3 Steps To Successfully Self-Promote (Without Feeling Gross)

When the news came out that I was going to receive an award, a friend sent me the following text, “I’m simultaneously so proud and also seething with jealousy. Congrats!!” Her tongue in cheek comment gave voice to a sentiment I picked up on from several female friends.

This particularly sassy friend called it jealousy, but it didn’t feel negative or resentful. It was more like genuine happiness at my success, a curiosity about how I’d made it happen and a hope that they might be honored similarly one day as well.

While it might have seemed like it from the outside, this award didn’t happen out of the blue or just because I deserved it. It happened because I figured out the nomination process and asked clients to nominate me. (PS I also deserved it.) Since there was such curiosity about how this and other awards came about, I’m sharing my approach to self-promotion here.

1. Get and track feedback from people you work with

I build feedback mechanisms into all of my services via exit surveys and close-out phone calls. With particularly positive clients, I ask for testimonials or write case studies.

If there aren’t structured opportunities for feedback within your role, consider if there are ways that you can ask for feedback or build it into the conclusion of a project.

When a client, colleague, or supervisor provides positive feedback you can say, “I so appreciate that feedback and might want to use it in the future. Would you mind if I jotted it down in an email to you to ensure I got it right?”

2. Use quotes, testimonials, or nominations when possible

Running a successful business requires a (sometimes cringe-inducing) amount of self-promotion. Using feedback from clients to talk about my success helps me feel less gross about it, because then, the clients are the ones saying the nice stuff about me, not me.

It also allows me to substantiate the claim I’m making and helps me avoid triggering the gender bias that can penalize women for boasting.

Even when there isn’t a formal nomination process, I include feedback I’ve received. For example, in my proposals for new contracts, I’ll make a statement about my work followed by a quote that substantiates it from a recent workshop participant. In my bio I include the phrase, “Clients often remark that Lelia…”

3. Create a well-rounded application

Whenever I’m approaching a new client, responding to an RFP, or going after an award, I do my research. I try to discern precisely what they’re looking for, even beyond the application guidelines.

Then I build out the list of people I’m going to ask write recommendation letters, nominate me, etc., selecting people who can speak to different areas of my skill set.

For the award I recently received, I asked three former clients who had already given me a lot of positive feedback. One had served on a nonprofit board with me in addition to hiring me to work with her organization. Another had been through a yearlong goal setting program I had developed, while the third recently had a negotiation success due to our work together.

Even though it was a little uncomfortable at first, coordinating the process allowed me to put together a well-rounded application. The clients said they were happy to help. The review panel then had the information they needed about my work, from a variety of sources.

Frankly, part of me felt embarrassed that I had orchestrated my nomination for this award, rather than being selected for it independently. I made peace with it by recognizing that even if I’m exceptional at what I do, if the award committee doesn’t know I exist, it doesn’t matter. As my mother always says, you make your own luck.