Stefanie Sword-Williams on the Art of Self-Promotion and How to Master It
Hard work alone is a myth. It’s self-promotion that will help you claim your seat
I’ve been in the business of empowering women for some time now with the one key message: F*ck being humble - so much so, that I went on to write an entire book about the very topic. And in the meantime, I have made it my mission to disrupt the career industry and put an end to the self-deprecating tendencies of women and the diluted versions they present of themselves in the workplace and beyond.
Because there’s one thing I know for certain, and it’s that if women want to claim their seat in the world, they need to master the art of this very thing called self-promotion. And I’m on a mission to empower women to do exactly that. Why? Because enough is enough - it’s time we took control of our careers and learned that self-pride can be used as a force for good. So with that in mind, let’s get right into it. Let's claim our seats.
It’s the ability to self-promote that matters
Hard work is not always the answer. In my TEDx Talk I actually questioned the saying “if you work hard, you’ll go far”, because I think it’s a myth that so many people get stung by. People spend their days working hard and don’t reach the same milestones or access the same opportunities as others, and from my observations it’s the ones that are willing to self-promote that get there quicker.
In the UK in particular, I have noticed the resistance to self-promotion which I believe stems from a lack of knowledge on how to do it effectively and fearing judgement from others. It’s like anything we’re not taught how to do, we fear the unknown.
Don’t assume your boss is watching your every move
There were many scenarios at the start of my career where I was working extremely long hours, giving 110% and when the reviews came around I didn’t feel my contribution had been fairly recognised. So I realised quite early on, that if I didn’t vocalise my progress when it was happening, it can be very easy for your hard work to be overlooked.
Trust me when I tell you this is the biggest mistake you can make. From experience, your boss isn’t watching your every move and you’ll feel deflated when they don’t reward you accordingly. Once I realised this, I made it my focus to document everything I was doing and embrace self-promotion fully.
Relinquish the shame around self-promotion
Whenever I host training or events on self-promotion, I often remind people that self-promotion is just a form of storytelling. It’s about taking control of your personal narrative to reach the goals you want to achieve. I think an important thing to remember is that the act of self-promotion is not an arrogant thing to do.
So rather than looking at all the bad examples, identify the people and types of self-promotion that you most admire that you could emulate for yourself. A great quote I once heard on a podcast is "What’s more important? Your ego or your impact?" I come back to this every time I find myself worrying about self-promoting as it reminds me that advocating for myself could actually inspire others to do the same.
My practical advice to you
The ability to self-promote, and feel comfortable doing it, is not an overnight shift. And if you want me to be completely honest with you, it all starts with you and making those small, but transformative, shifts in your behaviour. So if you want some practical advice, follow these simple tips:
1. Be clear on why you’re doing it
An important place to start is to attach an end goal to your self-promotion so you keep persevering at times when you might want to give up. This will not only help with keeping you motivated but it will also help you to identify the key things you should be saying, the projects you might need to work on or the people you should be collaborating with to reach those goals.
2. Make it a habit
To stay on top of self-promotion, I would recommend scheduling weekly or monthly time slots to self-reflect on your successes so you don’t forget or overlook the great progress you’re making. To make this a habit, leave your work station or environment, try going for a coffee or sitting in your local park, so you protect this time solely on your personal reflection. Stop seeing this as an extra thing on your to-do list and integrate it into your schedule as a regular confidence building exercise.
3. Make it easy
The more preparation you can do, the better. So whether that’s pre-scheduling the next 10 Linkedin posts to go live or creating a pitch document to sell yourself to potential clients, get everything you need ready so you don’t back out. When I worked full time, I used to send my boss an email of “everything I’ve done this week that’s gone well, and everything I plan to do next week”. This worked really well as it didn’t require too much energy from me, but it acted as a digital paper trail that my boss could refer back to as a record of my progress.
4. Take pride in what you do
For some reason in the UK we’ve cultivated a culture where it’s cooler to be self-deprecating than to take pride in what we do (which is something I’m trying to change with F*ck Being Humble)! There’s no shame in being proud of yourself or your work, so rather than small talk about Love Island before a work meeting starts, be intentional about those moments and talk about a recent success. You don’t have to brag during every awkward silence, but don’t overlook those opportunities where you could promote yourself.
When the self-doubt creeps in, do this
There’s no one-size-fits-all, but a good starting point I recommend is that people identify why and when they feel self-doubt, and to explore where the emotion comes from. So often we avoid it or try to block it out but all it ends up doing is festering and limiting our overall growth. You can’t solve a problem without knowing where it starts.
So here’s a couple of other practical things you can do:
1. Keep track of all your wins (big and small)!
I have a photo album on my phone called ‘Proud Moments’ where I add photos, memories and feedback that I don’t want to forget. I then use this folder as a visual feed to remind myself of everything I’ve done to get to this point and it massively helps to silence my inner critic when new exciting opportunities come along.
2. Find your cheerleaders
I can’t tell you how important it is for self-doubters to build a hype crowd around them. You need two to three people you can speak to, ask questions, get support from, but most importantly, that you can celebrate your wins with unapologetically. These could be your best friends, peers, a mentor, family member or partner – just anyone who wants to see you succeed and will support you when you need reminding of how great you are.
3. Say yes before you think you’re ready
This might sound scary, but so often women will focus on all the reasons they can’t do something rather than all the reasons they can. In most cases, you will have the ability you’re just waiting until you think are "perfect" before you try (which is often a trap because you’ll always think you could be better)!
A good example of this was when I wrote my book, I had never been celebrated as a writer and I’d only been running F*ck Being Humble for 6 months when I was approached to write the book. I had a huge amounts of imposter syndrome as I didn’t feel “expert” enough for the opportunity, but saying yes opened my eyes to what I’m capable of and it’s shown me that you don’t have to be perfect before you put yourself out there!