A couple of years ago I decided to publicly start sharing what I learn along my entrepreneurial journey with building Untrite and Oishya, hoping this may inspire others to start a project they’ve been thinking about, for a long time. I believe our world needs more doers and I want to do my part to make it easier and less lonelier for others.
Yet, almost every time I worry if a thing I’m about to post doesn’t unintentionally come off as too braggy or salesy.
Talking about your ups and lows, showing vulnerability and self-promotion can be uncomfortable for most of us. Yet, whether you’re just establishing a name for yourself or representing a business, sharing your learnings while controlling the narrative, is the one of the best time investments you can make. Just look at Richard Branson, Ashton Kutcher or Ryan Reynolds’s self-starring ads (and his non-acting business activities).
Sharing your thoughts in public makes you stand out from the crowd. But at the same time, you don’t want to alienate your colleagues and potential clients by sounding arrogant and ridiculous. People can spot braggarts from miles away, just like they can differentiate a sales pitch from a genuine, helpful message. We want to hear from someone who is relatable to us, even if on a slightly elevated level. Similarity breeds liking. And for this reason, in whatever you share, you must be humble and easy to approach.
Think of all the great leaders you admire. While they are undoubtedly originals with great qualities, you also see parts of yourself in them — as do millions of others. Joe Rogan or Lex Friedman are like those cool, next-door neighbours. They seem to be nice, non judgemental people. On their podcasts they are not trying to be funny at the expense of the subject. People love them because, despite all this visible success, they stay humble. In this way, they are like a mirror. If they can do it, so can I – sort of type. If they were so eccentric, that people couldn’t relate to them, then people wouldn’t want to be around them.
Be a learner, kaizen style
I bet you’re also turned off by people who proclaim themselves an “expert in X”. I don’t want to hear from people who think they know everything there is to know about a topic. I want to hear from those, who are still learning by gathering knowledge and welcoming different perspectives. And then sharing what they’ve learned with others.
Remember, that even if you’re just at the beginning of your journey, there are lessons you can share. People want to be helpful, so if you share about the challenges you’re facing, there will be someone who will offer advice or connect with those, who overcame a similar problem. Share the things you’ve tried that haven’t worked as well as those that have. Failure is a better teacher, in the end and we appreciate others who openly admit that they don’t know it all.
Once upon a time…
When you get the opportunity to talk about your skills, achievements and qualifications, don’t just rattle them off as if it’s a shopping list.
Tell a story.
Not only will it seem more natural, it will also put your achievements in context. Your audience will feel a connection rather than just an admiration.
And while in the conversation, don’t try to manipulate the narrative just, so you can tell your story. Be a listener first, and chip in your story, when invited to do so. Self-promotion works best when it’s natural and unforced; you want to contribute to the conversation organically, not sabotage the spotlight.
You’ll also want to ensure that those stories are relevant. If you’re writing with an intention of selling, you need to understand a) what’s your buyer persona b) what does he care about / what would make their life easier c) if this is the right place where they hang out.
We often don’t know how to put ourselves in the role of the reader. We operate on a ‘content author’ model. We generate content and upload it online. We rely on the magic power of the algorithm to match us with those who care, but that rarely works.
Other people want to hear the hero story.
No, you’re not the hero – your reader is. And your task is to help the hero overcome the villain (an obstacle) by guiding them. All bestseller books, movies, inspiring Ted talks and everything in between follow the same template; Batman vs Penguin (with Robin is a guide), Neo in Matrix (with Oracle and Morpheus as guides) and so on…
People seek stories that are either entertaining, inspiring or educational. You don’t need to hit all three at once, but it’s important that a story you’re sharing is written with your audience in mind.
Nicolas Cole, one of the most read journalist (100m+views, ex-Quora top writer) says that when he wrote about niche topics, viewership was mediocre. But when he wrote about universal life lessons, his writing went viral.
It is only through revealing our true selves that we break through superficial small talk and make real connections with people, form genuine friendships, and deepen our relationships. The most memorable thing about you is most likely not a professional achievement – it might be something from your personal life. Sometimes a mix of both. In my case, I can see how people’s interest suddenly rises when I tell them that I also sell Japanese knives. The work we do at Untrite utilising artificial intelligence for service intelligence in the UK police is no less important or exciting for me, but it’s a different story when I add to the context the fact, that on the side, I also deal with knives.
People want to know your ‘why’ behind the things you’re doing. Why a girl in tech started Japanese knives business, you ask? My partner once took me to a Harvey Nichols where he showed me a knife made of a damascus steel. I have never seen such a beautiful knife before, and because Christmas was around the corner, I decided to get my boyfriend such knife. But the £500+ price tag was scaring me a off, so I got creative. I found a Japanese blacksmith on the Internet who hammered me a similar knife, for much cheaper. It also happened that my school friend was looking for a business idea and I while I loved being in tech, I was missing on working with something tangible. We connected the dots, started importing those knives, launched an online store and the rest is a history. Now I’m a tech girl with lots of Japanese knives and now you know my why.
It was never about the money (which of course is nice and helps you realise your creative plans). It was about solving my problem first, and soon finding out that lots of other people have a similar problem to me.
Nobody wants to hear from people driven and boasting about their financial success. Sure, it helps to validate the value you’re bringing (=people buy from you), but it won’t create you advocates. We want to feel part of something bigger. A mission.
That’s why there are so many successful, traditional businesses like socks or toilet paper manufacturers which differentiate by having a bigger mission attached (donating part of the profits to combating climate change or advocating for diversity). Whether it’s genuine or just for the PR purposes may be questionable, but it’s definitely a huge factor contributing to a company success and founders’ likability.
Why so serious?
One way to make yourself more relatable is through self-deprecating humour. Comedians and TV presenters are brilliant in this. If you aren’t afraid to make fun of yourself, it projects confidence and relatability — while still providing that all important informational and entertainment value that makes you stand out.
People are also more forgiving when you do screw up, because they know a more human side of you.
Don’t compare yourself to others
The only time you should ever compare yourself to someone else is to point out why they are better than you, and what you’ve learned from them. Otherwise, you’ll be seen only as someone who puts other people down to make yourself look superior and that can seriously affect your reputation. We like the win-win stories, so your success doesn’t need to have anyone else failing.
Instead, compare yourself to yourself from the past. Show them how your lessons learned impacted your life or those around you. People like to see other people succeed. It makes them feel motivated to change their life too. Using these before-and-after stories is a great way to show you have succeeded.
Let people interpret the facts for themselves
What makes someone an expert? And who decides whether someone is one or not? Often it’s numbers, because facts are much less open to interpretation. So rather than claiming to be an expert on something, tell a story attaching numbers to it. And then let people make up their own minds about you. That’s why case studies with ROI calculations are the best selling tools for any enterprise business.
It’s never only you
You’ve probably achieved some great things over the years. And while you may have accomplished a lot of these achievements thanks to your hard work, our success is rarely down to us only. There is no such thing as a self-made man. You should acknowledge those who gave you that help.
I still remember how loud I shouted in relief, when the first enterprise client decided to run a PoC with Untrite. Or, a month after launching Oishya store (at that time it was called Japana), we saw a first order coming in. It was for 430 GBP, but it felt like if I won a million dollar lottery. I felt an incredible gratitude to those people who chose us over other, well-established alternatives.
I’ll be forever grateful to my first clients who put trust, and all our mentors who keep guiding us in becoming a better listener and building with the end client’s needs in mind. You’re part of my journey to self-realisation and I thank you for the bottom of my heart. You’ll be surely invited to my wedding (when that happens :)) and all special celebrations. You know who you are.
That’s why I truly believe in paying it forward and I will do what I can to help others, especially those who are earlier on the entrepreneurial journey and are just learning the strings.
Company founders get most awards and visibility, but it’s never down to their effort only. When I used to run NGO Girls in Tech London, people often were complimenting me for the events and other initiatives we were organising, but most of the work was actually done by my amazing team. Without them none of those events would have happened.
Sure, you need those initiators and by design those are the founders. It’s easy to see these faces of the movement, but it’s almost never possible without people who work behind the scenes. Make a point of thanking them publicly for all their hard work, and let people know who most of the credit should be going to.
It’s also important to remember that humility isn’t the same as self-deprecation. Downplaying your skills may be a good self-promotion strategy in a number of countries, especially in Asia. But in the U.S., you risk looking either incompetent or disingenuous and patronising. Instead, be humble, but be real.
Let your work speak for itself
We all want to feel part of something bigger than us, so whenever you hope to inspire others to take action, whether to apply to your company, buy from you or simply connect, talk about mission you’re on. About the problems you’re trying to solve and how your solutions improve other people daily lives.