When you avoid approaching retailers about your work, what’s going through your mind?
When you’re offered a stall at a craft fair, what makes you say no?
When you see other artists promoting their stuff, what makes you think “God, I could never do that?”
Try to grasp the exact feeling. Got it?
Great. Now stuff it into this tennis ball machine. You’ll see why in a minute.
First, give me some specific reasons why you hate selling your work. Come on, I can take it.
1. “I hate selling because it feels like I’m pushing something onto people.”
You picked a great one to get us started. My students often tell me they hate selling for this reason. When you’re promoting your business it can feel like you’re foisting something onto an unwilling bystander for your own selfish gain.
And that’s something that only slimeballs do, right?
Well, here’s the thing. Do you believe in your work? Do you sincerely think it makes people happy? Has it been made with skill and care? Do you intend it to give lasting joy and pleasure?
I’m going to assume you can say a wholehearted yes to all of the above.
If that’s the case, you’re passionate about what you do. Your business is rooted in purpose and integrity.
Your purpose is powerful. It’s the energy that gives you the strength and motivation make your lovely thing and get it out into the world. It’s essential to the success of your business.
And as long as your self-promotion springs from that purpose, you don’t have to worry about being a slimeball. You’re not faking anything or being manipulative. You’re not promoting something you don’t believe in, or which you know to be worthless or harmful.
What you’re actually doing is being of service. You’re making yourself visible to the people who need you.
You pass the slimeball test with flying colours.
One important footnote.
You can’t control what people think. What’s interesting and exciting to some is pushy and intrusive to others. I once witnessed a man shouting at Marks And Spencer billboard because it was trying to sell him a bottle of Zinfandel.
Apparently he only drank French wine. Even his dog looked embarrassed.
The point is that if you have the audacity to sell things, some people will think you’re a slimeball no matter what you do.
Don’t worry about them. It’s your job to show up with everything you’ve got and let your right people decide for themselves.
2. “I hate selling because it’s basically just asking people for money.”
No it isn’t.
Is the lovely thing your customer takes home worthless? Do your time, talent and skill mean nothing? Selling is an exchange. The customer gets something they want and you’re fairly rewarded for providing it.
This worry is often a deeper fear in disguise. Your work is precious to you but you’re frightened the rest of the world won’t see it that way.
What you’re really asking is “Am I enough?”
I can tell you right now that you certainly are, but it’s what you think that matters.
3. “I’m too shy.”
Many creative people think that because they’re not slick, smooth or incredibly confident, or because they’re an introvert, they can’t sell their work. I’ve asked a few artists what they think a good salesperson looks like and they described someone off The Apprentice.
Fast mouth. Tenacity of a shark. A gaping hole where their ethics should be.
These artists worry that if they can’t squash themselves into that picture, there’s no way they can sell their stuff.
If that’s you, I have good news.
You’re the world’s leading expert on what you make. There’s no-one more highly qualified to talk about it than you.
And the great thing is that experts come in all shapes and sizes. There are rugged geologist types who’ll drive you out onto the broiling plains of Arizona to show you some interesting shale.
There are little old ladies who can recite ninth century Japanese poetry like they’re reading a grocery list.
There are teenagers who can noodle a 70-pound catfish out of its hole with their bare hands.
So if you view yourself as an expert, you don’t have to force yourself into an image that doesn’t fit. You can look like anything you want.
You can also pass on your knowledge in any way you want.
If the thought of giving a traditional sales-pitch fills you with dread, for Pete’s sake don’t do it.
Instead, find a way to talk or write about what you do in a way that feels good. Your audience of potential customers is waiting for you show up, transmit your passion for your subject and give them the facts about what you offer.
Once you’ve done that, you can let them make up their own minds about whether to buy.
When you think about it this way, you don’t have to choose between being an artist and being a salesperson. The way is clear for you to make art AND make money.
You can sell without ever feeling like you’re selling out. Pretty neat, huh?
Now, please take this racket and go and stand in the centre of the court. When I switch on the tennis ball machine, you can either knock your worries out of the park or let them get you in the ribs.
It’s up to you.
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