How to promote your work without feeling sleazy

Ok, before we get started, let me just say that I know self-promotion isn't just an issue for women. Men struggle with it too. I get that. 

But the fact is, women still face greater challenges than men when it comes to parity in the workplace and really, in general. Women are still paid less than men for the same work and are less likely to be promoted to leadership positions.

I’ve written before about how the words women use affect the way they’re seen. This is a topic I care deeply about, which is why I won’t shut up about it. So while everyone should read this (and, let's be honest, every other word I write...) this one's for the ladies

How to promote your work without feeling sleazy

1. Your work can't speak for itself

I was speaking with a client the other day about communications strategy and using social media to promote her work. I was explaining the importance of getting your work out there and making yourself heard, when she said something that makes me ragey every time I hear it.

“I don’t want to promote myself like that. My work should speak for itself.

Seriously, I died a little inside. I hear this so much, and the reason it makes me want to punch things is that 9 times out of 10, it’s a woman saying it. 

And what bothers me even more is that it’s completely unrealistic.

Because the fact is, no matter how good your work is, it can't "speak for itself" if no one's listening.

I realized this when I worked in the corporate world. I saw hideously incompetent people get promoted, while smart, kind, hard workers got ignored. 

First that angered me. Then it depressed me. Then it intrigued me. 

How were people with no idea what they were doing getting recognized while the truly talented people were passed over? As I paid more attention, it became obvious: those who were rewarded all had one thing in common, and it wasn’t talent. 

It was the ability to make themselves seen. The ability to promote their work. The ability to sell themselves.

And I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it before:

“I’m not going to bullshit my way to the top.”
“I shouldn’t have to sell myself to get ahead.”
And of course, “I shouldn’t have to promote myself- my work should speak for itself.

And yes, your work should speak for itself. In an ideal world, we would all be rewarded on merit alone and only nice, good, hard-working people would get ahead. And I'd also have longer legs and get skinnier every time I ate pasta.

But, as you well know, that’s not the world we live in. And like it or not, your work doesn’t speak for itself.

2. You need to be heard to be listened to

That’s not to say that your work isn’t good. If you’re reading this blog, you're obviously a smart, interesting, wonderful person with impeccable taste.


But the sad fact is that your work competes with so much other noise that unless you help it out, it has no chance of being seen. 

Because let’s face it: people are busy. And, to be honest, they’re also pretty selfish. They don’t mean to be, but the reality is that they’re too busy thinking about themselves and worrying about their own shit to care about what you’re doing.

If you want people to care about your work, you need to give them a reason to care.

That’s why your work needs your help. It can speak all you want, but if no one’s listening, you’re not going to get very far. 

3. Selling your work is helpful for others

Listen, I’m not advocating becoming a scammy used car salesman. You don’t need to bullshit or try to sell bad work-- that's not what we're going for here. 

But there’s no shame in helping others see the value in what you do.

You’re not selling a lie, you’re helping them see the truth. By promoting your good work to the people who need to see it the most, you’re actually doing them a favor. You’re helping them see something they need to see. 

You’re giving them a gift.

Think about that the next time you stop yourself from being self-promotional because “your work should speak for itself.” 

If you truly believe in the value of what you do, you should share it far and wide, and let as many people as possible benefit from it. Having integrity doesn't mean keeping your value to yourself.

True integrity is creating something of quality and then bringing it to those who need it most. 

So, absolutely, make sure your work is good enough that it can speak for itself. And then give it a megaphone.