Small Biz Advice: Selling Your Art, and Yourself


Dear Holly,

I’m a painter who’s had some success thus far. I’ve had shows in a few small galleries, but now I’m really trying to move to the next level.

The problem is that I hate explaining my art and selling myself. I know that if I want to progress to the next level I have to be better about this, but the thought of having to do this makes me want to puke. Do you have any advice on how to get started without sounding cheesy? Sometimes I feel like a total fraud when I’m writing about myself and my own work. Where do I begin?

Afraid to Self Promote

Dear Afraid to Self Promote,

What a common concern you have! Believe me, you are not the only creative entrepreneur who wrestles with this idea of selling yourself. I work with many artists who hold a very romantic ideal that if you’re an artist, the art should speak for itself, and you do not need communicate your vision.

But, if you want to progress to a higher level—you said you did—your communication skills will become as vital as your painting skills.

First, know that almost everyone feels like a fraud when they’re discussing their own work. So, find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone and this isn’t specific to you. But, like I tell all of my clients, no one will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. So, if you’re seeking outside validation and waiting on someone else to give you permission to believe in your image of who you are, you’ll never get to where you want to be.

Second, stop judging yourself and your vision. Most of the time, we feel challenged communicating our vision because we’re judging it before we even truly express it. I’m sure you’ve heard that judgment is the killer of creativity. The same thing happens in business. If you’re too worried about how other people are going to react to your vision, you’ll never be able to communicate it. So tune out the opinions and focus on what you believe.

Finally, give yourself time. Like a great painting, communicating your vision takes time. You have to develop it and refine it. Don’t put pressure on yourself to create a masterpiece in one day. Like a great painting, start with a sketch and outline your thoughts first, then start to develop it. If you rewrite it at least two to three times, I’m sure you’ll find your authentic voice.

Good luck with this! It’s truly what separates the professionals from the amateurs. It’s a hard step to climb, but once you’ve done it you’ll be at the level you’ve always knew you could achieve.

Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.

Want valuable insight into how to grow your business? Holly hosts free 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg. Email her to set up a time or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.

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