Okay, y’all. Time for a little tough love, because, well, I’m here for you.
Have you ever felt like a sellout? Ever felt icky about pitching yourself for a business opportunity or standing at the merch table after a show hoping to sell a few albums? Or worry that others may give you side-eye for posting that sponsored ad? “Hi, there! Over here! Click here! Buy now!”
Well, that stops now.
If you can’t appreciate the fact that you are a commodity which must sell, then you better acknowledge that you have a hobby on your hands. A hobby needs passion; a business needs passion and consumers. You must sell yourself to survive.
Now for the good news: This doesn’t mean you are a sellout.
To "sellout" means compromising the moral fabric or creativity in exchange for financial gain. It does not mean, as many seem to believe, the act of selling oneself. As influencers sell themselves as a product every day, this distinction is important to make. As long as your methods of self-promotion are authentic to your brand, you are in the clear.
Look at it from the other way. Do we judge Nike for convincing Serena Williams to wear head-to-toe gear?
The delicate balancing act between the self as a person and the self as a product is an art form unto itself, but it is more than achievable. Every successful influencer understands that they are a commodity and knows how to embrace it. They sell their ideas and creations to the world to make a living, but also to expand the reach of those ideas and creations to make an impact.
Matthew McConaughey drives a Lincoln because it increases his visibility and thus his ability to produce and act in more movies. This allows him opportunities to share stories which he believes matter to the world. Janelle Monáe fronts a GAP commercial with her rendition of “You Got What I Need” because it heightens her brand awareness, thereby opening up more opportunities through music and touring to showcase her positive and feel-good message. Are these brands sellouts because they are working hard to fulfill their purpose?
We wouldn’t classify Lincoln or GAP as sellouts for doing the same, would we?
For influencers, the feeling of selling out stems from a few psychological factors. Jot them down so you can usher these thoughts out as soon as they filter in.
First, self-promotion can be daunting due to social norms. By preaching how amazing your product is, you are in essence telling them how amazing you are, and that may be perceived as arrogance. You’re bragging on yourself and that can be downright awkward.
Second, there may be subliminal side effects of researching and developing analytical data and/or business opportunities. If I used blue on my painting to elicit a mood, and critics disagreed with that choice, would I subconsciously avoid blue tones in the future? If I read about a marketplace shift could that result in a serious writer’s block? Should I change my tone to appeal to a different audience for that partnership? Influencers may fear that business knowledge will stifle creativity or effect the meaning behind the work.
Lastly, avoiding self-promotion may be a defense mechanism disguising imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and/or sheer panic. Releasing a project, an idea, or a piece of art into the marketplace is a scary notion, especially when associated with the individual. The influencer must put themselves out there and wait for approval before their work is validated. This is an anxiety-inducing exercise that brings even the most formidable to their knees.
The remedy for all these is to remove yourself from the equation and remember the core elements of the brand. Think like Lincoln, or Nike, or GAP. Nike doesn’t have any concerns making sure the world knows how great their clothing is, they use analytical data to improve their offerings, not derail them, and they have a Plan B if the public rejects a product or marketing campaign. In essence, they are not afraid of promoting their products to their consumers.
Some ask why not quietly release the project to the marketplace and see what happens?
I’ll tell you why not: Nothing would happen. It would be a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
Imagine if the Beatles released “Please Please Me” with no touring or radio promotion. They handed the music to some friends and let those friends decide whether to spread the word. Even if those friends had followed suit, their efforts wouldn’t have created the British Invasion.
“Let it Be” just took on an entirely different meaning.
Never forget the age-old saying: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, did it really make a noise?
Physics literally suggests no. Sound only exists when the vibration of the air meets our ear. Then the nerves and our brain translate the vibration into noise. Meaning if no one is around to perceive the noise, it does not exist.
Bottom line: If you want to share your ideas or creations with the world, and if you want to make a living, you have to make a noise where others can hear!
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