Stop Thinking Selling Is Icky

I have a prescription for you.

Written by Clare

Today Mariette has a question:

“I feel icky about selling my work. Kind of grubby or something. I know I need to get stores interested but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

It’s not just retailers – I actually don’t know what to say to any kind of buyer. I’m scared it’ll just sound like shameless self-promotion. I want to make things happen for my business but I can’t seem to get past this and it’s making me sad. Any thoughts?”

I do indeed have some thoughts, but first I’m going to I wrap you in this blanket, hand you this cup of hot chocolate and put this kitten on your knee.

He’s contractually obliged to curl up and purr in a comforting manner.

Feeling better? Great.

Now bear with me while I go and rip someone’s head off.

Whoever came up with the phrase “shameless self-promotion” had better enjoy their final moments of looking good in hats. That phrase is toxic to artists and entrepreneurs. We’ll get to why in a minute.

But first, let me ask you something. When you were watching Coronation Street last night and the adverts came on, did you kick the screen in rage?

When you’re out for dinner and the waitress asks if you want to see the dessert menu, do splash your glass of wine in her face?

The next time you go to the airport and you have to walk through Duty Free, are you planning to stage a sit-in until they take away all the cigarettes and bottles of Tresor?

I didn’t think so.

That’s because you’re comfortable being a buyer.

All a buyer has to do is choose. Whether you’re buying a house or a packet of crisps, that’s your job.

[Read: Should you tell people you’re a menstrual rat stapler?]

The seller’s job is simple too. All they have to do is convince you to choose THEIR stuff. Their brand of toothpaste, their pocket reading light, their venue for your wedding reception.

Now, we all moan about sellers from time to time.

We get annoyed when they send us junk mail or interrupt Game of Thrones to go on about their false lash effect mascara. But in most cases we’re not annoyed on principle and we’re not annoyed all the time.

If we’re not interested in what a seller has to offer, we just change the channel, recycle the flyer or say we’ve decided to skip dessert.

We’re not angry with the waitress. We’re not shocked that she offered us desserts. We don’t want to strike her from the face of the earth for suggesting the creme caramel.


So here’s my first bit of advice.

If you feel icky about being a seller, start observing how buyers react when they’re offered things they don’t want. Make a note of all the times you see someone punch a wall because some guy at the supermarket offers them a sample of cheese.

It will be a very short list.

Now let’s talk about your particular buyers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be under the impression that every potential customer you come across is going to be a very hard sell.

You seem to think that they couldn’t give a toss about your work and that it’s your unlucky destiny to convince them otherwise. Oh, how to put this?


Oh, did my booming voice wake the kitten? Those claw marks will heal in no time.

You are, though. Very.

The potential customers who come your way are already interested in what you do.

Something about you has grabbed their attention. If it hadn’t, they wouldn’t bother visiting your trade show booth or your website. They wouldn’t be examining your work, or flicking through your portfolio or reading your About page. They’re interested.

Retailers who stock products which are similar to yours count as interested too. There’s evidence to suggest they’d welcome you getting in touch.

When you see things from that perspective, everything gets easier. You’re not trying to foist your work onto random passers-by – you’re giving potential buyers access to things they’re already interested in.

And it’s your job to make that process as easy and simple as you can.

So part two of my advice for de-icking selling is to get the hell out of your own head and into your customer’s.

To be blunt, your feelings aren’t actually what’s important here.

Your customer’s feelings, on the other hand, matter very much indeed. She’s seen your work and it eases her pain, or reminds her of being eleven, or makes her feel like a goddess.

[Read: What makes retailers say yes?]

You being awkward or embarrassed about it is a total buzz-kill. Don’t mess this moment up for her.

Which brings us to “shameless self promotion.” This is another way of making it about you instead of about your customer. There’s nothing shameful about talking about what you do. Nothing.

Unless you’re yelling “Buy now! BUY NOW” at every opportunity, no-one thinks you’re a jerk for selling stuff. In fact, mentioning that you have things for sale can be incredibly helpful and considerate.

But when you act as if you think you’re a jerk, everyone feels uncomfortable. It suddenly becomes officially Not Okay for buying and selling to take place in a joyful, relaxed way.

So here’s my prescription.

Drink this hot chocolate. Pat this kitten. Know that it’s okay to sell stuff.

Know that it’s especially okay to sell your wonderful stuff.

Know that it’s okay to feel weird but it doesn’t mean you’re weird.

And go find your buyers. They need you.

Clare Yuille Bio Picture

Hello, I'm Clare Holliday. I'm a shopkeeper who's helped thousands of creative people sell their work to stores, galleries and regular customers all over the world. Now it's your turn.

Worry less. Sell more.