For the last six years, I encouraged CPA business owners to boost their social media presence, demonstrate their expertise and generally bump up their marketing efforts to be more visible and competitive.  I was one of many communications angels, dispensing blogs, brochures, you name it to “be a thought leader! Be innovative! Tweet, do a podcast, give a speech. Reinforce your value with clients year-round.”

Ah, so easy to be the one giving the advice. Now, as a business owner, I am on the other side. And I completely understand if anyone of my former audience wanted to throw something at me, even though we were telling them what they needed to hear. Yes, the karma train has rolled into the station and there is nowhere to hide.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the value in building a presence, whether you are a full-time employee or a business owner. Part of the resistance is simply time – in addition to meeting with people, taking care of invoices, and creating actual work products, I like to eat, go to the gym and see friends and family.  And let’s not forget the Billions episodes I need to catch up on. Now you’re telling me I should post thoughtful content multiple times a day?  Excuse me for a minute while my head explodes.

I also think it’s the Gen X in me that cringes occasionally at the push to self-promote. You can relate to this if you’ve thought any of the following:

  • [Cue a slightly whiny voice]: Why can’t I just want to do my work? Why do I have to do all this other stuff?  It’s hard/complicated/stupid/waste of time.
  • I don’t know what to say.
  • I don’t have anything that interesting to say. I’m not the thought leader type. Besides, someone has probably already said it.

The pressure to be a star accelerates (along with your blood pressure) when the face of a 20- or 30-something millionaire who is giving TED talks smiles at you from a magazine cover. Or one of those annoying 40 under 40 lists comes out.

Remember these?

I can speak only for this Gen X-er when I say I don’t recall being pushed to be innovative or make myself known. That’s not a complaint, just a fact. It was a different mentality – being a “showoff” was generally something to avoid.  It was also a smaller world.  Without the Internet, we had less information about opportunities but also less competition. If you studied and/or worked hard and you were good at what you did, that was enough.  It simply wouldn’t occur to us to do something like start a nonprofit at 17.

Does that mean we’re doomed? Hell no. Generation Xers have a lot in their favor.  So rip off that magazine cover and put it in the cat’s litter box, then consider these characteristics – thank you to Dan Schawbel for the stats!):

  • We are willing to take risks. Perhaps this is due, at least in part, to traditional institutions and jobs letting us down or our expectation that they will. Many of us (70%, according to MetLife) don’t expect Social Security to offer full benefits, and 74% of Gen Xers surveyed by TransAmerica Insurance said they were negatively affected by the Great Recession; 57% are still recovering. In fact, we are less risk adverse than folks who came after us. Monster’s multigenerational survey indicated “only 28% of Gen Y  respondents identified with being high risk, compared to 40% of Gen X and 43% of Baby Boomers.”
  • We are not afraid to work hard. A Reader’s Digest poll showed that 74% of Gen Xers agreed with the statement “hard work is the key to getting ahead.”
  • Many of us prefer to work by ourselves (Center for Talent Innovation) and greatly value the flexibility that entrepreneurship offers – likely more so since teleworking options were fewer when we started our careers. Gen X employees are more likely to leave their current job if workplace flexibility isn’t available, according to a study by Ernst and Young.
  • We are tough and self-reliant. No statistics here – just experience as someone who was one of the last picked for whatever sport required hand-eye coordination. Mortifying and so not good for the self esteem. But I survived, just like you can tough it out if a post falls flat, or a presentation doesn’t go well. I was also one of those latch-key kids as my parents trusted me to be in the house by myself – and I loved it.
  • Our interpersonal skills and decades of contacts matter. People want to do business with someone they trust – preferring someone who is connected to someone they know and wanting to meet you in person if possible. Gen Xers, you can shine here – you will refrain from texting during the conversation.

If we want to stay relevant, keeping up with trends and putting ourselves out there is critical. We know a lot of stuff and are highly adaptable, and need to give ourselves more credit for both.  Below are a few suggestions to navigate the self-promotion labyrinth:

  • Read You are a Bad Ass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. Love, love this book.  Also, check out Kandia Johnson’s 33 Ways to Stand Out, chockfull of good ideas.
  • Focus on the communication channels that you are most comfortable with first. Hate writing but love to talk? Find someone to help you create a podcast (it’s easy) or contact your alumni groups to see if they’d like a speaker at an upcoming meeting.
  • Have fun with it. Got teenagers who are tuning you out? No worries, there is a whole world out there that wants to hear from you.

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