Photo by renaissancechambara via Flickr.
On Friday, I was chatting with a self-employed event planner who said she was really bad at selling herself. But in our conversation she talked with passion and confidence about the major bi-annual conferences she plans, and it was clear that she loves and excels at her work. I wanted to tap on her shoulder and say, "Um. Excuse me. You're selling yourself right now!"
Selling yourself begins with the simple step of sharing your expertise and joy in your work with people you come into contact with, whether at your kid's school, the grocery store, a networking event or any other gathering. Once you get started, you will find that the subsequent steps to selling yourself are just as easy, and come naturally to many women.
Step 1. Speak Well of Yourself
The first mental adjustment to make is this: everyone you meet is a potential networking contact.
They may not have any work to give you, but they may know someone who does. Or, three months from now they may be talking to someone who needs an event planner, Web designer, accountant or (insert your specialty here.) If you develop a relationship with them, they'll think of you when chatting with their contact.
So it's important to speak with confidence and give yourself credit for your experience in your field. Instead of saying, "I'm at home with my kids but I do some bookkeeping on the side," you say: "After a decade auditing Fortune 500 companies for large accounting firms, I started my own business in 2007."
See how the second phrase is selling yourself (without being obnoxious)?
Even if the person you're talking to never ends up referring business to you, it's good practice. The more times you give someone a succinct explanation of your products or services, with a confident smile, the more natural you'll sound talking to a potential client.
Step 2. Listen to Your Contacts as You Network
Selling yourself isn't just about shoving your card into everyone's hand and giving your elevator speech. You must also listen to your contacts. What are their needs, concerns and interests? Is there anything you can do to help them?
If you develop a new relationship by giving -- whether your time, advice or referrals -- you lay the groundwork for an authentic, strong networking relationship. Moreover, if you become a trusted source of information about other small businesses, vendors and the local community, people will be more likely to think of you in the future.
Here comes the second mental adjustment: when someone gives you business, they're not doing you a favor. Actually, you are helping them -- you're solving their business problems by providing a service or product they need. If you're good at what you do (as I'm sure all readers of this blog are) then they're better off using you than a less competent competitor.
Once you start thinking of yourself as helping solve your clients' problems, rather than begging for work, you'll be more comfortable suggesting yourself as a resource to networking contacts.
Step 3. Follow Up Regularly
These days, it's accepted business wisdom that you want to stay "top of mind" so people think of you -- and send clients your way.
I recently heard social media guru Peter Shankman speak about the importance of "top of mind." He mentioned that Hollywood legend Barry Diller called 10 people in his Rolodex every single morning -- just to hear what they were working on. (See step 2.)
Even if Diller didn't get through, he left a friendly voice mail. By the end of the year he'd worked his way through his entire Rolodex, and started again from the beginning. So if someone he knew was starting a new project and looking for a producer, they'd probably received a phone call from Diller in the past six to nine months. Who do you think was on the top of their mind when it came to selecting producers?
I'm not saying (and Shankman didn't advise) that you should call 10 people you know every morning. Not everyone is a phone person, or has time for a chat. But you should be reaching out on a regular basis to all your contacts through a variety of media. For example:
- Wish people happy birthday on Facebook. (This is what Shankman does with everyone he knows -- his update of Diller's technique.)
- Send a monthly newsletter to your clients or networking contacts. (Make sure it's interesting!)
- Leave yourself calendar reminders to call your clients or networking contacts on a rotating basis through the year.
- Connect with people through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and when they say something that resonates with you, mention it. Or share it with your network. This is another way of listening (step 2) and will deepen your relationship.