How to sell yourself (even when you're modest)

Some people just seem to have the ability to tell others how good they are. Aside from the couple of hype masters (who are flagrantly selling snake oil), these people are so confident in their abilities they have no problem telling you how how good they are - but they don't seem to be bragging. The rest of us have a problem. We don't like telling people how good we are at what we do. We believe it is "bragging" and we don't like that. As a result, we undersell ourselves and the benefits clients could get from our services, and we often lose sales because we don't seem confident in what we're selling.

If you don't come across as confident in your abilities, you're going to find it difficult to convince others that you can do the job they need done. You're going to seem hesitant, doubtful and not too sure you can do the work - and of course your potential client is going to see that.

Would you buy from someone who doesn't seem confident their product or service can solve your problem?

Why do we find it difficult to sell ourselves?

I grew up with the idea that modesty is a virtue. And thinking about it, I still believe it - but there are nuances. In the past, the only alternative to modesty seemed to be hyping your own abilities and achievements.

I hadn't yet learned the value of confidence.

We've all seen false promises - and too many of them. The over-eager furniture sales person, the shouters on TV or the "I'll make you a deal" pitch from the second-hand car sales guy. The more of this you see, the less you want to be like that. And we over-react by becoming even more modest and self-effacing.

Our own modesty leads us down a path where we believe that any hype - or over-confidence - could be seen as a lie. And we don't like lying - we want to be treated fairly and we want others to see us as honest people. So we avoid telling people how good we are to the point that we almost don't tell them anything.

Putting ourselves forward feels like bragging. And that, we've taught ourselves to believe, is Not A Good Thing.

Would you buy a car from this person?

Let's say you're in the market for a car. You've done your research, you've narrowed down your choices to a list of three or four cars you really like, and you head out to the showrooms to take a closer look.

My experience with car sales people has actually been quite good. I've never experienced the over-the-top hype you see in the movies. The sales people I've dealt with have a superb knowledge of their products, treated me with respect and though they obviously were guiding me through the sales process, no one was overly pushy.

But imagine that you walk into a showroom, a sales person approaches you and you start talking about what you want. But the sales person seems unsure of themselves, don't offer up much information and don't seem too excited about the cars they're selling.

Would you buy a car from someone who doesn't seem confident?

Chances are you won't. Brian Tracy said that Sales has often been called "the transfer of enthusiasm." If our sales person doesn't seem enthusiastic, we're not going to be enthusiastic about that shiny new car in the showroom.

Would modesty prevent you from advising your client?

Imagine you're a consultant. You're doing a project for a client, and you see the client going in a direction that you've seen go wrong too many times in the past.

Would you advise your client to not take that route? Or would you just be quiet, letting them fall off a cliff?

Of course you would tell them how that decision could hurt them. And you would offer up a better alternative. Not doing so would hurt your client and ultimately yourself. But most importantly, your integrity would not allow you to knowingly let your client do something that could hurt them.

When you're in a situation like this, your integrity is your safeguard. It overcomes your modesty and lets you speak with confidence. You may not always convince the client, but you would have done your best to advise them.

Your value is in telling them the stuff they don't know, modesty be damned.

Modesty, confidence and hype

There's a scale here:

  • At the low end of the scale, we're so modest and so afraid of being seen as making false promises that we overreact and go overly modest. We don't have a lot of confidence and we find it difficult to sell ourselves.
  • With the right level of confidence, we can tell people what we're good at, and how we can help, without looking like we're making false promises. We understand our own value and it's easy to sell. Being rejected doesn't bother us too much.
  • And then there's the hype masters. Nothing is impossible, everything will be great, just trust me and this is the best thing that ever happened to you.

If you're still reading this, you're probably somewhere between overly modest and the low end of confident. You know you don't want to be a hype master, and you also know you need to break out of your modesty and appear confident enough to make the sale.

If you can't build the right level of confidence, a lot of bad stuff will happen:

  • people won't know what you can do for them;
  • your expertise will be hidden;
  • you will be doing your customers a disservice; and
  • you won't get the sales you're looking for.

So how do you go from overly modest to quietly confident?

So how do you break out of being too modest?

At the heart of it, overly modest (to the point where it's hurting you) is just a lack of confidence. You don't yet have the confidence that you know your stuff so well that you can state it as fact. But here's the first thing you need to realise:

Your clients hire you because you are the expert. You know better than they do how to do something. And therefore, you have to be in charge for the sake of your client.

I sometimes hear entrepreneurs say "I don't like writing about myself on my website". On the one hand, that's modesty speaking. But most of the time, the underlying cause is a lack of confidence.

You already know that being overly modest will hurt your business. But you don't have to go all the way to the other side and appear to know it all - you just need to be quietly confident that you can help your clients. And once you realise that, you will know that you are the expert, and that clients hire you because they need an expert to help them.

So if you feel you're too modest, and your modesty is hurting your business, start with the following:

  • Just the facts, ma'am. Write down the things you know you're good at - just the facts. For example: "I am an award-winning interior designer". Or "I develop better-looking websites than most other designers out there."
  • Which facts matter? Now run through your list of facts and mark the ones that really matter to your clients. Which of those facts will give your clients confidence that you can do the job?
  • Do you need to tell them that? If you don't tell your clients each of these facts that matter to them, will they be missing out?
  • Are you hurting them? Understand that you will be doing your clients a disservice if you don't tell them the facts that matter.

At this point, you're no longer dealing with your own sense of modesty - or lack of confidence. You're dealing with fact. And you can tell your clients the facts without being ashamed or scared that you're hyping yourself.

Because at the heart of it, whether you have confidence or not, you are good at what you do. Don't forget that, and remember you will be doing yourself and your clients a disservice by not telling them the facts.


Here's a summary of where we've been in this article:

  • Most of us tend to be modest and don't like writing about ourselves. (That includes me.)
  • Being overly modest can hurt our businesses and do our clients a disservice.
  • You can start overcoming too much modesty by writing down the facts we know are true.
  • We can then start building confidence by realising we're doing our clients a disservice if we don't tell them these facts.

In the end, it's all about the right level of quiet confidence that you know your stuff and you can help your clients solve a problem, live better or get something they want. That's not modesty, that's just the truth.

What you can do now

The very first thing you need to do is write down the facts. What are you really good at? What can you do better than others?

Each one of us has something we can do that others can't do - at least not as well as we do. It doesn't have to be something big, and you don't have to be the biggest or loudest kid on the block to be good at something. You just have to be confident that you can do something well.

I know you have that something. Now you need to believe in yourself. Start by writing it down.

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