Taking the Pain Out of Self-Promotion
How to communicate confidently about yourself & your business
You know when you're out and about, having a conversation with a kind human, and then they ask, "So, what do you do?" Ever find yourself stumbling over your words trying to find the right response? 🙋 Yeah, me too. When you love what you do, describing your work to others can often leave you feeling flustered and vulnerable.
In that moment, it feels like there is a right and a wrong answer. The pressure of defining what it is you actually do, with the hopes that you will also make a good impression and “sell” what you do, can be intimidating. As a consumer you know you don’t want your pitch to feel scripted, but as your business’ VP of Sales you also want it to be rehearsed enough that you can answer prospective client’s questions with ease and confidence. This can end up feeling like a Catch 22, and trust me you are not alone!
Self-promotion asks us to share our work with others, in turn opening us up for judgment and potential criticism. It also has a weird way of fueling that fire of self-doubt to where we begin to question everything we’re doing, sometimes mid-conversation. And self-promotion can feel particularly lonely when we invest our time and heart into crafting a perfect message, only to find out it falls flat.
Add these feelings on top of the daily stressors of building and growing a small business, and it’s no wonder we can feel so paralyzed answering something so simple!
In fact, this is a concern I hear often from many of my clients and fellow small business friends. As solopreneurs, we don’t feel as confident as we would like when communicating about what we do. In a general sense, talking about yourself is inherently uncomfortable. Selling your work on the spot is even more awkward. And, if you’re a service-based business where you ARE your product then—yikes, welcome to Panic Attack City!
Unless you are a bonafide egoist, gaining the confidence to talk about yourself and what you do eloquently, is a learned skill. And, particularly for female entrepreneurs, the years of societal pressure telling us that we should be humble and meek, essentially starts us at ground zero, leaving a long(er) climb ahead. But, I’m here to tell you this hill is not insurmountable! We can slowly but surely work our way up. And we have to! Because in order to survive as a small business, we have to share who we are and what we’re working on with our audience.
So how exactly do we build our confidence and speak about our business with ease?
Looking back over the last two years of crafting thoughtful content and attending countless networking events, I have tried to identify ways to quiet these irrational thoughts that tend to creep in at the most inopportune times. As is with the best lessons in life though, the only way to end up on the other side is to go through it. With that, I started asking even more questions of myself to better determine how I could better translate the experience of what it was like to work with me and to determine what it is that I really want from each interaction (whether online or IRL).
Some of the main questions I kept coming back to again, and again were:
How do I want this person to feel when they walk away? (How you make someone feel will almost always be more memorable than your words. Manners matter. Be kind.)
What is it that I really want from the experience? (Do I want a business card so I can email them later? Do I want us to follow each other on Insta so we can lay some groundwork first?)
What am I best at? (This is the point I need magnify whenever possible.)
How do I want to be known? (Having a clear idea of the end goal is always helpful for me to know if this next step is helping me along that path.)
How do I define success? (Everyone has a different version of success. Knowing mine has helped me tremendously with feeling confident about the growth of my business. Which reminds me, I should write a blog about how I'm not mad with a 3-figure launch because my definition of success is all about relationships, not revenue.)
These are all really tough questions, but when you can get down to the essence of who you are as a business, then you discover a newfound confidence in talking about what you do because you have purpose. And with that purpose, you are able to take thoughtful, calculated steps toward supporting Your Why.
I want to take a minute here to say that, while I started this blog post with the intention to help you (and me!) find better ways to talk about what we do in person, this exercise has a much larger wingspan. The results of this can be used for your About page, how you talk about your services on social media, or in emails to potential clients. So keep that in mind as you continue reading. :)
The tiniest details matter.
One way I’ve seen clients incorporate the Own Your Why™ process into their own self-promotion/marketing strategy is by discovering an entirely new call-to-action that feels authentic to them. Maybe they’re like me and don’t like to use the phrase “HIRE ME”, so instead they have the option to sign up for “Coffee Chats” (or Virtual Office Hours in my case) to simply talk with their customers. Or maybe they have an interesting offer where they’ll give you 3 personalized tips on an aspect of your business that pertains to the work they do when you sign up for their email list.
These are possibilities for potential customers to engage with you in new and unique ways. We are cunning creatures, and the majority of us turn off at the faintest hint of a sales pitch, so what can you do that is fun, inspiring, educational, or entertaining to initiate the conversation? This ask is intended to be a low-pressure way for you to get to know your audience, and for them to get to know you.
What is your unique call to action?
If you’re still feeling a little stuck, I encourage you to do a thorough observation of how OTHER brands successfully communicate with their audiences.
Ask yourself questions like:
Whose newsletter do I receive and eagerly anticipate. Why?
Which social media profiles do I find myself reading all the way to the end? Why? What are they writing about?
When I find myself aimlessly scrolling through someone’s site, what was the first step in their process that caused me to seek out more information? Why was this prompt successful?
Instead of continuing as an innocent bystander and consumer of media, work to flip that switch and analyze what others are doing. The times where you are naturally drawn in, analyze what they did and see if you can incorporate that technique the next time you post about your work.
I write more about this in a recent blog post about compassion & business, but one important piece of marketing is to remember that we are all human. While our business is our entire world, unless we are working with a business partner or a small team of co-founders, nobody will love it like we do. Maybe we mentioned our badass new offering last Tuesday, but we can’t be upset if nobody reached out because that was one post, in a sea of 95 million other posts that were published that day. (Yeah, no joke! In a report from Nov. 2016, Instagram verified that on average there are 95 million photos shared PER DAY.)
The biggest mistake I see business owners making when it comes to sharing about themselves in the social media realm is that they don’t do it nearly enough! I know that it can start to feel really redundant on your end, but from the consumer’s point of view, they’re likely only seeing it a small fraction of the time. And if you have a super fan that reads everything you publish, they love you so much, that they won’t mind if they read it a couple of times.
Remember that part about we’re all humans and we’re flooded with so much info these days? Think about your business communications from the perspective of the consumer. The last time you published promotions for your offering:
Where did you publish those? Are there any other channels or avenues you could use to spread the word? Oftentimes we forget about the power of sharing with our friends, family, current/past clients who might be the most inclined to spread the word on our behalf.
When were they published? Did you stagger the timeline so that you could hit people at different times of the day and different days of the week? Timing can be everything, so it’s a best practice to have at least a 14-21 day launch period to ensure you’re catching people at some point when they have the capacity to absorb what you’re sharing.
How did you present the information? What new ways can you talk about it? Instead of repeating the same components of the offering, tell us more about the results. Testimonials are great for this! You could share your favorite part of it, the inspiration for getting started, answer some frequently asked questions, etc.
And this is why we have to continue showing up to tell our story, who we are, what we do, who we do it for, again and again. It’s not glamorous. It’s not rocket science. It’s consistently showing up and practicing new ways to reach your audience in a way that engages them.
So, once you have made your observations and have an idea of what might work well, start by taking small steps out of your comfort zone and attempt to find new ways of communicating with your audience that feel in line with core values. You can test drive new ways of describing what you do through social media to see how it sticks. If it goes over well, try it the next time you have the chance to say what you do in conversation.
After taking time to evaluate what felt authentic to me, here are a few ways I’ve made conscious decisions for minor details in my own marketing strategy:
I started asking questions on social media. Even if it’s something as banal as, “What are you doing this weekend?” If you can get your audience in the habit of responding, then those tougher questions like, “What do you look for most when considering to hire a marketing consultant?” become a little easier to ask.
It has never felt right for me to write the words “HIRE ME”. Since the work I do is so collaborative, I aim to always talk about the work “we’ll” do together. For me, focusing on the partnership aspect took some of the pressure off of it feeling too sales-y.
I began offering Virtual Office Hours every week, and it’s an opportunity for me to connect with people in an intimate setting—just us, one-on-one. I use these chats to get to know the people who engaging with me, and use it as an opportunity to gather information I need to know my audience better. When I know them better, I can provide better content and services. After all, that’s the whole point, right?!
Obviously what has worked for me, may not work for you and your business. Unfortunately, there is no one formula that works for every business, whether you’re pitching prospects at a mixer or writing the About page on your website. The best advice I can give on how to to cope with the inevitable anxiety of communicating about yourself, your business, or Your Why, is to give yourself plenty of time to practice and iterate. Just like with any other muscle or artistic pursuit, we will improve by doing it over and over again!
As a way to kickstart these efforts and hopefully provide a helpful framework for you, I've included a free downloadable Self-Discovery Worksheet that will guide you to practice self-promoting your business to your ideal clients, as well as help you answer that dreaded ‘what do you do’ question the next time someone asks—no matter who they are. Just fill out the form (below) to have this interactive PDF emailed directly to your inbox!
Grab Your Free Download of the Self-Discovery Worksheet Below!
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Need More Guidance on Successful Self-Promotion?
I’m currently offering three versions of my Own Your Why™ program. So, no matter your learning style there is an option for you! If you tend to thrive in an intimate team-oriented environment, I encourage you to check out the upcoming dates for the Own Your Why: Workshops. For those who work better alone and need the flexibility of being able to span the lessons out over a few weeks (or months—no judgement here!) my Own Your Why: Self-Paced program is likely the best fit for you! Or, if you know you need 1-on-1 accountability, consider looking into the Own Your Why: Intensive, a 4-hour, 1-on-1 session where we can focus specifically on what you need.