October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and as a gift to themselves, I want female small business owners and entrepreneurs to give themselves a gift: greater confidence. I want you to give yourself more credit for your accomplishments and learn a critical business skill. I want you to learn how to toot your own horn.
Years ago, my friend Tammy was a human resources consultant. Companies hired her to screen job applicants for them. She’d run the help wanted ads, review resumes, interview some applicants and present a final selection to her client. After many years of experience, Tammy recognized the pattern. “If help wanted ad lists 10 qualifications for a job, a man will apply if he possesses even one. A woman won’t apply if she’s missing even one.”
Each time I repeat this story to business owners, everyone agrees it’s true, whether they’re male or female. In other words, women often do not give themselves the credit they deserve. They judge themselves harsher than is often necessary. They feel they have to be perfect to be competitive.
Now, some of this is based on the reality that women often have to be better than men to be judged equally. But some comes from women not knowing how to recognize and promote themselves. Women are slow to “toot their own horn.” But it’s a business skill that female entrepreneurs must master.
Women have been taught it’s unladylike to brag. A woman is often seen as cocky and unlikeable if she is successful, especially if she appears aware and proud of her own success. And women are often uncomfortable with self-promotion. So there’s a skill to learning how to promote yourself without being off-putting, on learning how to make the uncomfortable comfortable.
Some ways to toot your own horn:
Make promoting and supporting yourself a priority
Working women typically put others first: their clients, employees, family, friends. But you need to commit to the fact that promoting and supporting you as a capable, successful entrepreneur is a business priority.
Hire a professional
It’s a whole lot easier, and expected, for your public relations agent, your marketing director, or your salesperson to boast of your skills and successes than to do it yourself.
Bring a “bragging buddy”
If you don’t have a professional, make friends with another woman business owner and become “bragging buddies.” Bring each other to networking events, or perhaps even to sales calls, and have them sing your praises.
Build up your website and LinkedIn profiles
It’s a whole lot easier to list your full range of accomplishments on your website and on LinkedIn than in person, and prospects expect to see your past accomplishments and expertise listed there.
Find ways to work past accomplishments into your casual conversations with prospects or at networking events. Practice this so it’s not so awkward.
Apply for awards, lots of them
Most industry associations, publications, and community entrepreneur groups present a number of award opportunities. Apply for lots of them and when you win some (and you will) list those awards on your website and LinkedIn profile, perhaps even print them on your business card.
Convert yourself into a product
It’s a whole lot more comfortable to sing the praises of your product than of your person. For example, a lawyer offering an “estate package” can more easily list the advantages of that package than she can tout her own outstanding skills as a lawyer. (But work the fact that you’re an expert in estate law into the conversation…)
Stop using the word “just”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a woman business owner say something like: “I just have 10 employees.” “I’ve just been in business five years.” Don’t downgrade your accomplishments.
Support other successful women
Women need role models. Let’s make it more comfortable for all women to highlight their successes by being supportive, rather than critical, of women who are forthright about their accomplishments.
Support politicians and companies that support women
Women need confidence, but they also need child care, maternity leave, good pay, good health care, non-discrimination laws. Help women gain the skills and earn the successes by supporting and voting for those who support policies and programs that enable women to succeed.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on October 11, 2017