The trials and tribulations of self-promotion are both devastating and exhilarating. In 2014, Forbes reported there were 26 million companies in America, 22 million of them solopreneurs. There were 24.8 million non-employer businesses in 2016 according to data from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs. As reluctant as one might be, the necessity of self-promotion looms over many. It usually is not something we care for or are good at when just starting out. We just want to get on with it, whatever ‘it’ may be.
I’ve been online for nearly 30 years in various boards, communities, groups and websites. At first I was appalled by all the self-promotion, ubiquitous in its deployment. Now I find myself on the other side of the equation and needing to perform the same tasks. I doubt that I’m alone in that swing of perspective. One of those perspectives on the pendulum swing was the old adage, ‘be careful what you judge harshly.’ All too often, we find ourselves doing the same thing.
What’s the rub? Why is the resistance to self-promotion high in some and non-existent in others? It seems to have to do with the amount of hype behind the promotion. Third person methods seem more palatable than first person presentations to most folks. Testimonials tend to hold more truth and value than a talking head touting features and benefits. The talking heads, though, are better able to differentiate and educate their audience. The realm is rife with paradox, yet there is a balanced approach every marketer strives to achieve and garner the best results, their perfect marketing mix.
What do we need to know?
Self-promotion has a lot of moving parts. Before plunging into the ocean of emotional impulses intended to move people this way or that, it made sense to explore methods of communication and best practice in delivery to an audience, a target market. In my quest for knowledge, one of the first concepts was to know your audience. Of course demographics enter in, though psychographics tend to me more important.
It’s how the audience listens that is imperative to understand; the message has to meet their needs and wants regardless of product or service. There’s a quest to translate going on inside, weaving its way through the cognitive dissonance and fights with self. The battles with self are best had with the help of others. Too often the proximity to the challenge creates the inability to step back and develop better strategies.
Audiences have a variety of needs that don’t necessarily align with the presentation of the promotion. A pummeling pontifical presence certainly isn’t going to win over a highly critical and intelligent audience, for instance, where the former might reach a desperate and insecure audience that are looking for a way to assuage their fear of potential outcomes. The old ‘sell ’em sick then sell ’em well’ syndrome.
The former audience, more discerning listeners, would respond much better to a well-crafted infomercial that anticipated their questions and delivered thoughtful responses. Neither style is good or bad, right or wrong, just how the particular audience responds best. Market research time is best spent in understanding the audience and how to deliver quality communication that resonates. Marketers sometimes forget sales are always about emotions; how someone feels toward a company, message or experience.
Solopreneurs are tasked with their own copyrighting for better or worse. Often so busy working in the business, little time and even less effort goes into working on the business. Internal operations are managerial where the external, specifically marketing, is a leadership role and carries the vision to the target market’s ears and eyes with an invitation to engage. The marketer’s attention, intention and action are strategically aligned to create the best results.
Attention, Intention and Action
General wisdom in more esoteric realms has very practical applications in business; many sales practices have esoteric knowledge counterparts. Think about this for a moment: “Where is your attention?” Is it on your vision, strategy, implementation or analytics? What are your leading indicators that attention is focused where it needs to be in your self-promotion?
Perhaps a wholistic view is necessary; each aspect requiring attention at different moments though equally important components. Intention is about how or who you are at the core, your sincerity or lack thereof shines through in your action. In the case of marketing, folks are becoming more discerning. They want authenticity and integrity, not to mention honesty.
Being seen as an authority or expert are somewhere in the litany of intentions. In business that is called ‘branding.’ How do you intend to be seen in your market niche? Clarity is imperative or impressions are far from productive. Delivering that message throughout the marketing mix brings serious questions of capacity. How much can one really do? This is where a strategic plan has to be in place, a work breakdown with deliverables, structure and timing.
How we are perceived comes from the delivery of the messages, slightly different for each area of the marketing mix channels, their frequency and value for the target market. The solopreneur seeks free and simple stuff to help deliver messages. Fortunately, there are many such services on the web today. Content is king and quality, queen. A happy couple means the best relationships with your audience. Frequency is another story.
How do you know where the frequency of messages hedges annoyance? Frankly, its an experiment for most. Of course there are infographics on best practices, post timing for best viewing numbers and even recommended content providers gleaned from Google searches and cursory research. It is very much an experiment of purposeful presentation. Analytics and statistics won’t always give you the answers you want, but they will guide your path with realism.
Self-Promotion – Image?
Assertive differentiation is often the quest of the solopreneur, garnering more eyeballs through digital efforts in cyberspace. Branding is of the utmost importance for longevity. Considering graphics and images, how creative is appropriate for your target market? Most go through many iterations until something sticks. Humorous anecdotes on shiny objects are certainly applicable, though competition is fierce. Getting through the maze of shiny objects to have a brand recognized is the objective of the marketer.
As a solopreneur and business owner, self-promotion has gone through too many iterations to mention until we found a somewhat unique way to represent the ‘image’ of transformational life coaching and me. It happened rather serendipitously. A graphic artist had made caricatures for another endeavor, a model school for at-risk kids, where he took a business card and photos and came up with caricatures of us that fit the intention. Years later, a client suggested I use the caricature to represent my coaching, kind of an angel in your corner thing.
I was hesitant at first because the last thing I wanted to do was seem aloof or unreachable. The reality is completely different, a kind-hearted and genuinely helpful human being with a skill set worthy of hire. It took years to build up the recommendations on Google and LinkedIn. Folks aren’t always forthcoming when they perceive to expose themselves as vulnerable. My point is that it takes time, arduous experimentation and tenacity to develop a business of any kind.
At this point in life, I’m working with a number of clients that are realizing that retiring early wasn’t the greatest of ideas. Nearly all of them worked in an unfulfilling job, even though they might have been quite successful in it. I truly am an angel in their corner. The relative seclusion that a life in service to a company leaves folks with an insecurity and huge question mark as to where to go or what to do next. The idea of recreating oneself is daunting and scary for many. Fortunately, life has provided numerous opportunities for me to experience the process and learn the best practices.
When Professionalism Matters
Another business deals with construction stakeholders engaged in multi-million dollar projects. Many contracts today require a third-party neutral to facilitate partnering sessions prior to breaking ground. The sessions are designed to create a highly-functional team that deliver an excellent product on or ahead of schedule, at or below budget and with zero injuries. That takes specific processes to develop ethics, goals, objectives and issue resolution plans to handle known events with minimal, if any, downtime.
Branding for that business needs to be a bit more conservative with respect to the blue-collar nature of the work. The industry is more concrete, practical and pragmatic regarding leadership and management. We chose a logo that would appeal to the black and white of the industry, the numbers at the end of the day. In the field, a handshake and follow through often mean the difference in delays in the schedule or value engineering and profit for the company.
Differentiation doesn’t have to be difficult
One of the things entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and small business owners are not real good at doing is asking for feedback. The most successful are always looking for constructive criticism and helpful hints. Most folks want to be able to accomplish on their own, forgetting there is a whole world of support that will arrive just by the asking. Whether afraid of revealing secrets or just appearing less than intelligent, there are so many resources, tips and tools that it makes no rational sense not to use them.
Time-management rears its ugly head again. There are only so many hours in the day. Automation is important, yet it has to be the right kind of automation. Many marketers shoot from the hip, trying this and that and waste a lot of time. Personally, I think we’re prone to having to learn things the hard way. The smarter we become, the more targeted our work becomes. Action plans with schedules and tasks provide the greatest results.
Self-Promotion Is Inevitable
Everyone knows the old adage of having the greatest thing since sliced bread is great, but if no one knows it is all for naught. Sometimes the resistance to it causes us to act haphazardly when we do, providing poor results as well. Taking the time to explore options thoroughly, ask questions of those who’ve gone down the road previously (with success, of course) and experimenting with the insights and suggestions offered will provide the best results.
Thoughtful consideration of the mission and vision of the business, its objectives and ideal image will make the marketing effort so much more productive. In today’s marketplace we need laser-focused efforts, not shot gun approaches that used to work great in the old world – last century perhaps. As solopreneurs, we owe it to ourselves to be mindful of how we present our brand. The competition we perceive can cause hasty actions or choices within the marketing mix. Best to seek guidance and hire some quality help. Much success to the journey of self-promotion!