Goodness, the world feels noisy and overwhelming right now, doesn’t it? And, when you run a small online business of any description, it can be hard to know how you fit into it all; how to promote your work in a polite and helpful way that doesn’t annoy or stress people out. We all just want to be considerate human beings and connect with the people our work is designed to serve, earn a living without pressuring anyone, without making it all about us and what we have to offer all the time.
So many opinions, so much access to each other’s lives through the little curated glimpses available right at our fingertips, images and thoughts that collect in the corners of our tired brains while we’re walking home, cooking dinner, unwinding before bed, scrolling, scrolling… So many books, articles, blog posts we could read, so many podcast episodes to listen to, YouTube videos to watch, guides to download, newsletters to subscribe to. So many things we’d love to buy.
And, so much of it is so brilliant and helpful and deeply inspiring—just what we’re looking for or dreaming of. Perhaps it’s just the way that my brain is wired, but I love hearing about other people’s work, the behind-the-scenes, and the news about their latest products and services. Even if it’s not something I would like (or am able) to buy right now, I never resent someone talking about it. One of my favourite things about the Internet is how it connects me with all kinds of creative, interesting, and wonderful small businesses doing amazing things around the world.
But one of the downsides of this ever-expanding connectivity is how overwhelming it can all become when there’s just so much going on around us, all the time; the sheer volume of things we could engage with can all get a bit much sometimes.
When I set about creating my very own product (my online course, Intuitive SEO: A Creative Guide to Telling Your Story & Growing Your Audience), and started to think about how to share it with the world, I suddenly realised how deeply uncomfortable it can feel to add to this noise and promote your own work. This was a bit of a surprise to me, because the bread-and-butter of my paid work is helping other people with their marketing and content strategy; promoting other people’s work has always come very naturally to me.
In a way, having to promote my own product for the first time deepened my empathy for my clients, and helped me realise why it’s such a struggle to do it yourself.
First, you’ve made yourself vulnerable by pouring your heart and soul into the act of creation; then you have to ramp up that vulnerability several notches by inviting people to buy it. What if no one buys it and your hard work doesn’t have the impact you had hoped, cover your costs, or earn you what you need to earn? What if some people do buy it, and then don’t like it or say unkind things about it? What if people get angry or upset with you for talking about your project/product/service?
Taking up space in this way (i.e. asking for money in exchange for something you’ve made, or a service that you’re offering) is hard, and riddled with insecurity for all kinds of complex reasons. In this context, self-promotion can feel a bit like filling the leaky bucket of your fragile self-esteem with water and watching it gush out all over the place.
But, I’ve slowly been learning that it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are few things that I’ve found help make self-promotion less painful, and I hope that they can help you, too.
1. Approach self-promotion from a positive, service-based perspective
Marie Forleo was the first person to teach me about the “spotlight method“, where you turn the focus of your work away from yourself and onto your audience. Quite apart from being a much more appealing and effective way of sharing your work with the world, having this other-focused, service mindset has the beautiful knock-on-effect of making you feel so much more comfortable with self-promotion. In fact, it helps make talking about your work feel less like “self” promotion, and more like a positive service to others—a helpful invitation that’s actively going to benefit the right people, when they come across your message.
“Think of self-promotion as a public service.”—Marie Forleo
You’ve created something—a book, a piece of artwork, a course, a service, an experience—that’s beautiful, useful, fun, or enlightening. Something that has the power to positively impact and benefit someone out there. Your people want to find you (even if they don’t know it yet), and not talking about what you’ve created is preventing them from doing that. That’s why Marie says to “think of self-promotion as a public service.”
When you’re approaching your work from this perspective, you’ll enjoy providing helpful free guides and resources, fun behind-the-scenes and blog posts, joyful email newsletters to your audience consistently over time, which means that when you do have something new to offer, something that you’re selling, it will feel much more natural than it would if you only ever show up when you have something to sell or promote.
2. Find out what marketing methods are out there, and then follow your intuition, pick a few, and start testing
We all have different businesses, personalities, and preferences, and I really believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to promoting our work online. There’s no correct number of emails to send during launch week, or formula for the exact number of social media posts you should share for any one product you make. You need to follow your intuition and do whatever feels right to you, while always questioning your motivations, so that you don’t end limiting yourself by staying inside your comfort zone just because you feel scared or insecure. Use all of the data that’s available to help you make informed decisions that involve your head and your heart.
“Marketers make change happen. If you can make someone better, if you can open a door for someone, if you can shine a light, that’s the act of marketing. Because what you’ve done is brought an idea or a product or a service to someone who needs it, and offered them help.”—Seth Godin
For example, when I’m trying to figure out how many emails to send during launch week for my course to people who’ve raised their hands and expressed interest in SEO by downloading my free SEO guide, I tend to take a pretty open and flexible approach; I like to look at the open rate for the first email I sent, and think about how much information I shared in that first email. I don’t want to pack everything into one epic, overwhelming email, but at the same time I don’t want to be bombarding them with emails every day (inbox overwhelm is SUCH a struggle!). I usually find that it usually feels most natural to send a few emails scattered every few days throughout enrolment week, slowly sharing more and more about the course, and providing a final reminder on the weekend before enrolment closes to make sure anyone who was just too busy to act has a chance to check it out before it closes.
This tends to be the way I like to consume information about other people’s things, too—some may hate getting more than one or two emails, though, so like I said, just experiment a little, be curious about the results, and follow your gut until you find what works and feels right for you.
3. Get yourself some self-promotion role models
When you’re mired in self-doubt and feel completely stuck and unable to promote something, it can be really helpful to make a list of all the people you’ve taken joy in purchasing things from recently. What made that experience joyful for you? How do they go about sharing their work? How did you first come across it? How does the way they talk about their work make you feel? Focusing on the positives can help get you unstuck, and into that positive, service-based mindset I talked about.
One of these people for me is Sara Tasker, a writer, photographer, and Instagram expert. Marie Forleo is another one (though, a very different style!), and you’ll naturally be drawn to different people. Think about how glad you were to see that post on social media about that opportunity, to open that email up, how the stars all aligned to make it the right time for you and for them—a time when it just so happened that they were offering something you wanted and needed. Did you say to yourself “Ugh, they’re talking about their work again. I hate that!” Of course not. Had they sent you quite a few other emails or shared quite a few other social posts before you were ready to buy, and the timing just wasn’t right for you? Probably.
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”―Maya Angelou
Making a list like this can also help you to realise that there’s room for a lot of different people, doing roughly similar things; it can get you thinking with an abundance mindset, rather than functioning from a place of fear and scarcity. I know, for example, that I have bought lovely aromatherapy candles from a couple of different small businesses in the last year or so, and the same goes for clothing. People like variety, and if you’re being yourself and leaning into your values and unique experiences, your “right people” will be drawn to you—but, they’ll also be buying from other people, and that’s totally okay. There truly is room for all of us.
4. You usually have to talk about your thing more than you think you do (especially right at the end)
Okay, so yes, there are some super confident people who find sharing their work really easy and maybe have to remind themselves to tone it down once in a while. Maybe. Probably… I assume, because I’m not actually aware of ever having met someone like that. But most of us are coming from the opposite perspective; we wish we could just mention our work casually once (maybe not even that), and then everyone who’s interested would effortlessly flow in our direction.
Unfortunately, that’s rarely the way the world works. That overwhelm, the noise, all those things we have vying for our attention? It means that often when we do muster up the courage to talk about our work and do a little self-promotion, it can get lost in the crowd—meaning even those who are actively following us, or seeking the kind of thing we’re offering, won’t necessarily always see it.
In my experience, it’s totally normal for around 50% or more of people end up buying right at the last minute. This can be frustrating and scary, but it means you have to be consistent and keep sharing about it right up until it’s no longer available.
“This is the power of art: the power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.”― Maria Popova
Imagine your ideal customer, but a really scatterbrained, busy version—then ask yourself how many times you need to email them and/or post to social media in order to draw their attention to whatever it is you’re offering. Algorithms are keeping people from seeing our posts. Google puts many of our emails right into the “Promotions” folder. Even if your message makes it into someone’s inbox, they may be extra busy the week your limited offer is running and not see it until the last minute.
This last minute scatterbrained person isn’t hard for me to imagine—to be honest, I’m usually that person. Whenever I’m feeling mired in self-doubt about sending that final reminder, I like to think about the time that I saw a post about an online workshop I really wanted to attend the day before the workshop was running… what kept me from seeing it before? Did I just scroll past absent-mindedly and not really read the caption? Did I see it and then forget because I had to make the dinner and the baby was climbing up my leg? Did the algorithm keep it out of my feed? I don’t know, but I was really grateful that someone shared it again so I had a chance to join in at the last minute.
5. Self-promotion is real work—plan accordingly, give yourself room to be creative, and be gentle with yourself
Block out proper time in your schedule to work on your marketing. Treat it like any other important part of your job. But, to keep it fun, it can help to try brainstorming all the different things you could do to promote your work, and then pick and choose whichever things feel like the most fun on any given day. I find myself drawn to different platforms and ideas when I’m sharing my work with the world, and having the freedom to replace something that feels forced (an Facebook post or tweets) with something that feels more fun an natural (a blog post or Instagram Stories) can open me up, and it just feels like such sweet relief to be able to play a little.
This being said, I do think it’s also a good idea to at least loosely plan out the bare minimum you’d like to do to share your work with the world in advance, and have some copy drafted and ready to go, as well as protecting the time you’ll need to promote everything. This is important whether or not you prefer more structure and preparation or more freedom and spontaneity, because it means that you won’t have the excuses of “no ideas” or “no time” to get out of sharing your work when it comes down to it.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s prone to finding any excuse to get out self-promotion when that scary vulnerable moment of actually pressing “go” on a project rolls around, and protecting yourself in advance for whenever those feelings of self-doubt arise is a great idea.
6. Talking about your work doesn’t need to feel like selling all the time
Focus on the work. On why you’re excited about the work. Focus on your relationships, your community, and your existing clients or customers. Collect testimonials and kind things people have said so you can have something lovely to read when you’re in need of reconnecting with your “why”, and this will help remind you of the impact that you long to have in people’s lives. Whenever you feel stuck with your marketing and find yourself struggling to express why it’s got value, just take a deep look at what value you’re providing, what problems you’re seeking to solve for people.
“At the heart of marketing, for me, is just human connection… If you build a business that resonates and connects with the people you’re here to serve, and nurture those relationships every step of the way, that connection ends up doing almost all of the selling for you. You don’t have to stand on your soapbox and scream at uninterested passers-by, because your dream clients and customers are already right there paying attention to your work.”—Jen Carrington
When you’re focused on doing good work, creating something that’s high-quality and deeply valuable, when you’re interested in it for its own sake, talking about it can be a joyful, natural thing, rather than something heavy that weighs on you. Your passion and interest in the subject will radiate out through everything you share online, naturally attracting “your people”; when you’re doing something for the love of it, it truly does show. Then, when it comes time to share something new, or specifically inviting people to buy something, it won’t feel forced to you—or to them.
7. Remember that getting comfortable with self-promotion takes time
Each and every launch is different, and it will take time and experience to find your feet and what feels like the right balance of different platforms and marketing methods. Eventually, with enough experimentation, and with an open and curious mindset, you’ll figure out what feels comfortable and what’s effective for you.
The more you sell, over time, the more feedback you’ll have, and the more feedback you have, the better your work will get. You’ll create new products and services. Tweak things. Get better at explaining what it is and who it’s for. It takes time not only to learn how to promote your work, but also to get a really good sense of the value of what you’re offering, and the impact it can have in people’s lives.
What’s your experience sharing your work with the world been like? Do you have any tips or insights you’d add? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so do comment below or find me on Instagram to share your thoughts.
And, if you’d like to learn about my slow living-friendly approach to growing an audience for your work online, you can get access to my free resource library and newsletter, Adventures in Slow Work & Creative Living, this way.