The Real Truth to Why We Struggle to Market Ourselves and Succeed as Creatives

Working with hundreds of creative businesses through marketing report-writing and consulting, I’ve seen many patterns emerge, both for what works and what does not. Some of the insights I’ve gathered have been particularly important.

A recurring problem amongst creative professionals (but this applies to everyone) is our continued struggle to enthusiastically get our work out into the world. We don’t enjoy the feeling or the process of having to sell or promote ourselves. It feels sleazy and most of us frankly don’t know how to do it effectively.

Not only that, but with increasing numbers of creative businesses and talent entering the market every day, it is getting ever harder to get noticed.

This trend will continue to exacerbate the problem and will increase even more over time without a doubt.

One of the big realisations I had while doing all this work actually concerns human nature more than anything else. Looking over many creative websites and portfolios, I’ve noticed that the ones that resonated most with me were those that were not like anyone else’s. I.e they were unexpected.

This is in terms of content and style of creative work but also in the way everything was presented and structured.

It’s well understood that our brains prioritise less the things that already fit our expectations. Because we have so much to take in and absorb each day, we are programmed to filter out anything that is as it ‘should’ be.

For example, we don’t really notice every detail about most cars on the road, but when one shows up that’s bright pink and covered in badges, we switch all our attention to it and take in all the details.

We never forget the pink badge car.

This applies to creative businesses also. If you’re an illustrator for example, and you do what many other illustrators do, i.e. send emails to the same art directors, present work in the same way, and create similar work to others, you’re less likely to get noticed.

Simply put, the more you do to reinforce that you are just like everyone else in your creative field, the more you will be glossed over. This applies to your product or service, but also, and importantly, in the way that you market yourself.

Couple this with doing things that actually appeal to your audience (anyone can be different and annoying), and you’re really on to something.

Having thought about this some more, it’s clear that another key feature of what makes us human interferes with our ability to do things that truly make us stand out in this way…

We are programmed to conform.

As social creatures, we feel real pain when we take action that has the potential to separate us from the pack: our tribe of other people. So most of us, like sheep, keep doing what everyone around us is doing. And yet, to make a difference and truly stand out in this climate, we need to do the opposite.

Having a unique style is not enough. We need this perspective of doing things differently to run through everything we do in our professional lives.

We all need the courage to be and do what no one else has dared. As creative and expressive people, we’re well equipped to know just how to do that.

Now is the time to be different.

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  1. I guess the take-a-way is to be yourself with an eye on digger deeper within to sharpen your creative eye. It will lead to growth and at the same time open you up to new ways to achieve a really unique solution to the client’s problem. Design has never been an easy road because the majority of clients don’t want “different”. People are conservative by nature. Expect to swim upstream, but all it takes is to find a client that “gets it”. That puts all the rejections in the rear-view mirror.

    • Great point about clients often wanting to go for what is familiar and not too experimental or groundbreaking. This is why you need to strike the balance in your portfolio between more experimental, often self-initiated pieces of work and other kinds of work that are more like the rest, and popular, but still have your own distinct stamp on them.

  2. FANTASTIC ARTICLE!!! You always write useful and inspiring things that I wish I could have tattooed on my body so I won’t forget! 🙂

  3. There is one qualifier in being completely different in presenting artwork: offering it to someone/place that has specific guidelines for how new things will be accepted. Which may relate to the geographic locale, i.e., the imaginative scope of the area. Hmmm. All that being considered, I just came up with an original way to use my work for initial presentation – so thanks for the brain-opener!!!
    Kate Landishaw

  4. Finding your voice while writing is hard, especially when you are a visual person (like most artists). When I make a blog post I write it to myself, kind of a journal, I can’t write if I’m trying to reach for someone else’s expectations. Some times it works, some times it doesn’t but it’s the way I can keep blogging about my work.

  5. You’re right of course, but I’m not sure I’m very reassured by this! Second paragraph – that’s me down to a tee, I’m fed up with the requirement to self-promote, my inclination is to give up, I’ve spent hundreds of hours distracted from deadlines, preaching to the converted without increasing my circle of clients or buying public at all. So I’m beginning to think, let the younger and trendier kids deal with all the blogging/social media stuff – they’re more comfortable with it anyway – and for those of us who knew the business before the age of computers just concentrate on honing our work, like we always used to.

    don’t enjoy the feeling or the process of having to sell or promote
    ourselves. It feels sleazy and most of us frankly don’t know how to do
    it effectively. – See more at:

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