How to Sell Yourself

The opening sentence of our pitch is our most important. And too many of us are getting it wrong.
How to Sell Yourself
Image credit: Nigel Parry
Magazine Contributor
Editor-in-Chief
4 min read

This story appears in the December 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

A man recently connected with me on LinkedIn, and sent me this note: "Let me know if you ever need a writer."

I guess he's a writer? I don't know! But I do know this: The phrase "Let me know if you ever need a…" shows up a lot, in my inbox and surely yours, too. I've come to think of it as the eight most deadly words in entrepreneurship—because that phrase is the death of opportunity. We should all step back and think: Have we used these words? Have we used similar words? And if so, have we failed to seize the moment?

"Let me know if you ever need a…"

Let’s break it down to understand.

First, consider the aspiration. This is written by someone hoping to provide a service. If they're a writer, they’d like to write. Publicists or entrepreneurs might want press coverage, so they'll tell me, "Let me know if you ever need a story about a dynamic CEO." A B2B company might want Entrepreneur as a client, so they'll say, "Let me know if you ever need a better customer service solution."

Related: How to Win Over Dissatisfied Customers

But now consider the approach. These people are being standoffish. Rather than selling themselves, they're shifting the burden onto someone else to make the sale. If I need a writer, I should reach out to them. If I need a story, I should ask them for an interview. If I need a customer service solution, I should ask them for details. "Let me know if you ever need a…" sounds like an invitation, but it’s really a shrug. It's like putting a dollar on a table and hoping someone picks it up, buys a winning lottery ticket with it, and then gives you the spoils.

I understand where these people are coming from. They don't want to seem pushy. They don't want to appear needy. They're afraid of sounding too self-promotional. I can appreciate the instinct. I don't want to look pushy either! I'm also turned off by people who appear needy! But their approach misses something critical. "Let me know if you ever need a…" doesn’t propose any value. Is this person a good writer? Is this CEO worthy of a story? Is this customer service tool beloved by others in my field? I don't know, because when this person shifted the sales burden onto me, they also shifted the research burden onto me. They gave me no knowledge. They gave me nothing to be excited about. They showed me no opportunity.

Imagine the situation in which I'd assign a story to the writer who said, "Let me know if you ever need a writer." I would have needed…a writer. Just any writer. Anyone who can string words together. I would have needed to be in a panic, so desperate for someone to contribute to our magazine that I’d stopped thinking about great writers, or good writers, or even serviceable writers, and simply settled for: writer.

This is not a situation that exists. The world is full of good options! Me, and you, and everyone else—we are not living in times of scarcity. If we need a job done, there are plenty of qualified people to do it. Our question is: Who's the best?

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If you want to create opportunity for yourself, answer that question convincingly.

The first thing to do is show someone that you are the opportunity. Hiring you can help them. Telling your story is good for them. Opportunity is not a handout. It's a symbiotic matching of needs—you need what I have, and I need what you have, and now we’ve got an opportunity for each other.

We need to stop hiding behind ourselves. Get out in front! Sell yourself and your amazing abilities. Understand someone's problem, and explain exactly why you’re the solution.

"Let me know if you ever need a..."? No. Never. Instead, start with: "Let me explain how I can help you."

Now I'm listening.

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