I'm going to preface this by saying I'm not a center-of-attention type of person. I'm not shy, I just don’t like the song and dance of asking for attention. I only want attention when I need to teach or want to share something important. I’m private, ya know? Perhaps it’s the photographer in me, but I prefer to be a semi-noticed observer, stirring up nothing more than kind, accepting indifference.
“Kind, accepting indifference,” however, is not what one wants to inspire as a creator or entrepreneur. Emotional responses that land on the spectrum of intrigued to deeply devoted are ideal. Nobody has time to work this hard for indifference!
I enjoyed the lazy creative life for nearly 8 years: letting passion and curiosity guide the new skills I learned; picking up work through word-of-mouth only; doing collaborations, shows, and submissions only when I came across something that excited me and I had time for after full-time jobs and life took their share; happily going through projects only to fulfill my own creative needs and whims. It was easy to do this, because I was never trying to pay my bills with anything I made. I never had to worry about my pricing scale or if a project might fall through. I juggled a variety of day jobs throughout the years to take care of myself and get through school. My creative work, as important as it was to me, was only ever third priority at best.
That was before I decided to finally take myself seriously as an artist, to not let self-doubt, distraction, life detours, or fear of failure sideline me anymore. I was chronically unhappy from denying all the parts of myself that told me creating is what I truly wanted and needed to be doing professionally. Now I just had to learn how to grow myself, take what I’ve always been making—photography and graphic design for social impact and ecological progress—and figure out how to financially sustain myself with it (without feeling like a sell out).
This is something I am still learning. I will probably be learning it till I go blind from making things on computers for decades or win the MacArthur Genius Award, whichever happens first. One thing I knew right from the get-go though is that word-of-mouth referrals weren’t going to cut it anymore. I would have to take ownership of...putting myself out there. I have to tell people what I do! #marketing
As anyone with somewhat antisocial tendencies can imagine, this realization was also accompanied with a wave of anxiety and dread that I would have to do things that have always been squirmy and unnecessary for me until this point—put my work all over the internet and ask people to pay attention, please care, working artist here. How could I do this very not-me thing in a way that would actually be fun and feel true to myself?
See me now seven months into this journey, writing about it as a first blog post. If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d be starting a blog right now, I would have absolutely made the same face that babies make after trying lemon slices for the first time: confusion, bitterness, and a bit of disgust.
At first, I felt so vulnerable and self-conscious putting myself and my work out there in new ways. I still do sometimes! But these past months have been full of trial and error, battling the anxieties and discomfort that come from being personal in public, and learning from my mistakes. I’m finally in a place now where I can just enjoy the creative and community-driven aspects of marketing. The growth I’ve made in my work and how I share things is undeniable, so I wanted to dedicate my first blog post to some tips and resources that have been so helpful on my path!
Find your sharing style.
There is a lot of advice and information on the interwebs about how often to post, where to post it, when, what kind of content to create, etc. In a cultural era where everyone is branding something, there’s also enough resources and apps in the digital marketplace to choke a horse make managing your social media plan a breeze. All that is great, but it’s also overwhelming when you’re not sure what you need and you only have so much time to be your own marketing strategist.
This is why it’s important to be selective about what platforms you’re on and investing your time/energy in. In my experience, this turns out to be the platforms I’m engaging with. For example, I’ve given Twitter a shot almost every other year since 2010. Though I enjoy other people’s content, I never enjoyed posting myself. I never picked up a habit of tweeting, never found an internet community there for me, never got to a point that I wanted to spend time there the way I did Tumblr, Instagram, or a really good blog.
So I’m still not on Twitter, and that’s okay, because it’s not worth my time if I don’t feel good being there or can’t be present with that audience in connecting and sharing. Digital spaces are a lot like physical spaces in that way. Nobody can be in all places at once and still be present.
Learn how to be yourself on the internet.
"When I realized I didn’t know how to be myself online, my first thought was: Who cares? It doesn’t matter. It’s just the internet. But the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking that it did matter. There’s tremendous value in coming into yourself as a person. Why wouldn’t that be true online, too? Recognizing that my online self was lacking, I made a commitment to learn how to be myself on the internet. I started with a simple exercise. For one week, I would tweet twice a day. (Normally I tweet about once a month.) I wouldn’t try to impress or be cool. I would try to be real and share what was actually on my mind.” Beyond the Dark Forest, by Yancey Strickler (via swissmiss)
As a private person, it always felt very awkward to promote something as personal as my work in public/digital spaces. I would catch myself in a performative imitation of me, cautious of my own boundaries, vulnerabilities, and other’s perceptions. Then I gave myself compassion for the fact that I had simply never taken the time to learn how to be myself online, how to use my voice here.
I am absolutely still learning and getting more confident in this, but one trick I have discovered is to take my online self less seriously. Yes, what I say and do on the internet is important and has value/effect, but people are also going to scroll past it within 10 seconds, maybe share it, and probably not look at it again for a while, if ever. People’s attention spans are very forgiving, and not everything has be stop-them-in-their-tracks mind blowing, as long as you feel you’re being yourself in your sharing/content. People want to engage with people and ideas that are genuine, not performed.
Look to people and brands that inspire you! What do they do that makes you want to comment/like/engage? What do they do to build community? How do they share their stories with others? The idea is not to copy all their marketing strategies, but to do a little self-exploration into what you respond to and why. Maybe you follow someone because they’re an expert and they have a great way of sharing information. Now you realize you value how they help you learn more about what’s important to them. What are creative, you-ish ways you can help others learn about what’s important to you or your work? Doing some low-key internet stalking case studies on peers, brands, influencers, and community members that you admire and enjoy engaging with is a great way to guide your brainstorming!
1. Own Your Content is a campaign from CreativeMornings and Wordpress. It has some really amazing toolkits and interviews to help with all the different aspects of putting yourself out there with integrity. I also recommend exploring CreativeMornings in general if you’re any type of creator!
2. A Creative Person’s Guide to Thoughtful Promotion by Kathryn Jaller
The Creative Independent is a wonderful resource in general, but this guide was very helpful in making self-promotion less intimidating.
3. Freelance and Bussiness and Stuff by Hoodzpah Design Co.
Do yourself a favor and order this if you’re a freelancer! This guide has tremendous value beyond its marketing advice. Available in print or e-book.
4. My Billie Designs has great tools for freelance designers on the website, but I personally have enjoyed the MBD newsletters the most. Melanie Lea comes across as so helpful and encouraging! Her advice is actionable, and MBD also does free webinars.
Other than being really good at marketing about marketing and design entrepreneurship, I’m not sure what this brand does. But this is another one that I recommend the newsletter! Their Unhidden newsletter definitely help me not get bogged down in the aspects of marketing that plagued me before. They also do free webinars.
AdamJK is a superhero of honesty, and occasionally that manifests as amazing creative guidance. Follow him on Instagram, or check out his book Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives.
Good luck on putting yourself out there, folks! If you have any helpful tips or resources of your own, drop them in the comments. ☟