Last week, Erica posted this comment:
“I enjoyed this article. I thought the points about how we “tend to construct barriers” were very interesting, and that you were right on about the dislike of coming off or being manipulative of others. Where my situation differs is that the context I am working in is my own (one person) business, rather than within a larger organization. Therefore, I am interested breaking down mental barriers to precisely the thing that the article defines as being negative: “self-promotion”, but which in the context of one’s own business, is rather necessary and desirable. I’m curious if you can share any thoughts on that?”
Erica, I work on my own too so I can relate to your situation. You are correct, as an independent contractor, consultant, or product/service provider, marketing technically boils down to “self-promotion.” I believe your concern is how to market your capabilities without coming off as bragging, egotistical or self-serving. The good news is that, when marketing as a solo-practitioner, self-promotion does not have to be synonymous with self-aggrandizement. The two are distinguished by context and intention. (see also table at end of post)
For the sake of simplicity, I tend to discuss influence as a leadership resource within the realm of a single organization. In this context, “self-promotion” is about pushing an agenda that serves only personal objectives even at the expense of others or the organization. The intention behind the self-promoting behaviors is first and foremost personal gain. The words and actions of individuals who are intent on serving their own needs or desires are often interpreted as coercive or manipulative. This holds true even when the organization is a staff of one. The difference is that for sole-practitioners, our intentions are being read not by co-workers but by prospective buyers and customers.
For the one person business, the issue of intent becomes a matter of whether we’re “in it for #1” or if we truly care about making a contribution to our customers’ organizations and the community at large. Ultimately, prospects and customers are repelled when they sense that their needs are coming in a distant second to the needs of the provider. For example, the use of social media speaks volumes about business intentions. Who are you more likely to trust and purchase from: someone who uses social media as a channel to offer genuine support and valuable information or the person flooding your inbox or Twitter timeline with impersonal unsolicited offers to buy his product or service?
Here’s a recent personal example. I’ve been helping one of my clients select a web developer/SEO provider. He’s narrowed his selection down; but because of business circumstances has delayed his final decision. The vendors have been following up with me. I appreciate those that touch base here and there. However, the one company I was pushing as the “top choice” has been pursuing me a little too hard. They’ve even voluntarily lowered their initial bid; which makes me wonder why they didn’t just provide us their best pricing in the first place. I’m starting to get the sense that they are desperate for customers or the salesperson has a big personal stake in closing the deal. If they are this concerned about their business in the dating phase of the relationship, what’s going to happen once they’ve tied the knot?
If you are concerned that your efforts at self-promotion might be construed as self-aggrandizement, first, ask yourself this:
Are you promoting your capabilities as a means to push your personal agenda, potentially at the expense of others?
Are your efforts at self-promotion a means to let prospects and customers know how you can help them achieve their targeted results?
What’s the truth behind your intentions? Whose business objectives come first: yours or your customers?
If your intentions are in the right place, take the time to understand the role that prospects or customers play in their market space. Determine what your customers do for their customers. Next, assess how your product or service helps your customers do this better, faster, or for less money. Then, build a marketing engagement that reflects your intentions and communicates value from the buyer’s perspective.
Lastly, incorporate the I-Style practices into your marketing efforts, apply them within customer relationships, and use them to be a catalyst between organizations. As long as your daily pursuit of these activities and behaviors is driven by a desire to contribute to “the greater good”, you will be self-promoting without self-aggrandizing.
What steps can you take to make them part of your marketing efforts? How can you apply these practices both across and within your customer organizations?