Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Beginners Guide to Self Promotion

Last weekend I watched the class of 2011 graduate from the Celebrant Foundation & Institute.  106 students and alumni received certificates and began their Life-Cycle Celebrancy practices with specialized training, a wealth of resources and a strong desire to bring their skills and talents to the world.

But how to get started? Many of us are hesitant to talk about the things we’re passionate about. We’re afraid of appearing pushy or that people may not want what we have to offer. Of course we have websites and ads and social media to get the word out, but nothing replaces face-to-face interactions—especially if your business can benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations.

This is true, not just of Celebrancy but many, if not all small businesses. So here are my tips for self-promotion.

  1. Get comfortable with the idea that you have something to offer that people want and need.   If you encountered someone with a flat tire and you had a jack in your car would you say “I’m not a mechanic.” Or would you say, “I have a tool you can use to fix your tire.”

Whether you’ve been trained in your field or built up real-life experience—if you can honestly say that you have something to offer, get comfortable saying so.

Start with telling friends and family what you want to do. It will get it out in the open, make it real, and help you develop the words you’ll use when talking to strangers.

  1. Talk about it to everyone. “What do you do?” is one of the most common questions people ask to get to know each other.  Don’t fall back on answering with the day job if that’s not where your heart is. Talk about what you really are. “I’m a Life-Cycle Celebrant®/artist/singer.” “I act in our local theatre.”

Remember the power of word-of-mouth. Then next person you speak to may not need you but may recommend you to someone next week or next month.

  1. Get business cards and keep them with you at all times. If you don’t feel you’re ready for “business cards” print up calling cards. What you want to do is make your contact information available to people you meet and leave them with a reminder of who you are and what you spoke about.

Everyone gets my business card. I’ve given them to restaurant managers, doctors, nurses, dental hygienists, my mechanic, people on jury duty. I’ve left them on bulletin boards in bagel shops--and gotten clients that way!

Business cards are cheap, portable, and easily replenished. Use them up and order more.

  1. Carry and pen and paper with you at all times. Yes, we all have smart phones now but in the time it takes to boot up the right app you could have lost the attention of the person you’re talking to. A small notepad and pen or even just a piece of paper and a golf pencil are indispensable tools. When you give someone your cards, see if you can get the person’s email address in return. That way you can send them more information later and they can view it on their time. (This is why I specify email address rather than phone number. It’s less intrusive. If they want you have their number, they will take the opportunity to give it to you.
  1. Think about where you’re going and be prepared.  This may sound like TMI, but I once went to my OBGYN appointment with a stack of business cards and one sheets. I had been thinking about what book to bring with me for the waiting room since the magazines tend to be focused on babies and small children when it dawned on me that THIS was the perfect audience for information on baby welcoming and adoption ceremonies.

While I waited for my appointment, I talked to the receptionist and nurses about what I do and asked if I could leave my cards and one sheets with them. If they got approval, they could leave them out for patients to read. If not, three more people—people who deal regularly with my client base—still knew all about my services when I left so it was time well spent.

  1. Remember that you never know when you might meet a potential client or reference.  I am the first person to run out of the house in sweats and a t-shirt. But try to keep in mind that my hair should, at the very least be neat because that next trip to the corner store could be someone’s first impression of me.

I’m not saying you have to be in full hair and makeup or a suit every time you leave the house--just that you should look at every time you cross that threshold as an opportunity to make a contact.  Look like someone you wouldn’t mind shaking hands with.

  1. Be a good listener. Potential clients and business contacts will want to know they are dealing with someone who is interested in what they have to say. Remember in your enthusiasm to let the other person have their say before you go jumping in with what you can do for them. The more information you have before you speak, the better.

  1. Shake hands and make eye contact.  This may seem like a little thing, but when we meet people in social situations it’s not always second nature.

  1. Keep it classy and respect the other person’s time. Be earnest, enthusiastic, and sincere—but don’t be pushy.  Not everyone is looking for what you have to offer and some people may already have someone in mind. Thank them for their time. Show interest in what they do and let the conversation shift back to something else or let it drop alltogether. Leave people with a positive memory of your interaction. They may recommend you to someone else.

  1. Leave it on a high note and follow up if you can. Say it was a pleasure meeting the person and if you leave with contact information follow up. Send that email as soon as you get home or by the next day. If the person is a friend of a friend, mention your interaction next time you see that friend—word may get back to that person and keep you on their radar.

Smile and remember that you can do this. Not everyone will be receptive, but if you don’t talk about what you do and what you want to do the right people will never know you’re waiting to serve them.

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