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Selling Yourself Is Not Optional


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Last week I met “Kathy” a brilliant thinker and compelling speaker wrestling with where to take her still-young business. When she first left her big kahuna job to start her consulting firm, she was a whirling dervish—speaking (for free) on every industry panel she could talk her way onto, intent on setting herself up for lucrative consulting assignments.

The feedback from her speeches was always stellar—her comments were tweeted and retweeted, her sessions were highly ranked and she was consistently invited to present again (and even scored a few referrals to speak at other events).

And yet, after six months, not even a nibble to discuss consulting, much less an actual assignment. She KNEW she nailed her content and was highly respected in the industry. She couldn’t understand why her phone wasn’t ringing.

Determined to change this, she found herself a damned good speaking coach. The verdict? Kathy was so focused on creating compelling content that she forgot to sell herself along with it.

So she refined her message—infusing her industry remarks with subtle sales cues and punching up her speeches with a touch of personal storytelling. Her new presentations weren’t just a collection of industry trends, but about taking a journey with her audience. She showed them what it would feel like to work with her—she turned up the emotional volume.

Literally overnight, consulting requests began trickling in. She sat back in awe at the sudden transformation until it clicked: selling yourself is not optional.

Kathy isn’t alone. Few of us went into business to be salespeople—it’s the work we love. We want to do as much of it (with appreciative clients) as we possibly can.

The not-so-dirty-little-secret is that selling yourself is essential if you want to pick and choose the work you love to do. Sometimes this is hard for experts in particular to wrap their minds around. “What do you mean I have to sell myself? My work speaks for me.”

Uh, not really.

Unless you’re already the nationally recognized brain surgeon of your specialty, you still have to put some effort into selling yourself.

We’re not talking the obnoxious, fast-talking sales caricature, but modern, professional selling. Selling where you are exquisitely clear on your value and use that knowledge to pinpoint your audience and continually delight them.

You build relationships by giving first and taking the long view with your future clients and buyers. You sell through clarity, confidence and integrity; and sometimes a little courage when the very act of selling yourself feels risky and vulnerable.

We all have a choice. We can whine about the less talented who have built bigger platforms by taking risks we haven’t embraced. Or we can do a Kathy and make selling a normal part of our day.

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