10 Self–Promotion Tips That Aren’t Sleazy

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Self–promotion. It’s the ultimate dilemma for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and individuals.

You don’t want to be pushy salesman … but you don’t have a marketing department like Apple. I mean, if you don’t tell people about your product, service, or idea … who will?

Self–promotion is a requirement, but there are so many areas where you can go wrong that it becomes difficult to stay true to yourself. What you need are networking tips that actually work.

The good news? It is possible to self–promote without ruining your reputation.

Here are 10 ways to self–promote that will always work and will never come across as sleazy.

1. Be excited.

Is this something that you genuinely want to promote? If not, why are you doing it?

We’re all looking for a story we can follow: a product we can trust, a person we can believe in.

Genuine enthusiasm and excitement shows that you are that person. You’re the story they have been waiting for.

People naturally gravitate towards stories that are promoted with passion and enthusiasm. It’s the energy that draws people in.

If you don’t believe in your product, service, or idea … how is anyone else supposed to believe in it?

2. Help someone else.

Do you know why people who volunteer are awesome? Because volunteers give even when they know they won’t get anything in return.

What if you took the same approach to business? How much easier would it be for people to help you? How willing would they be to spread your message if you spent most of your time meeting their needs?

People do business with those that they know and trust. There is no better way to build trust than to help others without expecting anything in return.

Promotion is easy when good will is abundant.

3. Listen more.

A large part of successful self-promotion comes from framing your message in the right way.

If you listen more, then you’ll have a much better chance of understanding what is important to people. If you know what’s important to them, then you know how to pitch your product, service, or idea to them. Find out what they enjoy and what they despise.

Take some time to hear their story.

4. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

If you’re not the outgoing and boisterous type, then don’t try to be. If you can’t play the whole we’re–best–friends–even–though–we–just–met game, then don’t fake it.

Self–promotion should be about promoting who you are and what you stand for. If you’re insincere, people can smell it from a mile away.

In other words, self–promotion should be about promoting yourself and not someone you’re pretending to be.

5. Don’t act like the world owes you something.

You know what people hate? People who expect the world to roll out the red carpet for them. People who did one great thing and try to ride that out for years. People who feel like they deserve better because they want it instead of working for it.

You know what people love? People who smile when they could complain. People who think of others when they could think of themselves. People who keep working when they’ve earned the right to stop. People who remain humble and respectful regardless of their success.

Check your ego at the door and lose the sense of entitlement. You’ll gain a lot of fans when you stop acting like you should have them.

6. Don’t “hope” for the best.

The best self–promoters are go–getters. They get in the thick of things. They make things happen. They work when everyone else is sleeping.

Here’s a real surprise: if you want to promote something, you have to actually promote it. All of that work you put in to building your brand, creating your product, or learning your craft? Well, that’s just half the battle.

When you’re big like Microsoft, your job is to run the business. When you’re small, your job is to tell people about it.

Yes, it’s your responsibility to talk about your work.

7. Introduce two people.

Here’s an easy way to get two people to talk about you: introduce them to each other.

When you’re the mutual connection, it’s natural for the two of them to discuss what you’re up to. This makes self–promotion easy and it is another way that you can provide value to people in your network.

Here is a simple email script I use to introduce two people. (Hat tip to Keith Ferrazzi.)

Mark and Lisa,

I want to introduce the two of you. Mark, I’ve already bragged a bit about Lisa to you. Lisa graduated from/works at/helped with school/company/event… which is where we met. She also has [mutual interest with Mark].

And Lisa, Mark is a student/employee/volunteer at school/company/event… which is where we met. He has [some relevant accomplishment or achievement.]

Given that both of you have an interest in [mutual interest], I figured it would be a good idea to put you in touch. Not to mention that I suspect that you’ll like each other as well.


This simple format is an easy way to become a connector in your network and encourage your friends and co–workers provide value to each other.

For even more strategies on introductions and networking, check out these networking tips.

8. Create the world’s greatest widget.

The phrase “self–promotion” has a bad reputation because people often use it as a way to promote terrible products, services or other self–serving ideas.

The number one way to become an amazing self–promoter is to build something that promotes itself.

If you actually solve a real need, then people will talk about it. If you actually help someone achieve a goal, then people will talk about it. If you actually make people happy, then people will talk about it.

In the beginning, nobody will know about your product no matter how great it is, but it’s so much easier to gain a following and become a successful self–promoter if you create a product, service, or idea that speaks for itself.

9. Realize that it is about value, not experience.

When you’re self–promoting, the first move for many people is to start touting all of the experience they have.

“I’ve worked in advertising for 17 years.”

“I have 6 years of graphic design experience.”

“I’ve been helping retail businesses for 12 years now.”

I know that I’ve made this mistake before as well, but it’s remarkable how often people talk about how long they have been doing something rather than what type of value they can provide.

And guess what? Nobody cares how long you’ve been selling trinkets.

If you’re going to promote something, then show specific results instead of making generic statements. Put a number to your work. Proof is the strongest promotional tool you have.

How much can you increase sales by? How much money can you save someone? What is the math that shows why your idea is better?

Numbers and results offer clear proof of why you and your idea are better than the rest. How much easier is it to promote something if you have proof of how it provides value?

10. Stop sprinting, start walking.

Most self–promoters act like they are sprinting on a track when they should be walking through a neighborhood instead.

When you sprint, you put flyers up on every door you pass. When you walk, you build relationships with people one at a time.

When you sprint, you start rushing and do things you wouldn’t normally do, like spamming people. When you walk, you find out what is important to people first and then show them how you might be able to help.

When you sprint, you seem desperate and pushy. When you walk, you seem genuine and helpful.

Slow down. Life is a long race.

95 Responses to 10 Self–Promotion Tips That Aren’t Sleazy

  1. Very sound tips, James. I enjoy your work even though I normally just lurk! ;-)

  2. Brian Lu says:

    Hey James,

    Another wonderful article, I’m a freelance graphic designer and I think the tips you shared are really useful. Interesting point on not faking things because I’ve read a lot and many suggested faking “were best friends even though we’ve just met”.


    • James Clear says:

      Yeah, that’s a tough one. I’m all for being nice and friendly, but it’s usually best to be yourself above all else.

  3. JP says:

    Great Article – practical and useful.
    A real how-to approach.

  4. I love this article. Every single of these points here made me want to stop reading right there and leave a comment because of the thoughts and feelings it inspired in me. As I kept reading, it became clear that every single point here was strong, meaningful, valuable, and completely necessary. And they each touch upon a different aspect of success..

    Thank you. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s all valuable. =)


    • James Clear says:

      Thanks so much Delena! I’m glad you found the article useful — and I’m sure you’ll put it to good use. :)

  5. I LOVE this post!!! It helped me to realize that even though I am a newbie in the internet marketing business, I have value and that stands out. Great post…

  6. Cassie says:

    Great Post James. Introducing two people is one I would never have thought of but I can see it could work. Thanks !

    • James Clear says:

      Yeah, introducing people is a good networking move regardless of whether people talk about you or not. It’s always a good idea to provide value to your network.

  7. Really valuable information, James….thanks for sharing. Every point is relevant and sensible. Makes me stop and think about better ways to communicate about my business and what we really have to offer.

  8. Wow. This is brilliant. You have reached a depth here that goes way beyond business. I consult with church leadership and faith-based NPOs on generational studies… your insights are downright Biblical! ;-) Thank you for sharing your wisdom! I’ll be passing this one out to everyone!

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks Adam! First, let me say thank you for doing such inspiring work. So good to hear that this will help you out.

  9. Alec Berg says:

    Great article.

    I’d add talk about benefits and not features.

    • James Clear says:

      Great point, Alec. Whether you’re marketing a product, service, or yourself it’s always important to highlight how people can benefit rather than what features you bring to the table.

  10. Owen Marcus says:

    Great post – to the point and do able.

  11. James,
    Hi there. This is the first time I have found you and I promise it wont be the last time. Delena Silverfox nailed it~ there is so much here! Thank you for another valuable checklist to print out and keep. Take Care.

  12. John L says:

    Thanks for sharing this link on LinkedIn via Libby Gill. As a business development guy for a small credit union it felt as if you wrote this article just for me. Keep inspiring others James!

  13. Halcyyony says:

    Great post. Really useful. Love this blog.

  14. Bogdan says:

    Good tips. Thank you.
    I might add that experience is extremely valuable to bring along if you can tie it with specific goals your clients have in mind. It is even more valuable if it’s tied to a proven track record out of which you can extract at least similar results the client is looking for.
    Just my two cents.

    • James Clear says:

      True — experience is definitely a good thing, but I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned tying it to a “proven track record.”

      It’s really about the proving your value to the client — and sometimes your experiences can allow you to do that.

  15. Janet Lash says:

    Great Post!

    Although we know a lot of this, sometimes we forget and need reminders about self promotion. Creating genuine relationships with clients and friends is the best way to promote one’s business.

  16. Nyla Crystal says:

    Great tips! I especially agree with #5. It is an instant turn off to work with someone who thinks they are entitled.

  17. Kimberly says:

    This article has some great stuff in it… The shameless self promotion doesn’t seem to fly these days to the educated consumer. I’m educated and I don’t buy it either. Being honest, working hard, being helpful, educating, delivering a quality product to those who choose to buy (or even sample our freebies) no matter the business — are all so important… Great stuff – I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  18. Kaishon says:

    What a great post! Filled with so much wisdom! Thanks for sharing.

  19. My favorite’s were #’s 2, 4 & 7 but you can’t go wrong with any of them. People remember those who genuinely offer help and that is a great way to become successful (online or off). Same for introductions — just like Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Never Eat Alone”.

    We need to be ourselves in order to stay active in the long run, trying to be someone else just doesn’t work.

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks for all those favorites!

      And yes, creating genuine relationships means being genuine with yourself just as much as the other person.

  20. Francesca Thomas says:

    I have trouble with number 9.

    Way back when I used to be just an employee, I was never told how much my specific contribution helped the business, so I have no numbers. I never got to any management level where my numbers did make a difference. So all I have to offer IS my 6 years of experience.

    I also have no idea how to translate this lack of numbers into something I can produce for a client to show them how much I can help them, other than my sincere belief that I can and will solve their problem.

    How do ex-employees such as myself deal with lack of any numbers or “proof”, as you put it?


    • James Clear says:

      That’s a great point, Francesca — and it’s a problem that I’m sure many people deal with.

      Here’s my take: Numbers are excellent because they prove your value clearly. But they are also good because they usually have a story attached. There is often a reason that you landed 3 new clients for the firm — and sharing that number also allows you to share that story.

      The good news is that even if you don’t have a clear number, you certainly have stories. You might have to spend some time looking for them, but if you can tell a story about the impact you provide, then you’ll be much more compelling than someone who simply talks about how long they worked for.

      You worked for six years? Surely some good stories came about during those six years.

      Long story short: Facts tell. Stories sell.

  21. Neil says:

    Valid points, ALL of them. AND if you spend time perusing G+ where guys like Kawasaki, Rose, Howes, Brogan et al contribute to your G+ panel you will quickly see they do “all-of-the-above” and they do this consistently, which is the only item left out on your top 10 list and which I submit would qualify as a decent #11 addition.

    • James Clear says:

      That’s a great point, Neil. Once you’re doing the right things, consistency is the missing ingredient that we often forget.

  22. Great Post. I like all the points.

    All of them are relevant, but I especially like number 9 just because you have done something for 10 years doesn’t mean you have been doing it right. There is nothing more valuable than real examples. I actually learned that one from a resume workshop.

    The other point that I really like is to be helpful. It all comes back. What have you got to lose?

    • James Clear says:

      Ha. Yeah, doing the wrong thing over and over won’t take you very far — and it certainly doesn’t bring the type of experiences clients are looking for.

  23. Dennis says:

    Hi James,

    Well written. Have them in my agenda so I can review them during my downtime.

    Great job.

    Looking forward to more!

  24. David says:

    Hi James, this is a great article. Being a newbie, I like the fact that you stated learn to walk before you run. I think that’s so appropo in today’s market. Too many gurus wanting to unload products that do not work. Build trust in people and give them value. That’s the key, among the ones you mentioned. Thanks!

  25. Thank you for the useful tips! I think, only the complex usage of all of them can bring really good result.

  26. Lucia Perry says:

    This is a very useful articles. The importance of adding value and focusing on the basic business principles are of key importance. Thank you.

  27. Tellula says:

    Thanks! Point 10 is one I need to keep top of mind.

  28. MONIQUE says:

    Hi James, this is an awesome article. While I know it was written about self promotion, I really feel that these tips really do comprise the foundations of authentic and sustainable business success. Love it!

  29. Thanks for the article, James. I especially liked the tip about introducing two people. I’ve been wanting to get more collaboration going but wasn’t sure how to make it happen. This example of an email to use to introduce two people with mutual interests will get me beyond just wanting collaboration to really seeing it happen. Love it.

  30. Barney Agate says:

    All on the money; hope we all get some!

  31. Amevor says:

    Thank you James for your inspiring words. In fact I learned a lot, especially to walk instead of sprinting. Thanks soo much.

  32. Paula says:

    James, I love it, must pass it on to my anti-networking buddies. Being totally against sleaze myself this works great. Thanks.

  33. Francesca says:

    Hi James,

    I am a freelance designer, your articles are always interesting, this is one of the most interesting.
    I like the easy and immediate text, they’re practical advice!

    Some of your items have become my guide, I’m happy to have met you, I recommend your blog to my other freelance friends real pleasure.

    Keep in touch

  34. Ravi says:

    “People who smile when they could complain.” Ain’t that the truth, thank you for the article!

  35. Charnelle Chin says:

    Very insightful, will be using this information to build my network and promote myself as well as my business.

    Thanks so much James, very helpful tips !


  36. Awesome post. Potential sleaze-balling is towards the top of my personal concerns right now, so very timely to see this discussion on confident, kind self-promotion. I appreciate your refreshing perspective. :)

  37. Sam Cofer says:

    James, Once again you have knocked it out of the park. As a salesperson and entrepreneur, its very disheartening sometimes when people automatically take you for being a sleaze. But, keeping in mind many of the things you state in your article here helps to settle them down and takes a lot of the tension out of the conversation. Thanks again… I can’t get enough of your insight!!

  38. Thushan says:

    Hi James!

    Your article is a little gem (like the ones we have in Sri Lanka). There were so many things in your article that I immediately recognized as negatives in my strategy as well. And there were many a ‘AHA’ moments while reading the article as I realized the reasons why some of my tactics were not working. So Cheers for this mate! Have an awesome Weekend!!!

  39. Adagio says:

    I have a little question about number 4. “Do not try to be someone you are not.”

    I do not know what kind of person I should be. I always listen to my heart to make decisions but it seems not that work anymore. I have to be more realistic and cater to someone else’s requirements. I do not know how to balance ideals and reality.

  40. Denis Alexander says:

    Hi James,

    I changed my email. I am attending L&S Computer Tutors. I spoke about your site, I wanted to see if it’s ok to pull some of your great insight? It’s small classes, but there going strong. A lot of the students would get what they need out of it. Most of the students have been injured and now have to look for work in a less phsyical field. Please get back to me on this.

    • James Clear says:


      You’re welcome to share whatever you find useful on Passive Panda. (A link back or credit would be nice, though not required.)

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoy the site. :)

  41. Alison says:

    Excellent tips James – love it!

    I first heard you just recently on IFD2011 and am super glad I subscribed to your newsletters!


  42. Mena says:

    Great Article. I liked it. Especially…

    10. Stop sprinting, start walking.
    “When you sprint, you seem desperate and pushy. When you walk, you seem genuine and helpful”

    I have been feeling that I’m pushy sometimes.

    Thank you.

  43. Eric Weiand says:

    Thanks for these points, James. I really need need to work on the “Don’t try to be someone you’re not” part. As freelance designer and a stay-at-home dad of a 2 year old usually the most stimulating conversation I have is whether to watch Dinosaur Train or Super Why. I’m a pretty solitary person to begin with so when I finally get around to getting out and networking I feel like I need to “up my game” and act like a salesman. I’ll keep this post, and that point in particular, in mind on next networking adventure.

  44. Dan Kleiman says:

    As I tai chi guy, I always love coming across advice like this: “Slow down. Life is a long race.” ;-)

    Seriously, though, it’s hard to have faith in a process sometimes, instead of chasing immediate outcomes. Nice to be reminded!

    Thanks for the insightful post.

  45. Gayli del Rosario says:

    Great tips, James! Keeps me refreshed of how-to’s now that I’m working as a freelancer.

  46. Toni says:

    Simple and straightforward. A great reminder for those of us who can get quite shy but do need to promote ourselves. Thank you!

  47. John says:

    Fantastic post no wonder you have 74 comments.

  48. Pete Patel says:

    I have some serious competition in my businesses and it is very tough doing B2B nowadays since hitting the pavement is inconvenient for potential clients. Meaning, they don’t want to talk b/c they are too busy, please email, and just getting shrugged. I own multiple businesses and I position that for my current business and always position Price, Quality, and Customer Service as three goals for all clients…
    Any recommendations of getting to meet the higher personnel that make decisions for B2B companies?

  49. Steve says:

    Great post. I now realize that some of these tips have been used by others toward me and yet I wasn’t really aware of what was going on. I now will be able to use these opportunities to make some real connections. And maybe even start something new myself. Thanks again!

  50. Bojan says:

    Excellent article! I think the one that resonates most with me is “Don’t try to be someone your not”. There’s been a lot of talk about authenticity and sincerity in whatever you do and I think that’s especially true in whatever field you pursue. It’s going to be a lot harder to maintain something and do extracurricular work if it’s not something that genuinely interests you.

  51. Joy Mo says:

    Great tips! I would also add one – rally your supporters such as your family and friends around you. They’ve been such a great help for my own business.

  52. Dan says:

    James, I wish more artists/teachers/craftsman would take this advice. Everyone wins if they develop their skills of getting their message out into the world. Thanks for another straightforward breakdown!

  53. Cassie says:

    Gosh, value over experience is really hitting the nail on the head.

    Great post, thanks for the value (as always!).

  54. Joy says:

    Very useful tips, thank you. I particularly like the statement “Don’t act like the world owes you something.”

  55. Sergio Felix says:

    Absolutely LOVED every single tip here!

    I have to plead guilty myself for several of these but I kinda knew I wasn’t supposed to promote myself like that in the first place.

    Maybe I did the mistake of “I have been doing this and this for n-years and that’s why I’m entitled to teach you about it” because in all honesty, it sounds annoying rather than interesting or attracting which is what we want in the first place.

    Will have to step up my game and follow these, thanks again guys! ;-)


  56. Reel King says:

    Great tips, thanks for sharing. these will be very valuable to my business.

  57. A #11 suggestion, “Let your reputation announce you”. If you provide value and focus on the customer, the customer will sell you to others.

  58. Tom Com says:

    Very sound advice!

  59. Bongani says:

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. So true, Point 9, its about value, not experience. People always believe that if they have been in business for decades then they will stay in business, but no so. We have to continue learn. Digital media is now taking over and the whole internet platform is changing. So Study, Practice and Teach is Key.

  60. Rik Shafer says:

    Find something new and hopefully interesting to approach prospects and clients and be there regularly without being a pest.

  61. Smedod says:

    Sooo great tips! Super agree!

  62. Thanks for the article, James.

    I think the subtlety behind number 7 is huge. While all the other things are important, introducing two people has had a huge impact for my promotion. I’m not entirely sure why.

    That kind of happened in the story, The Go-Giver. A guy introduced a few people and it turned out better than awesome in the end. Maybe it’s a karma thing. I don’t know but it has been a very useful promotional tool.

    Thanks again and keep up the great work.

  63. Jomo says:

    Brilliant tips…they absolutely have assisted to reinvigorate me to push me forward towards turning my business into something with solid foundations that I had recently forgotten.

    Thank you so much for the reminder :)

    - Jomo -

  64. Stop sprinting, start walking…
    One of the best advice I hear in last years!
    Thanks a lot.

  65. I am a new author and have been struggling with self-promotion even though I know its a necessary part of getting my book out there because my message helps people.
    Another more experienced author I was connected to on social media was really upset that I mentioned my book in a response to one of her posts about reading. She was pretty angry and part of me wondered if I was over promoting or what? She said she has never promoted herself, which I found a bit strange, but it caused me to question how much and how I was promoting myself, my book, and my message.

    Your article just confirmed what I was and am doing is what I need to do. I particularly like the part when you said “Is this something that you genuinely want to promote? If not, why are you doing it?” I am an advocate for the elderly for over 30 years so I’ve been promoting this message for years, only now it’s in a book.

    Thanks for making self promotion a necessary part if what we do, rather than feeling like it’s a bad and self-centered thing!

  66. Jeff Akin says:

    James Great tips. I signed up for more updates. Building solid relationships is the very foundation! keep up the great work.

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