Everyone Thinks They Suck At Selling

So turn off the offs and turn on the ons.

Do you think you suck at selling?

Do you watch other people selling their stuff to stores, apparently without effort, and think “But WHY is this so HAAAARD for me?”

Have you ever wondered if there’s just something about you – something which makes it impossible for you to be good at selling? Like it’s just not in your DNA?

Or you’re just too much of an introvert?

If so, you’re normal.

Gloriously, perfectly normal. How you feel about selling is how most creative people feel about it.

Dread, nerves, a sudden urge to become an alpaca farmer. This is how the creative mind typically responds to selling situations.

So if that’s how you feel when you think about pitching to a store, or asking a stockist if they’d like to re-order, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not some weird outlier.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t feel that way?

Wouldn’t it be rather wonderful, in fact, if retailers just started buying your work when you needed them to, without a lot of stress, waiting or uncertainty?

If selling to stores felt like that all the time, you’d probably own fewer books on alpaca husbandry, right?

I thought so.

Well, I’m about to introduce you to an idea I think you’ll like.

First, you need to know a little bit about how retailers’ minds work. You see, the process of buying stock (and that’s something we’re almost always looking to do,) is like driving a car.

We have an accelerator and we have brakes.

One area of our brain is continually on the look-out for buying opportunities. We’re always processing our environment, searching for items that might sell well in our store. So when we get a submission from an artist, or an email from a supplier about a limited offer, we get a flutter of excitement.

This is our brains sending us a message that says “QUICK! PUT YOUR BUYING HAT ON!” It feels like a pleasant little rush.

This is our accelerator in action. When we spot a product or collection that might work, we’re drawn towards it.

But there’s another part of our brain and it’s continually looking for reasons NOT to buy.

It processes the data from our environment and scans any buying opportunities for potential threats.

It might be a high-level threat like losing money to an untrustworthy supplier, disappointing our customers with poor-quality goods or stocking the same products as our arch-rivals across the street.

Or it could be a low-level threat which simply makes us think “No thanks, this isn’t for me.”

When we’re at a trade show, for example, I can usually tell from an exhibitor’s branding or packaging if their product isn’t a good fit for my shop. Often I don’t even have to slow down – a glance or two is all it takes. That doesn’t mean those products are bad in any way. They just don’t match up with what I sell.

Whatever the threat level, when that part of a retailer’s brain fires, we get a “STOP! TAKE YOUR BUYING HAT OFF!” message.

And we immediately slam on our brakes.

So for retailers, the entire process of buying stock is an interchange between our accelerator and our brakes.

If a buying opportunity hits our accelerator harder than it hits our brakes, we’re probably going to make an order.

If it hits our brakes harder than our accelerator, we’re almost certainly not going to make an order.

And if the accelerator and brakes are hit equally, we’ll probably put off making a decision altogether.

How does this help you?

Well, if you want to feel better (and make more money) when you sell to retailers, you need to concentrate on turning off our offs and turning on our ons.

In other words, make sure you’re doing your best to press down on our accelerators and keep your foot well clear of the brakes.

It may not sound like it, but this is revolutionary thinking for many artists. That’s because when selling is difficult, the traditional advice is to throw all your weight onto the accelerator.

Pitching by email not working? Start cold-calling stores.

Retailers aren’t buying at your current prices? Run a deep discount sale.

No-one’s ordering your new collection? Overshare on Instagram.

But the thought of employing hard-sell tactics like these makes you want to hide under a blanket, doesn’t it?


If you find selling difficult, it’s pretty common to assume that you have an accelerator problem.

But maybe you don’t.

Maybe all you need to do is take your foot off the brakes.


Here are three things that hit the brakes for retailers:

You make us jump through hoops. Like, you get in touch to ask if we want to see your catalogue instead of just sending the catalogue.

You don’t reply to emails or answer the phone. You don’t have to be constantly on call but being available is important.

You don’t seem to like us much. If, for example, your terms and conditions are written in terrifyingly formal language, it’s easy to feel that you don’t trust retailers. Yes, you have to protect yourself, but we shouldn’t feel like we’re being threatened with a baseball bat.

Now here are some things that press down on our accelerators:

You’ve been in touch recently. We’re used to hearing from you and when we do you always have something interesting or valuable to say.

You seem like a nice human being. You’re not afraid to show a bit of personality in your emails, dispatch notes or on the phone, and it feels like you’re genuinely interested in our store.

It’s easy to buy from you. When I want to place an order, all the information we need is to hand and it’s obvious what our next step should be.

So two thoughts before I go:

First, if you don’t love selling YOU ARE NORMAL. Lots of happy, thriving artists once felt the way you do now. They figured it out and you can too.

Second, if you want take some of the friction and fear out of selling your work to shops, look for ways to TURN OFF THE OFFS and TURN ON THE ONS.

If it doesn’t work out you still have the alpaca option. You can buy one, call it Roger and never have to think about this stuff again.

But, just for now, I hope you’ll give it a go.

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