Start Here: How to Promote Your Creative Work
Does the thought of marketing or promoting your own work send chills up and down your spine and make you want to curl up into a fetal position? OK, this may be an exaggeration, but the truth is most of us would rather have a root canal than self-promote our creative work. I know, I know, it can feel sleazy, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Most of us are dawn to creative work because it provides a sense of fulfillment and wonder, and having to promote something that is so intensely personal can feel so scary that it may prompt us to avoid it altogether.
The trick to promoting our own work (in a smart and effective way) is partially about mind-set (this is especially true for those of us who are introverts), and partially about strategy. After all, we are NOT selling widgets. Through our creative work we, inevitably, represent who we are -- what makes us unique, our talent, our values or our deepest convictions -- and generate a ‘field of possibilities’ for connecting with others. Think of it that way, which DOES translate to marketing and promotion. Your creative expression isn’t only tied to the work you produce; it is also how you choose to show up in the world, and how you relate to others who share your interests and appreciate your talents. You definitely have a strong say in that, and this realization may change everything. So, let’s dig in.
First, you need to understand that there is no magic formula that works across the board for everyone. But, there are some tried and true tools and strategies that will help you move in the right direction, and, more importantly, figure out how to do it in a way that feels good, and that puts you in touch with the very people you seek. Let’s review the basics.
Build your ‘Platform’
I can hear you thinking “What does that even mean?” The essence of building your platform is the notion of putting yourself and your work out there, consistently, over time, making new professional relationships, and nurturing them, so that, ultimately, your work will begin to attract exactly the kind of audience you are interested in building long-term relationships with -- whether you are focused on attracting buyers, curators, art galleries, etc. A ‘platform’ can, of course, refer to your qualifications or experience, but it’s much more than that. It’s not about your website, or your social media presence, but it does include those things. The idea is more in line with building your reputation or your personal brand, which is closely tied to your body of work, but it does not rely exclusively on the work itself. It means showing up in the world (putting yourself ‘out there’) as well as sharing your work consistently, on and offline, over time, so that you generate interest in your creative work and attract a following. This, in turn, will generate even more visibility and professional opportunities. It does not require asking for (or demanding) the attention of others -- it is all about attracting the right people to your doorstep, which is very different. Feels better already, right?
Invest in a Website
If you are serious about your creative work, make a professional website essential and consider it a long-term priority. It speaks volumes about your commitment to your work, and is an ideal destination for people who are searching for your name online to land. Ideally, your website will accurately represent who you are, give visitors a great overview of your work and provide a way to contact you. Just keep in mind that a poor website, or an outdated site, can hurt your reputation more than it can help, so make it a point to start small, and, at a bare minimum, learn how to make basic updates, so that you can continue adding content in the future, to keep it current.
A word of caution here: If you’re tempted to use a social media-only approach, bypassing a website and using only Facebook or Instagram as your “site,’ you are always going to be subject to parameters that are set by someone else. While these platforms are popular now, and are useful for engaging with others and building a following, they could lose favor at some point, and all that time (and work) you have invested will be for nothing. In addition, you probably already know that these platforms exercise a powerful degree of control over who is shown your content (just because you post it does not mean that your friends and followers will see it). In reality, only a fraction of your followers see your content. So, unless you plan to invest in paid advertising, it can quickly feel like a misuse of your time and energy. I’m not against using social media. To the contrary, I am all for it, but it should not replace a website, which is your most important media asset.
Build Your Mailing List
Your mailing list is the most important tool in your self-promotion arsenal. If you have an email list, you have a built-in audience that is already motivated to listen and purchase from you. It’s important that you continue to build your list through your online and offline activities, adding records at every opportunity, always with people’s permission. Start simple, but. if possible, use an email management tool (such as Mailchimp, Constant Contact or Convertkit, for example) that will give you the option to build campaigns, send newsletters and track your audience’s preferences and customer journeys. Some services are free up to a certain number of records, so it is a great way to get organized right from the start. I will be writing more about email marketing soon.
If you’re starting out, consider using social media useful for building visibility in your field. You don’t need to be active across a number of platforms, but you would be wise to focus on one or two exclusively in the beginning. Inevitably, clients will ask “which platform is best?” The answer depends on your ideal target audience. Do your research on each of the platforms, select the best fit, and take it from there. For most artists and creative professionals, Facebook and Instagram are generally the first stops because they provide access to over 1 Billion people, and lend themselves very well to visual content. You can always add other platforms to your repertoire as you begin to feel more comfortable with these tools, and begin to see results. Be on the lookout for tips on using social media with intention, so you can make the most of the time and effort you put into it.
Remember, the goal behind self-promoting your creative talent and work —strategically and effectively— in a way that works for YOU, is always going to be to help you generate more opportunities to live a more balanced and fully-realized creative life.
What do you think? Do you have something to add? Are you already active on all of these fronts? Please share your thoughts or tips in the comments below.