No Room for Shrinking Violets: Why You Must Market Yourself

A construction executive was talking to me recently about how the job-bidding process has changed in his industry. It used to be that a corporation would announce plans to build a building before hiring a general contractor. The construction companies would then make contact with the owner and try to win the business. That is no longer the case.

Nowadays, as soon we hear the first wisp of a rumor about a new building project, chances are the entire construction team is already in place. The successful construction company is the one that is building relationships and discussing ideas with real estate developers long before anyone puts pencil to paper. To win contracts, construction companies need to be marketing themselves and aggressively going after business even before developers are imagining their projects.

In business, relationships are more important today than at any other time in modern history. That’s a bold statement when you consider the impersonality that the Internet has brought to the business world. Nevertheless, because there is such tremendous competition, relationships matter. Successful professionals build relationships immediately with the hope that they will bring business some day. As a self marketer, you must be patient, because you never know when a good relationship will lead to more dollars in your pocket.

Long-standing relationships are hard to break, which is why they are so valuable. That’s also why we must start building relationships with as many people as possible and be patient until a relationship leads to some opportunity.

As a part-time faculty member, I teach a real estate brokerage course at the University of Nebraska. Much of the semester focuses on sales techniques used by real estate agents. I tell my students that they must actively search for and build new relationships, but that they can not expect every relationship to bear fruit immediately.

One of my former students, a very talented one, passed her real estate licensure exam and affiliated with a large residential brokerage company. She came from a locally prominent family, was active in the community and had a large network of friends. She was dismayed on two separate occasions when a family member and good friend chose NOT to use her as their real estate agent. You see, these people had bought and sold houses before and chose to keep their former real estate agents. Why? The agents had done a great job for them and had built relationships that were too strong for the unproven newbie to break. My former student was persistent. She marketed herself to everyone she knew and to thousands of people she had never met. A year later, she had built plenty of professional relationships and was doing big deals.

Why must we market ourselves? In short, we have no choice. There really is no place left for the “shrinking violet,” the quiet, shy person, who waits passively for the business to come to him or her. Passive behavior is out, assertive behavior is expected, and sometimes a little aggressive behavior is necessary. We are operating in a highly competitive, fast-paced, global economy that doesn’t take time to stop and smell the roses. We must keep up in order to avoid being trampled to death.

There have never been more highly educated people in the history of the world. Colleges and universities are pumping out scads of newly minted graduates who expect to make big salaries and achieve success. Furthermore, the competition no longer comes just from fellow Americans. Countries such as China and India, which together have more than 2 billion people, are modernizing and ramping up their competitiveness at an alarming rate. Even if your job is local in nature, the rise of international competition has at least an indirect effect on you.

It is a simple fact: The world is a bigger, noisier, more competitive, more crowded and faster place. Just to be noticed and respected, sometimes you have to beat your chest, pound your own drum and toot your own horn.

While increased competition is reason enough to market yourself, there are others. As a successful person, you have a number of reasons for building and promoting your own personal brand:

1. For the benefit of your own career.
2. To increase your name recognition,
3. To boost your personal reputation,
4. To promote your employer’s business,
5. To get new clients, and
6. To further your ideological, civic or social beliefs or a pet cause.

Career Benefit

Career advancement is the most obvious reason to promote yourself and the most likely reason you will engage in it. If you want to land a new job or be promoted where you currently work, you must engage in self promotion.

To get a new job with a different employer, a number of good self marketing techniques will be necessary. For one thing, you need to know how to interview properly. This means building rapport with the hiring manager and showing how you can be a benefit to the new organization. This is accomplished by communicating clearly how your skills and experience would match the new job. Good interviewees know how to market themselves during the awkward, intimidating and artificial process that is a job interview.

More importantly, good self marketing is often necessary to land an interview in the first place. Approximately two-thirds of jobs are never advertised; they are part of the “hidden job market.” These jobs go to insiders – people who know the right people or to specifically recruited candidates. Often jobs are specially created for certain professionals who possess just the right talent or experience to help a company.

If these jobs are “hidden,” you have to know how and where to “find” them. That comes through self marketing. By putting yourself out in public, getting involved and taking leadership positions in your industry, you develop that personal brand I’ve been talking about. If you build that brand properly, it will eventually be very appealing to some employer. In fact, your brand could be so appealing that an employer may pull out all the stops just to get you on board.

I know several people who enjoy custom-made jobs just because their future employers knew about them through networking and other self marketing activities. I’m actually one of those persons. My last two jobs were created for me.

In some industries, where there are acute shortages of talent, you can sit in your office, isolated from the world and somehow the headhunters (professional recruiters) will still find you. In most professions, that’s not the case. You cannot afford to be passive. You need to be out there building a reputation, a brand. Just like the politician campaigning for office, you need to build name recognition, because you are always campaigning for the next step in your career – a bigger and better job.

Even when you are still new in a job you absolutely love, you need to get out into the community or industry and market the hell out of yourself. You never know how long it will take and how much self marketing effort it will take to land the next big job, so you should start early. Furthermore, you never know when you could be suddenly terminated from a job. The more people you know and the more people who have been exposed to your personal brand, the faster you can bounce back with another, perhaps better, job.

Name Recognition

Self marketing success begins with name recognition. The political hopeful running for office knows that nothing will help win the election more than strong name recognition. It is just as important in other professional arenas.

For some reason, people are more impressed with you if they’ve heard of you. If someone believes an unusually large number of other people know you, they see you as bigger, more successful and more powerful, and thus more desirable to be around. Perception is reality. Even if you are no more talented than the next person, you can get ahead of that person by having name recognition. Think of all the Hollywood celebrities who use their fame to influence people with their political and social philosophies. In real life, a lot of actors and rock stars are lightly educated posers, yet too many people assume they are experts worth following, simply because of their fame.

Developing a high level of name recognition is simply one of the single most important things you can do to further your career. I’m not saying you need to develop a name as widely recognized as a movie star’s, a senator’s or a best-selling author’s, but within your field of expertise, you need to become a mini rock star. If you’re in business, you should strive to be a local celebrity. Name recognition is power. Why do you think so many star athletes become insurance salespeople and financial advisers after they retire from sports? It’s because people revere them. The well-known professional can parlay his or her public adoration into real dollars.

Personal Reputation

A better reputation is a good reason to market yourself. We all like to associate with people who are esteemed and respected. As I’ve said before, a good reputation is one of your most important professional assets, and it needs to be protected at all times.

Tactfully, you need to make people aware of your good deeds and behavior. You can develop a positive reputation with a small number of people simply by exhibiting the right behavior on a consistent basis. Building a strong reputation with a larger group of people takes some carefully planned self marketing. You simply don’t have time to develop a personal relationship with everyone you might need to impress. That’s where self marketing comes in. First, you build a trusted core group of people who love you and believe in you. From there, you use the self marketing principles in my book to project the image you want everyone else to see.

Promoting Your Company

If you are employed by a company or an organization, you have a moral obligation to promote your employer. Every employee should do his or her part to further the organization. Regardless of what job roles we have, we are all essentially working in sales.

Much of my book’s content is frankly self-centered; it is “you-centric.” The book’s purpose is to help you get ahead as an individual. With that said, you ought to use your self marketing powers for the good of your company. You should use your personal brand to help promote your company.

Fortunately, this is not merely an exercise in altruism on your part; it’s a win-win situation. By using your personal brand, reputation and recognized name to help your company, you fulfill your ethical obligations and help the company make more money. The better the company does, the more likely you are to stay employed and get raises or bonuses. Anything you do to market your employer in turn promotes you. You can then use your company as a way to become a mini rock star in your profession.

Acquire New Clients

My alarm clock goes off at 6:00 a.m. every Saturday. When most people are enjoying sleeping in on the weekend, I’m getting up to prepare for Grow Omaha, the weekly radio talk show I host with Trenton Magid. Grow Omaha focuses on economic development in the Omaha, Nebraska, metropolitan area. My co-host and I work at Coldwell Banker Commercial World Group, a commercial real estate company. As people who sell and lease property, manage buildings and develop real estate, our work is closely related to economic development. We love economic development, and we love the community in which we live, so it is natural for us to produce such a show.

While affection for our city is one reason why we give up our Saturday mornings, another big reason is to promote our company and acquire new clients.

Since starting this radio show, we have added correlated marketing activities. I write a bi-weekly newspaper column on economic development for the City Weekly, and I give speeches to community and professional groups. All of these activities have led directly to the acquisition of new clients. By engaging in highly public work, we have established a good name and legitimacy in our community. When someone opens the phone book looking for a commercial real estate company, we sound familiar. We’re credible. We’re a safe choice.

Fortunately, you don’t have to start your own radio show to get more clients. You simply need to make yourself known; you need to promote your personal brand. This can be done by calling people, asking someone to meet you for coffee and showing up at business networking events. My colleague likes to tell people that he once landed a real estate listing after striking up a conversation with someone in a supermarket check-out line. This may sound a little weird, but I know of one real estate agent who ended up doing a deal by starting a conversation with some dude in the locker room shower at the gym!

You never know where the opportunity will come to land a new client. That’s why you must market yourself constantly to everyone you meet.

Beliefs and Causes

Last but not least, you should market yourself to build influence in civic, philanthropic and political affairs. I’m sure you have certain beliefs that you hold near and dear to your heart. You may have a pet cause, something that juices your emotions and pushes you to act. Perhaps you want to become a community activist working to improve safety in your neighborhood. You might have a passion for animals and want to support your local humane shelter. Maybe you are sick of the high taxes you pay, so you decide to join an anti-tax lobbying organization.

Regardless of who you are, there is probably something that fires you up. By building a big name, a strong personal brand and a great reputation, you simply have more power to effect change. There’s nothing more fun than throwing your weight around in advocacy of something that stirs your passions.

© 2010 – 2015, Jeff Beals. All rights reserved.

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