Too many entrepreneurs I know still believe that their great idea will carry their startup. Yet most investors agree that the "idea" is worth nothing alone, and it's the entrepreneur's execution that counts. That means that selling yourself is more important than selling your idea.
In the corporate world, experts have recognized for a long time that the way people perceive you at work is vital to your career success. No matter how talented you are, it doesn't matter unless managers can see those talents and think of you as an invaluable employee, a game-changing manager or the person whose name is synonymous with success.
In the entrepreneur world, your perception is equally critical, except the "managers" in this world are your investors, customers, vendors, business partners and team members. I just finished a book by Dan Schawbel, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, which will help you maximize these perceptions.
Here is a quick guide to some of the changes that Schawbel sees in the workplace that require self-promotion and some updates that I have added for entrepreneurs:
1. An "idea" is just the beginning. Use your business idea to kick start your relationships with co-founders, investors, customers and business partners. Your ability to promote yourself and learn from these will determine your ultimate success.
2. Pursue skills you don't have right now. A U.S. Department of Education study shows that soft, interpersonal skills have become more important for success than hard, or technical, skills. Entrepreneurs need to have leadership skills, as well as an ability to work in teams and listen. Coaching skills, which you can learn from advisors and networking with peers, are also a plus.
3. Polish your reputation, as it's your best asset. Your CEO title might be good for your ego, but in the grand scheme of things, what matters more is how much people trust you, whom you know, who knows about you, and the aura you give off around you. What other people think you can do is more important than what you have done.
4. Your personal life is now public. With the internet and social networks, things you do in your personal life can affect your success in a big way. Manage your whole image, rather than ignore it. Even the smallest things, like how you behave, your online presence -- or lack of it -- and whom you associate with can help build your brand or tear it down.
5. Build a positive presence in new media. There are plenty of benefits to new media, if you maintain a positive presence. Your online social networks enable you to build your reputation, connect with people who have interests similar to yours, find educational opportunities and put you in touch with people who can help your startup.
6. Play nice with people of all ages. The combination of economic need and increasing life spans is keeping everyone in the workplace longer. As a result, you'll need to work well with people of all ages. Each generation tends to communicate differently and offers a different view of the marketplace.
7. The one with the most connections wins. We have moved from an information economy to a social one. It's less about what you know (Google search will help you in seconds), and more about whether you can work with other people to solve problems. If you don't get and stay connected, you'll quickly become irrelevant.
8. Just one person can change your life. Remember the rule of one? All you need is that one investor, that one major customer or that one distributor to keep you ahead of competitors. It's up to you to get that key person on board to support your business. Self-promotion in the right way can make all the difference.
9. Hours are out, accomplishments are in. If you want to grow your business, stop thinking about how many hours you work, and aim for more milestones and traction. Success is more results, not more work. Measure your results and promote them. Help others realize your value.
10. Your startup is in your hands. Be accountable for your own business success, and take charge of your life. Look for win-win business relationships, since people won't help you if you are not helping them. If you aren't learning and growing, you have nothing to promote and aren't benefitting anyone.
The challenge for all entrepreneurs is to gain visibility and show value without bragging and coming off as self-centered. Take personal credit where credit is due, but also share the successes of the team and the business milestones with everyone Success leverages success.
Now, how do you start? I like Schawbel's recommendation to do one thing every day, like add a new skill, or build a new relationship that will advance you. Developing this "One Step Forward a Day" habit will keep you current, make you feel more fulfilled, confident, and increase your ability to promote yourself.
Are you promoting yourself today or demoting your startup by default? Let us know with a comment.