These days, you can find millions of listicles with ideas for growing your online audience. Those tactics are helpful, but they're not the real reason your business isn't getting the traction you want. 

Marketing isn't about having the right tactics. It's about overcoming your internal barriers to self-promotion. Today's market is too crowded for good products and services to stand out on their own. You have to tell people about them. Which means you have to get comfortable with marketing.

To help you get comfortable with marketing, I consulted with 3 entrepreneurs who are on a mission to help others. These founders have used marketing ethically and honestly to spread the word about their work, but also make a difference in people's lives. Here's what they had to say:

Get over the fear of looking bad and caring too much what others think

Zach Benson is the Founder of Assistagram, an Instagram agency that helps artists, creatives, and thought leaders achieve explosive growth organically. He was inspired to start his company after discovering how difficult it was for artists to promote and share their work with the world (more on that below).

Benson is also an award-winning dancer who travels the world teaching dance workshops. His own experiences as an artist and creator help him connect to his audience and grow his business and his platform.

"My passion is to help others get their products, services, and ideas out there and make their dreams into realities through social media marketing.  Everyone has a story and a dream and a battle, but it's hard for others to be vulnerable and share what's on their hearts and minds with strangers in this world.  

Everyone has value and worth to offer others. You have to show the world what you do and who you are

My mission is to serve creatives who need exposure and are afraid to put their work out into the world because they are afraid of failure and what others think. 

It's hard for others to reach that level because once they start thinking that they look bad or silly the true essence of freestyle stops. And it breaks and its done with. I think artists and people need to get over the fear of looking bad and caring too much what others think."

Teach and Tell Stories 

Peter Nguyen is the founder and creative force behind the Essential Man, a platform that teaches men how to look really freaking good. A graduate of Parsons and creator and artist himself, Nguyen was initially reluctant to sell himself as a thought leader in this space.

Today he's touched thousands of lives through his popular newsletter and blog and mastered being himself while also serving his audience, adding value to their lives, and growing his business. He also has one of the more popular Instagram accounts for men's style. 

"There's been a lot of news lately about how Instagram feeds are all looking the same and it's mostly true. I put off taking Instagram seriously for a while because I never liked taking photos of myself. And the pure visual nature of the platform made it feel extremely superficial.

It sounds a little funny coming from a guy that teaches men how to dress and look better, but if you read my blog you understand my goal is to kickstart men's desire for general self-improvement, and I've found style is a great way to do that.

While I make sure my photos are visually great, I spend as much time on the caption as a short blog post or email to my readers. I try to extract a lesson in almost every post, while I reserve more lifestyle posts sharing to my Instagram stories (which disappear after 24 hours).

Posts with teachable, long captions get at least 50% more likes, 2x engagement, and 20x the saves compared to the occasional lite post I share, according to my analytics. It's helped me reframe Instagram in a way that I can get down with, where it's not purely superficial and my followers love it. I often get comments and DMs about how my posts are a breath of fresh air."

Think of marketing as sharing things that add value (for FREE)

Peter Shallard is the founder of Commit Action, an accountability coaching service that helps people focus and follow through on the goals they set for themselves. Shallard's space is overthrown with charlatans claiming to be experts and boasting results they don't have, which is why what he's done is so impressive. 

Shallard's managed to create a platform based on integrity and improving people's lives using decision science and behavioral economics. He's learned how to use content as a way to both add value to others and bring in new customers - something that keeps him in integrity as he grows the business. 

"When I let go of the idea that my best ideas needed to be "only for customers," that set me and my team at Commit Action free. Suddenly, we could "show our work." We could proudly state "All our best material is free to subscribers." We sell an Accountability Coaching service, so having the integrity to share our best material as content - the same research and insights we're using internally to train our team - was a game changer for building traffic and trust." 

Marketing can be a powerful tool for connection.

Marketing is the art of matching your solution to someone's problem. Unfortunately, for many of us, it still feels spammy and annoying; so we resist doing it and end up with something haphazard that fails to authentically connect to the audience we seek to serve. 

The key to being good at marketing is recognizing that, at its core, marketing is about understanding people. 

You don't need to "learn marketing," you need to learn people. If you want to grow your online audience, you need to be asking, "Who is this for? And why should they care?"