Spotlight“I think I’m really good at what I do,” declares technical writer June, “but I don’t ever seem to get a chance to show people.” June is experienced, highly-skilled, and has written dozens of procedure manuals and other how-to guides throughout her career. But she isn’t getting enough work to earn a living as a freelancer.

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” admits June. “It feels like bragging to say what a terrific writer I am. I don’t know how to express my capabilities to potential clients without sounding like some sort of conceited know-it-all.”

Like June, many professionals feel fearful or hesitant to speak out boldly about how good they are. You may feel as if you are being immodest, fear that others will criticize you, or simply believe it’s unprofessional to boast. But there are ways you can let people know what you’re capable of without ever having to say, “I’m hot stuff.”

Use Your Clients’ Words Instead of Your Own

Testimonial quotes, letters, and videos from satisfied clients are one set of powerful tools to help communicate your value. When clients describe what you did for them in their own words, prospects gain an authentic perspective on your skills and talents that can be very persuasive.

To solicit convincing testimonials from your clients, pick a time when they have recently expressed their appreciation for what you do. Ask them, “How would you describe my work to someone who could benefit from it?” Display testimonial quotes on your website, include them on a page in your marketing kit, or sprinkle them throughout your marketing collateral in sidebars and callout boxes. If your client is willing, capture their words on video, which you can then showcase on your site.

Endorsement letters can also help to tell the story of your worth. Ask your clients to write a letter addressed directly to you (rather than “to whom it may concern”) describing their experience of working with you and the value they gained from it. Then display letters like these on your website, use them as inserts in your marketing kit, or give copies of them to prospects when you meet with them.

Let Stories Show What You Can Do

When you speak with prospective clients about your capabilities, be prepared with two or three client success stories. Instead of boasting about your qualifications, you can simply relate what happened.

Begin by briefly describing your client’s situation when you began working together, then outline what you did for him or her, and conclude with the client’s reaction and results. Again, use your client’s words to tell the story instead of your own.

Instead of saying, “I wrote a manual that was easy to use and completed it well in advance of the deadline,” you could say, “My client was very pleased with how easy to use the manual was, and appreciated my completing it well before his deadline.” This subtle shift can make all the difference in your comfort level, because instead of relating your own perspective on what you did, you are sharing the client’s view of it. This is often much more convincing than speaking in the first person.

This storytelling approach can also help to get across the tangible results of an intangible process, without having to focus purely on your qualifications. Thomas, a hypnotherapist, struggles with how to communicate why clients hire him. The nature of his work is varied and difficult to describe in one sentence.

Thomas explains, “Basically, I help people change habitual behavior. I know that doesn’t sound specific enough, but when I start to list all the different problems I can help people with — stop smoking, lose weight, overcome fear of flying, eliminate insomnia — I feel like the Great Impostor. It just doesn’t sound believable.”

The solution for Thomas was to demonstrate his abilities by writing blog posts and articles. Instead of simply claiming he could address all these issues, he wrote stories about successful client experiences, each one focused on one of the problems he helps solve. In his articles and posts, he told educational and inspirational stories about his work with clients, keeping the names confidential.

Thomas made these stories available on his website for prospective clients to read, used them as guest posts for relevant blogs, and published them as PDFs, which he could send to prospects by email, share with potential referral sources, or hand out when he gave a talk. He no longer felt that he had to brag about what he could potentially do, as his client stores illustrated what he had already successfully done.

Let Your Achievements Speak for You

Market researcher Marcy had a different challenge. She had spent many years employed by one company, and was now working as a consultant for the first time. “I don’t have an impressive client list to display,” she notes, “nor do I have a stack of testimonials from satisfied clients. I know I’m capable of doing great work, but how do I show evidence for that instead of just saying it?”

If you’re in Marcy’s situation, be sure your professional bio includes your experience, education, and all the affiliations, awards, and accomplishments you have already accumulated. For example, Marcy was a member of the American Marketing Association and vice president of her local chapter. A project she had worked on had won the AMA Pinnacle Award. She had developed and introduced an innovative model for measuring customer satisfaction. But none of these achievements appeared in her bio.

Another solution for Marcy was to create a portfolio of her most successful projects, exhibiting market surveys she had created and research reports she had produced. Showing a potential client her portfolio allowed her to demonstrate her competence instead of merely claiming it.

If you have been hiding your light under a bushel, consider this. If you don’t let people know how you can help them, you will never get a chance to do so. When you show people what you can do, you’re letting them know how your work can make their lives better or jobs easier. So choose one of these ways of showing off without bragging, and start letting your light shine.

C.J. Hayden

C.J. Hayden, MCC, CPCC, is the author of the bestseller Get Clients Now!: A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, Since 1992, she's been helping self-employed professionals survive and thrive. C.J. is the author of five other business how-to-books, and has taught marketing at Mills College and John F. Kennedy University. Find out how you can work with C.J. as your business coach or attend one of her upcoming programs.

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