Most of us were taught as children not to draw attention to ourselves, show off, or even talk about ourselves. In addition, there are all sorts of negative stereotypes about sales and marketing people as being pushy, intrusive, obnoxious, and dishonest. Also, we can all recall being trapped with people who dominate conversations and brag incessantly about how wonderful they are. No wonder that the idea of self-promotion may evoke some discomfort.
So, before you tackle the career management strategy of self- marketing, you need to develop a comfortable style that suits your personality. Self-marketing is actually assertiveness about who you are, what you want, and how your abilities can benefit others.
Why is self-marketing a critical skill? Nadia learned its importance the hard way. Nadia secretly wanted to become manager of her department at a retail store. No one ever asked her if she had any career development goals, so she never mentioned her aspiration to her bosses. She mistakenly believed that if she worked harder than anyone else, management would surely promote her. Finally, it looked like she could have her chance; her department manager relocated to another store. She waited to be asked and was shocked when her boss announced that Donald, her new co-worker, got the job. When she stammered out her disappointment, her boss responded by saying, “I never even thought of you for the job. Donald asked for it.” Part of self-marketing is knowing your goals and advocating for them. Perhaps if Nadia had collaborated with her boss and worked to enhance her management experience, the job would have been hers.
After you have written down your goals (what you want), then you need to assess what it is you have to offer and who wants it. Jessie, a systems analyst, wanted to transition from a full-time corporate job to her own business as a consultant. She did a survey of her friends and colleagues asking their opinion of her three best talents. The consensus was that she excelled at building relationships with clients, solving complex systems difficulties, and managing others. In her current position, she was not getting enough exposure either to clients or the most challenging technical applications. After researching her potential competition in the consulting field, she realized that a niche for her would be expert problem-solving with leading edge network systems. But she needed more experience.
So she asked her manager if she could work on more complex networks, which meant more travel and closer contact with client companies. Jessie also wanted training in three new network systems. Her boss denied her request, saying that she needed her to work full-time on her current projects. So, Jessie tried Plan B. She talked to her confidantes at work and learned about two colleagues who were presently working in leading edge networks and invited them each to lunch. She told them what she could offer to see if they were interested. The first person was clearly a loner but he recommended a colleague at a competing company. The second person said Jessie could contribute to her project about ten hours a week if she could negotiate that with her boss. Jessie continued to network in the field and eventually went to work for the competitor part-time and contracted with her current employer temporarily for two days a week. Two years later, Jessie opened her business as an expert in her field.
What do you have to offer? Who wants it? What’s it worth to them? These are the questions you must analyze before you begin to sell yourself. If you don’t believe in the value of your skills, no one else will either. You’re looking to make a match where you get what you want and the recipients get what they want. Self-marketing is telegraphing to someone else how your expertise can benefit them. Another key factor in successful persuasion is your commitment to your work. Rhonda, a successful advertising saleswoman for a women’s magazine, all of sudden stopped selling. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t do it. On the advice of her concerned boss, she took a week off to do some soul searching. After journaling for two days, she discovered the conflict. Her mother, an avid smoker for forty years, was dying of lung cancer and Rhonda’s biggest commissions came from tobacco companies. Her integrity prompted her to change fields.
As I said before, self-marketing is a form of assertive communication. So to help you get started, let’s talk about some basic tenants of assertiveness. Communication is the process of exchanging meaningful information and ideas. Assertive communication is the ability to express feelings and opinions in a direct, honest, and appropriate style. It is calm communication which preserves the equality and dignity of everyone. When you assert yourself, you are speaking positively, assuredly, and clearly.
To facilitate your impact, follow these six pointers:
- Use “I” statements, such as “I have ten years of experience as a nurse manager and therefore ...”or “I feel slighted that my proposal was not considered more seriously at our meeting...” “I” statements protect you from accusing others and allow you to project your point of view more confidently.
- Timing often determines outcome. Ask yourself the question, “Can this person give me their undivided attention now”? If you want to meet with someone, ask them when it’s convenient. Also, think about where you can meet that is most conducive to the conversation at hand. Mutuality and consideration work for both parties here.
- Maintain good eye contact and a confident posture when you are talking about yourself. You want your message to be believable on all levels.
- Present only one goal at a time. If you want to become a department manager and eventually chief financial officer, advocate for the department manager position with a focus on financial responsibilities for now. People get confused if you overload them with too many ideas. The essence of assertiveness is simplicity.
- You also want your goal to be consistent. There’s an assertive technique called the broken record where you repeat over and over what you want, regardless of the objections, smokescreens, or other manipulations your listener may toss in your path. For example, you might say:“I know that budgets are tight, but I deserve to be compensated for bringing in two million dollars of long term business for the company.” And your boss may say, “I can’t make an exception” or “How do you know the business will be long term?”, etc. Keep your message constant and try to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution.
- Lastly, you must be persistent. As in any communication or sale, you must follow up regularly. If you are the owner of a shopping service and don’t stay in touch regularly with prospective customers, they will forget about you. Building relationships takes time and a genuine interest in the other party. Find a way to do this that feels satisfying for both of you.
Strategies for Staying at Your Current Job
Don’t think that because you’re not looking to make a major career transition that you don’t need to self-market. Accountability reigns supreme in today’s lean and mean companies. You must continually demonstrate your value to the organization by initiating activities in line with corporate goals. First ask yourself, “Do I believe in and support the mission of my company and its current goals?” If the answer is no, start job hunting elsewhere. In my consulting work with employees and executives having job performance problems, the number one difficulty is that the individual’s goals and talents are out of alignment with the company’s direction. Derek, an executive at a health maintenance organization, confessed to me that he resented the organization’s obsession with cost containment. When we reviewed his job description, nine out of twenty of his responsibilities involved cost cutting. I urged him to pack his briefcase and transition to a health care company more in line with his values. He couldn’t perform at capacity for a corporate mission he couldn’t endorse.
If your goals are in sync with your current employer, that’s a good start. Pay close attention to the big picture issues and the spoken and unspoken company priorities you hear about everyday. Sit down with your boss/colleagues and ask them what skills you will need to advance in your job. Are there special task forces or projects that you could work on? In what direction is your department going and how can you be on the forefront? Take an inventory of the job tasks you enjoy the most that reflect corporate goals and try to increase your expertise in those areas. Also, remember the value of multiple skills, so look for chances to cross train and add new skills. The more skills you have, the more places in the organization that you can work.
Look to develop your subordinates so you can be free to master new opportunities. Above all, make sure your boss and co-workers know what you are doing. Keep a written record of your accomplishments each quarter and E-mail it to your boss. He/she will be grateful because it will make his/her job of writing your performance review much easier. Take advantage of all training options available. Seek out relevant professional organizations and then chair a committee or run for office, providing visibility for your company. Never assume that you will retire with your current employer; always have an idea about where you could work next. Speak up at meetings and initiate solutions to problems. Demonstrate your leadership attributes and commitment to the organization. Be careful about preserving positive relationships with everyone in the organization, even non-essential folks. If you find yourself being overly critical of your organization, either fix the problem or find a place to work that meets your needs.
Strategies for Making a Work Transition
If you have followed all of the advice above, you will have a strong network of contacts in your field. Therefore, when you’re ready to move on, you will have a long list of people to call for information. But, if you’ve been buried within the confines of your company, then you have a lot of work to do. If your want to change fields, consider an internal transfer within your own company. Suzie decided that she wanted the adventure of traveling and selling international telecommunications products. Yet, her telecommunications experience was in operations not sales. So she did information interviews with several salespeople and proposed an internship for herself in the sales department. The sales manager was receptive because she knew the company. Often your own backyard is the best place to learn new skills; another telecommunications company may have overlooked her application because she lacked sales experience.
If you’re ready to sever ties with your current employer, then you need to prepare a three minute sales pitch about how your skills and talents can benefit others. For example, “With my fifteen years of experience managing commercial properties and my proven record of accomplishments in leasing over 500,00 square feet of space at top rents, serving as general contractor for buildouts and keeping them on budget and within time line, and negotiation expertise as a troubleshooter, I am looking for an opportunity to contribute these skills to a prosperous development company”. This communication allows your listener to determine if he/she is interested in your work or can advise you of someone who is.
If you are shy or introverted, practice your sales pitch and try it out on people you trust so that you can convey it convincingly. If large networking meetings overwhelm you, concentrate on meeting with people individually or working on a committee where you can get to know people. On your resume, write a job objective that reflects the essence of your sales pitch. It helps the reader to have a clearer picture of who you are. If smaller groups are more comfortable for you, then try joining or creating a job hunting or business planning group where you can build lasting relationships with others. Respect your personality and develop techniques that stretch you but don’t over stress you.
If you are starting or expanding a business, then self-marketing is your bread and butter. Information is priceless so staying informed will help you to determine whom you ought to contact. Keep abreast of professional journals and innovations in your field and continually introduce yourself to new potential clients. Develop a script for cold calls and monitor your results. Link up with other businesses for support and collaboration. Join or develop a leads group for support and accountability. Selectively join professional organizations and re-evaluate these memberships annually. Stay connected with former clients and colleagues via E-mail or even a newsletter. Also, a whole new networking arena has opened up online. For a terrific primer on the do’s and don’t’s in cyberspace, read Marcia Yudkin’s book “Marketing Online: Low-Cost, High-Yield Strategies for Small Businesses and Professionals” (Plume, 1995).
In summary, decide on your marketing target, take aim, and fire. As your time is limited, invest your energy wisely. By developing a quarterly self- marketing plan and regularly reviewing what’s worked and what hasn’t, you’ll see a steady path of progress and gain new insights. Be creative and brainstorm with others about how you might present yourself as the unique person that you are.