Self Promotion is Masturbation: Quitting a Nasty Habit
I’m a particularly introverted person. I’ve always found it difficult to sell myself, so I had to find an alternative in order to survive. Building meaningful relationships has allowed me to work for myself as a creative for almost twenty years. But developing professional relationships is not why most creatives get into the freelance game. How can we continue loving what we do while not hating the business development process?
The hard truth is that we need to acknowledge that if people don’t like working with us, we better hope we’re God’s gift to whatever we expect them to pay us for. Seeing as I’m not the chosen one, I’ve relied heavily on building strong client relationships to get me by.
My favourite Nihilist once said:
“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”
— Tyler Durden
A sobering thought that helped me get over my delusions of grandeur during the early years. I could have sat around waiting for someone to find me and decide that I’m a beautiful snowflake — or I could take a giant, anxiety-filled breath and start simply letting people know that I exist. But as a socially anxious person, I’m all too aware that this is easier said than done.
Self promotion is masturbation
It sometimes feels that way but that’s just because we don’t want anyone to catch us doing it. But marketing ourselves shouldn’t be about selling.
We should be treating marketing as the generous act of serving others, guiding our customers to their goals.
When I think about marketing myself with that philosophy in mind, I suddenly remember that I do believe in my ability to help others. This makes it a lot easier for me to accept that I may be someone worth knowing.
If you’ve ever read up on marketing, you may have come across the ‘know me, like me, trust me’ principle. Usually reserved for businesses and products, it’s a framework that suggests:
Customers need to know you and like you before they can trust you and buy from you.
It sounds stupidly simple and if you don’t give it much thought, the default response is ‘Well duh’. But when I apply the principle to myself, rather than hiding behind my business or marketing strategy, I pay more attention to each step of the process.
The ‘know, like, trust’ teachings are generally framed around marketing messages and content: ‘show some personality’, ‘speak to your audience like a person’, ‘teach them something for free’. As someone that doesn’t really have the gift of the gab, I find applying the same principle at a personal level helps me identify what my goal should be. Having this framework at the front of my mind allows me to focus on one step at a time.
Make a customer, not a sale
When presented with an opportunity, it’s a very natural instinct to attempt to capitalise on the opportunity right then and there. This is where I used to screw up and start selling. And because no-one wants to be sold to, I’d kill my chances far too early. I needed to allow the relationship between myself and the client to develop like any other relationship. But patience is a virtue that 20-year-old me did not possess. It took practice in self-restraint, self-awareness, and self-confidence.
Once I started focusing on myself, I no longer tried to sell anything. This apparently made me incredibly good at selling.
The day I realised that I was ok at developing customer relationships was the day I met a client named Natalie. I was warned that she had been burnt by previous video production teams and that she had incredibly high expectations (this was enough intel to wake up all forms of anxiety). I tend to get what I refer to as ‘post-meeting stress disorder’ and forget everything that is said in meetings, but I’ll remember what Natalie said at the end of that meeting forever:
‘I have no clue what it is you’re selling… But I want it.’
In a 20-minute ‘meet and greet’, I had somehow accelerated the customer nurturing cycle and won a new client. I can’t remember the specifics of the conversation but I do remember feeling incredibly sympathetic to her situation and confident that I could be of use.
By showing some vulnerability, I was inviting her to get to know me. By being curious, she felt heard and liked that I got to the core of the problem. And by sharing relatable insights, she was able to build enough trust to hire me in the moment. Natalie’s business would later be worth seven figures to my business.
Desperation is stressful for both parties
The only way I get through these stressful social interactions is by focussing on my clients becoming clear on how their goals are going to be achieved. When I’m genuinely supportive, there’s nothing about the interaction that feels awkward. In the past, when I would attempt to sell myself, I reeked of desperation and that’s what makes a situation uncomfortable. Selling can be stressful for both parties involved.
We’re exposed to more than 4,000 ads everyday. By the time I show up and tell clients why I’m worth engaging, they’ve already switched on their mental ad blocker to prevent more stress.
I’m a little more experienced these days but I still use Natalie’s comment to combat my incessant imposter syndrome. Her words remind me that not selling is what gives people the chance to know me, like me, and trust me.
‘The sell’ is hard and nobody wants it. Quit doing it. Drop it like a bad habit. Evolve. You don’t need to be impressive, charming, and delightful. You don’t need to announce your skills and accolades. And you certainly don’t need to convince anyone that they need anything.
Just be useful.
I’d love to hear about your own stories, processes, and beautifully awkward experiences with customers. I’m hell bent on helping young creatives get past the fear and self-doubt that comes with building an independent career.
Please reach out if you have any thoughts or queries. And if you’d like a bit more clarity and structure around making the most of your opportunities, I’ve written a short guide to freelance client relationships for introverts. I hope it can help you flip the client dynamic and build much more enjoyable relationships.