Are You Turning People Off?

Self-promotion is tricky!

My grandfather was a candy salesman in Augusta, Maine. He was honored several times with being one of the top salespeople for Pine State, his company. Yet, when I went on his sales route with him, I never once saw him sell.

He’d stop and see Flo from Flo’s Variety on Sand Hill, and ask how her granddaughter did on her spelling test. He’d exchange hugs with Mr. Dupuis and tell clean jokes (while I was in earshot), and there’d be a lot of red faces and back slapping. I never once heard him ask for a sale. I saw him connect, commiserate, and learn what was happening in his customers’ lives.

My drink at this very moment is a hot cup of water with some lemon. What’s yours? My Gramps? He used to drink Coke. Plain Coke. (He once crashed a Coke truck and made the front page of the newspaper for it.)


I spend a lot of time chatting up people online, but that’s only part of the experience. I have to make connections. I have to get relationships going with the smart up and comers, as well as the folks who are currently most interesting to my you. So far, that’s similar to my grandfather’s world.

But what about when I need more reach? What about when I have to start stretching beyond the people I know? What about when I’m seeking to grow influence? It’s time to self-promote, and this is fundamentally different than the offline world in some ways, and sadly quite the same in others.


Imagine you are at a cocktail party on the night before a conference. Some people in the room know each other, and are clustering in clumps that way. You’re the newcomer to the group. You walk up to a circle of people, smile, and say…

That’s the heart of what you’ll have to know, right? If I freeze this moment in time, and if you think about it, here’s the analog to self promotion in the digital space. Because what you say next is how you will be received. Let’s press play a few times:

You say, “Hey there! Mind if I join your group? I just wrote a great blog post about how career planning has to get more social. It got a ton of comments. Care to add your two cents?”

Them: * blank stares*


You: “Hi! My name’s Chris. Would you take my business cards and hand them out to everyone? You might as well pass on that I say that I’m awesome.”

Them: *grab sharp implements*


You: “I know we haven’t met before. A long time ago, my life was really boring and mundane. My dog had tapeworms. We lived in a bad part of town. Then, my nana got sick. Then I…”

Wait. Where’d everyone go?


People have a hard time knowing what to do in that exact moment where they know they need to build relationships on the web, and it’s not entirely anyone’s fault. We just haven’t really thought through any other ways to get the word out in a method that would be more effective.

Let me list the problems at hand, and then we’ll go right into a recipe for a better chance at getting absorbed into that group and benefits made.


* People don’t know you yet, so have no idea why they should interact.
* You’re so worried about not being seen that you pounce too fast into your story.
* You believe there’s only one chance.
* It’s a loud and crowded space (even virtually, this is often true).
* Your story doesn’t really have good entry points yet.


Here’s what I know to work for self-promotion more often than not.

1.) Start with them. As you “approach the small group,” even (especially!) online, start by commenting on their work, and just “being there.” The people I notice the most in my own community are those who have a point of view, and who always seem there to interact.

2.) Add connective tissue. I made friends with Michael Sampson from New Zealand over our mutual appreciation for Batman. What excites someone that overlaps with what you also love is a great bridge.

3.) Be helpful to them far before you ask for something. Tim Sanders, author of the amazing book Love is the Killer App (and also grab Today We Are Rich!) is the master of doing a TON for someone without ever asking for anything back.

4.) Always have a condensed and simple story to retell about you.

This one needs a little story. I was once sitting in the bar at the Roger Smith Hotel in New York, and a guy who knew no one there besides his girlfriend came up and shook my hand. He said, “Hi, I once sold a joke to a professional comedian.”

Holy cats. What an amazing first line. I NEEDED the story. And the joke is hilarious (or was to me). If you want to hear it, hit reply and ask me for the joke.

Having a story to tell that’s quite simple about what you do and most especially who you serve, is great. Mine? “I deliver tools and smarts to folks who want to work better.” It’s like an elevator pitch, only it’s something you could say out loud to someone.

5.) Make your first “ask” small. If you and I have a brief interaction online and then you ask me to write the foreword to your new book, it won’t happen. If you and I have a great conversation and you ask if I’d want to do a quick Q&A for your blog over email, that might work. (Note: do NOT reply to this email and ask me. I’ll say no.) : )

6.) Above all else, EARN the right to move the story over to you.


John Jantsch is the Duct Tape Marketer. If you meet him at an event, you’ll find out that he’s personable, that he never talks about what he’s doing until you beg him, and he is friendly and approachable. I promote John all the time because he’s never asked for it.

Charlie Green cowrote a masterwork book on Trust that Julien Smith and I have liberally quoted TWICE in TWO BOOKS. He never asks anyone for a thing. He deserves mountains of promotion. When he shares his own work, you want to read it.

Sir Richard Branson, when I interviewed him, kept asking me more questions about me. He was very inclusive. This man owns an island. He doesn’t talk about it that way. Sure, on the air, he’s VERY self promotional, but that’s the bombast. As a person one-on-one, he’s very humble.


You have a lot going on. People want to know about it. But it’s how you approach it that will make or break what you get from the effort.

My personal efforts all err on the side of providing a lot of value before I extract any for myself (thank you, Anthony, for that language). I also do a lot to nurture the networks I serve, so that when it comes time to ask, people feel like it’s the least they could do to participate and help.

That’s the gold standard. That’s the rich dark soil into which to plant the seeds of growth.

If you want to self-promote, earn it by nurturing the community with no expectation of reciprocation. (tweetable)

And with that, I invite you to get going on the work that needs doing.

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  1. I absolutely love this, Chris. I found myself nodding at every point you made. Yes, the only way forward in the online world is to form relationships, to show genuine caring, and to show up at people’s blogs/forums just because you care about them. Loved and shared!

  2. Hi Chris, thank you so much for this. I am right now at the start of a journey where I am needing to bring attention to the services I am offering as a local consultant. The advice you give here is invaluable, and I can just picture your Gramps going about his business. Translating that into the online world is a challenge, no doubt about it. It’s so important to remember that, at the end of the day, there is a human being at the other end of any interaction.

  3. Good stuff. You hit at least two of my favorite subjects this morning: Trust and “Love is the Killer App” by Tim Sanders. I had never heard of Charlie Green, so thanks for that. I probably quote from or about Tim’s book a least once a week.

    P.S. And thanks for using disqus. It works exactly the way I expect it to and provides great leverage for my personal efforts.

  4. Good morning, Chris. (I love your Sunday emails! Thank you!)

    This post/email message is fantastic. I’m so glad you shared it online. Good self-promotion is definitely a tricky animal. I’ve had a recent offline experience spanning a couple months of helping out a vendor at a farmers’ market that has taught me a great lesson. While at the market, there was no reason to talk about my business, unless someone directly asked. Instead we talked about the food, recipes, life stories with repeat customers, etc. And then yesterday – which is likely the last day I’ll be there – a co-worker told everyone I was leaving to focus on a growing business. Almost all asked what I did – many asked for my card. Coupling yesterday’s experience with your message today… why, I’d say the universe is definitely making sure I get the message! :)

    Your Sunday messages are a part of my quiet weekend morning that I look forward to every week, Chris. Thank you for taking the time to share your advice and experience!

  5. Lessons for both business and life in general. So true yet so many people seem to miss the mark on this (probably myself included at times). I’ll be sharing this with lots of people… since you didn’t ask! :)

  6. Thanks Chris. Being new at online promotion, I don’t always know how to promote myself without looking like a jerk. This post has helped, and I am sure that I will continue to review it as I learn and grow in the online world.

  7. It makes such a difference when you’re around somebody (literally or virtually) who exemplifies your “recipes”. Alignment and connection come so easily and the desire to do so comes so naturally.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Chris. Self-promotion is tricky, and I’ve always struggled with it. What I struggle with more is figuring out what I have of value that I can give to others, especially something that they don’t get offered a hundred times a day. Seems like the best bet is storytelling, from hook to table.

  9. Great post Chris. I have not been very good at this myself, admittedly.

  10. Boy, I wish I’d written this! You’ve nailed the intersection of selling, self promotion, and just plain communications.

  11. I absolutely agree that coming from a place of service, gratitude & authenticity can truly benefit a community. People feel that… And it does not mean that you are not passionate about what you do, au contraire!

  12. I wonder if “self-promotion” is the wrong term. It’s so loaded. When I hear it, I immediately go to the egomaniac who’s only interested in dazzling me with his or her sensational life.

    Just the same, this post is a good reminder of what it means to be thoughtful, polite, and generous. Much of it comes down to the Golden Rule. But your specific points make a solid checklist of things we all sometimes do (and may not even realize it) that come off as pushy, self-interested, or (yikes) desperate.

    When I was in college, the career center pounded “networking” into us constantly. I always cringed. It felt mercenary. But the truth is, we all help each other out, sooner or later. We all have interesting things to talk about and share with each other.

    • That’s the right term, then. That’s what I want you to think. Because that’s how people do it wrong.

      Networking is actually not a bad thing. BAD networking is a bad thing.

  13. Hiya Chris! This is my first of your Sunday shares and I’m already looking forward to others to come :)

    Like many (and most in this conversation as well), I’ve also found self-promotion to be quite tricky. My fear has always been to be perceived as one of those guys who annoys others with their story, pitch, idea, brand, etc. etc. This has lead me to either a) not promote myself at all, b) promote infrequently, c) promote improperly, or d) promote others work just to make sure I promote something valuable.

    I’m a certified coach and totally get that asking questions is wayyyyyy more effective than offering suggestions. But for some strange reason this doesn’t always translate in my online efforts.

    I’m gonna take your recipe advice and “start by commenting on their work, and just ‘being there.'”. That’s how I usually do it when I meet people in-person, so I’m gonna focus on doing that online as well.

    Thanks for the “keep-it-simple” reminder!

  14. Thank you so much for making your Sunday newsletters easier to share online!

    You could so turn this into an e-book and make it your signature piece. It epitomizes so much of what you teach all the time and your basic philosophy. I’ll be sharing it plenty, because as I talk about the power of connection, it’s so important to include that what happens after the connection is made can make or break the relationship.

    Connection is the conduit…is love flowing through it?

  15. Chris,

    What I’m finding I love most about your work, aside from the insights about relationships that are helping me shape my own brand, is your writing.

    You’re an excellent writer.

    More than business, more than history, more than music, I love good, solid writing–clear, concise, human.

    You hit them all and would make William Zinsser very proud.

    Jason Gracia

  16. Sadie Cornelius says:

    Agreed some great tips and wonderful writing. I will file this away and reference often on how to be a better self promoter. Thanks for the insight in an entertaining way!

  17. I LOVE this post. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    I wish more people understood how powerful it really is the GIVE a referral. I love the feeling of being able to help out another small business while expecting nothing in return! (and most of the time later down the line, either directly or indirectly you do get business out of it).

    Also love this tweetable quote: “If you want to self-promote, earn it by nurturing with no expectation of reciprocation.”

    Thanks again. Love your articles.

  18. Chris – thank you so much for this. You have no idea how much I need this right now. I’ve recently joined a group of individuals who are all trying to “find their way” or “improve” an area of their lives that they struggle with. One of my biggest issues to bring to the discussion was my fear of rejection.

    It’s the #1 reason I don’t actively self promote – but as the discussion unfolded around this fear, we all learned that even if we know our own worth and value ourselves – this fear is still valid if the “standardized” model of retail or hard sales is not authentic to us. It’s just not going to feel right nor be perceived well.

    It was definitely an eye opening conversation.

    Before it unfolded though I actually thought something was wrong with me. I thought that maybe I did have self esteem issues (that I hadn’t admitted) and that I wasn’t as worthy as I thought I was. It was really bizarre.

    Skip forward to this topic you have written 2 days later and I see the key differences even more now.

    I now see that I have been self promoting authentically for years and just didn’t know it. Connecting and finding greatness in others or the magic in their businesses – IS what is authentic to me. It’s what I do really really well. Even if a lot of that time those conversations don’t directly result in business – it is in part the reason I have run / grown my entire business on referrals.

    Those who “get me” and “like me” – they refer, happily. I am always so grateful when it happens too.

    Thank you for this Chris. It’s amazing how ones perspective can change moment to moment / day to day when they surround themselves with wise individuals like yourself.

    This is a fantastic post.

    • Well, you’ve certainly done the work. Thank you for the very kind words. I’m glad that you’re finding your way to a better level of comfort with your own choices. : )

  19. Hello and good day Chris. Thank you for the wonderful post, I especially loved the part about your grandfather.

    Now for my very important question. What is the joke that the comedian told you? :)

    Thank you again and keep up the amazing work. Have a wonderful and creative day!

  20. Sara Jackson says:

    I LOVE this article and yes, would love to hear the joke. What I love even more, is that you used the phrase “Holy Cats”. What is the story behind that phrase? I’m interested in being the student of the #1 placeholder of the Top 50 PR & Marketing Blogs. So glad to have crossed your path.

  21. Denielle Fisher says:

    I stumbled across your website last week and I love it! Your posts are always entertaining and have great advice, I truly appreciate what you and Rob do here!

    I liked this post especially because it can be applied to so many different aspects in life. I don’t own a business but making connections the way you described can certainly be beneficial in other areas, to not only myself but others as well. I have found that I can apply a lot of the ideas you have to life in general and be even more successful.

    I am eagerly looking forward to future posts! Keep up the great work!

  22. This was a much needed read. Thank you for this…it’s really a delicate balance to manage self promotion so your insights were extremely helpful.

  23. Chris, I really enjoy your perspective, and used one of your ideas on my blog and newsletter this week. In a sea of noise, I don’t want to be another crashing wave but rather a voice of reason. Nice to see it modeled. ~ Susan

  24. This resonated big-time. I’m an introvert in a very extroverted industry, and I find that in some ways, my preference to listen first and get other people to talk about themselves works wonderfully when I’m feeling too tongue-tied to assault the listener with that elevator speech we were all told to memorize for networking situations. Strangely enough, I think it works out in my favor. Now, to work on getting better at remembering people’s names…

  25. This resonated big-time. I’m an introvert in a very extroverted industry, and I find that in some ways, my preference to listen first and get other people to talk about themselves works wonderfully when I’m feeling too tongue-tied to assault the listener with that elevator speech we were all told to memorize for networking situations. Strangely enough, I think it works out in my favor. Now, to work on getting better at remembering people’s names…

  26. I finally got around to reading this. What a great post. I used to suck at self promotion, but I’m getting better. My previous view is that I was pandering or sucking up, but I’ve come to realize that if I don’t tell anyone what I’m doing, in a humble manner of course, no one knows what I do, therefore I’m virtually invisible. Thanks for the insight and encouraging us all.

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