The elites of Silicon Valley might be all about the confident elevator pitch, but closer to home Aussie entrepreneurs are well aware of the pitfalls of tall poppy syndrome.
Academics and company founders often espouse the values of humility in business, but that can sit at odds to the very real need for early stage businesses to shamelessly promote themselves simply to create awareness and a client user base.
So in the murky world of self-promotion, how can you put yourself forward without putting others off?
We asked company founders to explain how they overcome the ick factor — and why they promote themselves in the first place.
Keep it simple and authentic
Co-founder and chief executive of real estate startup ActivePipe, Ashley Farrugia, says his approach to self promotion isn’t traditional.
“I live in jeans and a tee and despite my PR team’s advice; I don’t intend to change that,” he says, while also acknowledging this can be a winner when persuading others to hop on board with your idea.
“My approach to self-promotion is no bullshit. It isn’t about formalities, it’s about a good product, a good team and good transactions.”
Farrugia says knowing himself and the value of his company is all he’s really needed to be able to put himself in front of potential connections, and says the value of having that knowledge is a clear message you can get across to clients.
“Businesses like this, it means they can be confident they are buying a quality product from a reputable company,” he says.
The team at Melbourne cloud training startup A Cloud Guru have a similar perspective. Co-founder Ryan Kroonenberg says as engineers, the company founders have discovered it’s much easier to show passion for the problem your company solves than to get bogged down in traditional sales pitches.
“I’ve found if I’m proud to stand behind the courses I’ve produced, and am authentic in sharing my excitement (and struggles) with the industry, then it can be less about self-promotion, and more about a community solving problems together,” he explains.
“It’s less about self-promotion, and more about sharing what excites you with the world.”
Bite the bullet
Knowing who you are is one thing; wanting to be front-and-centre is something else entirely.
For Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris, the journey to selling hrself has come down to one question: “Do you want to win, or not?”
Speaking at SmartCompany’s SmartWomen event last week, Morris reflected on life in an e-commerce sector dominated by men, and how she thinks about standing out in that space.
Once she started framing things in terms of the importance of bringing the fight to the multinational beauty chains that are her competitors, the choice to show herself as the face of the brand was easier to make.
“I’m up against huge corporations that are relatively faceless. I think people like a face — why shouldn’t they know who is behind a business?” she says.
From sitting on advice panels to putting Adore Beauty up for awards, Morris says self-promotion has become about using any tools at her disposal to take on the competition.
“I don’t have their marketing budgets, so we just have to use whatever we have,” she says.
Just for Pets owner Karen Justice agrees the only way to promote your brand is to start where the opportunities are, whether you’re ready or not.
Also speaking on the SmartWomen panel, Justice reflected that while she was always hesitant to enter awards and prizes, when her company first won awards in a national marketing competition, the boost to the brand was obvious.
“I’m uncomfortable with self-promotion, so I think it’s actually brand awareness,” Justice says.
“Put yourself out there — you’ve got nothing to lose.”
It’s not all about you
Talking yourself up might not come naturally, but there’s power in expanding your focus beyond your own achievements, says b.box for kids co-founder Dannielle Michaels.
Speaking at SmartWomen last week, Michaels said the growth of her $5.7 million baby products business might have started as a two-person operation, but the company quickly gathered other staff who also deserved to be recognised.
“When Monique and I started [the business], it was just the two of us,” she says.
“But as the team grew, well, I think it’s important for the team to be part of your journey and your success.”
This realisation led the b.box team to focus more on putting the company forward for attention, and Michaels says involvement in events like the Smart50 Awards also allow the whole team to be celebrated.
“I think it’s empowering and puts your brand and business out there,” she says.
In a broader context, Morris says showing up to events and discussing business and her industry is also about more than the business itself.
“It’s not just about promoting you — it is a conversation,” she explains.
If you’re just starting out and don’t have a mammoth marketing budget to tackle, one of the key resources you have available is your own self and your time, Kate Morris says.
“And it’s definitely been worth putting in the time for me,” she says.