A lot of us look down on selling ourselves— because we equate it with ‘selling out.’
But if you want to thrive as an entrepreneur, artist, or whatever— you need to learn how to sell yourself.
First of all, no matter how good your product is, if you don’t know how to market yourself — you will never put it out there.
For example, if you’re a painter, and you have all these amazing paintings locked up in your basement— nobody could appreciate your art unless you exhibit them, sell them, or share them with the public.
If you’re a photographer, you can be the most brilliant photographer in the world, but without sharing your photos or publishing them, nobody will be able to experience the beauty of your images.
What is ‘selling yourself’ versus ‘selling out’?
To ‘sell’ yourself is different than ‘selling out.’
To sell yourself is to have confidence in yourself, and to put your work out there. It doesn’t necessarily mean having to sell yourself for a price. It just means putting confidence and faith behind yourself, and your creative work.
For me, ‘selling out’ means to betray your morals and ideals. You can ‘sell out’ in many different ways. For betraying your inner-moral compass for money. To betray your friends for some monetary or prestigious gain. To accept things that you don’t believe in.
Trust me, I’ve sold out and prostituted myself in many different ways. And whenever I do it, I feel dirty. I don’t mind selling my services for money, but whenever I do it— I make sure to do it for a lot of money. But in terms of my true moral inner-compass, which I truly believe in, I try to never betray myself.
The test is to just look at yourself in the mirror, and to be comfortable with the person you see in the mirror. It also means to go to sleep with a care-free conscience. If you ever feel any disconnect or ‘cognitive dissonance’ or inner-stress or turmoil, you need to change something in your life.
How to sell yourself as an artist
Going back to selling yourself as an artist— I want to share some practical tips:
1. Publish your work
First of all, if you have good creative work, publish it. Put it in a magazine, a book, or on the internet. Use whatever platform is best for you.
If you never publish your work or share it, your work doesn’t exist.
2. Own your platform
As a general rule, I like to own my own platform (like owning my own blog, and not just being overly-dependent on social media).
For example, to build an audience on social media (Facebook, Instagram) is to be a slave of Facebook. Because you might have 100,000 fans on Facebook (or followers on Instagram), but you need to pay Facebook money in order to share your stuff with your fans.
For example, if I have 100,000 fans on Facebook, and I share a post, I might only reach 1% of my audience. But if I pay Facebook $50, I might reach up to 25% of my audience.
A better solution— create a newsletter. I use mailchimp.com — and pay money for the service, in order to get email sign ups. This means, whenever I have an update, and I send it out to my newsletter, it gets sent directly to the inboxes of my followers. Whether they open it or not isn’t in my control, but the ‘deliverability’ rate is very high, and my ‘open rate’ for the emails are generally 40%-50%.
Also, I ‘own’ my platform of this blog. I use wordpress.org, and have a self-hosted blog. This means I have full control how to customize the look and interface of my blog. Whereas if you only publish your photos on Facebook/Instagram — you are at the mercy of Facebook (and yes, Facebook also owns Instagram, they are the same company now).
This will allow you to publish your photos however you want, thoughts, or ideas.
3. Charge money for your product or services
If you an artist, to ‘sell yourself’ — you need to charge money.
For myself, I would rather earn $100 dollars rather than getting 1000 likes on social media. Cold, hard cash will help you pay for coffee and rent. Likes don’t pay your heater bill, or keep you warm at night.
So don’t get distracted by likes on social media. They really don’t mean anything.
Charge money for your products or services. If you are an artist, sell your art work. And don’t sell it for cheap. Charge 25% more than you think you should. Many of us (myself included) are insecure about ourselves as artists. We always under-sell ourselves. My suggestion: over-sell yourself. This is the only way we can build confidence in ourselves as artists.
What is your time worth to you? What is your labor worth to you? Whatever you sell yourself for, don’t sell yourself for cheap.
As a general business rule, it is always better to price high— then your client can match you a little lower.
For example, let’s say you have a potential client for your artistic services. This is scenario one:
- You quote your services for $10,000
- Your client says ‘How about $8,000 instead?’
Versus senario two:
- You quote your services for $100
- Your client says ‘How about $80 instead?’
No matter what you charge, your clients will always try to under-sell you. But by pricing high, you can end up getting an ultimately higher price. It is better to price high, and offer discounts later, rather than starting off cheap, and trying to price higher.
Psychologists call this ‘framing.’ Whoever offers a number in the beginning of a negotiation has a better leverage.
This goes the opposite way. If you want to buy a car from someone, you are better off throwing out a smaller number. So if you think the car is worth $5,000 — offer them $2,000. Then you will probably meet half-way at around $3000-4000.
4. Brand yourself
‘Branding’ yourself is just building a sense of trust. For example, the ‘branding’ of Nike is to make you a better, stronger, and more muscular athlete. When I wear a pair of Nike’s, I trust that the shoes will help me perform better in the gym.
When I use an Apple MacBook laptop, the ‘branding’ of Apple is for creative professionals. I therefore trust Apple to deliver me the best product, to help me be more creative.
When I read the blogs of another individual, I trust that they will give me their non-bullshit and true, honest, opinion.
Trust is everything.
Branding isn’t having a fancy logo, website, or graphics. Branding is building trust, over a very long time, and not rushing the process.
For example, most people who attend my workshops have read this blog for at least 1-2 years. They trust me, and know what to expect.
So when it comes to ‘branding’ — just be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else. And build trust by putting out quality art, on a regular basis, and stay consistent to your message.
For example, as a blogger— I try to build a sense of trust with my audience by not bullshitting. I share my inner-secrets, my inner-doubts, and try to do it as honestly as possible. People can smell bullshit from a mile away. I show all my scars, my imperfections, like a Christmas tree. And whether people like me or not is outside of my control.
To brand yourself, be consistent with your message. Don’t flip-flop. Coca-Cola hasn’t changed their motto or their logo for a century. The same goes with Nike (Just Do it).
5. Make cool shit
The last tip I will give is to realize— you don’t need to put an olive branch over the olive oil that will sell (aphorism from Publilius Syrus, over 2000 years ago).
The idea is that you should have a product or a service that can sell itself. And the only way you can do that is to create a product, or a service, that sells itself.
In today’s modern vernacular:
Make cool shit.
I like wearing Nike shoes because I think they are cool. The Nike Flyknit shoes cool stylish, are lightweight, flexible, and are comfortable. I of course, get suckered by the marketing of Nike, but at the end of the day — I think they make a superior product.
I use a MacBook laptop because I love the quality of the product. I love the aluminum. I love the screen. I love the software. I love the integration with programs.
I use a Ricoh GR camera because it is small, compact, sturdy, very sharp, has a lovely black-matte finish, and because the menus are comprehensive yet accessible to photographers. I use it because it is a superior camera.
At the end of the day, try to make cool shit.
I try to write blog posts which are useful. I try to write e-books which are actually informative. I try to make photos which take my breath away.
You can be the best marketer in the world— but without a good product or service, you can never sell yourself.
All this advice is going to the entrepreneurs out there. It doesn’t matter whether you have a full-time job or not. To me, an entrepreneur is more of a state of mind. To be hungry for taking risks, for not caring about what others think of you, and trying to make ‘cool shit.’
But remember, you need to sell yourself. Because if you don’t sell yourself, nobody will sell you.
Put your guts behind your ideas, products, and services. Have ‘skin in the game’ as Nassim Taleb says. Don’t doubt yourself, constantly learn, innovate, and push yourself forward.
Never stop believing in yourself.
Learn more: Entrepreneurship >