All too often, entrepreneurs and business owners think of self-promotion as the seedy underbelly of marketing and brand building.
That misconception can cost you big time.
The reality is self-promotion is a crucial step to sustained success. Instead of fake smiles and overbearing arrogance, there are simple ways to promote your business and to build a dynamic online presence without coming across as a self-important egomaniac.
Most people don't like talking about themselves — and they're usually even more apprehensive when it comes to discussing what they do well. Granted, there's a slightly different mindset when your livelihood depends on selling yourself.
Understated, effective self-promotion requires an appropriate balance. Too much self-importance might shoo away prospective customers. Too little might leave people without a clear sense of your credibility. The challenge is to carve out a middle ground that showcases your strengths and your reputation without turning off consumers.
Here are five methods for doing exactly that:
It's no secret that creating quality content for your website is a key part of any online marketing strategy. Take it a step further and spread the wealth: Pitch guest articles to other businesses, trade publications and traditional news hubs. Create a "Featured In" section on your home page and splash the logo or name of the sites where your guest posts run.
Anytime you win an award or receive a mention by an organization or publication, add another logo to your section. If you're quoted in the local newspaper or your company blog gets a mention in Tech Crunch, by all means put their mastheads under your "Featured In."
Anita Campbell's Small Biz Trends features an excellent example of the "Featured In" or "As Seen In" at work.
Linking your company to familiar, well-respected logos provides an immediate shot of credibility and authority. This method bleeds into the concept of more traditional public relations — which, in turn, bleeds into the next method.
Remember the Reporters
You don't need to hire a publicist or spend thousands on media buys to get your name disseminated to the masses. Scoring more traditional media coverage can be challenging, but it's far from impossible, especially in an age of online media and instant information. It's also a great way to promote your business.
You can nab those "Featured In" logos and big-time exposure by reaching out to reporters in your area and around the country. Comment on their stories and contact them directly when you see a good fit in your Google news alerts. As a former journalist, I always appreciated getting feedback from folks who could later become potential sources.
Another great option is Help a Reporter Out, or HARO. This free resource connects journalists looking for experts and sources with businesses and entrepreneurs looking for publicity. Scour the day's HARO leads and look for stories that present an opening for your expertise.
ProfNet is a similar service run by PR Newswire. It's better-known in journalism circles but is not free for businesses. Chasing traditional PR leads can sound daunting, but it's really an exercise in persistence and well-crafted communication. The payoffs can be enormous.
Spotlight Your Successes
Don't be afraid to showcase good feedback. In fact, seek to maximize it by letting others do all the bragging for you.
If you've received "Thank You" messages and words of praises from past clients, ask their permission and then repackage their responses on your blog. Consider putting together a basic page of customer testimonials. Real comments from real people can render an impact far greater than anything you can say about yourself. Our testimonial page is, well, a testament to the work we do — and it's often a key selling point for consumers who see something of themselves in those success stories.
Credibility is key here. Don't give readers a reason to wonder if you're really ghostwriting for Cliff from California and Sally from St. Louis. Try to include photos and real names whenever possible.
You can also take it a step further and write mini-profiles and articles about customers who have unique or exceptional experiences. These are excellent ways to promote your experience and customer service through the eyes of individuals.
Engage with Experts
Another great way to build credibility and boost exposure is to tie yourself to those who've already mastered the concept.
Interview well-known faces in your industry about key topics and post the Q&A to your site — after, of course, you've asked the big name to promote the interview on his or her site and social networking hubs. Also look for upstarts and hot new trends. Here's a good example from last fall, part of an "Expert Interview" series at entrepreneurship site Unstrapp'd.
You can do these through text and video. This is a great avenue to employ once you've started guest blogging at sites, too.
Use social media tools to build community and relationships. Interact with existing and prospective consumers — answer their questions, respond to their complaints and seek to learn more about their needs. Social media helps make these interactions transparent and public, no doubt a double-edged sword but an opportunity to build credibility and boost your image nonetheless.
Chris Birk is director of content and communications for VA Mortgage Center.com, the nation's No. 1 dedicated VA lender. A recovering journalist, he also teaches at a private Midwestern university. Follow him @cjbirk.