European Business Owners Need to Stop Being So Hesitant to Promote Themselves
In the U.S., it’s the norm that you hear people promote their own company all the time. Because how can you make money if people don’t know you exist? This has also always been my approach to my own business.
But, I’ve come to learn that Europeans and Danes in particular have a hard time telling other people about their own business and promoting their business. And that’s really a paradox -- because if you want success, you’ve got to put yourself out there on display.
Your business is like a rock band.
Think of it this way: If your business was a rock band, how would you get gigs? How would you get people to listen to your music? How would you sell tickets for your concerts if no one knew you?
I happen to know lots of musicians (I have a master’s degree in musicology). And all the musicians I know constantly post all kinds of stuff about their band, like when the next gig is -- and how cool their band is. They even wear t-shirts and caps with their own band name displayed on it.
Beware the Law of Jante.
But, clearly entrepreneurs from the Nordic countries really struggle with promoting their own businesses. And one of the reasons for this is the Law of Jante. The Law of Jante is a code of conduct that portrays people doing things out of the ordinary as inappropriate and as not being truly part of the “tribe.” And this code of conduct is quite common in the Nordic countries.
It often means that young and old people alike are afraid of standing out -- even if it’s in a positive way. So, as you can see, in the Nordic countries there really is such a thing as being too successful or too good looking -- or even too skilled. This for example means that overtly ambitious and successful people are sometimes looked upon as arrogant outsiders or misfits.
Tell your story right.
Then again that’s not what I myself experience when promoting my business. It’s really all about storytelling. Rather than being annoyed or thinking me inappropriate when I talked about my business, people actually loved hearing about the entrepreneur side of life. All it took was for me to tell the story in the right way. And in reality, the Law of Jante mostly mattered in my own mind -- not in the mind of my listener. You just need to tell your story the right way.
Stand out or stand down.
As owner of my own creative company, Levende Streg, I started out almost seven years ago by biking around Copenhagen contacting everyone I knew -- or didn’t know -- to tell them about my new company, what I did and how I could help them. I had spent all my savings setting up a website, learning about animation, video and buying and leasing digital equipment, enabling me to do speed drawing videos and animation, which was an area on the rise back then.
In my younger days, I taught Adobe programs, design, UX and search engine optimization, and I had a telephone sales job, too. And this combination of art, video, tech knowledge and the ability to talk to people made my company a success -- with now seven people in the team.
Selling yourself is not the same as selling yourself short.
And not only do people want to hear your stories, they also look to the more ambitious people for advice and help. For example, I’m often contacted by creatives and artists who want to work for me -- or who want me to contact new clients for them on their behalf.
And I get it! Because when you’re passionate about something (like your business) it’s one of the most frightening things in the world to walk up to someone and ask them for employment.
Say it until you feel nauseated.
I once read an article on Linkedin by CEO Jeff Weiner in which he explained that: “In order to effectively communicate to an audience, you need to repeat yourself so often that you grow sick of hearing yourself say it, and only then will people begin to internalize the message.”
I love that statement. And I’ve really taken it to heart. You have to tell everyone who will listen about your business. In short, you’ve got to be your own trumpet section and marching band screaming your company name until your throat is sore.
If you ask your friends and family what the name of your company is, can they answer? If they are not sure and quick in their answer, you’re not doing a good enough job!
Shift your focus
In his book Exactly How to Sell, Phil M. Jones explains that most people associate sales with cheap talk that tricks people into buying. Sales people are perceived as pushy, smooth-talking and slightly dishonest. And nobody wants to be perceived like that, so it’s difficult to promote your own business.
But, that’s not what a good salesperson really is, and you would never be able to get and keep happy customers if you trick them into buying something they don’t want or need. A good salesperson is authentic and a problem solver. Someone who helps other people in achieving their goals. So, shift the way you perceive yourself when making a sales call.
Take it to the next level.
Another interesting approach to prospecting I got from Lars Frohn, sales manager at Touchdown Solutions. A long-time successful entrepreneur with a background in IT, he explained to me, "It’s quite simple. You have to spend time going through all your products and services to find out the characteristics, advantages and outcome. After that you build your site and SEO around those words and descriptions. And then you start reaching out to prospects and new clients."
To sum it up, if you do a good enough job with your website strategy and SEO, the majority of your clients will find you online and you can focus your sales energy on dream prospects.
How to get started with prospecting
- Identify your ideal customer-type -- who do you enjoy working with? (size, demography, niche, pain points, projects)
- Google a list of companies that fit that description.
- Check you LinkedIn connections -- do you know people who work in those organizations?
- Ask to be introduced on LinkedIn to the people in management of those organization.
- Give that person a call -- and tell them who you are. Ask them how you may help them.