Take the Cringe out of Marketing Yourself
A friend sent me a video recently with the caption “when they tell you your art career will be mostly marketing.” If you’re an artist or independent creative, you probably don’t even need to watch the video to know the general sentiment that’s being expressed.
Marketing our work is an essential part of being an artist. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we all enjoy doing it. Putting your stuff into the world and asking people to buy it? That can make many of us cringe, turning marketing into a stumbling block, whether it’s because we’re struggling with the right strategy, or because we just feel downright sheepish about talking up our own work.
There can also be a big difference in how we feel about simply sharing our work and sharing our work with the intent of selling it. “I’m very happy putting daily drawings on the internet for people to see. It’s the aspect of monetisation and promoting my products that can feel embarrassing,” says Worry Lines, an illustrator who shares daily illustrations on Instagram, highlighting that struggle that many of us can feel when it comes to marketing. “I personally don’t like the feeling of being sold to, and capitalism in general makes me feel weird in the tummy, so it’s never a super comfortable experience for me, promoting my store.”
Many of us feel a little hesitant or uncomfortable when it comes to marketing, and knowing how much time it can take (without some boundaries, it would be easy to spend all one’s time on marketing… there’s a reason companies have entire departments dedicated to it), sometimes the easiest option just feels like avoiding it entirely. However, particularly in busy times of the year—also known as survival season for a lot of small businesses—marketing is often a non-negotiable. After all, how can people support your work if they don’t know that you want or need them to support your work?
Regardless of what marketing tools we may employ (newsletters, Instagram, videos, etc.), how do we find a balance and do it well? How do we keep from entering into cringe-worthy marketing territory? There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but if you’re working at figuring out your own relationship to marketing, and getting more comfortable with it, here are six things to consider.
Value your work and don’t be afraid to express it
Making yourself more comfortable with marketing starts by identifying what marketing strategies feel true to who you are. “Find a way of promoting yourself that feels authentic and comfortable to you,” says Worry Lines, “and at the same time don’t self-sabotage by being too shy.” Start by valuing your own work. “You deserve to earn money for your hard work, and you need to let people know that they can support you financially if you want them to support you financially, so find a balance,” says Worry Lines.
Identify and understand your emotions related to marketing
“It’s so easy for my brain to get all self-doubt mode, which makes promoting my work harder,” says Holden Mesk, an illustrator, collage artist, and designer. “You just gotta recognize these feelings and know that they’re normal when you’re putting yourself out there. It’s a big deal and you’re doin’ big things!” If we can identify some of those emotions, we can better deal with them and work with them instead of against them. For many, we may feel a little outside of our comfort zone when it comes to marketing, but knowing that and pushing ourselves (even when it’s a little uncomfortable) can be useful. “In my experience, if I’m cringing just a little bit, it’s probably about right,” says Worry Lines.
Stand by what you do
Just like we might focus on doing good with our business, it’s also important to stick to your personal business ideals. “Only sell things that you yourself would want to buy, and that are aligned with your own beliefs,” says Worry Lines. This can help to make marketing a little easier because you know that you entirely stand behind what you’re selling. “For example, I try to make sustainable and ethically-produced products, use recyclable packaging, and have high quality standards for the products I put into the world,” says Worry Lines. “Liking and being proud of what I make takes a lot of the awkwardness out of the process for me.”
Be creative with how you communicate to people who want to support your work
One of the things that I was drawn to when I discovered Worry Lines’ work, is the reminder in every Instagram caption of all the various ways to support their work. This approach felt unique and different to me, and I asked them about it. The choice to use that strategy was because it felt like a less obtrusive way to communicate with followers how to support the work. “It’s not an advertising-first approach, it’s an art-first approach, which feels more authentic to me and how I want to work.” They have managed to figure out a way that both communicates to people what support can look like, but that also stays true to their work. “I think it’s good to have a consistent reminder in the captions that there are products available for people to look at if they are interested.” Worry Lines acknowledges that this may not be traditional “good marketing advice” taught in business school, “but it feels comfortable to me.”
Don’t be afraid to have fun
“I love marketing my work!” says Mesk. “It’s really fun for me to take my creations and then get creative again on how to market them.” Not everyone gets the same thrill out of marketing, but Mesk highlights why it’s important to maintain an element of fun in your marketing work. “I, of course, recognize how daunting of a task it is to put yourself out there and ask other people to buy your stuff,” says Mesk. “This is why I usually try my best to keep it easy and enjoyable for myself when I’m marketing my work… For me, short and simple is the best when it comes to marketing! Keep it easy on yourself, have fun with it, and be weird.”
Take a break and get back to the basics
“It’s really easy to be swept away into obsessing over how to market and promote yourself,” says Mesk. “Yes it’s important, but it’s not everything. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, take some time away from thinking about how to promote yourself and just focus on what you love making/creating/doing.”