Awesome Creative, Horrible Marketer

I just wanna make stuff!


Shannel Wheeler

2 years ago | 7 min read

I don’t consider myself a creative genius by any means, but I am pretty proud of some of the things I’ve created over the years. I even manage to impress myself every once in a while. From client projects to my own creative initiatives in the forms of books, products, tees, and teachings — I believe I’ve executed some projects that were worth a bit of hype (at least for a moment in time).

But that seems to be my problem, a lack of marketing chops that allow me to further promote an important creative work, whether it be to help a certain audience of people, to help grow my business, or to just let a cool idea live on just a little longer. It seems like I’ve got the “creation” part down. The marketing part — not so much.

Now let me explain what I mean by “lack of marketing chops”. It’s not that I’m totally oblivious to what marketing is or why it’s important. As a matter of fact, in the last job I worked, I was on the marketing team of marketing teams, at a marketing technology company.

I leveled up my marketing vocabulary as I marveled at the sophisticated strategy, thinking, analytics, and tools that went miles beyond paid social ads, the typical webinar, the occasional large campaign, or stale email marketing. This was the real deal. Some of my coworkers were even referred to as marketing “wizards” at times, well, because they were.

That 4.5-year experience, in addition to the culmination of all my other design jobs that lived inside of marketing departments (corporate, nonprofit, and small biz) over the last 18 years has shown me a lot.

But for some reason, marketing still hasn’t proven to be second nature to me. It’s not due to ignorance or a lack of knowledge; I think it really boils down to something else. I’m speaking for myself, but this applies to other creatives who may relate:

We’re too busy creating

I know it sounds like an excuse. But creating is what I do. I get so fully engrossed in the process. From ideation to research to the sketching to the concepts and iterations to the final product — I’m all in.

Maybe if someone taught me that marketing was the last step of the design process, I would carry it all the way through. But because it’s not a mandatory step (nor should it be in all cases), then it’s not top of mind for me.

We’ve already moved on to the next thing

That leads me to my next reason — more creation. In the proverbial rat-race to transform ideas into reality, we creatives often feel we need to get these ideas out of us or we’ll explode.

Well, not literally explode, but sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes the excitement of getting to that “next big thing” overrides the proper showcasing of the former big thing. And then you end up with a pile of cool things that no one knows about (except for maybe 45 of your IG friends who saw that one promotion you posted at 11:37 pm).

We take our work too personally

We know that marketing is essentially placing a microscope on our work, pulling out a megaphone and saying “hey look at me and what I did!” for the purpose of persuasion, selling, inspiration, etc. But doing that means that we have to be open to critique, scrutiny, misinterpretation — all the things we may not want to face.

After all, we might have put our heart and soul into making this thing; having someone we know (or don’t know) dissect it over and over again doesn’t sound appealing. We also make the mistake of thinking our work is only for us or about us when in reality, it’s really for someone else.

We underestimate the effort it takes

Sometimes we want to market but do a haphazard job. We might schedule a few posts or send out emails or even host a launch party for what we’ve created. But then that’s it. We don’t stay consistent with marketing efforts and then wonder why we didn’t get as much traction as we’d hoped.

Although I’ve seen marketing done right many times over (and even imagine myself doing it), I often don’t realistically plan, budget, or reserve enough energy for the marketing part. I’m then stuck between settling for a seemingly futile effort or not doing it all. Plus, there’s that next thing I need to create…

We don’t understand marketing

Okay, so we might know marketing on the surface, but maybe not the complexities and nuances that it takes to launch a really successful campaign or to do marketing at a much larger scale.

Unless we’re executing serious marketing efforts with a team of people for a large-enough initiative and consistently over time, many of us may never understand firmographic data, air cover, what a TAM is, buyer personas, MQLs, demand generation, or why we might need a CRM.

We don’t want to

Marketing can be stressful and some of us just don’t want to do it. We don’t want to do it because of all the reasons above. Some of us don’t have time to or would rather pay someone to do it for us.

For me, I have a love/hate relationship with social media marketing; it’s something I know I need to do and enjoy the engagement from, but just seems to demand so much energy.

Not only does it require producing the content, but also writing captions, strategic scheduling, programmatic (or organic) consistency, and of course, meaningful engagement. Some of us just don’t want to do it. Simple as that.

So how do we overcome the hump of horrible marketing, or the lack thereof, if it’s something that we know we need to do? Personally, I’m trying to figure out this formula, but I do believe some solutions are to:

Plan better

If you know you have the ability to market better and know deep down that some of your creative projects deserve more of a push to be seen by the masses for whatever reason, then plan for the marketing process.

Tack it on to the end of your design process as an honorary member. Implement marketing into your project timeline and commit to a certain amount of time and activities that you will execute. You can even purchase tools (software, apps, etc.) that elevate your marketing strategy and tactics.

Commit to the process

There’s always more to learn; marketing can be one of those learning goals if you want it to be. This self-education process can range from inquiring more from your marketing co-workers, reading books/blogs, watching videos, following marketing influencers, or observing/noting how other creatives do a great job at marketing their creative initiatives.

Once you learn a thing or two, commit to applying just one or two new practices over a dedicated period of time and see what results follow. Just a few marketing practices to try could include:

  • adding a “subscribe to my email list” form to your website (and then actually doing something with the list at some point)
  • creating a simple social media campaign for your next personal project
  • investing in a scheduling tool to schedule social media content
  • purchasing paid social or display ads
  • posting your work, event, idea, or initiative in a new online group that could benefit
  • creating a launch party or event for the completion of your next big thing
  • calling or texting someone about your latest project
  • creating a promotion for your current and past (worthy) clients
  • host an event, webinar, or class where you give insight about one of your many creative skills
  • create a new dedicated social media profile for your business or solely to showcase your work
  • collect reviews of your work to share for a later purpose
  • send a follow-up email

Hire someone

You know your strengths and weaknesses. If marketing is your weakness or just doesn’t capture enough of your interest, hire someone (or even a team) to do it for you.

Change your perspective

If you view marketing as bragging or placing too much attention on you, then change your perspective to “them”. How can what you create help others? How does it elevate, empower or inspire others? How will others know about how you can help if you don’t tell them? Instead of making marketing about you, make it a mission of helping others.

The more you push out your creative genius (for good, of course), the more people you can reach, impact and influence.

Increase your influence

Some of us aren’t living up to our full potential because we’re hiding behind our work. Marketing can be a vehicle to help the world know the woman or man behind the work. And knowing that there’s a real person with real passions, fears, challenges, insights, and experiences behind the work can make it all the more powerful.

Design and marketing go hand-in-hand. We already know that, but it doesn’t mean that both processes come naturally to us. The first step is acknowledgement and acceptance that you may be horrible at marketing.

The next step is what you’ll do about it. After all, your work matters. And it’s not always for you. Marketing is a vehicle to help make sure you’re also serving them.


Created by

Shannel Wheeler







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