Small business promotion mistakes: importance of promoting without bragging

by | Small Business Consulting

One of the best ways to increase the visibility of your small business, of course, is to promote it – and that’s an accepted (and even expected) business practice. But there’s a fine line between promoting and bragging – and then between bragging and borderline arrogance.

Bottom line: nobody likes listening to a braggart, so how do you walk this line?

We’ve read what some of the best minds have to say on the subject and bring their thoughts to you today.

Difference between self-promotion and bragging

To avoid crossing the line, you need to first determine where the line exists. One of the most helpful articles we found on that subject was written by Jeffery Kudisch for The Washington Post. Although Kudisch’s article focuses on bragging-avoidance during job interviews, his advice is applicable to just about any business (or even personal!) situation.

People who brag, he says, tend to share these characteristics:

  • Poor listening skills
  • Canned mechanical answers
  • Neglecting to acknowledge weaknesses
  • Stubbornness and self-righteous behavior
  • Unwillingness to learn or change
  • Unwillingness to take responsibility for mistakes

Now, be honest. Do you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself? Do you have the courage to ask someone else (who tells it to you straight) if he or she notices any of these traits in you? If the answer is “yes,” then that’s a clear sign to scale back the boasting.

Here’s a second way to determine whether you’re promoting or bragging, shared by Nathan Hangen in his article titled “The Art of Shameless Self-Promotion” on Copyblogger. To quote Nathan: “The reason that self-promotion works and self-adulation doesn’t is because self-promotion is the art of spreading ideas, concepts, and a greater vision. Self-adulation is just the promotion of accomplishments, deeds that have already been done.”

Again, be honest. Which are you doing?

Watch out! Dangers of social media

Boasting can bring about negative consequences, for sure, and social media makes large-scale bragging all too easy to do. Vickie Elmer, a Fortune contributor, shares a real-life example of when that happened.

James Alexander (CEO and founder of Vizibility), she writes, recently stopped all notifications from a man on LinkedIn because he posted hourly. “He’s lost his privilege to communicate with me in that way,” James was quoted as saying. “You can spend all this time and effort – it does take time – only to turn around and end up alienating people.” Have you ever lost that privilege? Are you sure?

Elmer points out how social media tempts some people to also exaggerate their accomplishments, even to the point of faking a college degree. Her advice? “Honor honesty.” She quotes an expert on reputation and trust, Hannah Samuel, who says the following: “If you … inflate your résumé in any way, be prepared for it to leave lasting damaging effects on your career.” Elmer adds that, “It’s way too easy to check things these days. A little exaggeration can lead to serious consequences.”


It’s only natural to want to celebrate successes so, when you have some good news to share, find a trusted family member or friend to whom you can brag unabashedly. Then, with that out of your system, you can self-promote more appropriately in a business setting – or on social media where business contacts read what you say.

And here’s a quirky variation of this solution – one we really like.

Consider bragging to yourself. Yes. To yourself. Jessie Kwak, in her article “How to Promote Yourself without Bragging” in Govloop, suggests that you keep a Word document or physical journal of your achievements.

“The things you track,” Kwak writes, “can be as big as finally launching that new initiative to as small as asking a new friend out for lunch. Don’t just write down what you did. Include why it was important to you, and – if relevant – how it helped your coworkers and the organization. Document what skills you learned, what challenges you overcame, and positive comments that others made about your work.”


The reality is that bragging can feel good – at least temporarily. But, true leaders know that, while being self-confident is good for success – and while quality promotion is a have-to in today’s competitive world – too much boasting can be harmful to their businesses. So, they don’t cross that line.

What are your thoughts? How do you react when a vendor or colleague crosses the promotional line into bragging? What do you see as more appropriate behavior? Leave a comment below.

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