5 Ways to Promote Your Work

This post was originally written for artists, but its contents will apply to many freelancers as well. Whether you’re a writer, an actor, a designer or a band, all those seeking to make a living off their creative work must also take on the daunting task of self promotion. If you don’t, you will more than likely perish in the sea of other creatives working harder at getting seen than you.

Creating great work is essential, but in today’s market it is not enough. You need to be seen.

In the time I ran Another Passion, I interviewed many different artists and creative professionals, and I started to see patterns. Many don’t do a good job of marketing themselves because they either don’t know what they are doing, or have no interest in it (and thus either avoid it or do a half assed job). I’ve written about this topic before, but this time I will offer 5 specific suggestions.

The thing is, promotion should be part of your process no matter what artform you practice. It is not a bad thing, and you don’t have to “sell out” (which I define as pretending to be something you are not, in order to make a buck). But you do have to put in some time, effort and a little structure.

Here are 5 things you should be doing at the very least. Even if you only do three of them, but do them well, you will start building a stronger following of fans, clients and patrons.

1. Email, email, email!

Few things compare to the power of the email list. There are many good sources on how best to use them, and how not to. There are great services like MailChimp who make it easy and let you get started for free.

Email lists are important, because subscribers on your list are typically more than casually interested in what you’re doing. They want to be kept in the loop, and your job is to do just that. Let them know about upcoming events, progress on current projects or those sweet T-shirts you had made. It doesn’t take that much time to put together a decent email once a month to share the latest news – just keep it relevant and short.

2. Get on Twitter

If you’re not on Twitter, you should be. Once you figure out how to use the service, it becomes an amazing tool for both collaboration, networking and marketing. For free. The key is how you approach it, and again the answer is to keep your fans and followers up to speed with what’s going on, share relevant links and stories that relate to the values you stand for. And most importantly, engage with your followers and follow those you admire as well as those who support you. Twitter is all about sharing, so retweet others when they share something relevant or interesting. Have fun with it!

Twitter might not suit your personality, but give it an honest try. You can find me there – I’m @theprint. And if you end up hating Twitter, try taking your efforts to other social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Etsy (find one or two that fits what you do and the people you want to connect with).

3. Attend Events

As awesome as the web is, nothing beats meeting people face to face. The hardest part is finding the right events to attend, meaning that not everything labeled “networking event” will be for your network.

If you’re in the performing arts, think of every performance as potential networking. You never know who’s watching and might be able to help you later, so try to stay open minded, honest and forthcoming.

Seek out conferences that center around what you do, go to launch parties, performances and premieres when others in your network invite you, or just invite someone you admire out for coffee. Get out there!

4. Share!

You may have already noticed that sharing is a recurring theme here. Sharing is key.

What are the thoughts behind your process? What would you like to achieve through your work? Sharing process, progress and pieces of material is a great way to keep your name fresh in people’s mind, and to assert yourself as an authority within your field.

If you’re a writer, share insights into your work, give away a short story for people to sample. If you’re a painter, show us your sketches as well as your final work. If you’re a game designer, give us a demo! You get the idea.

Being personable and engaging will get you attention, but in the end it’s your work that will make you money. Make sure your work is never far away, so those interested can check it out and get in touch. Which leads me to the final point…

5. Stop Reading and Start Producing

Maybe you’re reading this hoping for inspiration, or maybe you’re procrastinating. Almost all of us do this on a regular basis, instead of spending the time and energy on actually producing work. However, at the end of the day it’s the work that counts.

No amount of self-help books and how-to articles is going to make you successful. Only you and the effort you put in can do that, with help from your network – but you have to take the first step and lead the way. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike or some angel patron to pave the way, start producing and shipping right now.

Make Your Clients Want You

This is inspired by a post on Black Star Rising, about two recent job-posting for photographers. The short version: one job offered no compensation other than credit (this posted by a PR-firm on behalf of a “high-profile” client). After having written three paragraphs for a comment, I decided instead to post my thoughts here.

It is of course preposterous for a company to “hire” any type of creative talent for credit only. If you’re small fry and have no budget but can do some trade, that’s one thing. That happens all the time, especially among small businesses, and it can be mutually beneficial. I’m talking about clients that until some time in the last decade, would never have thought twice about paying full price, but who now expect your work for little to no compensation.

Say no to clients like that. Refer them to microstock, where they will have a better time finding photos that fit that kind of budget. Don’t slave for clients. If you’re going to slave for anyone, do it for yourself – build your own stock photography portfolio, or whatever tickles your creative fancy. As long as you do it well.

It’s about confidence, professionalism and having the know-how to back it all up.

There IS a market for photographers with the skills listed above, a niche and the ability to tell a good client from a bad one. But, you still have to be willing to work hard – at times for nothing – to get to the point where you can afford to be picky. It’s like that in all creative industries from acting and writing to graphic design and photography. With the increased availability of inexpensive technology, amateurs flood the market with mediocre products, driving down the price on low to mid-range projects. The freelancers and small studios are the first to feel this crunch, as their clients start using amateur prices as bargaining points.

This is where, if you consider yourself a professional, you have to show the client that you are worth paying for. Show them what the difference is between you and the amateur. It’s like the web designer who must convince her small business client to pick her over the client’s nephew, who – using a downloaded copy of Dreamweaver – will “do the same work for a fraction of the price”. But it’s not the same work, and the designer has to be able to show that or lose the bid. Photographers have to show, that their work is not the same as that of someone’s uncle who happens to have an expensive DSLR with a big lens.

There will always be people willing to work for free and clients who won’t pay what the work is worth. It’s pointless to complain about. Instead it should motivate you to get focused and set yourself apart. Adapt or be destroyed, that’s how it is in any business. For decades, photographers had it good, but now that the mystery of “creating a photograph” is all but gone, the nature of the industry has changed.

You have to specialize and build a reputation in just a couple of areas (eg. weddings and seniors, architecture and landscapes, fashion and glamour). Pick the one you love the most, because you’ll be competing against others who love it too, and that will show in the work. If you half-ass it, that’s what you will end up as. Some niches are harder to compete in than others, so research is required. I’m not telling you to give up on your dreams if they happen to be in a field that is highly competitive. Just be realistic about it and plan accordingly.

As I see it, the value is not so much in the work itself, as in the ideas and personality behind it. Anyone can take a photo, but only you can make it look like one of your photos. So, make your clients want you. If they want you, they will pay. If they just want some schmuck with a camera, tell them to go to hell. Work for free if it’s for a cause you want to support, but never work purely for the promise of future opportunity. Getting paid is so much more fun.