The Art of Self-Promotion

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Ah, the rat race.

Wake up early, rush to work, deal with boss, sit in meetings, build networks (and Web sites, and intranets, and extranets), deal with boss (again), rush home, eat, sleep. Then repeat.

Somewhere in there you’re supposed to have a life, much of which, at least financially, is determined by the nature of your job and your paycheck. And that depends not only on your primary skills—your knowledge of Java or JavaScript or JBoss—but your self-promotion skills, as well.

Yet most of us shy away from, or completely avoid, the task of selling ourselves. Perhaps it’s because the task has a bad odor. Perhaps it’s because “self-promoter” is an insult that calls up visions of dimestore Rasputins and petty office politicos. Perhaps it’s simply because we lack confidence or prefer to keep our heads down and focus on work.

But self promotion is not inherently evil. To borrow a line from David Ogilvy, one of the world’s best-known ad gurus, “advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.” Promoting your own work—providing it’s good work, and good enough to make a difference—is not only justified, but useful.

You just need to know how.

Let The Work Speak For Itself
A concept: Just as water flows downhill, work flows in the direction of competence. If you do a good job, you’ll be given more jobs, and your work will be its own best advertisement. After all, no one is promoted as quickly as someone who’s viewed as an asset.

Just beware that competence is harder to achieve than people suspect. In fact, most of us suspect we’re not only competent, but excellent, and often we’re wrong. It can take a lifetime to learn a craft well, whether you’re learning to shrink tumors or grow networks, and mistakes are as much a part of the human condition as the need for oxygen.

To perform a job well you need to merge intelligence with careful study and, above all, the will to critique yourself, gently but incessantly. If you do, you’ll find your star rising on the force of your work alone, and not your mouth.

Free Agent Nation
Also remember that no matter where you are or where you’re employed, or whether or not you’re a full-timer or a died-in-the-wool consultant, you’re always a freelancer. You’re open to the next best job or simply the next best project at the job you already have.

If this sounds like too much flux for one career, remember that no career is like the one that your parents or even their parents had. Gone are the days when a college grad, diploma in hand and wet behind the ears, found a mega-firm that would employ him or her for life, then offer a pension to last until the grave. Today’s knowledge worker is apt to have three careers in his lifetime (nota bene: three careers, not merely three jobs), and double that number of employers or more.

The bottom line? You should never be in a state where your resume needs to be polished. It should be up-to-date and ready for review when the moment demands it, because good work is apt to find many suitors willing to pay for it.

(There is, of course, a point of caution: Don’t job hop for the heck of it. Too much movement can make you look frisky or even unstable. And, although today’s companies are not as loyal to their workers as the firms of yesteryear, good workers should always be willing to be loyal to a company that treats them well.)

Make Change
Wayne Dyer once said that “it’s never lonely along the extra mile.”

Let’s say you’re given an assignment to construct a basic intranet. Mazel tov. Intranets are useful, even in their most basic form. In their advanced incarnations, they’re simply fabulous. So why not exceed your mandate? Providing it’s in your power (read: within the reach of your skills or simply your capacity to learn), why not give the intranet a polling feature to let workers vote on pressing office questions, to avoid the length and useless expense of meetings? Or perhaps you can add a shared contact and calendar management system for cross-functional project teams. Or simply a sleek, spare design that’s not only easy on the eyes but quick with a mouse. Your boss (or client, or simply your colleagues) won’t fail to notice.

Of course, there’s no reason to make work for the sake of making work, or to add features simply because you can. It’s far better to use sober, careful judgment to find the one or two added tools that can truly change a way a team gets things done, then add them to your project at no one’s insistence but yours. Make your work the type of work that makes change, and you and your career will be the ultimate benefactors of your own good efforts.

Yes, advertise. View yourself as your own brand, not merely an indentured office worker or a harried consultant, and advertise your knowledge the way some people advertise their products.

How? Start with a blog. They’re quick; they’re easy. Choose a subject you know about—say, large-scale Oracle design or online transactions—and write a weekly entry with insight that clients and employers can’t get elsewhere. You’d be amazed at who might contact you out of the blue, and contacts are often as good as gold.

Add podcasts to your blog or offer to give free seminars to local business groups, trade groups, guilds, chambers of commerce, or anyone with ears. Be sure to give them something to take with them when the seminar is done, even if it’s only a business card. A one-page bio or a copy of an article you published or an interview you gave is even better.

Last, if the notion of public speaking leaves your knees knocking, start a newsletter. Choose your flavor—print or e-mail—and offer it free of charge. Your blog is a good place to find readers, as is your own office, your friends, and your colleagues. With readers come eyes, ears, and minds that could become your next clients, partners, or employers. And in the end, nothing promotes you as well as an aura of knowledge.

David Garrett is a Web designer and former IT director, as well as the author of “Herding Chickens: Innovative Techniques in Project Management.” He can be reached at

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