Learning the Art of Self Promotion

Learning the Art of Self Promotion

My grandfather was a candy salesman in Augusta, Maine. He was honoured several times with being one of the top salespeople for Pine State, his company. Yet, when I went on his sales route with him, I never once saw him sell.

He’d stop and see Flo from Flo’s Variety on Sand Hill, and ask how her granddaughter did on her spelling test. He’d exchange hugs with Mr. Dupuis and tell clean jokes (while I was in earshot), and there’d be a lot of red faces and back slapping. I never once heard him ask for a sale. I saw him connect, commiserate, and learn what was happening in his customers’ lives.

The digital world makes this tricky

I spend a lot of time chatting to people online, but that’s only part of the experience. I have to make connections. I have to get relationships going with the smart up and comers, as well as the folks who are currently most interesting to me. So far, that’s similar to my grandfather’s world.

But what about when I need more reach? What about when I have to start stretching beyond the people I know? What about when I’m seeking to grow influence? It’s time to self-promote, and this is fundamentally different from the offline world in some ways, and sadly quite the same in others.

The art of self promotion

Imagine you are at a cocktail party on the night before a conference. Some people in the room know each other, and are clustering in clumps that way. You’re the newcomer to the group. You walk up to a circle of people, smile, and say…


That’s the heart of what you’ll have to know, right? If I freeze this moment in time, and if you think about it, here’s the analog to self promotion in the digital space. Because what you say next is how you will be received. Let’s press play a few times:

You say, “Hey there! Mind if I join your group? I just wrote a great blog post about how career planning has to get more social. It got a ton of comments. Care to add your two cents?”

Them: * blank stares*


You: “Hi! My name’s Jane. Would you take my business cards and hand them out to everyone? You might as well pass on that saying that I’m awesome.”

Them: *grab sharp implements*


You: “I know we haven’t met before. A long time ago, my life was really boring and mundane. My dog had tapeworms. We lived in a bad part of town. Then, my nana got sick. Then I…”

Wait. Where’d everyone go?

I’m being a bit funny, but it’s true

People have a hard time knowing what to do in that exact moment where they know they need to build relationships on the web, and it’s not entirely anyone’s fault. We just haven’t really thought through any other ways to get the word out in a method that would be more effective.

Let me list the problems at hand, and then we’ll go right into a recipe for a better chance at getting absorbed into that group and benefits made.


* People don’t know you yet, so have no idea why they should interact.

* You’re so worried about not being seen that you pounce too fast into your story.

* You believe there’s only one chance.

* It’s a loud and crowded space (even virtually, this is often true).

* Your story doesn’t really have good entry points yet.


Here’s what I know to work for self-promotion more often than not.

1.) Start with them. As you “approach the small group,” even (especially!) online, start by commenting on their work, and just “being there.” The people I notice the most in my own community are those who have a point of view, and who always seem there to interact.

2.) Add connective tissue. I made friends with Michael Sampson from New Zealand over our mutual appreciation for Batman. What excites someone that overlaps with what you also love is a great bridge.

3.) Be helpful to them far before you ask for something. Tim Sanders, author of the amazing book Love is the Killer App (and also grab Today We Are Rich!) is the master of doing a TON for someone without ever asking for anything back.

4.) Always have a condensed and simple story to retell about you.

This one needs a little story. I was once sitting in the bar at the Roger Smith Hotel in New York, and a guy who knew no one there besides his girlfriend came up and shook my hand. He said, “Hi, I once sold a joke to a professional comedian.”

Holy cats. What an amazing first line. I NEEDED the story. And the joke is hilarious (or was to me). If you want to hear it, hit reply and ask me for the joke.

Having a story to tell that’s quite simple about what you do and most especially who you serve, is great. Mine? “I deliver tools and smarts to folks who want to work better.” It’s like an elevator pitch, only it’s something you could say out loud to someone.

5.) Make your first “ask” small. If you and I have a brief interaction online and then you ask me to write the foreword to your new book, it won’t happen. If you and I have a great conversation and you ask if I’d want to do a quick Q&A for your blog over email, that might work. (Note: do NOT reply to this email and ask me. I’ll say no.)  : )

6.) Above all else, EARN the right to move the story over to you.


John Jantsch is the Duct Tape Marketer. If you meet him at an event, you’ll find out that he’s personable, that he never talks about what he’s doing until you beg him, and he is friendly and approachable. I promote John all the time because he’s never asked for it.

Charlie Green co wrote a masterwork book on Trust that Julien Smith and I have liberally quoted TWICE in TWO BOOKS. He never asks anyone for a thing. He deserves mountains of promotion. When he shares his own work, you want to read it.

Sir Richard Branson, when I interviewed him, kept asking me more questions about me. He was very inclusive. This man owns an island. He doesn’t talk about it that way. Sure, on the air, he’s VERY self promotional, but that’s the bombast. As a person one-on-one, he’s very humble.

Self promotion isn’t evil

You have a lot going on. People want to know about it. But it’s how you approach it that will make or break what you get from the effort.

My personal efforts all err on the side of providing a lot of value before I extract any for myself (thank you, Anthony, for that language). I also do a lot to nurture the networks I serve, so that when it comes time to ask, people feel like it’s the least they could do to participate and help.