Self-Promotion: Building Your Personal Brand Without Bragging

Have you ever had a meeting or conversation with someone and thought, “It’s always about them.” or, “They never asked me one question about how I was doing.”



Sounds familiar? We’ve all had negative experiences in our personal and professional lives with self-centered people who brag about themselves. Someone name dropping, or telling you how great they are, and never engaging others in the conversation is not self-promotion…. it’s BRAGGING. I know for myself, the art of self-promotion often doesn’t come naturally. Negative experiences I’ve had with people who “brag” can make me feel uncomfortable to promote myself.

There is a big difference between bragging and self-promotion. Self-promotion has more to do with active listening, asking questions, and talking less. It’s about coming from a place of, “How can I help?” vs. “What’s in it for me?” Especially for entrepreneurs, consultants, founders, and paid experts, the ability to actively listen well is actually a silent branding tactic that will help you “play big” and position you as a “go to” authority in your industry. The ability to self-promote and sell your expertise to people is critical to success.


Helen Dayen – Executive Business Coach

Recently, I met Helen Dayen, founder of The Dayen Group, at the launch of the NYC Working Mom’s Networking Meetup Group, which I co-founded. Helen is an executive business coach in New York City. She specializes in coaching successful professionals in industries such as financial services, tech, and consulting that are seeking greater success. During our conversation, she mentioned she had just given a presentation on self-promotion. I shared with her how some of my clients struggle with the same issue in trying to monetize their expertise. Helen gave me some expert advice and tips on self-promotion.

Like so many entrepreneurs, Helen’s journey and motivation to become an entrepreneur was triggered by life changing events. After 10 years as a sales professional on Wall Street, she realized a greater passion for transforming people’s careers and helping develop leaders more than selling bonds and thus made a choice to leave. The big catalyst for her to become an entrepreneur came when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Helen’s mom told her, “Life is too short, and if you’re not happy, you should do something else.” At the same time, a close friend transitioning from the sell side in hedge funds was struggling with the transition. In wanting to help her friend, Helen started doing research on “how hedge fund managers deal with stress”. Through her research, Helen discovered the whole world of executive business coaching, which combined her passions for business, career development, and human psychology.

For a year, Helen continued to work in finance and did executive coaching on the side to see if she liked it. It turned out she was very good at it. Just like most professionals and entrepreneurs, she had to work on developing and honing her self-promotion skills to market her executive coaching business services. What she discovered about promotion, unlike when she was selling on Wall Street where self-promotion felt like “work”, marketing her services didn’t feel hard because she was authentic and passionate about being an executive coach.

Helen and I have both noticed an epidemic of people who are afraid to self-promote. Her clients are smart, hard-working, but don’t let people know what accomplishments they have achieved or even let people know “what” gifts and services they can provide. This leads to missed opportunities for new clients, a promotions, or recognition.

Most people think self-promotion is about walking into someone’s office bragging about how great you are. Helen disagrees 100% with this notion. You have to not just talk, but show. People have to know what you want, but it’s also important to gain trust, establishing a relationship where you can add value to what matter most for the other person. For example, a senior financial executive came to Helen for coaching. Even though this person had a great new position with an asset management company, she did not see it as a success. What the client realized was she wanted more client facing work than focusing on internal company financials. The game plan was to determine a goal the Chief Marketing Officer wanted accomplished, but didn’t have the time to do. Helen’s client started by asking questions to figure out what mattered to the CMO. The result of listening was overtime opportunities where she demonstrated her abilities, while gaining the trust and confidence of her CMO. Recognizing her added value, he asked her to be on direct calls with clients. The result, she now reports directly to the CMO, instead of the Chief Financial Officer, and is a valued member of the marketing team.

Here are some tips from Helen Dayen on how to be more effective at self-promotion:

1) Eliminate Negative Self-Talk. You cannot self-promote if you don’t believe in your own value. Negative self-talk is that voice in your head, self-doubt that you are not good enough. She has found most of that internal dialogue is based on emotion instead of facts. You need to identify what is the trigger that starts the negative self-talk and challenge those negative thoughts.

2) Discover What Matters to Others. When self-promoting and talking about what you do, take out the “I” and replace it with “You”, which is far more powerful! Come from a place of wanting to help. Ask yourself, “What does this other person care about, what worries them? Connect your expertise, connections, or skills as a solution to their problems. It is essential to figure out what matters to people to build trust and show how you can add value.

3) Identify What You Want. Before starting to self-promote, identify what you want to achieve. Make sure you have a clear and achievable vision for self-promotion success.

4) Build A Connection. Try to get to know people on a deeper emotional level by asking questions and validating their feelings. Tailor responses to what matters most to the other person, using their language. Find specific examples of how you helped with a similar problem or situation. Show you understand their struggles and frustrations, and build a relationship based on respect and trust.

5) Don’t Downplay Self-Accomplishments. Knowledge is power. Self-promoting can actually help others. When you hold information back assuming that it would be of no value to others, you are missing out on opportunities. Are you not sharing your accomplishments because you can’t see a direct link to your audience? Learn what motivates the individuals you are interacting with, and think about how you can connect their needs to your strengths.

Next time you are meeting with a prospective client, ask some of these questions, and think about how their responses can connect with your strengths:

  • “What do you not have time for?” Time is a precious resource. We cannot create more time and will only delegate time to people and companies we trust.
  • What has been a stumbling block?
  • What have you accomplished, and what has been a challenge this year or month?

Questions: Are you bragging or self-promoting? What have you found works when self-promoting your expertise?  Share your answers on LinkedIn or Twitter.

About Andria Younger

Andria Younger is a personal brand strategist and marketing consultant in New York City and ranked in LinkedIn’s Top 25 for personal branding. Follow Andria on Twitter or check out Andria’s personal branding blog at