How I hated marketing but became an expert

I never meant to be a marketing expert. I studied Art History, for goodness’ sake. Anything corporate or sales-y made me run a mile. It’s just not me. I loved, and still love, arts and culture. The creative industries. I always worked in this sector, and that is where I belong. I was born with a pencil in my hand, picked up a guitar on the way, and always have a head full of ideas. I am an artist at heart, really.

But I became a marketing expert.

How? Why? I rolled into it. As you do. And kept rolling for twenty years. Communications, PR, Marketing. I love writing, you see, and I am told I am pretty good at it. I also am very good at summarising the essence of a project, idea or event, and putting it into clear language. I like building bridges and connecting people. And having an eye for design, I know how to make things look pretty. Oh – and I am not shy of tech. All in all, a great cocktail for the role of marketing manager in the cultural sector. So that’s what I did, for many years.

But you know what I love even more? Being an entrepreneur and not working for a boss. I freakin’ love it. Oh gosh, it’s hard doing it all yourself and trying to grow your audience, and booking consistent clients. But it is wonderful, it gives me so much energy, and it really is the most creative thing you can do, crafting something out of nothing. It starts with a niggle, then a seed is planted, you water it, and it grows, and before you know it you have a plant that needs repotting because it’s getting big. Creativity is so much more than being ‘artistic’. We are all creative as business owners, all the time.

I recently launched my new business: ‘The Creative Business Coach’, helping creatives become really good at marketing. Why? Because like myself, so many others are in the process of watering and growing their plant. And they need nurturing. I want to be the compost.

(I have no idea why I suddenly start talking about plants and compost – it’s funny how a creative brain works and comes up with metaphors. Nevermind, do read on!)

Lockdown disasters and feeling sorry for ourselves

Last year, during the first lockdown, I saw many self-employed people in my network lose work and clients. It was rubbish. They struggled, and I read some pretty heartbreaking posts on social media of businesses who simply could not continue. But then I also saw people using the hashtag #artiswork, as some sort of justification of their creative existence, and it made me angry.

Why would any entrepreneur lower themselves to a hashtag like that? Can you image a plumber doing this? #plumbingiswork. Well, of course it bloody is. What else would it be? Why do we have to defend art like this? How is anyone going to see art as an equal player if we keep feeling sorry for ourselves? Chips on shoulders, big time. It irritated me immensely, because, for many creative entrepreneurs, myself included, the reason for losing business, has nothing to do with not being valued. It is how we present ourselves.

The biggest reason for losing business is that you are not sharing the right message consistently with the right audience. You are not visible enough.

If you are reading this, and you consider yourself a creative entrepreneur, be honest; how visible are you online to your ideal clients? How clear is your message?

When a pandemic hits, we need creative brains

Of course, of course, I am being confrontational here, as there are other factors at play, such as less money to spend perhaps by customers, or the simple fact that you could physically not deliver your services because of the restrictions. If a concert hall is closed, musicians are at home. If you are a ballet dancer, there is only so much you can do in a lockdown. I know that. But these are not the business owners I am talking about.

I have learned, after having worked for more than 20 years in the creative industries, that creatives like artists, photographers, designers, and makers, are not renowned for their marketing skills. In fact, most of them see the whole marketing-thing as a necessary evil.

Their work may be amazing, but I would be surprised if any of those businesses had a solid strategy on how to grow their audience and increase their sales. They usually have a hit-and-miss approach to marketing. And when a pandemic hits, that hits hard. I want to help those businesses see that there are solutions.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on

No idea how to attract more clients

Almost everyone who starts a small creative business does this out of passion and a drive to make a difference. And that is why I love working with creatives. They care.

They love what they make and do. And it deserves to be seen. The thing is, the fact that they start a business, doesn’t mean they automatically know how to market it and attract clients. Art schools don’t dedicate much of their curriculum to teaching students how to promote themselves, let alone how to run a business. So most self-employed creatives totally end up winging it. They start posting on Facebook and Instagram, maybe write a blog once a month, perhaps even have an email list. And some of them are better at it than others.

Many of them, however, all tell me the same thing:

“I feel lost in the whole marketing thing and I hate it. I’d rather throw my laptop out of the window than create another post that gets no engagement whatsoever. I wish I knew how to get more clients.”

I want creatives to feel excited about marketing

As excited as they are about creating a new product. And this is why last Autumn I started my new project, The Creative Business Coach. I saw a need, and I realised that with my background and experience I can help them. I want to help them get great at marketing and social media, so they feel empowered and know how to attract more clients with enthusiasm.

As a creative myself, I understand the mind of a creative, their background and industry, and their drive. I am not a corporate sales and marketing guru. Never will be. I understand what it is to run a small creative business on a budget. Because I’ve done it.

starting a business in spain

I make marketing simple

How do I make marketing less scary? It all started with a Facebook community, which I set up in November and now has well over 200 members. In there I share free marketing tips and mini live masterclasses, and I don’t use jargon. So many creatives have this huge block and resistance about marketing and sales, they don’t want to bother people, they don’t know what to post, and they wish they could just ignore it all.

People tell me “I take the fear out of marketing”, and that means a lot to me. Because, at the end of the day, marketing is not rocket science. But there is no way to avoid it when you are running a business. Otherwise, it’s just a hobby. So I am on a mission. Demystifying marketing for overwhelmed creatives. Small businesses with a passion. I don’t want to see any more #artiswork hashtags coming past on my timeline. If art is your business, then boost those marketing skills.

The perfect marketing training for creatives

I am very excited to be launching my first group training for creatives and small businesses, starting on the 20th of April. I recently did the same programme 1-to-1 with photographer Alex Baker, and it was such a joy to see the transformation in her. She literally went from hating social media with a vengeance to feeling excited about creating the next bit of content – not to mention the incredible feedback she’s had on it already since.

“Before working with Nina I was feeling completely daunted by the whole social media and marketing my business thing. After following Nina’s course I actually feel excited about the prospect of marketing my business, I have a much clearer idea of the message I want to get across, and I am brimming with fresh ideas. Already I have received several positive comments from people in my network who have noticed the difference in my social media interactions.“

Alex Baker, photographer, Spain

Seven weeks of inspiration, accountability and support

The 7-week programme ‘From Overwhelmed to On the Ball‘ covers all aspects of marketing a small business, and which will get people motivated and ready for the next chapter. I am offering it as a beta course, as it is the first time I am doing it in this format. That means that the group will be kept small, and the price is discounted. A fantastic opportunity for anyone who feels ready to boost their business this year. If you are interested in taking part, please visit my course page for more details.

Before starting this course I thought it was going to be ‘just another marketing/business course’ like so many others which I had tried but never really stuck. But Nina is an absolute pro and knows the creative mind inside out (being one herself!).

I had so many ‘Eureka’ moments, but I think my favourite was that marketing your business shouldn’t feel like a grind. I am now approaching this side of running my business with the same sense of energy and fun that I have for the creative aspects.”

Alex Baker

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