The Art of Savvy Self-promotion

When Lisa Bragg worked in television journalism, her job was to get people to speak on camera about various issues. Often, they’d defer to colleagues, claiming they weren’t the expert, even when they were eminently qualified. When Bragg found people willing to talk on camera, the interviews often opened up new opportunities for those people. They were seen as experts and enjoyed higher profiles in their fields.

This got Bragg thinking: Why are people so reluctant to step up and promote themselves, especially when that reluctance can impact their success? Many of us were raised with admonishments to be humble, keep our head down, let our work speak for itself.

“A lot of us are taught to wait for others to acknowledge our successes,” says Bragg. “But the truth is we need to be out there raising our hands and telling our own stories. You can’t wait for someone to ask you to tell them your story. By then it’s too late.”

Author Lisa Bragg

Bragg eventually left journalism to start her own content company, and her experiences consulting with clients led her to write a book, “Bragging Rights: How to Talk About Your Work Using Purposeful Self-promotion.” Basing her advice on extensive research, Bragg urges professionals to find the balance between humility and boasting.

“In this world we live in today, where we need to stand out and also fit in, how do you bring it all together so people will see you?” she asks. “Because it’s awfully loud out there.”


Be more than your title. Bragg’s first piece of advice is not to allow yourself to be defined by your title. You’re a photographer, but you are more than that, too. Your identity as a professional is bigger than your collection of photographs. When you post your images online, bring in personal experiences and perspectives that make you unique. “Label yourself by your story,” says Bragg. “What’s the story behind every photo you post? You need to comment on why each photo matters to you as a person.”

Offer service. If you have a hard time separating personal and professional identities or feel like you’re shamelessly boasting when you talk about yourself, Bragg suggests thinking in terms of offering service. Understanding how you’re serving others helps you get past the idea that you’re bragging because you’re expressing how you help people.

Show the value you bring. Your clients want to know all the things you can do for them, so let them know. People aren’t just buying a photograph. They’re also making their decision based on who you are as a person and what only you can provide.

Move beyond service. You are more than the services you offer. To experience the next level of success, go beyond service and consider how you can provide a transformational experience for clients. To do this, get down to your values. This doesn’t mean trying to express how you’re better than others; it means expressing what you bring that makes you different. Even beyond that, you should express what makes you remarkable.

Collaborate over compete. It’s hard to compete all the time. Instead of thinking in terms of how you’re better than other photographers, look for ways to collaborate. What do you bring to a potential collaboration that’s remarkable? Express this. Help people understand where you can bring additional value.

Ultimately, you have to consider whether you’re the right fit. It’s hard to find the right fit—in your clients and in your partners—if you don’t signal your values to people. Explain who you are, what you’re about, and what’s important to you. Without signaling your values, you appear plain, unremarkable. And when that’s the case, people will pass you over and go to someone who’s signaling their values loud and clear.

Also consider how you can promote others so they’ll promote you. “When you shine a light on someone else, it shines back on you,” says Bragg. “Don’t be afraid of sharing the spotlight with someone else. It just makes you look like more of an expert.” When you confidently recommend others for services outside your areas of greatest expertise, you position yourself as a true specialist in areas where you shine brightest.

Know your audiences. Most photographers can segment their contacts into three audiences:

  • Primary, the people you love working with and who will help your business grow.
  • Secondary, past clients who weren’t a great fit.
  • Tertiary, other contacts and acquaintances who want to support you but aren’t your clientele.

Photographers need to focus on their primary audience. When thinking about how to talk to that audience, consider where you want to go with your business. “This is important, because whenever we do self-promotion it’s all about the future you,” says Bragg. “Reputation and past accomplishments are important, but we can’t always rely on what we’ve done previously. We have to look forward because this world is moving so fast.”

Keep your audience in mind when you’re promoting yourself, particularly your primary audience. Don’t worry whether someone from your tertiary audience doesn’t like your message because that message isn’t for them. Focus on the people who will help you grow your business; craft your message specifically for them.

“It’s really important to have a point of view. You’re telling people what you stand for, why it’s important to you, and why it should matter to them.”

Lisa Bragg

Express your expert point of view. Know your lane, know where you want to go, and focus on that journey, says Bragg. You can switch lanes, but when you pick a specialty, go deep in that area and claim that expert title. And don’t forget to tell people you are the expert. “It’s really important to have a point of view,” says Bragg. “You’re telling people what you stand for, why it’s important to you, and why it should matter to them.”

When expressing your expert point of view, it helps to offer three pillars around which people can connect with you. What are the three things people know you for? What are the three things that matter most to you? Have a point of view about those three things, and connect with people about them. The more you focus on those things, the more people will see you as the expert in those areas.

Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.