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If you are going to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be willing to put yourself out there. This can happen in a number of ways from asking for (and graciously accepting) criticism, to taking risks when you’re not sure what the outcome will be, to attending and actively participating in networking events.

One of the hardest, but often most important, ways an entrepreneur can put herself out there is by becoming her own promoter. You may have the best partner, PR agency and support system possible, but if you are not proactively advocating for yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you.

As we all know, though, there is a thin line between promoting yourself effectively and overdoing it. And overdoing it by focusing on self-centered promotion, ignoring everyone else and exaggerating your merits can have disastrous effects.

Here are a few ways to toot your own horn, and get others to help you out, without being a complete and utter jerk.

Make Yourself Promotable

If you are going to get out there and promote yourself, you better have something worth promoting. The first step is simple — strive for excellence in everything you do so it’s easy to point out all of your high points to the public. When you focus on working hard, being honest and providing a solid product or service, you will find that you have a lot of reasons to promote yourself and to ask others to do the same.

Promote Others Constantly

If you want to effectively promote yourself without pissing people off, my perspective is that you MUST be willing to promote others. It irks me when I see people promoting themselves to the extreme, asking others to do the same for them, and offering not even a whisper of support in return. This is simple reciprocity, folks.

To take it even further, you need to not only promote others, but do it without an expectation of reciprocity. Yes, that’s right. You need to be reciprocal, but not expect it in return. No counting, keeping track or tit for tat. If you see something you believe in, something that gets you thinking, something may be useful for those in your network, then pass it on. With no strings attached.

Be Confident, Not Cocky

Confidence is key. If you don’t believe in yourself and the value you bring to the table, it will be very uncomfortable for you to put yourself out there, sell your products and services, and ask people for support. Confidence also develops trust. If you present yourself as cool, calm and collected, you’ll make it easier for others to trust you, and in turn, they will be more receptive to what you’re doing.

BUT, make sure you don’t bloat your confidence level to cockiness. If you start to expect automatic support, attention and respect simply because you are YOU, you may need to take a step back and reevaluate.

Always Be Gracious

A simple “thank you” can be one of the most powerful ways to earn respect and make your self-promotion efforts more tolerable. It doesn’t matter how small the act may have been — a retweet, an introduction or a comment — if someone takes the time to add to your promotional efforts, please say thank you! When someone goes out of their way to give you props, you need to show your appreciation, especially if you expect them to ever do it again (yep, back to reciprocity).

Ask for Help

As important as it is, self-promotion can only take you so far. To effectively get the word out about you and your business, you also need to ask for support. Once all of the above factors are taken care of, it should be easy for you to reach out to your network and make your appeal. And if you’ve done everything right, you should see the fruits of your labor immediately.

So…how am I doing? And will you help me?

Now that I have shared what I think are the vital parts of effective self-promotion, how do you think I fare against my own criteria? Am I promotable? Do I promote others? Am I confident, but not cocky? Am I gracious? If you think I’m on the right track (you can check out what I’ve written, my Twitter streams at @alyssagregory and @smallbizbonfire, and my business Facebook page to view some of my history), then I am asking for your help.

I was recently nominated for a Small Business Influencer Award and the public has a say in who wins. If you believe I’m putting out great information for small business owners, please vote for me! You can vote once per day until August 9, and every vote you send my way and every person you share this with will be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your support!

Now, it’s your turn. How do you promote yourself without going too far and turning people off?

UPDATE: I am honored and humbled to announce that I was one of the 100 people/businesses named as a Small Business Influencer in North America. THANK YOU for your support!

Image credit (blah blah): Chris Lamphear
Image credit (listening): Luis Carlos Torres