Forget the ‘pushy’ stereotypes: for women and men alike, putting yourself forward and promoting yourself makes good business sense
Self-promotion is never easy to talk about in the business world, particularly for women. But getting it right can make a real difference to your business success. I learned about this the hard way. Media can be a tough environment to succeed in and, having left school without any qualifications, I initially had the odds stacked against me so I worked hard and was quickly promoted within the media company I joined. However, I soon learned that if I didn’t take credit for my successes, someone else – usually a bloke – would.
A few years later, when my business partner Paul Jackson and I were setting up Astus, our media barter company, this lesson really paid off. Media barter was a concept that hadn’t been very popular with advertisers in the format it had previously been offered in. We were setting up a whole new way of approaching barter and our biggest challenge was persuading potential investors and clients to trust us. By emphasised my early achievements, I successfully convinced people of our integrity and accountability.
And the need for this kind of self-promotion has not gone away. When we realised that rivals were trying to steal our thunder as the originator of this new way of operating media barter, we started to place articles in the business press, using my picture and byline. I hate publicity so being the face and voice of Astus took me well outside my comfort zone. But I gritted my teeth and got on with it.
It still makes my stomach flip a bit being interviewed on TV – although appearing on The Apprentice: You’re Fired last autumn was fun. But I’ve now accepted that, although it’s probably never going to feel totally comfortable, raising my own profile really pays dividends for our business.
If you know this too but have been cautious about selling yourself too much, I sympathise. I would also say that this is very often a female problem, in that we worry about being seen as over-confident. Outdated social norms encourage men to brag and when they do they are perceived as competent and impressive. Whereas when women do the same they are perceived negatively as show-offs. Though we can’t change genetic predispositions, through awareness and behaviour modification we can address social norms to successfully display a sense of self-worth, confidence and competence. Showing that you value yourself will encourage others to value you.
So here are my four tips for ironing out at least some of the discomfort of self-promotion and raising your business game:
What’s your key message?
PR people always have a key message to get over and you should too. Take an hour or two out from the day-to-day business pressures to think about what it is that you in particular do well and how that has contributed to your accolades. Maybe it’s your superior sales technique, your instinctive feel for motivating people or your dogged attention to detail. Write it down and keep reminding yourself of these valuable skills.
The other advantage of this process is that confidence in your abilities will allow you to take more risks, which are essential in business. Part of your key message should include identifying your personal values – integrity or work ethic for example – and ensuring that these shine through.
Keep it rational and factual
There is a very fine line between self-promotion and arrogance. It will take practice to get this right but one way to minimise the accusations of being pushy is to always stick to the facts when you are talking about your achievements. So, you might say to a potential investor “we delivered a 20% increase in sales this quarter”, rather than “we know we’re easily the best product available.”
One of the best pieces of advice I was given on this subject was to pretend that I’m talking about someone else. By removing that personal connection, you’re able to look at your achievements completely objectively. Another rule is to approach self-promotion as a way of informing your peers of what you have been up to – you’re simply giving them useful facts, instead of blowing your own trumpet.
Talk up other colleagues’ achievements
Encourage a culture where achievements are recognised by praising the efforts and successes of others – especially of those colleagues who may find it hard to blow their own trumpets.