I’m not a brand + self promotion is hard

May 14, 2014 |  Category:   rambling the biz



I have a friend who has a similar loathing of self promotion as I do and we talk about it often: how we feel like assholes if we tweet about a new product or project more than once, how we cringe at the idea of selfies and building our “personal brands”. Maybe it’s hard for us to wrap our brains around that last one because we have worked on legit branding projects at ad agencies at our freelance “day jobs”. The Gap is a brand. Starbucks is a brand. But I have a hard time thinking of people as brands unless they’re Oprah or Martha. Are you a brand? Am I a brand? No. Most people are just people.


Now, I understand why the idea of building a personal brand is considered important. You want to build a platform to promote or sell something, I get that, but maybe we should be focusing on selling our expertise, our experience, our talents or our products rather than selling our online personas. I think only a small percentage of people can sell themselves solely on their personalities.
So, we do have a business and you could even call our business a brand, and I realize that this is where things get a bit complicated because a brand isn’t just about the products anymore–it’s about an image and a lifestyle. Small biz owners are often tied to their brand image (have I given you a headache yet?) because we’re often the voices of our businesses on social media. So are we–by extension–promoting ourselves? (oh god, this is getting confusing). I’ll fully admit, I have admiration for people who are good self promoters who can do it all day, every day, on the hour. They have balls. Do they not care about overexposure? (That is a thing!) Do they not care about annoying people with a constant barrage of “me me me” or risking being labeled a narcissist? I don’t want to be that person on Facebook or Twitter who posts about every single thing that’s happening to them. Or worse, what about those vague teaser posts? (“OMG this is the best day ever! I have news! BIG news! But I can’t tell you for another year!”) I have to wonder if at some point it crosses a line between self promotion and seeking validation. Self promotion is hard, but not because I don’t believe in our product. I think our cookies are awesome, but I don’t want to be tweeting or blogging about it every day (edited to include a link to the shop. See what I did there?) But you know what? Good self promoters do promote their stuff everyday. They understand that it’s easy to generate excitement around a new product launch, but that there’s a cliff and quick drop off. The real challenge is sustaining the buzz, and how do you stay visible and relevant? By promoting your stuff.
We rely on social media for the majority of our marketing. We don’t take out ads on blogs or publications (I think we’ve taken out ads twice in the 6 years we’ve been in business), we’ve never hired a PR firm, and we don’t have a marketing team. This is it and this has pretty much been it since we started. Maybe if we invested in marketing, our reach and audience might grow larger and quicker, but we’ve been fine with the pace of our growth and letting it happen organically. That said, I know I need get over myself and promote the hell out of our business because if we don’t do it, no one else will. Having a great product is nothing if no one can find it. So I’ll see you guys on all our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Will I be promoting this blog post? Yeah, probably not.
P.S., this succulent doesn’t need any self promoting; it’s getting by on its looks alone. I saw it at home goods store in Rockport, Massachusetts and had to take it home. I’ve never seen flowers on a succulent quite like this before!

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  • Pink Ronnie May 14, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Awesome, AWESOME post, Jenna. Resonates with me on so many levels, and yeah, I feel the same unease as you do. “OMG this is the best day ever! I have news! BIG news! But I can’t tell you for another year!” That is TOO funny, because it is so true.
    Ronnie xo
    p.s. Keep writing!

    • Pink Ronnie May 26, 2014 at 12:25 am

      Mmmm….. I advertentlly just did this in my latest blog post, and I thought of you. Guilty as charged.
      Ronnie xo

  • Bee May 14, 2014 at 9:03 am

    clap clap clap. i think about this often and this is exactly how i feel. sometimes your blog feels like a window into my mind!

  • me May 14, 2014 at 9:39 am

    …hmmm…good thoughts…as a graphic designer, it’s been 10+ years of trying to just come up with a logo that represents me, but it’ll take about an hour to come up with a clients’…so to me your company Whimsey & Spice is an a way an extension of you (based on the blog) quiet reflections with awesome treats. I think for me at least that what your brand reflects…

    • Jenna May 14, 2014 at 10:42 am

      It’s hard to design for yourself!
      Thanks for your insight on our brand. It’s always interesting to hear what others see.

  • Monica May 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I feel the same way! I dread having to promote my posts etc. But sometimes having a great product & great customer service – like you do – can be enough! I wrote about my love of your gift boxes recently: http://www.abarcartinbrooklyn.com/2014/04/long-distance-gifting-whimsy-spice.html

    • Jenna May 14, 2014 at 11:09 am

      Oh I tried to comment on your post but don’t know if it went through. I love that airport-wine story! That was one of the best packages we ever sent to anyone! Thanks again for all your orders!

  • Rachel May 14, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I haaaaate hate hate hate promoting myself, and I think that has been the biggest downfall when it comes to trying to get my photography career up and running. I don’t like gimmicks, and I don’t like trying to convince people to choose me. I just wish it could all happen organically. But the thing is, those “OMG this is the best day ever! I have news! BIG news! But I can’t tell you for another year!” posts? They work. Sometimes I click on whatever link is connected to statements like that just to see what kind of response they’re getting, and those are often the people with thousands of followers and tons of sales in their Etsy shops, etc. etc., because people buy in to that stuff. I think those are the moments when I feel the most disheartened, because I will never be like that, nor do I want to, because it makes me SO uncomfortable. Maybe it comes down to finding your “tribe”, the people who will connect to the way you promote and exist and do business, and then slowly building up that base of clients over time, instead of trying to suck everyone in all at once by being someone you’re not. Who knows. I’ve only been doing this for a couple of years. It is HARD, though. I guess this is what I get for not being able to handle a desk job in an office, haha.

    • Jenna May 14, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      well yes it does work because curiosity is a powerful thing, so of course you want to click it. Self promotion is a necessary evil, but it shouldn’t make us so uncomfortable that we feel like we’re not being real or ourselves. I feel like we need to find a comfortable balance.

  • Jen Vallez May 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    So yeah. I feel this way too & feel like a schmuck posting so much sometimes. For me, it comes down to…do I care more about making it on my own or do I care more about what some people (that I don’t even know) think about me? I care more about making it on my own, but still be engaging & real. Instagram has been amazing for S&L. So many connections & projects. We’re just inundated with everyone shouting. Hard to tune out.

    • Jenna May 14, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      I think you’re doing great with S&L and the payoff is clearly working!

  • Mrs Limestone May 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    I’m right there with you. I hate self promotion (evidenced by my absolute suckage at it!). Its the one thing I absolutely hate about blogging.

  • Laura May 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Exactly, yes yes yes. All of this.

  • Helle (Helen) May 15, 2014 at 11:41 am

    For a while I occasionally sold some photographs, and used to resent the more successful friends of mine who promoted themselves a lot more than I did, well I didn’t promote cause I’m crap at it. But as another friend said, if you don’t, who will know you’re out there, who will know you have this product to sell. That said, I find there are good and bad ways of promoting oneself or ones product, some people do get up my nose because it can be too much, at least if one sees them socially and all they can talk about is me me me.

  • Audrie May 15, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    It’s horribly uncomfortable to self-promote, even though I rely on it quite a bit. I cringe whenever I have to tweet or Instagram anything about my work but I have to just grit my teeth and do it. But I suppose it’s a necessary evil and I try to keep it to a minimum or I’ll have to roll my eyes at myself.

  • Kathleen May 15, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    The last time I was in New York I bought an $8 package of cookies at a cool Brooklyn bodega… the cookies were good, yes. But I bought them because they were yours. Because I feel like I know you and I was excited to support you. I was also able to justify the purchase to my husband because I was all “These cookies are made by my blog buddy Jenna!” All of that … That’s a personal brand. Accepting that business is personal is how I think of personal branding. Simply telling your story is a new kind of self-promotion that isn’t so sleazy. But phew, you’re so right. There’s a fine line and it can be hard to balance when you work for yourself.


    • Jenna May 15, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Thank you Kathleen…for buying our cookies when you were here and for the words of support!

  • heather May 18, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Great post and conversation to have. The whole branding and self-promotion has been on my mind a lot lately as I tend to tune out people who over-promote and de-activate their posts from my facebook page. I too wonder how navel gazing I sound when I post and double up posts on IG/FB/Twitter, like the whole world has to revolve around the latest and greatest thing I just made, when I know that something absolutely tragic has just happened somewhere else in the world. It’s all a little much, isn’t it? And somehow, I still think it’s pretty swell that a small business doesn’t need to hire a publicist or marketing team to really get going these days. Double edged sword.
    All that to say, in a conversation with a friend who is a marketing and p.r. person for various companies recently said to me that authentic marketing is really the best and most successful marketing out there. Creating an authentic voice and brand will go a long way to generating interest from other people about your products and your business. And this is something I think you do really well Jenna- always writing in an authentic voice. Thank you!

  • victoria May 19, 2014 at 12:39 am

    I think you have a lot worth shouting about. The only reason I haven’t purchased your goodies is the tyranny of distance – feel it doesn’t do justice to your products purchasing from Australia. There are some cases of self promotion that irk me, but it’s a tone thing. There are a few blogs based here in Australia that started as mum blogs I guess, or perhaps lifestyle and from there an opportunity arose for them to create a business. In one instance it was starting a clothing company. The clothes appeal to me, but honestly, her blog is just advertising her clothes now. I find it doesn’t sit right with me, but it’s silly, she’s making a living for her family so where’s the problem? I don’t think you would ever be someone whose promotion would make me cringe, just can’t see it. I do think you guys have done something wonderful for yourselves though and it should be bigger, if you want it to. You should totally push a little harder, I’ll come along for the ride and I’m sure many other locals, who are in a position to support you financially, would as well x

  • Melissa@Julia's Bookbag May 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Totally laughing at the vague, big news! thing. I see it all the time, and it frustrates the heck out of me. :) The hustle of blogging and photography and all small businesses I guess……that’s hard for me. I feel like I have to adopt a Look at Me! persona that isn’t really me. I joined Twitter recently, after putting it off for 4 yrs, and actually, that’s been a happy surprise. I’m following all the people in the book industry and there’s a really great flow of information going on there, and I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t join and network over there sooner!

  • Melissa@Julia's Bookbag May 19, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    um, I’m not following ALL the people in the book industry, ha! that would be a neat trick eh? darn typos.

  • KP July 17, 2014 at 12:06 am

    As a business marketing coach, particularly for creative professionals like yourself Jenna the issue of self promotion is commonly raised. I believe it is all about finding your voice, then your tribe as you have done with this fine blog.

    I suppose you could always post more of your story and Mark’s work across the blog and your social platforms – give us a ‘day in the life’ of scenario. Above all else it is persistence and being on those channels often. I recommend 2-3 times a day because your audience isn’t always online when you are.

    Happy to provide more help if you need it.