This Trick Will Help You Promote Yourself Without Coming Off as Self-Centered
This story appears in the December 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
I've always struggled with self-promotion. Sure, I’ve done plenty of it -- you pretty much can’t work in media without hawking your own work. But I’ve always felt awkward about it. Self-promotion feels a little like begging. I’ve always worried that it’s a burden -- as if I’m saying, Here’s something I’m forcing you to care about. So I tried to mask that awkwardness with self-deprecating humor. When I recently launched an Entrepreneur podcast called Problem Solvers, for example, I emailed all my friends with the subject line, “In case you’re not sick of my voice.”
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Over the past year, though, I’ve been repeatedly struck by how gracefully entrepreneurs promote themselves. There’s no fuss. No apologies. No little dance. They instead worry about how to reach their audiences most directly, and how to be as useful to that audience as possible. The concept started to sink in: useful. I needed to think of my self-promotion as useful -- not to me, but to the people I’m reaching.
I decided it was time to run an experiment -- one in which I am carefully, unapologetically, straightforwardly promoting myself, while presenting it as being helpful to the person I’m reaching. And I knew exactly the place to do this: LinkedIn.
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For the past year, ever since I became editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur, I’ve gotten daily connection requests from strangers on LinkedIn. I was never sure what to do about them. Do I accept, diluting my network with people I don’t know? Or do I reject, turning away people who may be interested in my work? Now I had my answer: I accepted everyone, all at once. Hundreds of them. Then I personally sent them all the same 171-word message. “Hey, thanks for connecting with me on LinkedIn,” it began. “I’m guessing you’re already aware of Entrepreneur magazine, so I wanted to make you aware of a few other, related resources that might be interesting to you.” Then I told them about my two podcasts and personal newsletter.
The response was immediate and enlightening. “Thank you so much. Love this!!!” wrote one person. “Jason, this is awesome! Can’t wait to check it all out!” wrote another. One guy quickly listened to multiple episodes of my shows, then wrote a thoughtful note about them. Another listened, reached out for advice on building his own podcast and we discovered a potential partnership for both our brands.
Not long ago, I’d worried that self-promotion was a burden. Now here people were literally thanking me for doing it, and offering new opportunities. It was so crazy, I laughed out loud.
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Not long after this, I ran into Noah Kagan and told him about my experiment. Noah is an entrepreneur who’s built himself into a well-known personality, but he told me that he, too, has never been fully comfortable as a self-promoter. He copes, in part, by thinking of ways to present his work in the most helpful way possible. For example, when people sign up for his mailing list, they receive a five-part greeting. The first contains his top three podcast episodes -- the ones statistically most likely to connect with his new subscriber. The second email contains his top three YouTube videos. And so on. It’s promotional, yes, but it’s also giving people the best version of what they came for. It’s designed for usefulness.
After all this, I’m looking at my own work differently. I -- and we all! -- don’t make things just to make them. We make things because they are good and valuable. We make things because other people will want them, and will benefit from them. And that means people have to know about them. People want to know about them. It’s our job to tell them.