Interview with a Pro:
Ilise Benun on Promoting Yourself Online

Ilise Benun is a self-promotion expert and author of "Self Promotion Online" and "Designing Web Sites for Every Audience." Her articles have been featured in Inc. Magazine, Nation's Business, HOW Magazine, and Working Woman. Ilise works closely with business owners and executives to teach them the "marketing mindset." In today's interview, she talks about the key elements of marketing yourself online.

TGT: First, tell us how you became interested in self-promotion.

IB: In 1988, I struck out on my own with the simple idea to be a professional organizer. It wasn't long before I noticed that, under everyone's pile of papers (the papers they kept shuffling around and simultaneously ignoring), there was some self-promotion task that wasn't getting done. Indeed, it even seemed that the clutter was nothing but a symptom of the resistance to get the word out.

Little by little, my business evolved in the direction of self-promotion. I now preach and teach my simple strategies through private consultation, a mentoring program, workshops, and books.

TGT: A few weeks ago, you gave us some great tips on how to "work" a room. Promoting ourselves online is just as important. So … what methods do you use and recommend?

IB: My e-mail newsletter is my most effective marketing tool. It's called "Quick Online Marketing Tips" and I send it out every other week. It always has a quick tip that people can implement immediately and a little promotion for my own services and products. The key is to be brief and to make the information useful – something my readers come to appreciate and really find of value. My e-mail newsletter is the loop I get everyone into so I can capture their contact information. Then I reach out to them on a regular basis so they don't forget about me and can reach back out to me when they are in a moment of need.

TGT: Some copywriters say that having a website is critical to doing business; others say it's not. What are your thoughts?

IB: A website is not the ultimate marketing tool, but it is an essential one in our digital economy – particularly if you work in the visual communications industry. If you don't have a website yet, here are four reasons why you should, and soon:

  1. A website gives you instant credibility. A list of clients, some examples of your work, and your contact information will show online prospects why they should trust you. A photo helps too
  2. A website provides anytime access to you and examples of your work. Prospects can now go straight to your site and get the information they need, no matter what time it is and without talking to you first.
  3. A website shows that you're current and up-to-date. In today's world, it is essential that you have either a website with your own domain name or, at the very least, an online presence where your online portfolio is posted.
  4. A website expands your exposure and increases your visibility worldwide. Your potential market is bigger than it has ever been before because now, people with whom it has been difficult to communicate, are just a click away.

TGT: What are a few key things to keep in mind when creating a website?

IB: Design your site for your visitor, not for yourself. One of the main principles of self-promotion is this: Self-promotion is not about you, it's about your clients and prospective clients. Your marketing materials – including your website – should offer solutions to their problems. So instead of focusing all your attention on perfecting your site and making it look cool, put yourself in the shoes of your prospects and think about their moment of need for your services. Ask yourself, "When they visit my site, how do they need to learn more about my work in order to trust that I can do what they need done? What do they want to see? In what format? In what order?"

TGT: Ilise, in "Self Promotion Online," you talk about having an online marketing plan. Can you give us an example of what that might entail?

IB: Here's an example of a simple online marketing plan for those who have a website but don't want to spend too much time promoting it.

Here's what you need to start:

  • an e-mail address with a signature file
  • a one, two, and three-line blurb about your services to list your site on directories
  • a standard introductory e-mail message to request links to and from other websites

Then, on a weekly basis, here's what you do:

  • Surf for linking opportunities and bookmark all possibilities.
  • Get listed/registered in one search engine or online directory.
  • Check your placement in one search engine.

On a monthly basis, you:

  • Send an intro message to webmasters about linking to or from their sites.
  • Check to see if any of the links you've requested have been posted.

On a quarterly basis, you:

  • Analyze your web reports.
  • Make changes based on your analysis, such as additions, deletions, and revisions to the navigation.
  • Update your website: add new work, remove old work, add links.

TGT: That sounds pretty daunting. How much time, on average, should we expect to spend promoting our website?

IB: The weekly and monthly tasks can take 1-2 hours per week and per month. The quarterly tasks will take a little more time, maybe 3-4 hours per quarter.

TGT: Your book also mentions that there are different ways creative professionals can use e-mail marketing to keep in touch with their clients and prospects. Could you share more about that with our students?

IB: E-mail marketing is like Chinese water torture – but less painful. It works, drip by drip, message by message, reaching out to targeted and qualified prospects to educate and inform them of a very specific message.

Here's an example of what I mean – an article I wrote about designers doing e-mail marketing:

TGT: Any final words of advice for our students?

IB: The key to self-promotion is persistence. You can't start and stop. Building relationships with people is a constant seed-planting and watering process. So if you consider yourself introverted or shy, get over it – at least during the time you spend promoting yourself. The message you must convey is this: I have something of value to offer to you. Sit right down so I can tell you all about it.

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Published: November 24, 2003

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