When You Are the Message

By Kim Wright Wiley

Of course you know your brand. As a sales professional, you’ve made sure you’re familiar with everything about your product and what makes it different from and better than others on the market. But do you promote yourself with equal effectiveness? Do you know how to maximize your opportunities, network intelligently, and be your own brand? If not – and especially if you find the idea of self-promotion a little shameful – you may be holding yourself back from the success you deserve.


But have no fear, Debbie Allen is on the case. Allen has achieved Certified Speaking Professional status, a title awarded by the National Speakers Association. Fewer than 10 percent of professional speakers worldwide have earned the designation. In addition to her seminars “Shamelessly Successful Self-Promotion” and “How to Sell Yourself and Your Expertise Effectively,” she is the author of several best-selling books, including Confessions of Shameless Self Promoters (Success Showcase Publishing, 2001). Her Website, www.debbieallen.com, offers free audio downloads of “57 Tips to Attracting Customers Like Crazy” and free membership to the Shameless Success Club.


So why are we so good at selling everything except ourselves? When Allen polls the audiences at her seminars, 85 percent of the audience members say they don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves – a stunning statistic when you consider that her audiences are primarily composed of salespeople and business owners. “Part of the shame is that we’ve all seen people who self-promote badly,” says Allen, “and come across as pushy and intrusive.


“I call people up on stage and ask them why they’re not comfortable promoting themselves,” she says, “and through the years, I’ve heard every excuse in the book. But none of the excuses work with me. I ask people if they believe that they have something to contribute – a talent, a product, a service that could be helpful to others. If they say yes – and of course they always do – I say, ‘Well, if you don’t tell people about it, how will they know what you have? By staying quiet you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, you’re also robbing the prospect of the chance to have your product or service.’”


At this point in the seminar lightbulbs begin to come on. “Shamelessness is a good thing,” Allen says. “It means looking for opportunities to serve others. If you believe passionately that you can help the other person, your enthusiasm will only come across as service, rather than selling.”


Allen believes in personal brands, and hers obviously involves shamelessness. “People may not remember my name,” she says, “but they do remember ‘shameless.’ It’s all over my Website and business cards. It’s even on my license plates.” She concedes that self-branding might be harder within a corporate structure but believes that even in the stuffiest business environment, people can still find ways to promote themselves.


She recalls one man who was frustrated because he was never recognized for his contributions. “I urged him to go into his next meeting and say, ‘I’m so pleased with the success of the idea I suggested,’ to directly remind his teammates that he was the one who came up with this concept that worked. You can’t just sit there and expect them to remember who said what last week. You have to toot your own horn.”


Although initially reluctant, the man reported back to Allen that he was literally applauded. “The important thing was that he presented it in a spirit of service,” she says. “He tied in the team and everyone who had contributed to the success. People worry that they’ll come across as having a big ego, but if you self-promote effectively, i.e., in the spirit of service, it doesn’t come across as ego at all. It comes across that you’re happy to have helped.”


Still shy? Allen suggests you start with the following not-particularly-shameless steps:


Recognize that the universe provides us with an endless number of opportunities, but most of the time we don’t act on them. “If you merely start to think about self-promotion, you’ll find yourself acting on more of these opportunities,” she says. “You automatically start recognizing when the universe is throwing something your way.”


Create powerful allies. “The single most important thing I’ve done to make my business successful is to align myself with brilliant people,” says Allen. “If you want to be an expert in your industry, find out who the experts are and become their fan. I’m always promoting others. My motto is, ‘Never throw business away; instead, throw it to someone else.’ If someone asks me for a good public speaker in Australia, I don’t say, ‘Gee, I live in Arizona, not Australia,’ I help them find one. If they need a florist for one of the meetings where I’m speaking, people know they can ask me. Sending business to others has gotten me a lot of business in return. People are appreciative, and they send referrals back your way.”


One of the best low-cost marketing strategies is to position yourself as an expert. Years ago when she ran a small dress shop, Allen started writing a fashion article for the local paper. “Write for the corporate newsletter,” she suggests, “or put a comment on the company Web page. Write articles for the local newspaper, appear on radio or the local television station. Offer your services as a speaker to the local chamber of commerce or Rotary Club, and if you’re not confident of your abilities, go to Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie until you do feel comfortable behind a podium. Groups and the media are always looking for experts, and this sort of public exposure – because, after all, you’re not merely a salesperson, you’re an expert – is worth ten times more than advertising.”