The necessary art of self-promotion.
A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. - Jimmy Reid
When I was studying for my MFA at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, everyone used to tell me that I wasn't afraid to get my foot in the door or find a way into a company. I would be the one making phone calls, sending emails, and also thriving on the art of the follow-up. (More on those techniques later.) I got so used to networking and trying to find the next opportunity that I decided to take gigs as a self-employed stage manager. Working for and promoting myself became a habit. I found myself in full-time positions, but I missed being a free agent and the al-a-carte production person who would get things done and be the one that companies would thank for coming in to do the job. That excitement, freedom, and variety was what I always came back to.
However, with the price tag of freedom and self-employment comes the art of self-promotion. Something that you must master and not overdo in order to sustain your career as a free agent.
Did you see what I did there? Self-promotion IS an art form.
Promoting oneself can be a scary thought. When I used to manage artists, it was a fear that went across the board. This is why most actors, singers, and musicians have agents; someone who can advocate for them and put their names and talents out into the working world. Agents know how to sell their talent and how to negotiate. They also understand who to market and sell to. These are all skills that freelancers and the self-employed must master in order to have a sustainable career.
I don't have an agent. Most people who do production jobs: producers, stage managers, crew do not have agents. They may be part of a union that advocates for them, but they do not have one person assigned to them to help shop them around to people who may need their services. Some actors and artists choose not to have an agent. Even Bill Murray doesn't have an agent. He gives out his cell phone number to directors and studios. True story.
For those of us who choose to be our own agent, we have to master the art of self-promotion and persist. We must understand our purpose and make sure that we are marketing not only our skills, but our personalities as well.
That being said, I've put together some tips for self-promotion that have helped me along the way in my career. Through much trial and error, I've come up with the below.
Done By Friday's Top 10 Tips for Self-Promoting:
#1 - Don't be afraid to tell people who you are and what you do.
This is huge. You are the only one who knows who you are and what you do. Tell people that. Most people don't know who they need to hire or what skills they need. Make sure you are specific on what role(s) you can fill and why you are the person for the job. And also don't be afraid to tell people that YOU are the one they need to hire. Confidence is key. Be the resonating voice that sticks out among the noise of this world.
#2 - For goodness sake, pick up the phone or walk in the door. Don't hide behind texts and emails!
Our phones and laptops control us. Get away from that. I used to work for someone who would always email and hardly ever pick up the phone or take an in-person meeting. Don't be like that. People need to see a face, hear a voice, and shake a hand. Be personable, be approachable, and be yourself. Technology isn't the face of who you are. Walk into an office and ask to meet someone, set up a coffee meeting, take an executive to lunch. When people know you're serious, they will go out of their way to pay attention to you.
#3 - Your career is a marathon. Don't be afraid to change it up and pace yourself.
You have to be willing to try things and find the thing that you love doing. Life is too short to be miserable and do something that isn't fulfilling to you. Think of your career like a marathon. You have time, but then again you don't. You're trying to make your best time, but your race is long. Are you going to take career breaks? (which is ok!) When will you speed up? When will you slow down? These are only questions that you can answer, but ask them to yourself on a regular basis.
#4 - Looking for people who you want to work with and understand who you're talking to.
Life is too short to work with people who you don't want to work with, or people who don't want to work with you. The right people will understand you, your talents, and your worth. Undermining yourself for the sake of trying to get someone to like you is the wrong move. Go where there is an opportunity for you to grow, learn, and shine.
#5 - There is fortune in the follow-up.
Always, always, always follow up with contacts. Assume they will forget about you the next week or even the next day. Many jobs I've received come in the form of reminding people who I am and what I do. Low and behold, they respond with something like, 'You know, this just came across our desk and we thought of you,' or 'it's funny you should reach out to me because I was thinking about you for....' You want those responses. Be memorable and always remind people that you're out there. (Tip: Don't be obnoxious when following up. You don't want to bombard people every week. I learned my lesson years ago. I'll do a webinar someday on this very topic as many people misunderstand the art of the follow up.)
#6 - The dry periods are when you take a step back and look at your trajectory.
We should never consider dry spells in our lives or careers a set-back. There is no such thing. There is only a set-up to the next thing. Sometimes these periods can help us take a step back and see how far we've come and where we want to go. Who knows, you might find something that you would never have recognized if you were too busy to take the meeting, phone call, or invitation for lunch. You never know. There is a reason you're in a slow period or a time where you feel like you're stagnant. Your attention is needed in an area of your life and it's your responsibility to figure that out.
#7 - Send people stuff. People like stuff.
There is something to be said about sending someone a thank you card or token of thoughtfulness for hiring you or taking a meeting with you. Time is a precious thing. That's why there is usually a charge for professional time. People are busy. By sending someone something, it shows that you recognize that their time is limited. Thank them for it - even if it comes in the form of a handwritten note. Besides, you'll be remembered and quite possibly score the job or account for sending someone notes and treats. Don't be afraid to be different.
#8 - It's all about relationships and timing.
You've heard the phrase, 'it's all who you know.' Well, it's absolutely true. Every business is about the relationships and building them on a regular basis. It's how you help people understand who you are and your worth. The people who you do want to build relationships with should appreciate you for your potential, personality, and talents. Usually by the end of the first meeting, you'll recognize whether or not the relationship is going anywhere (yes, just like dating!). At the end of the day, just be yourself. The right people will like you and want to be around you, work with you, and refer you to others. Remember that building relationships takes time. We so often forget the valuable equation of timing. Be patient. Or at least try to!
#9 - Don't be afraid to ask for professional advice in your field.
I see this all too often, and I'm even sometimes afraid to ask for advice. We can't be. Find people who you can ask for advice from who are in your field. Want to get into a new area of your career? Ask. Need a recommendation? Ask. What's the worst that someone can say... no? In that case, move on to someone else.
#10 - Have a sense of humor.
Let's get real here: We need to laugh and make others laugh. Humor makes everything better and the stressful times more manageable. If more people laughed in the middle of adversity, tight deadlines, and weeks where things go south, it might actually improve work and team performance. It is most certainly the best medicine. Laugh more at work, laugh when someone told you 'no' (because you KNOW it will eventually be a 'yes'), and laugh when you feel like you can't do anything right. At the end of the day, everything is going to be OK.
All of the above are tips and skills that you should practice on a daily basis. Even if you have a full-time job, get in the habit of networking and promoting yourself and what you do to others. Don't stay comfortable! Remember, even if you work for someone else, your skills and talents are your calling card. Practicing the above will help you get over your fear of self-promotion. Build new relationships every day. You will see the positive outcome of those relationships down the road. Trust me.
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