Show your work as a Creative

Lessons from Austin Kleon’s book

An illustration of Austin Kleon and his book, Show your work

I once entered a logo design competition in my local newspaper because I wanted to gain a wider audience for my work. After submitting my entry, I read the dreaded words, ‘readers will vote for the winner.’ My heart sank because I was too embarrassed to ask people I knew to vote for me and I hated the idea of self-promotion because I didn’t want to annoy anyone. Instead, I resigned to failure before the deadline had even passed. I was shocked when I came in third place and began to imagine what I could have achieved if I had worked to get myself noticed, but how could I promote myself without feeling greasy?

“For artists, the great problem to solve is how to get oneself noticed” – Honoré de Balzac, French Novelist

Share your work as a beginner

Kleon busts the myth of the ‘lone genius,’ because great work is not created in a vacuum. In reality, creativity is a social act as others inspire, motivate, and critique your work to push you to produce the best possible outputs for your target audience. Experimenting and sharing what you learn will intrigue your audience who join you in your creative process. When fans follow you from the beginning of your career or project, they feel personally invested in you as a Creative and your work.

Document your process

I converted my Instagram account into a content marketing blog and a diary for my professional development. It’s a place where I document what I’ve learned, projects I’ve worked on, key milestones and successes, and a chance to connect with other Creatives. I found it useful for pushing me to progress at the same time as building an audience. It was easy to look back through my feed and see how far I’d come and clarify who I was. I’ve lost count of the number of times my bio description has changed over time. From looking at my posts and audience members, I shifted my focus from ‘content marketing’ to ‘content creator’ and ‘creativity’ because this reflects who I am right now.

Kleon recommends treating your social media like a digital diary and take it day by day. By recording what you’re doing, the product and process merge to develop your audience. Sharing your work in progress holds you accountable and people develop an early interest, particularly if they can provide feedback and be involved in the final output.

Curate as well as create

Being generous with your own research and sources of inspiration is valued by your audience. You don’t have to be a genius and develop ground-breaking ideas, just be honest and open about your favourite books, interests, and other things that inspire you. I started curating content for my weekly newsletter, The Creative Tea Break, to reflect and apply interesting content, people, and ideas to my own work and bond over this curation with my subscribers. It’s also a break from continuously producing my own work which quickly leads to burnout and inconsistency. When you curate as well as create your own work, your audience understands and relates to your interests better and it’s easier to build a connection. Please don’t forget to give full credit to the creative’s work that you share.

Build your own space online

This is something I struggled with for a long time. Buying a domain ( and hosting (space on the internet) for your website costs a bit of money and building and maintaining your site takes time and effort. I was already feeling the strain of working full time and keeping up with my professional development on social media. Also, I didn’t think anyone would visit my website, but I was wrong.

A coach on a business book bootcamp challenged me to build my website and I had it up and running within a week on WordPress. I kept the domain similar to my social media handles because it was unique (cheaper to purchase) and kept continuity throughout my online presence. It made my social media posts easier to create because I had one central place online to direct people to, and it helped to focus my offering as a freelancer and exactly how I could help people. As a professional Creative, I think building a website is one of the best decisions I’ve made so far.

Kleon made a very good point that you don’t own social media channels (unless you’re someone like Mark Zuckerberg), so you’re beholden to any changes they make… including things like deactivating your account! When you build your own website, you own it and can make any improvements or creative decisions you want. It can be your sketch book and your storefront where you could collect email subscribers, have a button for donations, and truly represent who you are as a Creative.

Tell well-crafted stories

At my first networking event, someone asked me, “what do you do?” and I stumbled over my job title before the conversation moved swiftly back to the other person. I didn’t have a good story to tell. Kleon recommends getting noticed through storytelling, so practice talking about yourself. A story is another word for an engaging pitch and should start with a problem, followed by your journey to solve that problem, and then a solution. Keep it short and sweet, talk in plain English, and make your message clear.

The more you teach, the more you learn

When I first joined Ad Esse Consulting, I was encouraged to pursue my professional development through creating a blog (on Instagram to begin with) to build up to writing books to help others. Still early in a career myself, I was worried about my lack of experience until I heard a variation of the phrase, “the more you teach, the more you learn.” By learning and teaching, I’m prioritising real connections and engaging my audience by asking questions, collaborating, and being open.

Money and grit for sustainable creativity

Creatives have to live, and money pays the bills. So why should you feel guilty for thriving instead of struggling to survive? Forget the starving artist image because money comes with success, and you need to celebrate your successes. You’ve earned them and small successes make it easier to avoid burnout. I was tempted to give up a few months into my Instagram blog because it hadn’t been growing or gaining much engagement for a while. After a real break where I forgot about work and didn’t feel guilty for not posting, I realised that I’d burned out. Money alongside grit helps you to stick out your journey to achieve your goals, no matter how long it takes. Allow yourself regular breaks, keep your projects lined up, and maintain an amateur’s fresh mindset where it doesn’t matter if you fail because you have nothing to lose.

Instead of ‘self-promotion’ or ‘networking’, invite others to join in with what you’re working on and your career as a Creative. This will help you to grow an engaged audience. You can do this by sharing your work as a beginner, documenting your process, curating content as well as creating, build a website that you own, tell well-crafted stories, and the more you teach, the more you learn.

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