I got this question in my inbox:
I have just started my own [creative business] and I'm not really sure how to market myself? I think I know what I have is good, but I hate singing my own trumpet, so do you have any advice for that?
This is a really common question and I want to crack this and help anyone who has this particular problem. You're not alone, a lot of people feel the same way at the start of their own business. We have been conditioned to compliment others, but not brag. We have spent our online careers promoting others, but not ourselves. And now it's seriously getting in the way of our progress.
Because you can't grow your business with this particular damaging mindset.
Let's touch on a few points that are really important here.
1. It's like self-love.
You know how they say you can't find love before you learn how to love yourself? The same goes for your business. Other people will not love it until you learn how to love it yourself. And loving it isn't just thinking about it lovingly and telling your friends how excited you are to have it. HELL NO.
Loving something is showing it every day how much you love it.
In the case of your business, it's showing up every day and proving your love by moving it forward and doing the best thing for your business.
For starters, the best thing for your business is to be visible - so people know about it and are able to access your services/products. The next best thing for your business is to be heard, so you gotta make sure that your message is loud and clear. And finally, you gotta make sure that it lives for a very long time, which means making money off it. Which means promoting the hell out of it.
My favorite way to think of it came from my own coach Jen, who just said out of the blue one day: Your business is not there for you, you're there for your business. Ever since, I have been there for my business. :)
2. Do you truly believe?
When I was in coaching myself, I had the following problem:
I believed in my message 100%, but I didn't believe in myself. YIKES.
To believe in something is not the same thing as believing in yourself (even though in reality you ARE your message and your business, kind of), and you need to have both down before you can grow the way you want to.
Whether you have doubts about your business - it's not exactly what I want, but hey I gotta do something - or you have doubts about your ability to make it work and make it sustainable, it's the same story: There's a vital element missing, and you won't make progress until you find it and slam it into first priority.
In the case of the person who emailed me, I would say that the problem is NOT that promotion is indeed sleazy and gross - because there are many ways to promote something and many of them are authentic - but the problem is in the limiting belief that promotion is sleazy and gross and you shouldn't do it.
So, really, the problem is in YOUR MINDSET, not promotion itself.
In fact, most of us creative types - especially rebels - have this tooth to pick with promoting, selling, and marketing. We just see the whole thing as distasteful and not something we could do. But you know what? You chose to be in business. You chose this life. So now you you have to do what needs to be done.
3. Something's in the way.
Like we established, most of the time the problem you think you have is actually another problem altogether, and your job (or mine if you hire me) would be to identify the real problem and do something about it before it gets nasty.
Imagine you're on the foot of a mountain - this is where you are now. And on top of the mountain is where you want to be one day, preferably soon.
But there are steps you have to take along the way and there are obstacles.
It's like that game with all the shutes and ladders!
In the game, it's also about luck because you're using the dice to decide where you go next. But in your business, there's no dice deciding for you. So you have to be smart and strategic, sure, but you also have to be instrospective, because most often, your real problem is inside of you.
Here are some things that could be standing in your way without you knowing (and sabotaging your efforts at every step):
- fear of failure
- fear of criticism
- too much pressure/expectation
- your own pride
- your impatience
- your beliefs about business/creativity
- your beliefs about yourself
- doubt in your abilities
And those are just a few! It could be anything
So if you want to reach the top of your mountain, you gotta address those obstacles before they trip you up or sabotage the whole thing.
4. You gotta be a PRO about this.
I know you are serious about it, but being serious and acting serious are two different things. For example, I was serious about it for 2 years before I started acting seriously, and now my business runs much better than it used to.
It's up to you when you start acting seriously, aka TURN PRO.
The PROS know this and are already ahead of you (sorry about the FOMO!): They don't just talk shop, they do what needs to be done, and they're so busy doing it, they don't even have time to talk shop! It's the sign of a pro-
Now examine your daily routine around your business:
Are you giving it its due or just doing what you want to do?
Liz Gilbert has this perfect concept about "shit sandwiches," and she says that each path is linked to a shit sandwich, and you gotta eat it if you want to keep following your path and reaching your dreams. There's no other way.
So here are some PRO things you can do:
- You can update all of your profiles everywhere to say the same thing - what you do, who you do it for and how you do it. If you have more space, explain why you do it, too, because the why makes your statement stronger.
- If you're creating content or giving value in any other format, make sure that you have a strategy and you're not just writing what you want and having fun with it. A strategy means that a) you're writing for your people (so answering their questions, meeting their needs, helping them tackle their challenges), b) you're connecting everything in a logical flow that meets your personal goals for your business and c) you are clear on what you want your people to do AFTER they read your content, whether that's sign up for your list, read some more, or work with you.
- Collect emails!!! Your mailing list is the single most important thing in business, so set it up if you haven't already. Having people's emails gives you a direct path to them and a way to give them even more value. (Eventually, they will buy from you, but they have to trust you first.)
- Are you consistent both in giving value and engaging your mailing list? There's no point in having people follow you and follow your emails if you're not constantly reminding them you exist and btw, you're awesome.
- Look at your free offering and determine whether it's a) helpful, b) concise and easy to use, c) what your people actually need, and d) a part of your strategy (for example, does it naturally start things off and then lead to other, bigger things in your brand that may or may not be paid?).
- Set a priority that is #1 right now. Maybe it's growing your list or selling a particular product or working on your content strategy or optimizing your website. Set your priority goal and work exclusively on it until it's met.
- If you intend to include social media in your marketing strategy, just pick your top channel and go all in on it. Ideally it would be a channel you enjoy hanging out on. The biggest mistake you can make is try to be everywhere and accomplish nothing and get burnout. Your business needs you.
- Do what needs to be done - share your old articles, automate your social feed, think about placing a popup on your site. I have seen all of those things done authentically and they all work, so try everything.
- Learn things! What do you need to learn right now to up your game? What do you need to do to spread your message? If you need to learn how to use a social channel, do it. If you need to learn more about growing your list, do it. If you need to learn about email marketing and funnels, DO IT. I don't care how big of a rebel you are, there are things that need to be done to keep your business alive, and if you're worried about something, just tweak it and make it yours, make it work for you. (I call this a rebel alternative.)
- Tell your friends and family what you're doing and ask them if they known anyone who might be interested. Get used to "pitching yourself" to people in a way that feels natural and doesn't make you scream. Also, write down your "elevator pitch" - a sentence explaining what you do, who you do it for, and how you do it - and repeat it so many times, you can say it in your sleep. It helps at conferences, podcasts, and just any time you need it.
- Take every chance to do what you do. Sometimes the best "promotion" is to just help someone. Don't let your pride stand in the way and just do some pro bono work - it's great practice for you, gives you testimonials, and you're doing what you love, so what's the bad? Sometimes helping someone can be just answering their question on facebook or something, or answering a random email. Give your all and you'll see returns.
- Talk to people like they're people and build genuine relationships. Don't just think about promotions and selling all the time, just meet people, talk to them about what matters, help them out and stuff. I guarantee you this will help your business more than shouting about it from the rooftops.
- Don't be afraid to reach out to people in your network. Once you have a network, use it! Be your wonderful creative rebel self and be 100% honest about the reason behind each email. The people in your network would love to help you promote your new book, but you haven't asked them yet.
- Optimize your website already. Even if you're getting a lot of traffic, it doesn't mean a thing if you can't keep your people on your website for long enough to get help, sign up, etc. Is it immediately clear what you do? Are there plenty of chances for people to sign up for more? Have you made it easy for them to make the best of your site or are you hiding your stuff? Is what you need to promote front and center? People need guidance and direction. Otherwise we get lost and confused, and you don't achieve your goals either. Educate yourself on the importance of user experience.
- Think outside the box and stop doing everything the experts advise. Seriously, that's the easiest way to just lose all joy in life and become another copy on the Internet. There are so many ways to be creative with your marketing, and most of them include a) learning the most you can, b) using what you like and tweaking what you don't like, and c) brainstorming all kinds of ideas - from normal to crazy, and then experimenting a lot.
- If you have doubts about anything, make sure that it a) matches your business strategy and helps you get closer to your goal, b) matches your natural ways, so don't do anything that you'd hate to do or be bad at doing, and c) see if there's a way to make it fun, dude. Why so seriousss.
- Always be honest and human, and people will love you for it.
Phew, that's a lot of things, but I believe in you and your ability to make this happen. If it's too overwhelming, break it down in mini-goals.
5. Your rebel alternatives.
This is one of my favorite concepts because it means taking the "best practices" you see out there and adjusting them to work for you. That way, marketing and self-promotion sops feeling gross and starts feeling more natural. :)
Here are some amazing examples:
- Do you want to NOT do social media? Luckily, there are rebels who have come up with alternatives. Jen Carrington goes heavy on content, she's very strategic with it (great titles, key words, posts consistently, and she always mentions her work) and relies on word of mouth to get clients. Jason Zook quit social media and went heavy on content and transparency. He gives his audience AMAZING value and gets us excited about everything he's working on, and he managed to do it without the help of social. Finally, Alex Franzen doesn't use social media either, but she's so good with her words and uses storytelling on her blog that she has this amazingly loyal audience. To be honest, I always open and read her articles myself. This goes to show that you MUST bet on what you're really good at and give your people your unique value, not just doing what the experts do.
- Do you hate webinars? There are plenty of creative rebels who do their own versions of webinars that actually give you a lot of value and it's not just smoke and mirrors. Some even call them workshops to soften the blow. My favorite example of a rebel alternative is Halley Grey's "Drunk Webinars" because she totally got out of the box and turned something annoying into something funny and epic. Basically, it's webinars where both the host and the guest drinks alcohol during the interview. Nobody's saying that you can't take something old and tired and just make it yours, even if what you come up with is unusual and downright crazy. It's a REBEL alternative...
- Do you hate the mighty optin? Maybe you're annoyed that everyone is perpetuating this culture of free stuff and nobody is coughing up the dough anymore. Or maybe it feels a lot like bribing to you. In any case, Nathalie Lussier came up with a solution - the Reverse Optin, and a lot of professionals use this method - give first, then ask second.
- Do you really NOT want to blog? OMG, you don't have toooooooo. Seriously, who told you you had to? Probably some expert. Listen, if you want to grow your business, you gotta do YOU. Your rebel alternative could be doing a podcast or vlog or come up with an alternative to content.
- Do you hate launching and selling? Pssh, who doesn't. Thing is, creative rebels work hard to a) try everything, b) chuck what doesn't fit and keep what does fit, and c) tweak everything to fit their own style and business better. So go ahead and find YOUR alternative to everything you're seeing out there, all the sleazy tactics. Work out your own authentic launch strategy and your own authentic way of selling. My favorite examples come from Jason Zook and Caroline Kelso, so start from this video journal.
- Are you getting exhausted from work? Maybe your process isn't working for you. Lauren Hooker worked out that working with one client intensively for 2 weeks fits her a lot better than anything anyone else was doing. In that period of time, she can create a whole new brand from scratch. Whaat.
- Are you really great at something? It should be a no-brainer, but most people forget that if they have a great advantage, they should use it, and you can use yours as a rebel alternative. For example, Kayla Hollatz is great at bringing people together and twitter, so she started a twitter chat. Another example: Ash Ambirge is such a compelling and funny writer-slash-storyteller that her blog is her natural way of growing her business. And yet another example: Melyssa Griffin was SO good at Pinterest that now she's helping business owners grow with the help of Pinterest only. Now find what you're really great at and use that in your strategy.
- Are you tired of your industry? I mean, sometimes we all get tired of how things are done, and we come up with original solutions to our problems, which is what Mariah Coz did, and now she teaches people to be pioneers and look for those "wild frontier niches" instead of doing what everyone else is doing - blogging about blogging, webinars about webinars, etc.
- Look at your favorite creative rebels and find more examples.
P.S. I'm working on a book on this so stay tuned! Mwah.
6. Goals, goals, GOALS.
Now I'm going to be all business-y about it...
If you don't have specific goals around your business, like how much money you need it to make, how much you need it to grow, say in a month, then you're blindly moving forward without any particular focus or direction.
And that's when we drop the ball. That's when we fail to meet our goals.
So you say you need to grow your business and you feel like a sleaze when you're promoting it? Well, see what happens when you set a clear goal for it! That's when your logical brain will jump into action and make sure it meets it in the time period you have set for it. You'll become a force of nature!
It's like those instances where we HAVE to do something, and whether we want to do it or not, we have to and there's no complaining, just action.
Like when I was in the USA for a summer and I lost my job and my live-in hosts in the same day. I was thousands of miles away from my home with no money and no place to live. You can bet your hat and everything else on your body that after crying for a couple of minutes, I got my butt on my bicycle and found a job at the local Subway. It took me an hour to get what I needed.
Because I had to. Because the stakes were high...
When you really need something, you open yourself up to all the possibilities around you. When you're worried about it, you close yourself off.
So if you want results - and to override the stupid critic in your brain who says you're too good to do self-promotion - just set a CLEAR (and realistic) goal with a clear deadline and maybe RAISE THE STAKES if you can. (There are apps that take your money when you haven't done what you promised you would do. There are also people who are happy to be your accountability buddies and check up on your progress every week because you do the same for them. Whee.)
My month's goal is to get 5 clients. It's simple, it's reasonable, and there's a deadline, so everything I do goes through this prism. I don't waste any time questioning or overthinking my strategy because a) there is not much time left and b) I know I'm fully capable of doing this, so why not do it.
Set a small and clear goal for your business. Set it for this month or for this season, whatever makes you feel positive and motivated. And if you really want to knock the ball out of the park, remind yourself of that goal every chance you get. Mine is front and center on my vision board! Yours can be on your desktop or hanging from your ceiling. Ready? Set... GO.
7. On the question of investment.
I have noticed two kinds of people - the people who will do ANYTHING to make their dream happen and the people who will make excuses and derail their dream until they get tired of it and regret wasting time.
I have been in both camps myself, we all have been at one point or another, but here's the deal... Business is unlike anything you have ever done or anything you will ever do, and if you don't invest in it from the very start, you might end up dragging it for a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.
How important is this to me? What am I willing to do to make it happen? (The answer better be ANYTHING, as long as it;s ethical.) What's more important - my ego and my pride and staying in my comfort zone, believing the things I've always believed OR lifting my business off the ground?
I read this in Jen Sincero's You Are a Badass:
Don't let something your family and society drilled into your head - that "tooting your own horn" is wrong - and face the truth - if you don't toot it at the start, who's gonna do it for you? NO ONE. Because they don't know you yet.
One final thing...
Sometimes what you've never do and will have to do to get your business off the ground is bloody investing in it. You might think it's counterintuitive - because how can you invest money you don't have - but it works.
You can't get return on investment without the investment part.
Here are some things you can invest in:
- ebooks or courses that help you become a marketing ninja
- a copywriter who's going to help you make your copy clear and compelling, and thus attract and convert the right people (try Hillary Weiss)
- a coach who understands your needs and struggles as a creative rebel, who can help you overcome your blocks and make serious progress (dropping my coaching link again in this post felt uncomfortable, but this is not about promoting myself, it's about helping you find the right things to invest in! work on switching from "promoting" mindset to "helping" mindset)
- a user experience specialist who will help you optimize your website, so there are no leaky buckets and missed opportunities (try Meghan)
- if you need it spelled out for you, hire a marketing consultant, these guys give you the strategies and formulas instead of guiding you to find your own way, which is valid, but I don't personally go for that anymore
- an expert in what you need and read everything they've written, see how they do things, try to apply their strategies in a way that feels authentic and natural for you, and in time you'll develop your own original methods
- a Virtual Assistant to whom you can outsource the parts of your strategy that you're not so good at / excited about, like promotions ;)
- the right kind of tools that will help your business grow
Bootstrapping and doing everything is OK for a while, but after doing both for too long, I realized the alternative - investing in the right tools and experts - was much better for my business and my sanity.
If you're like, OMG, this is too long, here's a shorter version:
You hate promoting yourself because you buy into the lie that self-promotion is tooting your own horn, but it's actually just marketing strategy, and your marketing strategy can be anything you want it to be.
And here are the steps we covered:
- Show up for your business and show it how much you love it by doing what needs to be done. It's like self love, but for your business.
- Believe in your business and believe in yourself.
- Deal with your mental blocks and limiting beliefs because if you don't, no amount of work and promotion will help you succeed.
- Stop thinking and playing like an amateur and turn PRO already.
- If you don't like something, come up with an alternative. Just take those best practices and tweak them to fit your values, personality, etc.
- Set a clear goal. Without it, there won't be any progress.
- Invest in the people and tools that will help your business grow, and switch your mindset from "promoting" to "giving."
If you need one-on-one help with promoting your business in authentic ways, check out my Grow Your Business Your Way coaching program.
And if this article helped you, share it. :)