Why Self-Promotion Isn’t A Dirty Word – An Interview with Stefanie Sword-Williams
Stefanie Sword-Williams is an entrepreneur, author, founder, public speaker, host, presenter, community builder and storyteller, and she wears all these titles as she is incredibly proud of her achievements.
Rightly so, if you don’t know Stef from creating F*ck Being Humble, the global movement, book and event series helping people to be unapologetically proud of their achievements, then you might know her for being listed in Forbes 30 Under 30, doing a TEDx Talk, hosting her own radio show on Foundation FM or through attending her online workshops or in-person events, which are pretty unforgettable if you ask me.
Though I have known Stef since well before she launched F*ck Being Humble, it was such a joy to interview her for our latest series of the Beyond The Balance Sheet podcast to touch base on how far she has come and to get her advice on how professionals and entrepreneurs can start to be a little less humble.
“Promoting a business is one thing, but how do you promote yourself, your achievements and your personal brand? Self-promotion is a form of storytelling, all you have to do is figure out how you want to tell your story.”
F*ck Being Humble all began when Stef observed that human beings seem to have very uncomfortable relationships with self-promotion. We all know that marketing and advertising work to promote businesses, however, the idea of writing a CV, talking about personal achievements and exposing or promoting ourselves on social media makes us recoil.
The issue with this is that whether you are climbing your career, working for a company, are self-employed, or own a business, one of the single most important skills you need in order to be successful in achieving your goals is the ability to confidently self-promote.
“I know the power that storytelling can have for big businesses, but I also know the power it can have for individuals. And when we're not taught how to do things like this, we freak out and we run the opposite way. So, it was a lot about how can I not only raise awareness, that self-promotion isn't a bad thing but, how can I teach people to self-promote?”
When Stef spotted this skill gap in so many professionals, she used her 7+ years of advertising and storytelling experience to create a platform, a community, an event series and collateral that could help people to overcome that fear of self-promotion, and in particular, things like imposter syndrome, self-doubt and how to tell personal stories.
It wasn’t just the advertising world that led Stef to spot the need for F*ck Being Humble - but also her own experiences working for businesses and not having the most supportive bosses, or feeling unappreciated or overlooked, all of these things made her realise that if you aren’t going to promote yourself, no one else will do it for you.
"What I hate seeing is when people are so humble, they miss out on opportunities and that's something upon reflection now that I feel.
"I probably sat back, expecting my work would get praised and recognised and thought that, you know if I work hard that that's the key to success, but I think there's a big part of the story that is lacking, which is. It's not just about working hard, it's about telling people what you're doing. And that's what I really want to try and help.”
Fast forward now to the start of the pandemic, and what started as a side-hustle platform soon become Stef’s full-time business. Stef was actually still working in advertising when running and building F*ck Being Humble, and it got to the point where it was clear she couldn’t do both.
“I quit my job two weeks before the pandemic hit to be a public speaker and all public events got cancelled. I lost like 90% of the business within weeks. And I think, to be honest, I just went into kind of survival mode where it wasn't really an option that I was going to sit around and have a meltdown.
It was like, what can I do? How can I shift all this online and, and it wasn't too difficult. You know, it was just a case of buying the zoom account where I can host up to 500 people and that was essentially my only outgoings and then it was just a case of pivoting everything online.”
As a marketeer, we often talk about Macrotrends and how they drive consumer behavior in very specific ways, and business owners need to pay close attention to these trends so that they can steer their businesses to make the most out of them. Covid-19, as devastating as it was accelerated many macro trends, and businesses who were able to ride those trends managed to pivot their businesses to remain profitable.
Stef was no exception, and whilst she herself experienced challenges for her business during the pandemic, it also meant that there was an even bigger need for a platform like F*ck Being Humble because there were millions of people globally needing career advice, guidance on how to stand out in application processes, looking for interview tips and that’s why Stef yet again ensured her content was able to help with these elements of self-promotion.
“I started doing a ‘CV's Made Easy’ free webinar just to make, you know, content accessible for everyone. And I started courses and did loads of different things, which when I look back on last year, I'm going to look at it as the year I grew up with my business”
But, it wasn’t just career advice people were seeking, as with business owners struggling to make ends meet, furloughing key staff and often themselves, not being able to technically market their businesses, the only option to keep their names at the forefront of their customer's minds was through self-promotion, therefore they needed to learn how to do it successfully.
While the pandemic might have triggered more self-promotion from Founders, Stef believes it has always been one of the most important things for Founder success, as founders don’t get performance reviews, therefore if you aren’t telling people your successes and gathering proof that you are good at what you do, then you aren’t able to present yourself as best as possible for future opportunities.
“One of the questions I get the most is how do I self-promote without sounding arrogant? And I say to everyone...’ are you an arrogant person?’ And I literally have a six-point list of what it means to be arrogant, and I was like, if you don't hit any of those points, you're not an arrogant person. So you won't suddenly become arrogant just because you're self-promoting.”
“I say to people, thinking that, that somebody is typing in stefanieswordwilliams.com is more arrogant than me self-promoting. Like if you are assuming the whole world knows who you are or the people you want to impress are singing your praises and doing everything you can to make sure you succeed, then that is a very narrow vision.”
Whether you are taking the first leap into a new career, trying to land a promotion or looking to expand your presence online through self-promotion, then F*ck Being Humble is the platform for you.
If you would like to find out more about Stef’s story and F*ck Being Humble, then make sure you listen to the most recent episode of Beyond The Balance Sheet where we talk through everything from the importance of self-promotion to the lack of female representation in the creative industry. We also chat about how to tackle imposter syndrome, and how you should never let the fear of sounding stupid (FOSS) stop you from asking for what you want or celebrating your success.