Why You Should Promote Your Work Even if You’re an Artist
It’s part of your job as a creator
I get it.
Everyone has that Facebook friend that comes up with a new startup idea every month and immediately invites their whole friend list to ‘like’ their page.
Nobody wants to be that guy (or gal). Nobody wants to overpromote themselves and look like a sleazy salesperson.
But when you’re creating content, creating is only 50% of the job. And if you don’t promote your work, you risk missing out on opportunities, additional exposure, and even money.
People say (usually to themselves), “I am artist, I don’t need promotion.” I would say, yes, you’re an artist. And that’s exactly why you need promotion.
I learned this lesson the hard way.
I Launched My First YouTube Channel in 2016
I just quit college in the U.S. and moved in with my parents back in Moscow, Russia. I wanted to build a business. And I had this crazy idea of a YouTube channel where I would document my journey of building a company.
I would interview other people. I would show how my dad (also an entrepreneur) worked. And I would go to business meetings with a cameraman (hey GaryVee!).
I assembled a team. We created the first few videos; Inc. Magazine featured me, and besides being an 18-year-old teaching other people how to build businesses, everything was going great.
My first video got 10K views (thanks to Inc. Magazine in Russia).
My second video got 8K views (thanks to the longtail from the first video).
My third video got 2K views.
And then from video number four to video number ten, I got a stable ~300–500 views.
“What’s wrong?!”, I complained to my producer (oh yes, I forgot to mention that I had a ‘producer’), “Is my content that bad?”
Eventually, I got so disappointed with my stats that I quit creating videos. I deleted the channel. My fans (1K people) missed me, but I couldn’t go on without positive feedback (i.e., follower growth).
I had the mentality of many budding startup entrepreneurs: ‘I’ll build, and they’ll come.’ And I was wrong.
I Started a Blog in 2015
A year before my YouTube channel experiments, I started to blog on a messenger platform (viral in Russia), called Telegram. Think about it like this: if you cross WhatsApp with Twitter, you’ll get Telegram.
My first blog was called ‘My American Voice’ (cool name, I know), and I documented my seven-month-experience as a foreign college student in the U.S. for my friends back home.
I wrote about my classes, meetings with famous entrepreneurs (TripAdvisor CEO, Gary Vaynerchuk, etc.) and what the United States is like.
Fifty people followed me.
Once I quit college, I rebranded the blog to some ego-driven name like ‘Luck Is An Attitude’ and used it occasionally to ‘teach’ people how to build businesses and distribute videos from my YouTube channel.
Fast-forward three years into the future. It’s 2018, and I am no longer creating a documentary of my business ‘success’ on YouTube. I am working on an actual business — video production (isn’t that a surprise?) — and I use my Telegram blog to write down thoughts and ideas about creating content.
Follower count: 200 people.
“How can you only get 150 additional followers in three years?” you might ask.
You might also ask, “But what about all of those successful bloggers telling me that if I just keep on writing, the readers will come?”
I’ve got only one answer to that: they lie. But they don’t do so intentionally. It’s one thing to do something, and it’s a whole other thing to teach how to do something.
Most of the successful bloggers got lucky and successful not because they didn’t promote themselves (and wrote and they came), but actually despite it.
And if they promoted themselves from the start, who knows — maybe they would have been x2, x3, x5 as successful as they are now?
Rule of thumb: you’ve got to promote your work. Or as Steven Pressfield so eloquently put it, ‘Nobody wants to read your shit’.
More on that below.
It wasn’t until 2019 that I learned to promote my work. And once I did, I was like, “Oh my GOD! Why didn’t anybody tell me this EARLIER?!”
For some reason, I didn’t want to promote my work. I had an internal psychological block that prevented me from telling the world about my blog.
I thought that only dumb bloggers promote themselves — those who can’t create high-quality content.
Once I started promoting myself, this is what happened to my Telegram blog:
- 2015–2018: from 50 to 200 followers
- Dec 2018: 400 followers
- Jan 2019: 600 followers
- August 2019: launch a second blog in Telegram, immediately get to 1100 followers
- Sept 2019: 2500 followers
Once I started promoting myself, not only did I see follower growth, but I also started to receive external opportunities — to write a commissioned piece, to coach businesses, consult a startup, etc. I even got a new client for my video production business thanks to my regular blogging about content.
“What would have happened, if I started promoting myself back in 2015?” I wondered. I can only wonder.
Why You Need to Promote Your Work
A few reasons why you should spend time promoting your work — whether it’s a music video, a blog, a podcast, or a self-published book on Amazon.
Reason 1: Because you’re an artist
You don’t not promote because you’re an artist. You promote because you’re an artist. You want your work to be seen by others, that’s why you are creating it in the first place.
Reason 2: Because nobody will come
Drop the mentality of, “I’ll build, and they’ll come.” Startup entrepreneurs who say that out loud in a meeting with potential investors, when they ask them how they will expand, don’t get funded. Why? Because it’s bullshit.
Reason 3: Because someone should care
If you don’t care, nobody will.
If you don’t care about your art well enough to promote it, why should we care enough to spend time considering and reading it?
Reason 4: Because it’s your job
Imagine your sink is broken. You call the plumbing company. A plumber comes over to your house, fixes half of the sink — leaving the other half leaking (is that even possible?). What would happen?
You’d fire him.
When you’re a content creator, creating content and choosing not to promote is like leaving half of the sink broken. Finish your job.
How to Promote Your Work
Of course, there’s Medium — which helps new authors get exposure quickly without really promoting their work. The curators and publications do all the work for you: your job is to write.
It’s true. Medium is great.
But even then, those authors who spend time promoting their work become super-successful, and turn their content creation into a full-time job.
As the saying goes, “If you want something to become your full-time job, you’ve got to treat it like one.” Alright, there’s no saying, I just came up with it.
A few tips for promotion:
- If you blog on Medium, write in publications. I don’t believe in writing 100% for others (you’ve got to always leave room for artistic expression), but make sure to have 60–80% of your work published by others. This will get you exposure.
- Use social to promote your work. Once your post comes out, use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit (make sure you don’t break the sub rules) to tell the world what you’ve written.
- Ask friends to support you. A friend of mine worked as a CMO for a successful startup in Russia. He told me a story of getting drunk (he’s too shy) and asking all of his Facebook friends to share his company’s post on their feeds. The takeaway here: ask for help when you need it. Don’t get drunk.
- Use an email newsletter. Email newsletters are still the most important asset of direct marketing. Use it to stay in touch with your readers and to promote your books, projects, and services. (I suggest using a tool like ConvertKit to help you out).
- Share your work on ManyStories. It’s a great tool to get more eyeballs for your writing on Medium.
Most importantly, make sharing and telling the world about your content a habit. It’s a good habit to have.
Nobody likes to look sleazy, but if you’re honest, you won’t.
In the world of information abundance, knowing how to sell is key.
I recently talked to my YouTube ‘producer’, who’s now a friend. I asked her the real reason why my first show didn’t get the traction we hoped for.
She told me something I will never forget, “Sergey, you chose not to promote yourself. It was your decision. That’s why you got the results you got”.
Don’t make stupid decisions. Promote your work. Remember, if you’re a content creator, promoting is part of your job.