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DP Taylor
By: DP Taylor

Our Small Business Expert

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Marketing yourself is all about building trust as an expert and interacting with your customer base. Use these seven proven strategies to build your reputation and expand your clientele.

A lot of us find it tough to put ourselves out there. We naturally default to being self-deprecating or deflecting the attention to someone else when we're praised for our expertise in an area.

But when you're marketing yourself, it's not time to be shy. You need to sing your own praises from the rooftops, with a careful strategy in place, of course.

Whether you're talking about marketing or advertising, building yourself up is all about brand positioning. You've got to show your customer base that you're the first person they should go to with a problem in your market.

The question of how to market yourself online, and offline, is a tricky one. It’s hard to get it right, and it takes a lot of legwork on your part.

But if you put in the necessary effort to do it by implementing a few tried-and-true strategies, you’ll stand out from the pack, and that makes all the difference in the world of marketing.

7 best strategies for marketing yourself

  • Choose a niche
  • Become an expert
  • Educate
  • Build a social media following
  • Be inclusive
  • Look for speaking opportunities
  • Get to know people

Things to consider while creating a marketing plan for yourself

There’s a big difference between marketing yourself and marketing a business. You can always get rid of one business and start a new one with a totally new name and identity, but you will always have your face, your personality, and your reputation.

As a result, you have to be very thoughtful with how you go about marketing yourself. There are two extremely important things to keep in mind if you want to maximize yourself in building yourself up as a brand:

You’ve got to know your stuff

In order to be successful in marketing yourself, you absolutely have to know what you are talking about.

If you’re not an expert in your field, you have no hope of selling whatever product or service you have on offer to a client. You don’t have to know everything about a subject -- almost no one does -- but you should have a firm grasp on one aspect of, say, IT security.

For example, if you can help any small business come up with a simple solution to protect their IT infrastructure, that’s worthwhile expertise to have.

You’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there

If you’re shy, you better get over it, because you can’t market yourself if you aren’t willing to put yourself out there.

Fortunately, if you feel like you are an expert in your chosen field, that should help give you the confidence you need.

It won’t be enough to sit behind a computer and try to get people to buy into you as a brand; potential customers have got to see you out there being your company’s evangelist-in-chief.

7 best ways to market yourself

There are an endless number of ways to market yourself, but the seven we’ve chosen below cover the gamut of the kind of basics you need to be focusing on in order to build a multi-layered and effective marketing campaign to promote your brand.

1. Choose a niche

The first step in self-marketing is identifying who you are. For example, if you do IT security for a living, your niche cannot be IT security. That is way too broad and there are too many people who do it. You'll immediately get lost in the shuffle.

Instead, you could be someone who provides low-cost IT security to sole proprietor businesses who are total novices when it comes to the world of cyber.

When you choose a niche that is appropriately narrow like this, ideas immediately spring to mind on who you need to be marketing to and what your messaging needs to be. If it's just "IT security," you'd have a hard time figuring out where to even begin marketing yourself.

Identifying your niche is tricky, but there are a few simple steps you can take now to get the ball rolling:

  • Research your market to identify underserved areas
  • Create a few customer profiles describing the types of clients you will go for
  • Ask yourself if the market you’ve chosen is niche enough or if you should get even more specific
  • Ask if you may be going too niche, and focusing on a market so small that there aren’t enough customers to provide the revenue you need

Example of doing it wrong: Greg doesn't try to define his market and just advertises himself as a marketing firm. Months later, he's still struggling to get clients.

Example of doing it right: After extensive market research, Sally decides that she should position herself as a marketing agency that will put pet-based businesses on the map with a custom-tailored plan, and promises to beat any competitor's price. She immediately starts developing relationships with pet-based businesses in the area.

2. Become an expert

Trust is important when you're marketing yourself, and people trust experts, so it's important you find a way to position yourself as someone with knowledge of your niche. You already have that knowledge, of course, but people don't know that, so you've got to do some legwork to get your name out there. You've already worked hard to learn how to work for yourself, so see it through by doing your research and becoming as knowledgeable as you can.

If there's some certification you can get, that's a good first step. You should also reach out to the media. Use services like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to offer your expertise up to journalists looking to interview someone on the topic. You can then point to these articles as proof that you're seen as an expert.

Becoming an expert takes a good deal of effort, but you can do it if you carve out some time to do the following things:

  • Set aside an hour per day to read up on articles or market research about your industry
  • Have a couple conversations per week with clients in your field to ask for their perspectives
  • Reach out to organizations that run conferences or other events that feature speakers to find out how you can get on the list
  • Create a YouTube channel where you provide your expert opinions

Example of doing it wrong: Jean doesn’t do much research on what software tools construction managers need to be successful, and when a member of the media reaches out to her, her answers are unusable and she is not featured in the journalist’s article.

Example of doing it right: Tony spends hours researching construction management software tools and talks to some users about their preferences. When he speaks at a construction management conference, the audience is wowed by his knowledge and his in-depth responses to questions, raising his profile among his clientele.

3. Educate

You have knowledge that a lot of people find valuable, so put it out there. Content marketing is an incredibly valuable tool to build your brand, so take advantage of it by creating insightful and keyword-rich articles to post to your website.

Of course, you need to build a website first, and you should review several examples to get some ideas on what kind of format your website should take that will most appeal to your audience.

There are a lot of tools that can help you here. CMS software can help you develop a content strategy and execute it.

Email marketing software can help with creating a newsletter that your clients will find useful. Use email marketing best practices and some digital marketing tips to maximize your success.

And don't just post to your own website -- visit influential blogs in your niche or use sites like Quora to answer people's questions and interact with the community. By helping to educate your consumers, they increasingly see you as a trustworthy expert and they will get to know your business as well, and hopefully you'll be at the front of their minds when they need your services.

Content marketing sounds like a lot of effort learning a skill you’re not familiar with, but in fact it’s just about creating quality content that helps people, so take these steps first:

  • Read up on search engine optimization (SEO) best practices
  • Set aside a block of time each day, or at least each week, to produce content
  • Solicit questions from your audience that you can offer your expertise on in the form of a YouTube video or blog post
  • Ask around for guest-posting opportunities

Example doing it wrong: Sam doesn’t set aside any time to produce insightful content and has to pay top dollar for advertising because he doesn’t get any organic traffic.

Example of doing it right: The first thing Tina does each morning is hop onto Quora and answer a few questions from people looking for answers in her field. As a result, she begins to see an uptick in traffic to her website from people checking out her profile.

4. Build a social media following

Social media is challenging to master, but it's important, so you need to be developing accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.

One important thing to keep in mind is to know your audience: if most of your clients can be found on Facebook, spend more time there, and if it's LinkedIn, that's where you should devote most of your resources.

You can take the content you're creating for your website and share it on social media. You can also use these platforms to interact with clients and other companies in your niche to further develop a following and make a name for yourself.

Screenshot of Holly Daskal's twitter page showing her headshot, description, and recent posts.

Project management expert Lolly Daskal provides a good example of how to market yourself on Twitter. Image source: Author

A lot of people have no idea where to begin with social media, but the first steps aren’t that hard:

  • Determine how often you can post meaningful content on your social media accounts, and set up a schedule to do so
  • Interact with potential customers and other influencers in your market by asking questions or answering them on a daily basis
  • Edit your profile to send people straight to your landing page
  • Experiment with all social media platforms to see which ones work best for you

Example of doing it wrong: Wendy doesn’t see the point of social media and doesn’t even have any accounts, meaning she gets zero traffic from one of the most popular places for her customers to congregate.

Example of doing it right: Alyssa uses tools like Hootsuite to schedule blasts to Facebook and Twitter at regular intervals so people are always getting content from her, and she’s responding to other people’s social media posts. As a result, her social media audience increases every week, and therefore her potential client pool is expanding.

5. Be inclusive

Sometimes, it's best to let someone else do the talking, and build your brand in the process. By being inclusive and letting others join the conversation, you show that you are willing to listen to other people's input which increases their willingness to work with you or do business with your company.

Invite guest posters to write for your blog, or maybe even take over your social media account for the day. They'll add an additional perspective that your readers or followers will find valuable, and they'll increase the profile of your personal brand.

A lot of us have a control freak side that wants to be the only voice in our business, but if you want to grow, you need to take a few steps to start bringing more people under the umbrella:

  • Create a long list of people you would want to write a guest post for your site in an ideal world. Be ambitious, they can only say no
  • Commit to asking one person per day to write for your site on a topic of their choosing, although you can gently offer your own ideas
  • Add a forum to your site to build a community
  • Promptly respond to comments to your blog posts

Doing it wrong: Troy posts a lot of content, but never invites his peers to join him. He’s disappointed by the lack of engagement from influential people in his market.

Doing it right: Kim is using her social media strategy to reach out to influencers and see if they’d be willing to share their knowledge with a quick post, and she’s delighted to see the resulting guest posts bring in visitors who wouldn’t have otherwise known about her.

6. Look for speaking opportunities

One of the best ways to market yourself is to have a captive audience, so look for opportunities for public speaking.

Figure out where your customers gather, and get on the list. That could be conferences, trade shows, workshops, association meetings. Whatever the case, contact the organizer, point to the credentials you've established as an expert, and offer to speak.

When you do get a speaking engagement, remember at all times that you are marketing yourself, not selling a product. As a result, your goal should be building trust by sharing your knowledge with the audience.

You should, of course, plug your product or service at the end of your talk, but the focus of the talk should be on helping the audience learn more about a subject they care about.

This can be an intimidating step, especially for introverts, but you can do the following things to make it a bit easier:

  • Make a list of where your customers gather
  • Create a one-page information sheet detailing your expertise
  • Contact these events to ask about speaking engagements and provide the sheet to them
  • Start with small events and use these to bolster your credentials to speak at big conferences

Example of doing it wrong: Tim never physically puts himself in front of customers and struggles with name recognition as a result, making it harder to get guest posters or interact with new clients.

Example of doing it right: Bob is constantly scouring IT trade shows for new speaking opportunities to promote his new book on easy ways small businesses can boost IT security, and has found it to be an incredibly lucrative new pipeline to finding new customers.

7. Get to know people

The oldest marketing technique in the book is to network, and even in today's world of digital marketing, face-to-face contact is still the best way to market yourself.

People trust individuals they have met and spoken to more than someone they've only interacted with on social media or via email. It lets them know this is a real person they're dealing with and they're not just a number.

When you get those speaking engagements, take opportunities to talk to people afterward and exchange cards.

Identify important people in your industry and offer to buy them lunch to pick their brain; people love to share their expertise, after all. Go to where your customers gather and ask them about their wants and needs. All of these situations create tremendous opportunities to market yourself.

You’d be surprised at how big of an impact just a couple of extra face-to-face meetings per week can make, and here’s what you can do to experience that for yourself:

  • Determine how much time you should spend each week on face-to-face interaction
  • Take your list of trade shows and events and put as many in the calendar as you can
  • Create business cards and marketing materials you can hand out when you talk to people
  • Invite one person you admire or want to get to know to coffee each week

Example of doing it wrong: Mona spends all her time on content marketing and social media, but finds that it’s just not bringing in enough clients to get her business into profitability.

Example of doing it right: Brett supplements his online activities with visiting workshops and conferences to meet with potential clients face-to-face, and finds that it is a great way to create a pipeline of referrals.

It’s time to come up with your own strategy

It’s tricky figuring out how to promote yourself online or how to properly prioritize time-consuming, in-person networking and public speaking, but when you get it right, you will see a huge increase in your customer base.

Branding yourself isn’t just about asking the question of how to advertise yourself, it’s about positioning yourself as an expert, and there’s no shortcut to becoming one.

Take the next opportunity to sit down for an hour or two and really map out what kind of changes you need to make to implement the above strategies. Do you need to carve out time in the morning for more social media promotion? Do you need to set aside Thursdays for speaking engagements?

Once you’ve mapped out a plan, you’ll be well on your way to success.

Our Small Business Expert