Make great work and the rest will take care of itself, right? Not quite. If you want people to see what you're doing, you need to put it in front of them – and that means embracing something with occasionally ugly connotations: self-promotion. We spoke to Stef Sword-Williams, founder and author of F*ck Being Humble, to get her advice on how creatives that are naturally less vocal can talk about themselves in a way that feels right.
Follow the three Gs
‘One of the models I encourage people to use is the three Gs: to be gracious, genuine and a giver. Being gracious is acknowledging the people you may have worked with, or having self-awareness of how and when to self-promote. Being genuine is being honest, open and vulnerable – and leaning into that insecurity. And being a giver is to try to frame self-promotion with advice – something that you learnt from that project that you could give to somebody else. That's a way to reposition self-promotion so you feel more comfortable doing it. It also helps elevate you as somebody that has expertise that should be listened to.’
Reframe it as storytelling
‘If you reframe self-promotion as a form of storytelling, it's much easier. When you look at Nike, it's not self-promoting, it's storytelling. Write down what your bio is in three different ways. Each time you write it, you'll unearth different things that you can use to describe yourself. Maybe speaking about yourself in the third person or from behind a brand name feels more comfortable. What do you want people to feel when you share your work? What story do you want your content to tell about yourself? Create two separate lists of what you do – and don't – want your content to be like. Then refer back to it.’
Do your research
‘Look at other people, platforms or businesses that resonate and that you connect with. Think: if I were to do something similar, what would it be? For example, the Instagram of graphic designer Elliott Ulm is basically him designing graphics, using insights of his own. He uses the same format – a really formulaic approach. Sometimes having a structure helps to reduce the decision-making [fatigue] of what to do.’
Don't ignore LinkedIn
‘I would encourage everybody to be on LinkedIn. Everybody has a profile on there and it's a place where you can unapologetically self-promote. For creatives in particular, it has the most potential to be disrupted because it's usually quite text heavy, business-y and straight. If I was a creative, I would set myself the brief to say: how could I disrupt those slightly more traditional platforms and gain attention?’
Utilize scheduling apps
‘Each week, think about two to three things you might be able to post. A scheduling tool takes away the opportunity for you to say: oh, I can't be bothered, or to forget about it. Whatever you plan to do, don't beat yourself up or feel guilty if you struggle to maintain it. Having the realization that you control how frequently you post and who sees it helps to give yourself permission to take a break when you need to.’
Don't just focus on the finished product
‘It doesn't always have to be this finished perfect piece – people like seeing the evolution of it. What went wrong? What went well? What are the things I should avoid? Who are the people that are inspiring to you? What are the books that you've read? Where do you get your inspiration from? There are so many different elements that can help position you as an expert in your field; as somebody who really cares about their industry. People like to see the unpolished version and the development of your growth.’
What works for me
Two solo creatives give us the lowdown on what's worked for them.
Avery Williamson is a US-based multidisciplinary artist and makes, among other things, clay earrings and hand-dyed sweatshirts.
• ‘Even though I had a smaller following before I switched to running my own business, I felt like I had built a really nice relationship with people who are interested in my work. Just focusing on putting things out that excited me and generated conversation felt like the best way to go.’
• ‘Instagram is pretty much the main platform that I use. The ability to show images, video and time lapses allows me to share my making process. People like the process – to see what it looks like to make and be a part of it. There's been a shift towards providing more copy; I just have to continually assert and say: I'm a visual artist – that's my media.’
• ‘I try to be responsive to my space and my mood. When I feel like the light is really nice in my studio, I carve out time to make some videos. I might do a cluster of time-lapse pieces if I've got a couple of hours and I need to decompress. It gets fun when I'm not thinking about it as structured schedule time, but letting things flow. I'm always experimenting – I'm not keeping a running list of what has failed. I try to be kind to myself and just make sure I learn from everything.’
• ‘I've never set goals around wanting a certain number of followers. I just want people that are excited and inspired by the work. It's nice to remember that I can pause, think about other ways in which I can build and grow my business and strengthen relationships so that they are not solely based on self-promotion in one particular way.’
Ashton Attzs is an illustrator and painter based in the UK.
• ‘It's always just been me, so I've always understood the importance of self-promotion. I have one active Instagram account, which is my professional account. I've always made sure that I've kept my professional stuff completely exclusive and not to mix personal life with my art. It's mostly for aesthetic reasons – my visual identity is quite distinctive.’
• ‘Most of my posts are final pieces. That's a personality trait of mine – to just show people the final product. I've always had this pride around showing the best of my work, so I'd rather not show the process in between. Because the aesthetic is quite important, I try to keep my grid reflective of that.’
• ‘I always try to keep it real and authentic and make sure that my personality comes through. There's a level of honesty: this is what I've done, and let people interpret it how they like. If I've worked hard on a job and I've created a piece that I'm proud of, I think I should be quite confident in sharing that.’
• ‘If you'd asked me if I wanted to grow my following this time last year, I'd have said it was a big priority for me. It can be easy for creatives to compare and think: I'm doing all this work, why isn't it being seen? I felt like I deserved more people to see my work. I've come to realize that it's the quality of people who follow you – I'm blessed to have a platform where I have really lovely supportive people that do interact with my work and share my work. You could have just 100 followers and they could all be great clients.’