I hear it often from artists: marketing your own art is hard because it feels uncomfortable to promote yourself and your work. It can feel . . . icky, for lack of a better term. I understand the feeling. It’s true that I’m not a professional artist, but my work is still very deeply personal. Putting our heart, soul, and creativity into our work and broadcasting it to the world can feel uncomfortable.
As a small business owner, marketing is critical
Gone are the days when you could land one gallery, one news story, one well-connected buyer, and have your career skyrocket. These days, every small business owner — whether you’re an artist, a coach, a writer, or a mechanic — needs to take marketing into their own hands. Our world is crowded with information.
The key to success is being smart about sharing your work.
So, how can you follow through with marketing your business without that uncomfortable, icky feeling? Be authentic, know who you’re talking to, and create a plan.
In Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, Vanessa Van Edwards notes that in a survey conducted by her company, “people who are fake” is the habit that most annoys others (63% of respondents said so).
None of us wants to be that person, right? To combat that, make sure your business is built on authenticity.
Here are a few tips for making that happen:
Know your strengths and weaknesses and make business and marketing decisions based on them. Use your strengths to your benefit and limit activities that might highlight your weaknesses. Do you enjoy talking to people? Make sure your marketing strategy includes opportunities to do that: exhibit openings, open studio events, festivals. Are you more private? That’s fine too. Focus your marketing strategy more on online sales and email communication.
Do the things that feel good to you and eliminate the ones that don’t. Yes, I recommend that every artist has a blog. But what do you do if you don’t like to write? Don’t write. It wouldn’t be authentic. You can, however, have a successful blog that isn’t heavy on writing. Make your blog photo-based where you share weekly or monthly images and captions from your art business. Bottom line: don’t do anything that doesn’t feel like it suits you just because they say you should.
Be open in your business about your successes and challenges. Everyone knows that it’s not rainbows and unicorns every day. Your audience will feel connected to you when you share the full story of your work and business. A narrative that you tightly control doesn't allow for that connection.
Use your personal voice. For your marketing to feel authentic, it needs to be presented in your own voice, and in the first person. That goes for everything from the copy on your website to your artist’s statement. Read through all of your materials and rework anything written in the third person. Note: The exception to this rule is press releases, which should always be written in the third person.
Know who you’re talking to
In marketing terminology, we would call this your target market. I don’t like that term, though, because I think it de-personalizes what you’re doing: trying to build connections with people. I prefer instead to think of a person who would be my ideal client (or for you your ideal buyer) and do my work with that person in mind.
You don’t have to get too detailed about this or spend too much time on it. Think of a past buyer or imagine a future buyer and describe that person in detail. Think about their life, their family, why they purchased a piece from you (or will), and what benefit it brought to their life. Think about what a conversation with this person would be like. Would it be casual and fun or more formal and proper?
If you want to have some fun and you’re up for a quick project, create a representation of this ideal buyer. Do a quick sketch of this person and include any or all of the important details that you thought of earlier. Post this ideal buyer profile in the studio or at your desk and keep this person in mind as you work.
I've created a worksheet to help you come up with your ideal buyer profile. Grab it here:
I think about you (okay, maybe not exactly you) in each blog post, email, social media post, and website page I write. It helps me feel less overwhelmed with the idea of speaking to a larger group. I’m just speaking to you and that’s much easier.
Create a marketing plan with daily, weekly, and monthly tasks
I find that when I have a moment — or a week — of feeling less than confident about putting myself out there, one of the best ways to deal with it is just look to my to-do list and tackle the next item.
Knowing what needs to be done today is a great way to help me stop worrying about how I feel about the work and just start doing it. I tell myself “for now, just do what the list says and you can worry later.” Funny thing: the worrying usually goes away once I start moving.
So, if you sometimes feel uncomfortable about marketing your own work, try out these strategies to help you get past the icky feeling. We all have to do it. Marketing is one of the most critical jobs that any small business owner has.
What do you do to keep you moving forward in your business? The next time you hit the “marketing feels icky” wall, try one of these tips and let me know how it goes.