When you approach self-promotion with a dating mindset, you get surprising results.

Self-promotion can be scary. In fact, I’ve heard that “self” and “promotion” are the two most hated words in the creative business. But there is a totally different approach to promotion that can lead to surprising results.

When you think of the word “promotion,” what comes to mind? For most creative people, promotion equals bragging, and bragging, according to what we learned growing up, isn’t nice. In fact, bragging activates a powerful emotion we don’t want to feel when we want to grow our business: shame. We feel shameful around promoting ourselves because we associate promotion with bragging.

I don’t like to listen to people who brag about themselves. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re the people that when you meet them for the first time, list their accomplishments, achievements and wins to try to impress you. In fact, they seem to be “shameless” when bragging about themselves. And that’s what we pick up on: The shame that’s inside of us that stops us from promoting ourselves at all.

So we grow up believing that we should be modest. Now, modesty is an important virtue but being too modest will prevent you from getting noticed. There’s a difference between being modest and feeling ashamed. If you believe that self-promotion and marketing is bragging, and if bragging makes you feel shameful, you’ll never do it. You’ll fall into the trap of procrastination, guilt and fear. And that’s no way to grow a business. The ultimate purpose of self-promotion and marketing is to bring love into your business and to keep the love flowing. When you approach your work this way, good clients will follow and creativity and money will flow naturally.

Take the “self” out of self-promotion and what do you have left? Promotion. And what is promotion? Promotion comes from the word “promo” which also means “to preview.” Trailers for movies are also known as “promo clips.” They show us, in a short limited time (and for no charge), what the longer movie experience is going to be like. They try to capture our interest, grab our emotion and inspire us to think, “I want to see this movie!” Your promo piece needs to do just that. When it becomes a preview of what it’s like to work with you, it will attract the kind of client who is looking for that experience with a design firm.

In addition to acting as a preview, your promo piece is also an attraction piece—a sample of your work that will hopefully bring love into your business. That love is what we all seek in a client. We’re searching for a person who respects us, appreciates us and gives us the freedom to create in ways that will lead them to achieving their goals. That can never happen unless love exists in your client relationship. 

If you take the “self” out of the equation, what you’re left with is an expression of an idea. That idea is what you’re sending out in the world. An idea that serves your client and helps them see how you think.

A smart client who is looking for design and marketing support will notice how they’re being marketed to. If you market yourself well, with a creative ‘promo,’ it will demonstrate that you walk the talk. So if you want clients who value smart marketing and creative promotion, then show them how good you are by being on top of your own. 

Why marketing is like dating

Marketing is a lot like the courting process in dating: You’re trying to get the attention of someone who looks attractive to you, hoping they'll pay attention and see how amazing you are. You want them to be so impressed that they’ll feel like fools if they don’t call you because they’d miss out on a great opportunity.

What you’re looking for in both situations is a healthy, loving commitment in which you can create value from being together. And just like in dating, your relationship moves through three different stages to ensure you end up with the right person:

Stage One: Courting (getting noticed)
Stage two: Dating (being in conversation)
Stage three:
Commitment (keeping the flame alive)

Each stage leads to the next and must be actively 
engaged to keep the love flowing. And each stage requires a different strategy—your unique strategy that is true to who you are. If you try to be someone else or do the same thing others are doing, you’ll never stand out or be attractive to the client who will love your point of view, style and approach. 

Stage one: Courting

This stage is about getting the attention of the person (i.e., client) that you’re interested in. You want them to see you, notice you and leave them wanting to know you more. A smart promo piece will do just that. But it won’t do it for every client—just as in dating, not every person will be right for you. So you mustn’t allow lack of response or rejection to discourage you. It’s simply a numbers game at this point. The more you put yourself in front of people, the more chances you get to meet the person who is the right fit for you.

Your promotion piece needs to be a loving gift, a courting gesture, a curiosity-building piece that makes your client-to-be want to know you more (and don’t forget about your current clients too; just because you’re already dating doesn’t mean the courting stops). Rather than seeing your marketing pieces as a “self- promotion activity” think of it as a “love-building process.” A process of seduction, romance and devotion.

If you worry about being too pushy, ask yourself whether you’re coming from love—or a feeling of neediness. In business, just as in dating, needy is creepy. And someone who senses your neediness will most likely not be attracted to you.

Your goal in this phase of the process is to simply make a connection and create familiarity. That’s it. Don’t expect to win the client because you sent them an impressive marketing piece. And don’t expect them to notice you the first time around either. This process takes time. Be patient, be consistent and be subtle. You must treat this phase with respect and finesse. Show class, style and creativity, and you’ll attract clients who respond to that.

Stage two: Dating

If your courting is successful, you enter the dating stage. This is where you get to know the other person, to see if there’s chemistry and to decide if you’re a good fit for each other. Your goal in creating a promotion piece is to attract the attention of your client. But unless you initiate this crucial step of the process, like picking up the phone and calling them, you may never hear back.

Your next step is to try and initiate a conversation, and, not be afraid of getting “no” for an answer. Remember, it may not be a “no,” it may simply be “not right now.” So much of the success of this process depends on timing. Your goal is to be top of mind when your client has a need you can help with and a problem you can solve. When you initiate a conversation, people like you more because you’ve relieved them from having to take the first step. 

That next conversation must not be about you and what you want to get. It must be about your client and how you can serve them. It’s really not about you and your credentials. If your client asks for those, it simply means that they don’t trust you yet—and what will make them trust you is the kind of questions you ask, questions that show you truly care about them.

When your client feels that you’re more interested in serving them than in taking their money, they'll listen to you and trust you more. My friend Brandon Craig is a master sales coach who teaches people how to create powerful results in business. He once told me, after I’d asked him the secret to his success, “Nothing gets created outside of a conversation.” Truer words have never been spoken. Think of every client and project you’ve had, and you’ll notice that every successful relationship was developed by a powerful conversation that moved things forward.

The conversation you want to have with your client will only move things forward in a positive direction if you come from a place of “How can I serve?” and not “What can I get?” Notice the difference in how your clients will respond to you if you consciously and truly come from a place of service—without bringing all your fears of running out of money or going out of business lurking in the back of your mind. One single conversation could change the course of your business—especially when your client truly sees your value and sees the confidence you have in yourself and that you know what you’re doing and how to help them. 

Stage three: Commitment

By now you’ve created trust with the client, and you’ve helped them remove the fears and doubts they had about working with you. You’re in a great place. You got the contract. You got the client to commit, to be loyal to you and to move into a deeper relationship. But just because you got the business doesn’t mean you stop marketing to this client and the rest on your list. 

Your marketing has reached a new, deeper level that’s beyond promotion. Your marketing is how well you serve your client, how much value they truly receive and how they experience every point of communication with you and your brand. The commitment you bring into the way you serve your client will be the most powerful part of marketing your business because your best clients are those who come back to you and bring their friends along, too.

At this stage of your relationship, the promotional items you want to send your clients are more like the unexpected gifts you give your sweetheart to keep the romance alive. No need to overwhelm them or send things frequently. But when you do send something, make it valuable, make it memorable and make it special. Perhaps you could send your client an inspir- ing book, or an article you wrote or a white paper that dives into a topic they would care deeply about.

Marketing to this client, staying connected and nurturing the relationship is more important than get- ting the next client. You’ve now reached a new space with them where you get to show a lot more of who you are and how you think. A special promotion and marketing strategy must be in place to maintain a level of expertise and to keep you consistently top of mind for your clients. 

Your ultimate goal

The end goal of creating a promotional piece is to create, nurture and maintain a loving relationship with your client. Before you create such a piece, always ask yourself: “What stage of the relationship is this?” and “What do I want this piece to do?”

If you’re not clear which stage you’re in, and what kind of goal and actions are appropriate to that stage, you’ll never lead your client toward reaching your ultimate goal, which is hiring you (and no one else) when they have the need.

Successful promotion will build loyalty, create trust and most importantly, keep a relationship alive and full of love. Your marketing will be successful when it’s unique to who you are. It will attract the kind of clients who appreciate your thinking, your style and your creativity.

You don’t need a lot of clients to have a successful business. You need a few good ones. And each one needs to feel like they’re special to you. That you care. So create a promotional piece that shows that you find them special. Make it personalized or special enough for them to know that not everyone out there is receiving it.

When your marketing and promotion become the most loving act you do for your business, they’ll nurture it and help it grow. And when you love your business, it will love you back. Promise.