For seven years, I marketed my marketing services without using the word ‘marketing’. My audience hated that word.

Instead, I talked around the topic, using words such as “communicating” and phrases like “giving value”, and “giving away your gold”.

Truth is, nobody likes marketing except marketers. My audience would far rather just do the work than talk about it.

It’s common for business owners to find the process of marketing themselves angst-ridden.

I’ve had numerous business owners confess that, despite having a background in marketing or Public Relations, despite luminous corporate careers promoting big brands, they often find marketing their micro-businesses debilitating.

So why does marketing provoke so much self-consciousness? How widespread is this? And how do we learn to work with our ego, in order to be seen, heard – and paid?

Why so self-conscious?

The purpose of marketing is to attract attention. And for those who’ve been brought up to never draw attention to oneself, marketing your own business brings an extra layer of complexity.

“You think, “I’m going to be annoying, people are going think I’m such a burden!’” says Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist and author of How to Be Yourself, a book about overcoming social anxiety.

The remedy, ironically, is to stop thinking about yourself so much.

Empathy is in the eye of the beholder

The twin essential elements of effective marketing are empathy and creativity. Without empathy in our marketing, we’re the obnoxious loudmouth at the dinner party with who everyone tries not to be seated.

And yet, if we tilt too much into empathising with our ideal clients, we risk losing ourselves and becoming co-dependent. We may even start to doubt our ability to charge money for our services.

Ideally, empathetic marketing understands our specific ideal client group better than they understand themselves. And why not? If you’ve been working for several years with a particular ‘type’ of person in a specific circumstance, you notice particular patterns of beliefs, attitudes, perspectives and behaviours. You see details about your clients that they may overlook.

As an expert, you’re going to understand how their beliefs, attitudes, perspectives and behaviours are contributing towards their circumstances, and your methods will hold the key to the transformation they seek.

They’re coming to us because they can’t – or don’t want to – do this transformation themselves.

Accurately and vividly describing their particular situation is often enough to gain their trust – without you needing to list your qualifications, detail your methodology, or share testimonials or accolades. This is less about you and more about them – and a happy byproduct of taking this approach is it forces you to be less self-conscious and more aware of others.

Leave your ego at the door

One of the driving factors of self-consciousness is a desire to please and do excellent work. To want to be praised or liked by others is oftentimes mocked, but this drive is an innately human thing – we are pack animals who want approval from our peers. Without this, we’d be sociopaths.

And while we may know intellectually that it’s impossible to please everyone, it’s still hard to turn the other cheek to criticism, whether perceived or imagined.

A useful reframing of this is the necessity of criticism to excellence. Says Paul Arden, author of It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, “If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer.”

When we’re first starting a business, or trying something new, we oftentimes trial it with friends and family, seeking feedback with which to improve. But friends and family aren’t our target market and they aren’t likely to be honest with us. In fact, talking with friends and family about a nascent business idea can become emotionally volatile as well as misleading.

Instead, try on a new perspective: that everything we do in business is a work-in-progress being tested in real-time, by paying clients. This works to shift our attitude, not only towards appreciating the necessity of criticism, but also of launching, even before we feel something is ‘ready’.

In business, we’re creating for others, not just for the joy of creating. We need feedback from those specific others – our target market and ideal clients – so that we can iterate and improve.

More of you and less of you

What you put out into the wider world will attract a very specific type of person. Your marketing needs to be personally and powerfully relevant to your ideal clients.

They need to see themselves reflected in it – And they can’t do that if you’re constantly talking about yourself. Business owners who put themselves on a pedestal in their marketing tend to attract sycophants who are wanting to emulate the owner.

Yet – paradoxically – when I talk about “building your professional reputation”, I mean talking about your distinct and wonderful self. I’m talking about turning up the volume on your beliefs, values, and weird and wacky life experiences.

I’m talking about drawing connections for people between your life experience and how it informs the work you do (even when this seems obscure). And rendering your competitors irrelevant by becoming incomparable.

Paradoxically, the first step to get more comfortable talking about yourself is to stop worrying about yourself so much.

Key ways to be less self-conscious in marketing

  • Create some separation between yourself your work. On display is not your private, inner self (that only your inner sanctum see) – it’s your work.
  • Get out of your head by becoming keenly curious about other people. Ask more questions and talk less. Become obsessed with the psychology of your ideal clients.
  • People are interested in people. If people ask about you, it’s simply because they’re human, not because they’re seeking to later critique you behind your back.
  • Practise having awkward conversations by yourself in the shower until you sound natural.
  • Everybody in business has bad experiences with clients. Be smart in minimising this, but be careful of defensive marketing. Your marketing should proactively attract the particular type of ideal client you’re seeking, not defensively speak through the echos of nightmare clients.
  • Ask for criticism. Seek to understand why clients’ expectations haven’t been met so that you can do a better job in future. You’ll feel awkward – but nobody has died of awkwardness.
  • Practise taking compliments: look people in the eye and smile while they compliment you.
  • If you’re getting an indifferent response, remember that it’s other people who are missing out on you. You’re hot stuff. Too bad for them. Rock on.

Ready to challenge your ego in marketing your business? Start with our bite-sized Say Something Worth Listening To online class, or our full-meal Blogging for Business course.