Hate Self-Promotion? 7 Ways To Build A Business Without It

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This time six years ago, I was in the early stages of launching my own PR & copywriting consultancy.

As I’ve touched on previously, at that stage in my life I’d recently moved back to the UK – and to my hometown – after living and working in Sydney, Australia for almost three years.

I’d loved Sydney, and met some amazing people there. Yet my job was making me unhappy, and my visa meant that I couldn’t stay in the country unless I continued in that job (or in another similar job that was likely to make me just as unhappy).

So I quit. I quit the job, and quit the country.

I miss the country regularly, but the job….not so much. It was the right decision.

When I returned home – via a few weeks in Thailand, postponing reality for that little bit longer – I was lucky that I had another decision to make.

I could get another job that would be pretty much identical to the one that I was so sick of that it made me leave beautiful Bondi Beach…or I could try and branch out on my own.

Six years on and having written that down in black and white, with the benefit of our loyal pal hindsight, it seems crazy to me that I would have even considered going back to another standard job – without at least giving the ‘solopreneur’ thing a whirl.

But consider it I did. I went to job interviews and considered moving – again – to another part of the country where there were more opportunities for those standard jobs that I thought I should apply for.

And maybe I would’ve ended up getting one of those jobs, and moving again.

Maybe life would have turned out very differently if I hadn’t got a couple of ‘lucky breaks’ that stopped me from doubting myself, doubting that I could be successful on my own, and gave me the push I needed to ~believe in myself~ – for want of a less cringeworthy phrase.

Anyway, now it’s all got a bit Sliding Doors (a film I’ve never actually watched…should I?).

What is interesting to me now, looking back, is how things ‘fell into place’ (even though it probably didn’t feel like that at the time) and how those breaks happened.

How they happened was that I created some opportunities.

I put myself out there.

But only to an extent.

It was revolutionary for me to be stepping out on my own, into a brave new world, like the Sir Ranulph Fiennes of the East Yorkshire PR industry.

And so every step I made across the Antarctic, sorry the rough terrain of self-employment, was tentative. So, SO tentative.

I’d created a company, sure, but would I shout about it and do all the necessary promotion to ensure it was as successful as it could be? Erm, no not quite.

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My social media hatred (aka fear in disguise)

I’ve written before about my reluctance / fear relating to PUTTING MYSELF OUT THERE, in life generally and on social media.

It’s such a complex thing – and reading the brilliant book that I always recommend, Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, helped me make some sense of it, how it’s ingrained in us from being young to ‘toe the line’ and not be opinionated and always be ‘good’ and ‘nice’.

Somewhere along the line I got it into my head that people who used social media a lot were ‘annoying’ / ‘bragging’ / boring everyone with the minutiae of their lives…. And yep, some of them are.

And yep, some people might think that about me.

But so effing what?

I am slowly bringing myself around to this way of thinking – that I shouldn’t give two hoots about any (perceived, imagined, feared) negative reaction to anything I might post myself, if I want to post it.

But it’s a work in progress; it’s something I’m slowly addressing.

So back when I started my company, this aversion to social media was even stronger, and I barely ever used it to help build my business.

(The irony of being so reluctant to promote myself when my whole business was about promoting is not lost on me.)

Also, not to excuse the main reasoning behind my reluctance to self-promote, but time and resource was another issue.

Because I had such mixed-up thoughts about promoting myself, the thought of creating some kind of strategy – alongside actually completing the client work that I was getting paid to do – was too much for me. I just didn’t have the headspace for it.

It didn’t – in reality – need much headspace, but I’d made it into such a THING in my head that it was much easier to put out nothing than to spend hours I didn’t have trying to create a 100% perfect social media strategy for my business.

(And the fact that it had to be 100% perfect was another myth I was pedalling. The thought of putting something out there that was WRONG or would open me up to criticism was terrifying, and all wrapped in a big fear of failure and of having to be ‘right’ and ‘good’ all the time.)

Despite all of this, I managed to build a successful business. I managed to secure a long-running weekly column in my local newspaper. I managed to earn more than I had done when I was (well)paid by someone else.

Here’s how:

  1. I cold-contacted potential clients

Right at the start, I sent out emails to local businesses who I wanted to work with. I gave a synopsis of who I was and what I’d done, and suggested we meet for a chat. It worked, to an extent, and led to connections and eventually to paid work. But note the word ‘eventually’. It didn’t happen straight away.

 

  1. I looked out for opportunities (in unlikely places)

I read the local newspaper daily, and scoured local magazines and online news, and ended up contacting people/organisations I’d read about – even if it didn’t necessarily seem that there was an opportunity for paid work initially.

I secured one of my first big gigs because I joined an exec board of a local arts organisation, which then led to me doing their PR work.

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  1. I networked

Sometimes I wonder how my brain works, because on the one hand I had my crazy social media phobia, but yet I was quite willing to rock up to very unappealing traditional networking meetings and introduce myself to strangers in suits.

I remember feeling intimidated and like an imposter on these occasions, yet I did it – because I felt like I should, mainly.

I didn’t particularly enjoy it (surprise) and I was very glad when I got my first paid gigs and things started taking off in more organic ways – word of mouth, etc.

 

  1. I was prepared to work for free

As outlined in point 2, when I first got into contact with the people/organisations who eventually became paying clients, it wasn’t necessarily about paid work initially.

For example, the exec board position wasn’t paid, and I spent a good few months attending meetings and doing some work for free before I got confirmation that I would be recompensed for my time and expertise.

Today, I’m still on the fence about how I feel about this.

I don’t think anyone should work for free. But in that instance, it was a charitable project that I hoped might lead to something. And it did. And there were other people on the project who were well-respected and very experienced, and it was a worthwhile thing to be involved in.

Yet I also offered to work for free for other organisations, despite the fact that I’d worked for huge clients across the world and had almost 10 years of experience at that point.

 

  1. I probably worked twice as hard

Because I was averse to promoting myself, I always went over and above what I needed to do in order to ensure success, and to ensure that work kept coming, through word-of-mouth and extended contracts etc.

 

  1. I went the extra mile to cultivate relationships

Again, as above, I over-serviced on projects; I spent more time than I should have done hanging around after client meetings, making small talk and ensuring I couldn’t be accused of not giving 150%; I attended non-essential client events and basically did everything I could to be Wonder Woman.

Perhaps that’s just who I am and perhaps it’s part of starting your own business, too – I wasn’t ever going to do things half-heartedly – but it wasn’t necessarily the best approach for being as profitable as I could have been, at least in the early days.

 

  1. I said yes to everything

Mostly, I enjoyed the work I secured. In the main, the work was within the arts / culture / entertainment sectors. But this was largely due to the fact that my home city is a small area where people know people; once you start working in one sector then you become known for that, and word of mouth often works its magic.

It was a bit of a fluke then, that the work that came to me was work that I enjoyed, because I certainly wasn’t picky in the early days. In hindsight, I was lucky not to end up with some really godawful jobs because if I’d have been offered them, I probably would have taken them.

Did someone say desperado?

What did happen was that I worked myself into the ground, in the first 2-3 years at least. I worked crazy 10 – 12 hour days a lot of the time, terrified to turn work down in case I was never offered anything ever again.

Not an ideal scenario, and certainly not sustainable.

In summary then?

DON’T DO WHAT I DID!

Essentially, I think all of these points underline how I went the long way round to business success, because I didn’t have enough belief in myself and my abilities.

Yes, success takes time, but I made things much harder than they needed to be.

Would things have been different if I’d been a bit more open to PUTTING MYSELF OUT THERE in ways that felt a bit uncomfortable at first – i.e. on social bloomin’ media? Possibly.

But you live and learn, and where would the fun be if everything was easy? Exactly.

I think what is really quite excellent is how my story shows that there is something in the idea of ‘the Universe’ being kind and responding to what we put out.

It’s all a bit airy-fairy, I know, but looking back I believe that things happened for me because a) even if I didn’t PUT MYSELF OUT THERE in a huge way, I still created opportunities, conversations that led somewhere and b) because I allowed myself some time for it to happen. Yes, I was lucky to have the privilege to do so, but I didn’t rush to take a job that would have made me miserable.

And this all goes back to my points in this post from the other week about giving yourself time to go through the messy bits. And to have faith.

(I think I feel a song coming on….)

Bye for now x

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