Whether due to modesty, timidity or just a desire not to annoy anyone, most of us suck at self-promotion. The problem: How do you promote yourself without coming off as a sleazy pest? Here’s how.The fact is, promoting yourself and getting your name out there is an essential part of getting the job you want, making new contacts, building your network, and meeting the people who can help you make the most of your talents and abilities. After all, no one’s going to do it for you, and no one’s going to make sure you get the credit you deserve.
If you want to make a good impression or stand out from the crowd, you need to sell yourself. We’ve discussed ways to establish your online identity, but that’s just the starting point. In this post, we’ll detail how to turn your online identity into a portfolio you can use to showcase your talents. After that, we’ll talk about how to get your work in front of the people who can offer you the opportunities you want, and for that, you’ll need to promote yourself without coming off too strong or being too timid. Here’s how to promote your work and skills without coming off sleazy or slimy in the process.
First, You’ll Need to Build Your Online Portfolio
The first step to getting your name and ideas where other people can see is to build some kind of personal portfolio where people can learn more about you and your work. We’ve discussed in the past how valuable personal profile pages can be, like the types offered by About.Me and Flavors.me, and many of them — especially About.me — are great free options for setting up a single page on the web that’s all about you, has a memorable URL and serves as a jumping off point to other places on the web where visitors can learn more about you. If you’re a photographer with a Flickr portfolio, or a blogger with your own WordPress site, or an indie filmmaker with a YouTube account, you can use a personal landing page as a funnel to get eyes on your work.
If you really want to build your personal portfolio, you’ll need your own domain name, and your own self-hosted website — or at least a free host that allows you to use your own URL, like WordPress, Blogger or one of the landing page services above. There’s no substitute for having an email address from your own URL, a photo gallery on your own site that’s populated with your own photos, or a blog with your own URL that’s full of your ideas and thoughtful articles. You can even use the code we’ve provided to build a personal landing page on your own domain, or supercharge your domain with these clever tips, many of which will help you if you’re trying to build a professional web presence, or just make a name for yourself.
When you have your photos hosted somewhere and ready for view, your new blog all set up and full of great content that’s not available anywhere else, or insights that you’re ready to share with the world, you’re ready to move on to the next step: talking yourself up and sharing your work with others.
Build Meaningful Relationships Instead of Broadcasting Aimlessly
We asked Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur, business owner, social media maven and author of the books Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion and The Thank You Economy, for some tips on how to build an online presence without being putting off the people you want to draw in.Here are a few tips he shared with us.
Be honest and genuine. Don’t pretend you’re someone or something you’re not, and be honest about the message you want to send and why people should pay attention. If you add a title to your Twitter profile like “SEO Expert” or “Social Media Guru”, be ready for the eye-rolling those phrases incite. Gary suggests you ask yourself whether you’ve ever actually built a business on your advice or consultation in the past before you call yourself a guru — just because you pulled a six-month stint as a real estate agent, for example, does not make you a “sales expert”.
Photo by Danielle Scott.
- Respond and engage. Even if you have a profile that broadcasts new stories, or tells everyone when you’ve added new photos to your gallery, make sure you as a person get involved with the people who are looking and offering their feedback. Gary notes that he spends a great deal of time replying to people who tweet at him or send him emails, and it’s that conversation with others that makes people really interested in what you have to say. “You’re more likely to be heard by listening than talking,” he says. “@ replying someone based on information they need is going to convert [people], pushing out into the Twitter firehose isn’t.”
Don’t be spammy. It can be difficult, especially if you take a lot of photos and you want everyone to see them all, or if you write a lot of articles and want everyone to read all of them, but you have to resist the urge to blast your potential audience with updates, emails and messages from you. Don’t overwhelm your Twitter followers with retweets and auto-DMs, annoy your Facebook subscribers with four or five posts an hour, or email the same people multiple times a day begging for their attention. As Gary noted, you’ll make more meaningful connections with individuals than you will by broadcasting, so be modest and listen — if people say they’re overwhelmed, rein it in.
- Know when to give up. If you’ve reached out to connect with someone, or mentioned you think you’d be a great fit for their company and you’d love it if they’d take a look at some examples of your work, and you’re met with silence, don’t pester them, or try to up the ante by calling them out. That’s a surefire way to come off slimy and desperate, and it’s energy better spent elsewhere making new contacts and introducing yourself to new people.
- Know where the line is. Most people have a natural compass that will sound an alarm when you’re about to do or say something stupid, or when you’re pushing your luck. If you’re trying to promote yourself in a non-sleazy way, it’s more important to listen to that compass than ever. That’s no excuse for not hustling and doing as much as you can and meeting as many people are you can, but if you’re starting to behave in a way that you know would come off irritating or overzealous if the roles were reversed, it’s time to back off. When you’re promoting yourself, the best thing you can do is keep the other person’s position in mind as often as possible, and try to endear yourself without overwhelming them.
Build a Network of People Who Support Your Ideas
As you meet people, engage them and interact with them, you should take care to keep track of those individuals who have offered you the most meaningful criticism, support and encouragement along the way. Those people are your network, and they can help you launch your ideas and find opportunities to bring those ideas to bear.
Photo by Paul Fenwick.
This great piece on networking for introverts from Dale Thoughts has a few great tips for building a professional network, but the takeaway we thought was most important is that you don’t have to go to massive networking events, dinners or cocktail parties to build a professional network. If that’s your style, go for it, but a better way for many is to find a professional society, club or group that you’re passionate about, and join them.
In a previous life, I was a project manager, so I joined the Project Management Institute (PMI) to connect with other PMs. When I decided to start writing for a living, the best thing I could do is comment on interesting stories, meet other writers and learn from their experience. If you’re trying to get your name in front of people who can help you find opportunities in your field, meeting others in your field who have something to teach you and can support your efforts is a good way to start. Plus, you’ll always be sure you’re talking to people who share your interests, instead of people who could care less.
As you build a network, make sure your relationships aren’t a one-way street. A fast way to come off sleazy is to use people for what they can give you, and to view them as “resources” to be used when you need something. The reason it’s called a “network” is because you’re a part of it, and connected to other people. Jason Shen gave this excellent presentation on personal branding where he explains how important it is to give back whenever possible. Make your network realise and remember that you’re a valuable person who cares as much for them as they do for you. It evens the playing field, and as long as you’re working on great things with great people that you’re passionate about, and that you boost those people as much as they boost you, you’ll be unstoppable — and perhaps more importantly, respected.
Don’t Underestimate Talent and Passion, and You’ll Do Fine
Another point that Gary Vaynerchuk shared with us is that there’s a lot to be said for talent. If you’re trying to promote yourself in a field that you’re not necessarily any good in, or that you’re not passionate about, you’re not going to get far. Even worse, you may try too hard to make up for the fact that you’re not really passionate about what you’re doing, and you’ll turn people off. If there’s anything people — especially on the internet — have grown especially capable of sniffing out, it’s BS.
Make sure you’re building your portfolio around your talents and strengths, communicating with the right people, building lasting relationships with people who can both help and teach you (as well as benefit from your help and teaching), and make sure you’re promoting your best talents — the ones you want the world to see. Not everyone will succeed, but you’ll stand a better chance if you’re ready to buckle down, hustle and do the hard work required to make your ideas come to life. You’ll be more motivated to do those things if you’re working on things you’re passionate about and have a talent for, and you’ll be more sensitive to making the best possible impression without being disingenuous in the process.
Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur, business owner, social media expert and the New York Times best-selling author of Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion and The Thank You Economy. He graciously volunteered his help for this story, and we thank him.