How to Create Content When Your Product Is You
It’s easier to come up with a content creation strategy when you produce a thing that does a job. For instance, if you’re a farmer, you grow crops—you make a thing. Your crops turn into food, plastics, textiles, whatever—they do a job.
So if you’re creating content as a farmer, you develop an endless series of content related to farming. You can blog about crops, pests, pesticides, organic vs. conventional, prices, equipment, how farming makes your soul happy, and any other imaginable topic. All of your content leads people toward buying your crops. The call to action (CTA) is to visit your farm, join your CSA, or order one of your products.
For creatives, the CTA is “take a chance on me.” The transaction isn’t “want, pay, have,” like it is when you purchase commodities from a farmer. The process is longer, more nebulous, and harder to define. Content creation is about convincing people to build a relationship with you by explaining who you are, what you’ve done, and why you’re worth it.
A doctor, CPA, or attorney, you acquires a high standardized and uniform body of knowledge. You’ve taken a standardized examination that says you’re qualified to do what you do. Like a creative professional, your product is you and the work you can do for others. At the same time, it’s not hard to show that you’re qualified, and it’s not hard to quantify your worth in the marketplace.
The creative professional often takes a more creative path to skill development. There’s no standardized test that says, “You’re a board-certified painter. The state recognizes you as qualified to make paintings and says that your paintings are worth purchasing.” Thank goodness we live in this time, when tools like blogging and social networks give us a new way to explain who we are and what we do.
What Have You Made?
Many creative professionals have existing assets like albums, novels, or paintings that people can purchase. In those cases, like the farmer, create content that leads to a CTA about your products. Make sure people know how to find your stuff and how to acquire it. Tell them what you want them to do with it, whether that’s to download it, buy it, or contact you about ordering it.
If you don’t have a portfolio of some kind, create one this week. In today’s world, your bio and portfolio matter more than your resume. Graphic designers and visual artists can choose a platform like Behance, or if you’re a photographer, try 500px. Vimeo and SoundCloud are great for video and music, respectively. If you use WordPress, check out this list of portfolio plugins to make your portfolio look more snazzy.
Additionally, always include a call-to-action on your portfolio, such as a “Request a Quote” button, so that people can contact you. Your button should lead to a Web form or a dedicated contact page.
What Are You Making Now?
Creative professionals work on new things all the time. If you’re not making new things, it’s time to rethink your priorities. Make something small and new every day. It could be one original paragraph, one sketch, one part of a song, one section of a storyboard, one or two comic panels.
Then, go ahead and share it.
Take a picture of it, paste a quote into a tweet, upload a soundbite, share it on YouTube. It doesn’t have to be a work of genius. Just something that you’re making.
Sharing your work gets you out of your head and out of your delusion that you have to be a lone genius. It makes you part of what Brian Eno calls a “scenius” (thanks to Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work” for the reference). A scenius is an ecosystem of talent in which people share their work, get feedback, and create their own riffs off the ideas of others...without baldly stealing ideas, of course.
A scenius is Paris in the 1920s, or it’s Detroit around the birth of Motown. It’s people from multiple creative disciplines, generating a synergy that projects something bigger than themselves. A scenius is also someone telling you, “I don’t understand the ending to your story,” and making you think about how to make it better.
How Do You Make Your Stuff?
People are always interested in how others come up with ideas. They’re also interested in the process of how ideas become reality. By creating content to explain your process, including all of its false starts and stops, you remind the world that few great works ever emerge as fully formed ideas of genius.
Let other people see how you sketch something 20 times before incorporating it into a painting. Grumble about the scene from your movie script that you just can’t quite get right. Snap a photo of your latest song lyrics, or share an outtake from your film. People want to know how the sausages are made.
A great idea I recently read about comes from mystery author Sue Grafton, who keeps a process journal as she’s writing a novel. The journal for each work is a memoir of the writing experience. It includes how she feels while approaching the work (we’ve all journaled about our anxieties), the ideas she’s writing about that day, and the direction she thinks the writing might go.
A snippet from your process journal shared on social media—good. Going back and reliving the gory, sweaty, and glorious story of how your novel came to be—priceless.
What Do You Know About Doing the Work?
You’ve learned some lessons along the way about doing your creative work. You’ve also learned valuable truths from your scenius or from the artists you admire.
Share something you’ve learned on your journey, or share something that someone else has said. If you’re quoting someone else on social media, give credit not only by name but also by handle. It gives you a chance of connecting with an influencer, but even better, it gives them a chance to self-promote by sharing what you said.
Who Likes Your Work?
If someone says something about your work, share it. It doesn’t even have to be positive; negative reviews can be really funny, and sharing them can be cathartic. Just remember not to smash up your work the way this art student did.
A Note on Etiquette
Don’t become one of those people who constantly self-promotes your asset on social media. If every tweet you send is about buying your book, and if new followers get an automated DM asking them to buy your book, you can bet that they’re more likely to want to smack you with your book than purchase it from you.
Remember Gary Vaynerchuk’s formula for social sharing, which is also the title of his book: “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.” Jabs are light pieces of content that provide something useful, even if that useful something is just a laugh. They can also be shares of other people’s stuff, which shows that you can give kudos as well as take credit when you’re on social media.
Then, once you’ve landed a few jabs, go in for the right hook. Ask people to do something that benefits you, such as to purchase something you’ve made or hire you to do a job.
Content Creation: The Takeaway
In many cases, creative professionals have commodities that they sell. In other cases, you won’t have a commodity that others can purchase. Your product is you and the work you perform for others. So show your work. And show others that you’re someone they’d like to work with by sharing your process, your thoughts, your artistic tastes, and your scenius.