; but iPods make people’s lives better, by being easier to use, more stylish, and more likely to attract attention and make their users look “cool”. Part of this is showing that you care about the people you’re marketing to — responding to their questions, meeting and surpassing their needs, making them feel good about themselves. With few exceptions, this can’t be faked; even when it can, it’s far easier to just genuinely care.
  11. Maintain relationships: Self-promotion doesn’t end once you’ve delivered your message. Re-contact people periodically. Let people know what you’re up to, and show a genuine interest in what they’re up to. Don’t drop a connection because they don’t show any immediate need for whatever you do — you never know when they will, and you never know who they know who will. More importantly, these personal connections add more value than just a file full of prospective clients, customers, or voters.

Self-promotion that doesn’t follow these rules comes off as false, forced, and ultimately forgettable. Or worse, it leaves such a bad taste in the mouths of your victims that the opposite of promotion is achieved — people actively avoid working with you.

In the end, promoting yourself and your work isn’t that hard, as long as you a) are genuinely interested in other people and their needs and b) stay true to yourself and your work. Seek out the people who want — no, need — what you have to offer and put it in front of them. That’s not so hard, is it?

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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