If there’s one thing that can derail a creative business faster than anything else it’s this: self-promotion.
Or, more specifically, the fear of self-promotion; there’s actually nothing wrong with promoting yourself, and it’s one of those necessary things if you want to be successful.
The problem with self-promotion is that it often feels selfish or tacky (it’s not either of those things) or maybe you feel like you have to put on a fake air to “sell” yourself, and you just don’t want to do that.
The good news is that you don’t have to do that to sell yourself. In fact, self-promotion isn’t about selling out your values for a quick dollar; it’s about showing off who you really are, just in a shinier package.
So let’s look at a few ways you can market yourself without feeling like a fake.
1. Think “self-expression” not self-promotion
No matter what field you’re in, whether it’s design, development, writing, or any other creative venture, you’re going to have to talk about yourself.
The biggest reason for this is so that people know who you are. If they don’t know who you are, they’re not going to buy from you, it's as simple as that.
But contrary to popular belief, marketing yourself isn’t about bragging to the world how cool and talented you are; it’s about showing the world that you have something of value to offer.
You’re not saying, “Here’s why I’m so amazing, please have a business card.” You’re asking, “What do you need?” and answering it with, “Here’s how I can help.”
Part of successful self-promotion is defining your “why” – why you’re in business, why you do what you do, and why you believe your product or service is the best solution for someone’s problem.
Once you have your “why” you should be able to express yourself to anyone who asks about your business. You can say with confidence, “Here’s my value, world!” because you 100% believe that you have something great to offer. At that point, “marketing” is just self-expression.
Of course, that means you’ll actually have to believe that you have something to offer…
2. Take stocks of your value as a solopreneur
If you’ve defined the “why” for your business but you still feel uncomfortable with marketing, you might need to ask yourself “why”.
It may be that you feel deep down your products or services don't provide any real value, or that your skills aren’t worthy of promotion, or that your customers won’t get something from you that they can’t get from a competitor.
This happens many times with people who transition from being an employee to being a business owner. Maybe you spent years in a traditional business structure only being valued for the quantity of what you could produce, not necessarily the quality.
Maybe you believed that you were replaceable: If you quit, they’d find someone else. And truth be told, that’s usually how businesses run.
But now that you’re working for yourself, you’re suddenly asking, “Do I really have something that no one else does?”
When you run the show, you have to see your own value. You have to believe in yourself. You have to toot your own horn, because no one else will toot it for you.
Solopreneurs can’t wait around for recognition. You can’t wait to be noticed for your skills and talents. In fact, waiting around for approval is the quickest way to drive your business in the ground.
As a self-employed business owner, you need to take stock of your value and really spend some time assessing what makes you and your business unique. Even if you’re in an oversaturated market, there’s always room for new ideas, so don’t be afraid to take stock of your skills (and don’t be afraid to develop new ones, either).
3. Find someone who is doing what you want to do and copy them
Sometimes the confidence you need to market yourself comes from seeing someone else do it successfully.
Even the greats like Steve Jobs had mentors. Jobs frequently met with Andy Groves, a science pioneer in the semiconductor industry, during the early days of Apple to get advice on building his prototypes.
Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire founder of Facebook, sought mentorship from Jobs during the early days of his company, too. Zuckerberg has gone on to mentor other budding entrepreneurs as well, and the cycle goes on and on.
Any great founder has had a mentor – or at the very least, someone they look up to. If you’re worried about marketing yourself and you’re not sure how to begin, look to the people that are doing it well.
Chances are, you’ll find someone who has the same personality as you. Maybe they have the same fears, maybe they’re equally introverted, or maybe they have similar skillsets. Or maybe you just really like what they’re doing, and even though it’s not “you” there are some general principles you can pull from it. Either way, it’s important to find someone that is actually doing it so that you know it can be done.
You don’t have to rush out and find a marketing mentor ASAP. You can start with a Google search. Who has a website you like? Who has a great Twitter account? Who else in your industry is living like you want to live?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask for advice or simply observe how and when they market themselves.
Remember that you don’t have to brag or be fake to market yourself well, you simply have to figure out what makes you special and talk about how your skills can benefit others.
Consider self-promotion as a way to say, “Here’s what I can offer” to someone asking for help. If you’re not sure you have anything to offer, you may want to take some time to evaluate your strengths and weakness or examine any self-doubt that may prevent you from seeing your full potential.
Keep in mind that being your own boss means that you don’t have people around you all the time to sing your praises, so you’re going to have to develop the habit of singing your own. But if you’ve got something of genuine value to offer, don’t worry. People will come to hear you sing.