Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to Self-Promote -- Without Being Sleazy (Advice for Self-Published Authors)

Self-promotion is a necessary evil for anyone starting a business. Here's how to do it so you don't seem like you've sold out.
How to self promote -- without being sleazy
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The biggest obstacle I had to overcome as a first-time start-up founder was the discomfort I felt about brazenly promoting my own business. And I’m not the only one. I’ve talked with quite a few other founders who feel the same. But in a world full of businesses trying to get attention, you need to get the word out there.
Of course it is ideal to have non-related parties evangelizing your product, but there are a plethora of great products launched daily and few of them break through the noise. Many products well-established today spent much of their early days tooting their own horn.
First of all, I understand why many people find self-promotion difficult:
  1. It feels skeevy. Nobody likes a braggart. I was told as a young girl, “Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.”
  2. You’ll lose followers. Related to the first point, many people find self-promotion to be in bad taste.
  3. It seems unauthentic. If you’re so great, why isn’t everybody talking about you?
This is deeply rooted in the human psyche. According to Psychology Today, “research has demonstrated that there is a clear trade-off to being seen as more competent and being liked.” Those that sit back and wait for others to speak up for them are seen as less competent. The article also highlights that friends are more likely to feel uncomfortable with your self-promotion than strangers.
But why would your friends be uncomfortable with your success? Alain de Botton says it best in Status Anxiety:
It is the feeling that we might be something other than what we are—a feeling transmitted by the superior achievements of those we take to be our equals—that generates anxiety and resentment.”
When the success of your peers exceeds your own, you naturally compare yourself and feel envy. Of course, it’s not up to you to protect your friends’ feelings—you have a business to build. But when faced with the choice between making accomplishments known or keeping friends, most would feel heartless if they chose to brag a bit. But there are ways to toot your own horn tastefully (and keep your friends):
  1. Tell the story of the struggle behind the success. Great! You won an award or got funding or the like. Show how hard you worked and the obstacles you needed to overcome to achieve this milestone. It’ll soften the blow for those who are still in the middle of a struggle.
  2. Be excited, but be humbled. It pays to throw an ‘aw shucks’ into a news broadcast. I’ve watched many peers do this brilliantly. “We just launched our beta. It’s really rough, but I’d love your feedback.”
  3. Give credit where credit is due. When you are promoting, it helps to acknowledge the support and advice of people you are close with. “If it weren’t for those late-night chats, I would have never gotten through the rough parts.”
  4. Enlist the help of your friends to get the word out. Maybe your friends are tired of hearing you talk incessantly about your start-up, but have you ever sat down with them to get them on board? Asking for help shows your friends that you need them.
Whether you are announcing a milestone achieved or just trying to get the word out about your product, it is your job to promote your company in the early days. Make sure you do it well.

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