It is done!
Your book, your article, your course, your product.
After all your hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, the thing is finished. Now, it’s time to sell it. Get people to buy it. Read it. Adopt it. It’s time to find clients, find an audience, find rabid fans.
In other words, it’s time to self-promote.
Did you just die a little inside when you heard those words? Did your heart skip a beat and your body temperature drop as a cold shiver snaked up your spine?
Creating is fun, but you HATE self-promotion. You always have trouble when it’s time to put your work out there for others to see, and the thought of tooting your own horn makes you break out in hives.
Not everyone feels the way you do, of course, but if you are one of those people who would rather eat toenails than give a sales pitch…
Then this article is for you.
The Catch-22 of Self Promotion
Self promotion is necessary, as necessary as taking the time and effort to create works of art or useful products that will change people’s lives.
Because the fact is, people need to KNOW about good things before they can let those good things help them.
That’s where promotion comes in.
But if you’re like many, you’ve been taught that self-promotion is selfishness, and selfishness is bad. That self-centeredness turns other people off. That nobody likes a show-off. You’ve been told to stay in your place, to be “humble,” to not make waves.
You’re not exactly trying to be selfish, self-centered, or a show-off, but why is it that whenever people ask you about your project, you tend to hem and haw?
Why is it that even though you’re secretly proud of the great work you’ve done, you’re hesitant about proclaiming its benefits— for fear of being labeled as “conceited”?
Why do you feel almost…guilty…when you ask people to pay attention or to pay you for your time and talents?How do you promote yourself, your work, without feeling bad?Click To Tweet
The Most Important Paradigm Shift
When it comes to self- or product-promotion, there is one major paradigm shift you need to have:Self-promotion” is not about you.Click To Tweet
Whatever thing it is that you need to promote, you need to know that someone out there needs it, and your job is to get it into their hands.
For example, In Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way, the author cites a famous actor who started out as a failure.
He went to casting call after casting call, and never got cast. He felt angry and disappointed with the casting directors, sure that they were overlooking him for petty reasons.
But then, George Clooney realized that he was looking at the entire situation in the wrong way.
Clooney saw that casting was “an obstacle for producers too — they need[ed] to find somebody and they’re all hoping that the next person to walk in the room is the right somebody.”
With that thought in mind, Clooney decided to walk into the audition room not as someone “groveling for a shot” but as someone with something special to offer. And from then on, his career took off.
It’s the same with you.
Someone out there needs you. Your idea. Your product. You are unique in all the world — in all of history — and the thing you have to offer, whatever it is, is something ONLY YOU can do, something that will serve someone’s need.
Promotion, then, is not about begging people to pay attention to you. Promotion is about finding a way to make a difference in the life of someone who needs to hear from you.
But there are different ways to promote yourself and your ideas/work that will make it more likely to find its target audience, and that’s what we’re going to talk about next…
Promote the Good, Without Hiding the Bad
Unless you are a soul-sucking pre-Christmas-ghost-visitation Scrooge* who is promoting your work purely out of greed, there is some real good in what you are promoting.
Whatever that good is, focus on it.
Maybe you are a beginning writer, not yet comfortable with your skills. But perhaps you are extremely dedicated with a ridiculous turn-around time. Advertise that, then.
Or perhaps you’re a business whiz, with a fascinating new idea that has the real potential to change people’s lives for the better. Let people know about that.
Whatever you are selling has a good side, and the key is to show that side off in the best light, without exaggeration.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
On the other hand, there are aspects of your product— whether you are selling a product (business) or selling yourself (interviewing) — that are, of course, less-than-desirable.
Every person has faults. Every product has drawbacks.
Don’t hide those faults and drawbacks. Be honest about them. Don’t be ashamed of them. Don’t let those imperfections make you think that you don’t deserve to promote yourself or your project.
Seen from a particular perspective, those weaknesses might just be your greatest strengths.
The Power of #2
During the late 80s, car rental company Avis once famously advertised:
We’re No. 2. We try harder.
They were referring to their competitor, Hertz. Hertz was the leading car rental company at the time, and had been Avis’ biggest rival since the mid-40s.
But Avis capitalized on its status as the underdog, using that as a main selling point. Avis salesmen told potential clients: “Avis can’t afford not to be nice. Avis can’t afford to make you wait. Avis can’t afford not to give it all we have…” because Avis is not #1.
Obviously, #2 is not a bad position to be in, either.
Clients were drawn to them because they could see that Avis had what it took to be in the top 3, yet, because they were NOT #1, Avis would not take on the arrogance of success.
Research has shown that people tend to like people who are competent, yet also a bit vulnerable. (see Adam Grant’s Give and Take— affiliate link).
For example, a lawyer who had a stutter was commended by the jury and won his case at least in part because his stutter humanized him. He was obviously a talented, capable lawyer, but having that one imperfection made him seem more relatable and trustworthy.
It’s the same with you and your project.
Many artists and entrepreneurs who try to promote their work make the mistake of making it sound better than it is. Then, their audience and clients are underwhelemed or even disappointed when they actually experience the product for themselves.
Instead, under-promise, and over-deliver. Don’t use false humility, and don’t “fake it til you make it.” Tell the truth, in a positive light, give more than you promise, and let the quality of your work speak for itself.
*The fact that you are reading this article proves that you are not a soul-sucking Scrooge. If you were truly that greedy, you wouldn’t feel at all uneasy about self-promotion.
Offer FAR More Than You Ask For
When you are self-promoting, you are asking for something. Whether you are asking for money, time, attention, or all three, you are making a request.
So it’s no wonder that you sometimes feel bad about self-promotion—after all, no one likes to be a leech.
But self-promotion does NOT have to be synonymous with a bloodsucking insect.
Another way to promote yourself or your product/service without feeling bad about being promoting yourself is to offer MORE value than you ask for.
For instance: We’ve all seen the “click bait” articles with headlines promising you the moon.
The reason why we call those headlines “click bait” is because the headlines are so irresistible, they entice readers to click the articles open…and then they don’t deliver on their promises.
But what if they did?
What if an article promised you the moon, and then GAVE YOU the moon, and the stars as well?
You wouldn’t call THAT click bait, would you?
So if you don’t want to feel like a used car salesman, deliver your best to your customers/readers/hearers. Give them more than you promised, more than they expect.
They’ll be so happy, they’ll turn around and pitch you to their friends FOR you.
Gather enough “happy customers” like these, and eventually you won’t really have to do any self-promotion at all. Like Apple, for instance. Or the Beatles.
That’s what you’re shooting for.
Expect Everything, Attach to Nothing
Another reason we fear self-promotion is the potential of rejection.
So long as we don’t trumpet our ideas from the rooftops, we won’t feel bad if no one pays attention. If we don’t share our book, no one can critique it. If we don’t show off our project, no one can look down on it.
But that’s a crummy way to look at your life’s work.
People with a fixed mindset (defined by researcher Carol Dweck, author of Mindset), as people who believe traits are inborn and unchanging) sometimes engage in self-sabotage:
They deliberately undermine themselves so that they can blame their failure on their laziness or lack of effort rather than let their self-worth take a hit.
If you find yourself ducking opportunities to talk about your project, even when those opportunities fall into your lap, you might have a fixed mindset.
Self-promotion can be very injurious to the ego sometimes. The bigger you are, the more critics you will attract. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to draw negative attention. The greater your hopes, the greater your inevitable disappointment if those hopes are dashed.
Or so you think.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if, instead, you chose to — in the words of Carrie Campbell — “Expect everything and attach to nothing?”
In other words, BE hopeful. HAVE a positive attitude. EXPECT good things. But hold everything with an open hand, so that if things don’t work out exactly as you expect, it’s no skin off your nose.
Life is unexpected, but things do often tend to work out when you put in the work and maintain a hopeful, expectant attitude.
Don’t worry about the RESULTS of your promotion. Just promote the product that you believe in, and let the chips fall where they may.
Your Self Worth Does NOT = Your Great Work
At the end of the day, whatever you made is what it is.
Whether it is an article, book, course, or some other product or service, it’s got its strengths AND its weaknesses.
And the best way to promote it powerfully is to have some distance from it.
Yes, you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your project. You’ve carried it in your soul with the tenderness of a mother with her infant. You have high hopes for it. You believe in it.
But even so, see it from a third-person perspective. Don’t love it so much that you feel guilty for being proud of it, or crushed when it is rejected or criticized.
Be humble. That means being able to appreciate your work as if it was created by someone else.
When your friend’s works are criticized, you feel for them, but the criticism doesn’t pierce your OWN heart, really, does it?
Why not have the same attitude toward your own work?
Treat your work as if it was created by a friend, not you.
In some sense, the work you create DOES not belong to you — at least, not wholly.
Your experiences, your God-given talents, the influence of people around you, all contributed to what you created. Without them, you would be nothing. Without them, you would not have been able to come up with this work in the first place.
NEVER FORGET: The Best Form of Self-Promotion
The best form of self-promotion is promoting things that will contribute to the well being of others.
And if you created your project out of goodwill, you have no reason to hold back.
It is not just your task to promote your work — it is your mission.
When you have this perspective, you will be able to see your work truly, with an unbiased eye.
With this perspective, you will be able to PROMOTE your work truly, for the good of others.
With this perspective, the discomfort of “self-promotion” will fade and you will become a truly effective evangelist, sharing the gifts you’ve been given to those who need it.
Are you ready to start?
Your world is waiting.
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