How to Responsibly Self-Promote without being Annoying

This post’s key takeaways:

  1. The brands we buy everyday need to promote themselves so we know about them; you have the same responsibility to promote your brand at work too
  2. The hardest part of substantiating your professional brand is being able to talk about your accomplishments
  3. We tend to shy away from self-promotion in an effort to not ‘brag,’ but this is a mistake
  4. This post includes a challenge to advertise your brand at work in three ways over the next month—you can do it!


Substantiate your Brand, and your Value

Permission to Promote

Advertising your Brand: The Challenge


The weather is starting to get colder here in the Northeast, and that means my hands are starting to get drier. Nothing a little hand lotion can’t handle, so while shopping last week, I decided to spend a few minutes checking out the 100 (or so it seemed) moisturizing options available to me. My gut instinct was to reach for a familiar brand and keep moving, but I decided to experiment and peruse a bit. Do you know how many brands of emollients are out there that I’ve never heard of? A lot.

Maybe I’m not intersecting with the brands because I’m not a part of their target market, because my friends/family haven’t used them, or, quite possibly, because I’m simply not paying attention. But then again, who wants to blame themselves? So, more likely, it’s the brands’ fault that I’m not aware of their existence. Maybe it’s because they’re not advertising, either enough or at all. Some brands just don’t have the money, time or desire to advertise, and I guess not advertising is an advertising strategy in and of itself, but regardless, if they’re not talking about themselves, I’m certainly not seeking them out. I mean, hello—I’m busy. I have neither the time (read: it’s not my priority,) nor the energy, to seek out information about hand lotions. So even though some of those mystery brands seemed interesting, I became predictable, grabbed a tube of Aveeno and left the rest of the lot to collect dust. Maybe next time, brands I’ve never heard of, but probably not then either!

Substantiate your Brand, and your Value

But, enough about hand lotion. Let’s talk about you.

Last week, we submitted that each of us has a brand at work, which is essentially our reputation, and that our brand can really be defined by the answer to one very simple question: What do you deliver?

Whatever the answer is, is what your professional brand is.

The good news, and the piece we should all be focusing on, is that you have a huge hand in not only what your brand is today, but also what it can be tomorrow. All you need to do is set the intention of what you want that brand to be, and make sure that your brand does three things well: 1) resonate; 2) differentiate; and, 3) substantiate. Perhaps the most uncomfortable of the three to focus on and do well is #3—substantiation. To substantiate your brand means to give it credibility and validation, and the only real way to do that in the workplace is to make sure that the people who *matter* to your career development (ie, your leadership, of course, but also your peers and future peers/reports) know what you’ve done to reinforce your brand promise.

So now I ask, what kind of hand lotion are you? The kind that lets people know ahead of time what they can expect so they want to try you out? The kind that reminds people when you’ve cured their chapped hands the way you promised in that memorable commercial? Or the kind that sits, stagnantly, on the shelf, waiting for someone to see it and just know the power of its ingredients without ever testing it out? Do you want to be the hand lotion that people choose and pay for, even when you’re a little more expensive than the others, or the one that no one feels compelled to invest in because who really knows what they’re getting?

You already know the answer, and so do I. You have value, you want people to want that value and you want to be compensated fairly for that value—by increased responsibility, increased compensation or both. But first things first. In order to get there, you need people to first know your value, and second, believe in that value.

Permission to Promote

As kids, many of us have been told that bragging is not polite. As adults, I’ve seen many of my co-workers equate bragging with self-promotion, and in doing so, shy away from it. The problem with this orientation is that talking about yourself and your achievements is exactly what you need to do to advance your career path. Think about a few people who’ve been promoted around you; the ones who you look at and wonder to yourself, “THAT GUY?!” You know who I’m talking about. If it’s so obvious to you that they’re not qualified or ready for more responsibility, how does leadership not see the same thing? We might like to blame management for what we perceive as bad choices, but chances are more likely that the person you’re giving side eye too has done a really decent job in connecting their brand with leadership’s objectives. They’ve found ways to let management know what their brand promise is, and they’ve strategically informed said management when they’ve done anything that would substantiate that promise.

Starting now, it’s your responsibility to do the same. First, have a moment of reckoning with yourself. Give yourself permission to say nice things about yourself. Accept that people around you are busy, and won’t always see your strengths or your accomplishments with unassisted clarity. Feel okay about needing to be your own agent, manager and hype man. Once you’ve set the intention that you need to help yourself, breathe and release—it’s time to strategize.

Let’s take a page from marketing planning to think about some common ways promotion happens:

  • The brand crafts and delivers the promotional message, ie advertising
  • The brand works to influence third parties and lets the third party deliver the message, ie public relations or word-of-mouth
  • The brand provides value outside of what you would normally expect from it, ie education or content marketing

Just as these tactics are used to promote the brands we interact with every day, so too can they be used to advance the business of Brand You.

Advertising your Brand: The Challenge

If you feel like your professional brand needs some exposure, advertising is where you’ll most likely need to focus your initial time investment. Advertising Brand You can take many forms, but I’ll challenge you to do the following three over the next month:

  • Set up regular 1-on-1 meetings with your boss if you already don’t have them on the calendars. Having regular check-ins gives you the opportunity to do many things on a routine basis, but updating them on your work, deliverables and most importantly, results, is #1. If you feel like your brand needs some TLC, do not wait for your boss to set time up with you, or you may be waiting in perpetuity. Instead, reach out and proactively ask for regular time with them using an email template like this:

Subject: 1-on-1?

Hi [boss name],

I wanted to send you a quick note to ask if I can set up a 30/60 min. weekly/bi-weekly/monthly meeting so I can keep you posted on progress for my key projects/tasks. Things are moving fast, and I want to make sure I am keeping you up to date on the progress I’m making. Let me know if that works for you, and I’ll send you an invite to start next week.


[your name]

Once you have the 1-on-1 set up, you need to take initiative to set up the agenda. Believe me, your boss will thank you for it. Here’s a sample agenda format I prefer:

  1. Update them on your key projects/tasks
  2. Share kudos (don’t be shy! once you finish giving a status update, share the good stuff that’s happened to you since the last time you and he/she met)
  3. Ask questions that you might have about this, that and the other
  4. Close by asking them if they have any questions or anything to share.

Easy, breezy and you just scored some bonding time while getting your message of execution and kudos front and center.

  • Feel empowered to forward the nice stuff that people send to you… about you! Law of large numbers here—the more good work that you do, the larger the chance that someone will recognize your work, in writing. When that happens, it is your responsibility to forward the kudos up the chain. While this can be kind of uncomfortable because it might make you feel like you’re wading into braggy waters, there is a completely tactful way to do it. The key is to forward the nice email while couching the kudos in a project update, a la the following template:

Hi [boss name],

I’ve been working closely/with/in conjunction with [peer name] on [project name/description] and we’re moving forward as planned/ahead of timeline. See below, and let me know if you have any questions.


[your name]

To see how the template actually works, here’s an example for how to put this template into action. Read from bottom up so you see how Marissa forwards the kudos she gets from James to her boss Matt:

Hi Matt,

As you know, I’ve been working with James and his training team on the new learning module for next month’s product launch. We’re really excited for feedback from the sales team, and planning is going well. See below, and let me know if you have any questions. We can discuss more in our 1-on-1?




Hi Marissa,

Wanted to drop you a note to let you know that we would not be this far along with the learning module if it wasn’t for you. You’re really good at project management, and I hope we work together again in the future.

See you tomorrow,


To me, forwarding your kudos while couching it in an update is quick and tactful, and gets the point across. Marissa had a win, and she’s proud of it! She doesn’t come off as boastful; instead, she comes off as matter of fact and confident.

  • Start keeping a written record of your achievements, and understand the value of hard AND soft skills while doing so. Part of the reason we don’t substantiate our brands appropriately lies in the fact that we are always racing to the next task, and quickly lose sight of our most recent achievements, whether big or small. My last challenge to you is to overcome the time crunch by making a commitment to record your achievements, whether in a Word doc, an Excel file, the Notes app on your phone or, for some throwback effect, good old pen and paper. Here are the key points you want to note about each project/task/achievement:
    • Situation: what was the situation that necessitated the project or task to be requested or initiated? What were the business reasons, workflow inefficiencies, opportunities to improve process, etc?
    • Task: what was your part of the project; your specific goal to accomplish?
    • Action: what steps did you take to attain your goal (big or small.) When you answer this question, jot down bullets that explain the hard skills (more technical, something you can be trained on or train others on, something you can quantify) AND soft skills (more subjective, concerning things like interpersonal, management and people skills, harder to quantify) that you used to accomplish your task/goal. Don’t ever underestimate the power of soft skills… in my experience, this is the skill set that drives career advancement 9 times out of 10.
    • Result: what was the outcome of your action, both for achieving your individual goal, or the team’s goal if your task was part of a larger project? Don’t be bashful here—be very clear about what you, specifically, delivered. Gloat and boast. This is your diary you’re talking to; make sure you’re giving every detail its due credit.

By using this format, you’re applying the “STAR” method to your record keeping, which helps to ensure that you’re able to tell a well thought out story about your accomplishments, whether the audience is your current boss, or even a prospective employer. If you take the time to put some quick thoughts/bullets down about each of your accomplishments, you’ll build a brag (remember, not a dirty word) book that will help you to substantiate your brand.

Advertising is the form of self-promotion that you can most control, but we also mentioned things like PR and education as other forms that are important too. Be on the lookout for more posts on this topic, where we’ll dive into how you can generate third party buzz for your brand at work so that the advertising that you’re doing creates the baseline that is reinforced by the people around you, to the people that matter.

Until then, if you like this post, don’t like it, can think of 1-2 ways I could have made it better or just have questions, leave a comment below.

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