[First published in The Chapess #4 – an issue dedicated to the concept of taking up space as a woman and an artist.]
Years ago, I started a blog. Quietly.
As a tarot reader I wanted somewhere to record my musings. I didn’t feel I was taking up space (perish the thought) because I wasn’t publicising it, wasn’t telling anyone, wasn’t shoving my ideas down anyone’s throats. I pooled along merrily, enjoying my private space. Somewhere safe, where no-one could tell me off or criticise.
Fast forward four years and I’m reading and writing about tarot professionally. Selling my art! So that quiet, personal blog suddenly took on a whole new meaning. It became a business website. Me? Make a business? How embarrassing! I added a humble ‘buy a reading’ page and left it at that. I had a few regular visitors by that point, some of who became customers – and that was all very nice.
In January 2014, I resolved to make this into a fully-fledged business.
That means getting a grip on the concept of taking up space.
It means marketing. It means making yourself bigger. It means taking up actual space in people’s internet time, in their Twitter feed, in their blog-reading, in their inboxes. How else will they know about your art?
The concept felt repulsive. Partly I think this is a ‘British’ thing. And mainly, I think this is a gender thing. Nice Girls don’t boast. Nice Girls don’t say ‘you need this thing I am selling!’ Nice Girls fit into the small spaces given to them. Nice Girls, as we all know, are seen (and oh, how we are seen), and never heard.
(Why anyone wants to be a Nice Girl is, obviously, a whole other thing.)
But marketing a business is this whole big scary world of taking up space. Of being seen and being heard.
I’m not stupid. I know this. So I got a grip, got the hell over myself and got to it.
I immersed myself for a month in ‘successful businesswoman blogs’. You know the sort – like, oh my god are they cheesy you think as you land on the website of yet another shiny, LA/NYC-style, silken-haired, gloss-lipped beauty-queen who just happens to be making a six-figure salary from…guess what? Taking up space. Not being embarrassed or afraid to make mistakes. Not fretting about what other people would think. Not trying to be a Nice Girl. Expanding from the small space they were given. Being where they wanted to be.
I persevered. I reminded myself that I do not have to be these women, I simply have to learn from them. And they had plenty to teach me.
I made notes. I stuck post-its on my wall. I reminded myself daily that it was okay to tell people I’m brilliant. I gave it a go. I rebuilt my website from a user’s perspective (rather than a secret blogger’s) and filled it with self-promotion, just to see how the hell that felt.
Guess what? It felt awesome.
I launched my new website and gazed at it lovingly. There it all was, a whole online thing telling the world what I had to offer. I clicked around and around obsessively, admiring my wonderful work.
And then… ah shit. It’s marketing time. Having a cool website and having a successful business are not the same thing at all. The joys of creating the website paled as I realised that I needed to make people read it.
Back to the shiny lady blogs.
Shout it! they said. Make money! they said. You are a gorgeous business goddess! one particularly successful woman says. Ewwww! I am not a gorgeous business goddess, thank you!
More post it notes. More mantras. To-do-lists with ‘social media’ and ‘mailing list’ and ‘business cards’ and ‘networking’…oh, you know, all the things. Gross.
Why gross? Isn’t this just the stuff most online businesses do? Well absolutely! But that training to believe that marketing is gross comes from the idea that we mustn’t take up space.
All that Nice Girl stuff… it’s fucking hard to shift.
Voices in my head.
I realised these were all just…voices in my head.
I switched off the voices and cracked on. I told people to look at my website. I gave out business cards. I tweeted blog posts. At events, I asked people if I could add them to my mailing list. I even wrote to my favourite website to tell them how fabulous I am and to tell them they should give me a column.
And guess what? It worked. I spoke. People heard! People came. They looked. They bought!
So guess what else? A year later, I’m making a living. Result! I don’t have to cross my fingers and hope that people will magically find me and worry about the cost of coal to heat my home because I am now making an active choice to tell people they want my shit, that my shit is good, and they are up for it. Incredibly, people are happy to pay for my creativity. People are happy to invite me into their space, their screens, their inboxes. And that feels fucking awesome.
So I want to say, if you’re one of those women, one of those people, who want to produce art commercially, but are afraid to take up this kind of space – just get the hell over it. Your art is incredible. People out there need to see it.
Take up some space and tell them so.
Also. You should get a tarot reading. Because I’m really, really good at it. You can do that right here.