To celebrate her 10th year as a local insurance agent, Michelle Schaefer blocked off the street in front of her Edmond office, danced to a mobile disc jockey and served hotdogs, cake and ice cream to her customers and anybody else who'd come.
To promote the event three years ago, Schaefer ran advertisements and distributed scores of fliers bearing her fourth-grade picture with the headline: "Michelle is 10, and she's having a party!” "People can't believe I actually published that picture, but they still remember it,” said Schaefer, who had planned a 13th anniversary celebration June 14. Realizing she has hundreds of competitors who do what she does, Schaefer unabashedly promotes herself and her business, starting with wearing a badge with her name and the Farmers Insurance logo everywhere she goes. "You'd be surprised how many people have approached me in line at the grocery store to say they just moved into town and need to find a local insurance agent,” Schaefer said. The art of self-promotion is a necessary skill for people who work for themselves or for companies, experts say. "Self-promotion is just common sense,” said Ilise Benun, founder of Marketing Mentor, a Hoboken, N.J.-based consulting business and the author of "The Art of Self Promotion.” A former professional organizer, Benun consistently found information on self-promotion at the bottom of piles of paper that people saved. "The clutter obviously was keeping them from getting the word out about their work,” she said. "The main thing is not to be silent.” Even outgoing, social people can be shy when it comes to their work or someone with authority, she said. The value of self-promotion seems to lose importance and become almost shameful with age, said Evelyn Bollenbach, spokeswoman for Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City. "We tell our kids to be proud of their work, display their artwork on the fridge and brag about their soccer team on bumper stickers,” she said. "Yet, when we publicize our good works as an adult, self-promotion can take on a negative connotation.” When she's served on selection committees, Bollenbach said, she has found many female applicants qualify their accomplishments. "Instead of saying, ‘I'm the best applicant because I'm good at what I do,' women often preface their statement with an apology, such as ‘I know this may sound like bragging, but ... .' ” The tendency to minimize their capabilities, competence and expertise is one of the biggest mistakes of female business owners, said Darcie Harris, president of EWF International peer advisory groups for female business owners and executives. "The female brain is wired to empathize, better recognize emotions and read others' feelings,” Harris said. "When you put all that together, there's less self-promotion.” Using their natural ability to influence people, female execs can help others make connections and along the way brand themselves as a key link in the business community, she said. Jim Farris, Oklahoma City human-resources expert, believes there's a fine line between self-promotion and being obnoxious. "If it's not a fabrication that you developed a new product that saved your company $1 million, by all means list it on your resume,” Farris said. "But in the interview, be sure and talk about the team effort. "You can't be out there self-promoting for nothing more than self-promoting. You've got to be able to deliver on what you're selling.” Zach Martin, associate adviser in commercial real estate for Sperry Van Ness/William T.
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