It doesn’t sound great, does it?
I mean, selling. Sales. Makes one think of pushy salespeople and Glengarry Glen Ross.
(Heads up, this clip includes adult language and outstanding acting.)
I once had a sales job that reminded me too much of that scene. But selling yourself, promoting yourself, doesn’t have to be like that. And you can have all the coffee you want.
Now selling oneself, for a lot of people, is intimidating. It was for me. It still is, to be honest. You don’t want to sound self-absorbed, or braggy. But if you have skills to sell, you need to tell people you have the skills, and that they are for sale.
In my line of work I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of creators. Artists, curators, musicians, authors. And we often talk of how hard it can be to promote oneself. There are some creators who are awesome at it. But that doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and can be a real source of anxiety.
If you’re a creator, it’s quite possible you went to school and learned to develop your work. You learned your place in academia, and how you fit in the narrative of art/music/literary history. At art school I learned how to talk about my art to other artists, and how to assemble a portfolio to apply for grad schools and galleries. But I didn’t learn how to introduce it to new audiences, or promote it outside of the confines of the art world. Or, you know, live off the avails of my work.
Why would I? Art is art. It isn’t for sale. It isn’t some crass commercial transaction. How can you accurately sell something, the value of which is indeterminate?
Well, if you want to make any kind of a living off your art, you’re going to have to learn. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, getting the word out about your skills and work is easier than ever. And you can make progress in baby steps.
In no particular order, here are some key elements to self-promotion:
HAVE A WEBSITE
I’m so proud that the first three websites I’ve designed were to promote artists. It kills me that one of my art school colleagues, whose art absolutely blows my mind, doesn’t have a website for his art. How is he supposed to show off his art? How am I supposed to show off his art?
Thanks to platforms like WordPress (which very cool people use), it’s easier than ever to set up a personal website – for free!
Online tutorials can help with establishing your own domain (www.yourname.com is always a good idea) and web hosting (I strongly recommend Island Net, but really anything but Go Daddy will do the trick). If you need a bit more help, the wonderful people at Ladies Learning Code (yes, men are welcome!) and Hacker You can help.
Or if that’s a little too daunting you can always hire an up-and-coming web designer to create a page for you.
GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Use it to drive traffic to your website, build your personal brand, build your network, connect with clients, share your artistic process, bond with others going through the same thing… Social media is a powerful tool when wielded appropriately.
Another great benefit of social media is you can learn about events relevant to your pursuits, and even learn about the folks who’ll be there. Which is important because another important step to promoting yourself is to…
GET OUT THERE
As much as I love promoting myself from behind a screen, it really is important to get out there. Get face-to-face. Shake hands. If you’re an artist, go to a show to support other artists. An author? Go to a book launch. I’m currently doing web and print design for some amazing individuals and organizations, all who heard about me from someone else, who met me in person at various events.
WORK FOR FREE
Hear me out. Work for free when/if appropriate. I direct you to this chart, which I wish someone had sent me years ago. I agree with it. Is it a luxury to be able to work for free? Yes. Was I selective about who I was willing to do free work for? Yes. Is it a guarantee to lead to paid work? No. But, for me, it helped me get exposure, and build a portfolio, and led to paid work. Feel absolutely free to ignore this step.
That’s more like it. If you’re trying to make money from your art, you actually need to make money from your art. Make the hard decisions about putting a price on your work and your time. You’ll need to separate yourself a bit from the artistic side and put your business cap on. Track your hours and income. Learn to create invoices and contracts. Alternatively, get yourself a Medici-esque patron to bankroll your artistic pursuits. If you succeed in this, tell me how.
Are you a creator who is trying (or has succeeded!) to sell yourself and your skills? I want to hear about it!
And do you want help with a website or design? Because I can totally do that.