3 Ways to Self-Promote Without Feeling Smarmy

Last Updated Jul 15, 2011 8:36 AM EDT

A good many career starters come out of school whizzes with software or spreadsheets, after all those are just the sorts of skills college is designed to teach you. Far fewer have perfected the art of self-promotion. Essential to business success, self-promotion demands a deft hand to navigate the boundary between smarmy and strategically outspoken, and it's an ability that's rarely explicitly taught.

So how can those of us who are not naturally inclined towards tooting our own horns overcome the awkwardness of self-promotion and make sure those we work with know the full extent of our capabilities? James Clear has tips. The writer recently took to the American Express OPEN Forum blog to offer advice on how to promote yourself without feeling like a sell out. It's worth checking out them all but here are a few ideas to consider:

Recognize that the world doesn't owe you anything. A surefire way for self-promotion to go south? Act like people owe you something. If you think that your friends and family should love your idea, you're wrong. If you think that your business partners will promote your products because you promote their ideas, you're wrong. If you think that the world should enjoy your ideas because you put a lot of work into them, you're wrong. You aren't entitled to anything. You'll gain a lot of fans once you accept that attention and accolades must be earned.

Start with value. On a recent flight, the stewardess came over the intercom upon arrival and asked us to take a short online survey. She explained why the survey would be helpful to the airline and at the end of the speech she said, "...and you'll be entered to win 100,000 frequent flyer miles." That pitch was totally backwards. By the time she got to the mileage offer, most passengers had stopped listening, put in their headphones, or made a phone call. If you're promoting to me, then start with the value. Tell me that you want to give me 100,000 free miles. Get me to buy in before telling me what I have to do. Show me what I get for my time. Then, tell me that I have to take the survey to enter the contest. If you want to be a great self-promoter, then start by showing people how your product or service can provide value.

Listen for problems instead of seeking opportunities. Most self-promoters look for an opening. They search for opportunities to sell or a chance to fit their product into the conversation. Instead of cramming in a pitch whenever possible, spend some time listening for people's problems instead. If you discover what they are struggling with, then you can determine how your product, service or idea can solve that problem. Nobody enjoys being promoted to, but everyone loves having a problem solved.

Besides being clear and easily actionable, Clear's ideas have the advantage of all falling under one easy-to-remember principle -- when it comes to self-promotion, it shouldn't be about your ego. If you're turned off by the idea of self-promotion, the problem is probably that you conceive of it as self-aggrandizing (and, on the flip side, if you're focused on yourself, are likely to stress about the negative impact on your self-image should you misstep and end up in an awkward exchange).

Instead, think of self-promotion as finding ways to use what you have to help people. Shift the focus to others and how they can benefit, and not only does the ickiness factor decrease but so does your stress level. Plus, you're more likely to get your point across that way.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user dospaz, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.