Bragging is part of your work

The first principle of marketing is getting noticed

“When you come to bat in a baseball game the first principle is to hit the ball,” Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, once wrote.

“What happens after you hit the ball is out of your control. Where the ball happens to land and what the defense does is secondary. First you have to hit the ball. If you can't hit the ball the rest is irrelevant.”

“In advertising”—and I would add, in all of marketing—“there is also a first principle.”

“To attract someone’s attention.”

No matter how great our product or service is, no matter how good our work might be, if people don’t know about it, they won’t buy it.

Business owners can struggle with their marketing, with getting their name out, and with talking about their accomplishments and the quality of their work. Especially solo entrepreneurs or service providers who feel even more personally connected to their company.

Marketing can feel like bragging, and bragging feels bad.

“Bragging is hard,” Meredith Fineman says in her book Brag Better, “because staying quiet it easy.”

Talking about ourselves, our work, and our business is difficult, and it’s not always fun.

But the first principle of marketing is that people have to know what you do before they can buy from you.

“Somewhere along the line, we decided that bragging isn't included in the category called ‘work’,” Fineman writes.

We want to keep our heads down and focus on getting better and better at serving our current customers. And while that’s necessary, it’s simply insufficient.

“Guess what,” Fineman continues, “bragging is part of your work.

What we typically call “work”—the stuff we make, design, create, sell, or develop—is just a part of our job and responsibility as business owners.

Telling people about it, how we do it, and why it matters is just as important— and absolutely vital if we want to keep doing the work we love.

The good news is that promoting ourselves and our business doesn’t have to feel weird or look tacky.

You’re not trying to convince anyone of anything—you’re trying to get people who would love to work with you to know that they can.

As David Maister wrote, “To be professional, we must point out possibilities. Some call that selling. We call it contributing ideas.”

Self-promotion can be as simple as contributing ideas and pointing out possibilities to people who have a struggle that we’re well suited to help them overcome.

When we approach it that way, good marketing is about “giving the client a taste of what it feels like to work together.”

What that looks like will differ from business to business, but it might include showing what goes into making your product—so people can see the quality and the care.

Or it might mean writing about your perspective on your industry—so you attract customers who are drawn to your style and approach.

Or it may mean talking more about your broader set of experiences and accomplishments in new business conversations—so potential clients know the full depth of what you can offer them.

Whatever we choose, we have to actually do it. We have to put ourselves out into the world, and we have to help the right people find the right business for them—ours.

While our work may speak for itself, we need to help people hear it.

First things first, we’ve got to hit the ball.


I’ve helped business owners and marketing leaders around the world develop strategies that make their marketing efforts easier, more effective, and more fun. If you’d like to work together, I’d love to chat: joel@familyknife.com