How to think about self-promotion
Promoting one's work can feel crass but four questions are changing my perspective on it. Hopefully they'll help you too
For a more more personal look at my changing attitudes towards promoting my own work:
If you are an Expert, you've likely become one after consistent and sustained effort.
That approach follows an ethics of work, trusting the process and delaying gratification.
Now that you are trying to sell your Expertise, some parts of this can hold you back.
Let's start with a story:
For years I'd go to conferences and corporate events and in the time it took the speaker to run her presentation, I'd create quirky and explanatory drawings of it. 1
It was almost certain that someone would compliment my drawings.
They would also almost always lament that they themselves could never draw.
I knew that behind those drawings were years and reams of crumpled paper, but these conference goers didn't know that.
If you've never been to a drawing class or seen the backstage of creativity, you never see drafts. You only ever see finished works. This is why most people's ideas of drawings are either of children's doodles or professionally-illustrated comic book stories.
Daily, we come across images that have been revised, critiqued and polished to perfection. We never see the process. And so, we believe that drawing must mean either young innocence or professional perfection.
We can only see a part of the world and we forget other parts exist behind that one.
Now, for a visualization exercise:
When you think about a person promoting their own work, what do you see?2
You probably think of obvious self-promotion.
Maybe you imagine overly aggressive sales tactics.3
Do you picture loud people shouting on social media for you to buy their course?
Does your mind's eye form an image of garish posts screaming “Me, Me, Me!!!”?
What if, like the people lamenting they could not draw,
your mental image of self-promotion is incomplete?
Surely much self-promotion exists that is extravagant, noisy and vulgar. That's the one rising to the top. It isn't subtle (so you remember it) and it works (because it pulls no punches and refrains from nothing).
But this is not the only way. And you can promote your work without falling it that.
Four questions that I started asking myself:
1. What is my job?
If you squirm at the idea of promoting yourself AND you have a “regular job” that does not require you to hunt your dinner, it can be easy to justify not promoting yourself. Deep down you know this is a mistake.
Your job is not do "just do the thing". You job includes telling others about the thing.
This is true in a corporate setting as it is in entrepreneurial arenas.
If you do something good4 telling others about it is not just smart. It is kind. It can help them.
2. Am I sincere?
There are so many impressive people online. They seem light-years ahead. They look like they know everything. And we shrink away from them.
We don't want to be seen as fakes or dishonest. "How could I talk about what I do, when there are others that are better than me?” - you might ask yourself.
For me, personally, sincerity holds the key.
I'm not the best workshop facilitator the world has ever seen. I'm not the utmost expert on the subject of expertise itself.
And yet I'm honestly fascinated by it. I love, love, love the moment I help a smart person convey their abilities in a product, a concept or framework. My love for this is sincere. And so I can talk about it.
3. Have I discovered good things that others promoted?
Of course you have.
Not all good things are promoted and not all promoted things are good.
But I'm certain you've found a book, a podcast, an article, a video, a course, an author, an idea, anything, that was promoted somewhere other than their original posting place.
You have benefited from others that promoted their work.
4. Will somebody else do it for me?
If you are very lucky, sometimes.
A kind colleague, a proud family member, a friend that is always on your corner. These feel the best, when people promote your stuff without you even asking.
However, like all good surprises, they are not predictable. It is best to assume that no, nobody will promote your work for you. You must do it yourself.
People are looking for you, promote your stuff
You've answered these questions and know that you must promote your own work. But perhaps you have questions on how to do it. I'd love to share the little I know about this in the comments.
Just reply to this email or comment down below.
That's how I paid my bills for a while. It made me very good at synthesizing concepts into images or analogies.
This sort of perspective distortion is related to the Availability Bias. I recommend curious minds learn more here:
Sales and Promotion are not the same thing, by the way. A topic for another day.
It is almost certain that your current challenge is not lack of quality work. People who don't care about doing good work don't read newsletters with tips on how to work better.