The online landscape (especially places like Medium) places an emphasis on being “authentic.”
You’re told to stay true to your art, never pander to your audience, be your truest self, and the creative career you’ve always dreamed of will fall from the sky.
If you mention anything about marketing or try to get people to sign up for your email list, or god forbid, pay money for the value you provide, you must be some sort of slick-haired snake oil salesman.
If you do decide to mention your email newsletter, product, or services, you tuck them away in a teeny tiny p.s. section at the end of your blog post.
Anything else is seen as pushy and aggressive.
I fell prey to this mentality for a while. I wrote pieces condemning overt content marketing techniques and pushed people to be authentic and create for the sake of creating.
All of this advice sounds good, but when push comes to shove, it often leads to empty pockets and broken dreams.
You provide value in your job and get paid for it. You value education from an “established institution,” like college and pay tens of thousands of dollars for it.
Why then, should you incessantly create valuable work and give it away for free?
You can write 200 free blog posts for “exposure,” or timidly peddle an e-book that costs less than a happy meal, but eventually you’re going to have to sell something if you want to make an impact and have the type of income that supports your creative lifestyle.
If you’re just starting out in any form of creative or information based business online you’re going to run into the following scenario.
You’ll create free stuff — lots of it because people like free stuff. You’ll produce a prodigious amount of work until you feel confident enough to actually sell something.
Then, when it’s time to ask people for money, you’ll either fold in fear because you don’t know how to sell, or you’ll be met with jeers from the crowd because you “sold out.”
There are a select group of people who push past the nonsense, realize they have value to provide and sell successfully.
How do you reach this level? By realizing the following truths about art, marketing, business, and the combination of all three.
// Marketing is Necessary
Great art on its own is not enough.
There are plenty of extremely talented, yet broke, creatives.
Broke creatives have this esoteric view of their art. They think marketing and art are mutually exclusive, when in fact, art and marketing intersect with one another.
I see this happen when writers completely ignore audience, write whatever they want, and get upset when people don’t read it.
It happens when people start a website and somehow believe people are going to find it with no promotional effort.
It happens when you spend all of your time trying to be authentic, and none of it learning the ins and outs of why people spread worth of mouth, follow people’s work, and buy their products.
If you make art without learning how to market it, you’ll probably burn out, get resentful, and blame everyone else for your failure because they don’t “get it.”
Best selling fiction author Johnny B. Truant credits his knowledge of copywriting for helping him write novels that make readers turn the page.
In one of my favorite books Rich Dad Poor Dad, the author recalls a conversation he had with a young woman who wanted advice on becoming a successful author.
He told her to take a sales class.
The woman had the right credentials — an MFA and years of writing experience — and she scoffed at the idea of having to learn sales.
The author left her with these words, “It’s called best selling author, not best-writing author.”
Play tortured starving artist if you want. In the meantime, creatives who learn how to market their work will run circles around you while your career remains stagnant.
// You are Valuable
You’re not an impostor. You don’t need ten years of experience and credentials before you have the right to promote yourself and sell.
You are valuable.
If you’ve been writing your ass off for 18 months — it’s time to get paid.
If you have experience and skills people are willing to pay for — ask them to pay you.
If what you do entertains and inspires people — it’s worth money (if you present your value correctly).
The slew of free content has made people devalue their work and their contribution.
You don’t have to write for content mills at $10 per post because everyone else does — you can learn patience and attract clients who value great work.
You don’t have to run sales and discounts on your art to pay the bills — you can get your art in front of connoisseurs who appreciate and pay for high-ticket pieces.
You don’t have to pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your work without being compensated for it.
People pay $200 for Nike shoes that cost $5 to make. Why? Because they value the prestige that comes with the logo.
You go to a restaurant and pay five times the cost of what it takes to make the food at home. Why? Because the experience of being out and enjoying time with your friends is valuable.
There are people out there who will value what you do, and pay for it, you just have to find them, which brings me to my last point.
// Ignore 95% of People and Focus on High ROI
The majority of people who sign up for your newsletter won’t read any of your emails. The number of people who will actually buy something from you is even lower.
The thousands of people who click recommend on your Medium post might make you feel warm and fuzzy, but less than two percent of them will buy your book when it comes out.
This fact used to make me upset.
“They should care!” I thought.
But they don’t.
Most people don’t care about you. Most people whiz past your tweets, skim through your blog posts, and click unsubscribe when it’s time to pull out their wallets.
But the five percent that does care can provide the foundation for your entire creative business.
It’s the 80/20 principle on steroids.
// Become a Sellout
Kevin Kelly came up with the idea of “1,000 true fans.” According to Kelly, if you have 1,000 true fans, they’ll financially support your creative career for the rest of your life.
1,000 true fans doesn’t mean 1,000 email subscribers. True fans are people who genuinely care about your work.
It’s your job to sift through the masses and find them, share valuable work, and receive compensation from people who value what you do.
The good news? Out of 7 billion people on the planet, this number is more than achievable — and it’s inevitable if you do the work.
Do the work. After you do the work, be unabashed about promoting it and selling it.
Otherwise, you just have a hobby.