Managing Self-Doubt in Crowdfunding and Marketing

Managing Self-Doubt in Crowdfunding and Marketing

This article originally appeared on Seed&Spark.

Let’s be honest with one another for a moment; crowdfunding and marketing can be super awkward. You’re asking for money, for attention, for validation, and it’s an incredibly vulnerable position to put yourself in, both when asking friends and family as well as when asking strangers. Even the most extroverted amongst us has found themselves erring on the side of shyness when it comes to crowdfunding or writing a press request email. That’s totally normal, that’s totally human, and trust me; we’re with you.

So let’s unpack why we’re all so shy about this stuff, and find a strategy that works for you so you can go into the world confident and ready to share your story in the way most authentic to you.

Unpacking why self-promotion is damn awkward

There are usually two core issues at play here: imposter syndrome and the cultural pressure of performative humility.

Imposter syndrome, if you’re unfamiliar, is a “psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” This is the most common reason that marketing and crowdfunding get weird for people, sometimes completely unconsciously. The symptoms are largely inaction- a lack of promotion, an avoidance of sending direct emails, a general doom and gloom assumption of the potential of success. When you dig deeper, folks will frequently claim their inaction stemmed from an implicit assumption (rather than an external statement). Producer Toni B Heath explains that the “hardest part [of promoting my work] is wondering why anyone should give a shit about my work. I find taking myself and my work seriously to be very difficult.”

If this is truly the case, then why are you marketing or crowdfunding for a project you think people won’t care about, or that isn’t good? More importantly, why did you make the project? Clearly, at some point in the process, you thought it was a good idea, you thought you were the right person to bring it to life, and felt you had a handle on what it would take to put it all together. You are a person, and while you’re absolutely a unique soul, we all tend to have a lot more overlapping interests than we give ourselves credit for. Think of your friends who probably have similar interests, the various online forums and social media circles that connect people from all over the world for the purpose of discussing this subject or theme. If you cared about this story, or this project, then the odds are in your favor at least a handful of people like you care as well.

So let’s talk about the cultural pressure of performative humility, something we can’t really control as individuals but can start to call out when we make decisions based on its faulty premise. The faulty premise is as follows: talking about money is gauche, asking for money is gaucher, and asking for attention is akin to mooning people from a passing car. I was just going through my daily Twitter doom scroll, and you have the audacity to tell me you have a new podcast episode/ short film/ book/ photograph to share?

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that this is all in your head, because it’s not. People are definitely going to get irked because we as a culture (caveat: recognizing that I can only speak from an American perspective here) like to repress things we’ve deemed unpleasant. Money is one of those things, which is why the idea of sharing your salary with coworkers is so frequently met with disbelief despite it being a great way to achieve positive collective action. Being seen as narcissists is coupled with this, which is why marketing even when not paired with financial gain can be uncomfortable. Writer, director, and actor Joe Heath has experienced this himself, saying “I used to push my projects a lot harder than I [do now], to the point people kept jokingly saying that I was ‘wh*ring myself out again’ or just straight up calling me a wh*re... That started to get tiresome after awhile.”

The big secret? We actually talk about money and ourselves all the time, but it’s allowed as long as we’re also performing humility alongside.

Symptoms of performing humility to mask self-promotion include: self-deprecating social media posts about how you know you’re being annoying, but until you hit at least 80% of your funding goal, alas, you cannot stop talking about it; apologetic promotional copy where you assume the reader has A. seen your posts and is B. irritated by them but, alas, you’re so sorry but you cannot stop promoting just yet; or, my least favorite, downplaying the quality of your work and yourself and asking for pity rather than passion.

And here’s the thing: performative humility, while implicitly demanded of us, doesn’t actually do what you think it does. It doesn’t make you relatable, it doesn’t make people rush prove you wrong by watching your movie or nabbing a $10 social media shout out. It’s an active argument against what you’re trying to do- you’re asking for money or attention while saying that the thing you need money or attention for isn’t worth it.

Why do we do this? Why can we only be excited with a caveat? Why can’t we be publicly joyful, proud of ourselves and our work, without being seen as a “wh*re” (a term rooted in sexism and disdain for sex workers which itself is rooted in sexism) or a narcissist? Part of it is that “polite society” dictates we downplay our own success (itself rooted in classist nonsense), and part of it is the ever-present fear of rejection.

Managing rejection

“I’m afraid people will think I’m annoying/untalented and judge me without me ever knowing they even saw the post,” remarks writer/director Andrew Williams. He’s far from alone in this fear. Actor/creator Margarita Zhitnikova echos that they “really don't like being annoying. That's my biggest hurdle. Mastering the art of following up.”

Fear of rejection is probably its own post, so for the purposes of this article, let’s stick to the highlights:

Fact: you will face rejection if you choose a career in the arts.

Fact: you will face rejection by potential employers as well as audience members.

Fact: people who call you out for promoting your work are the wrong people to be promoting to, because they’re wrong and there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting a thing you worked hard on and want to share.

Fact: even upon attaining success, people will be unhappy with you and your work. Because

Fact: you cannot make everyone happy.

If you want a career in the arts, part of that career will be finding your own way to manage rejection and critique without drawing the conclusion that you may as well quit. That looks different for everyone, whether it’s venting with a friend, a stiff drink, time away from social media, going for a run, setting boundaries on when you engage with the public response to your work, or something else entirely.

As Toni Heath puts it, “When you trust yourself and have a good sense of your own worth it's easy to take criticism on the basis of how constructive it is.  When you don't, every bit of criticism just hurts. Because it's confirmation of your biggest fear. That you don't deserve to be here, taking up space, and you should be embarrassed for ever thinking otherwise.”

I would argue I’ve yet to meet a person, even the most self-assured, who would agree that taking criticism is easy, but regardless, this is probably a relatable experience for most people reading. Trusting yourself and believing in your own inherent worth isn’t something that’s always attached to a tangible success. This blog can’t help you overcome it, because everyone's experience with this comes from a unique place and unique triggers. Mine stems from the classic white girl combination of daddy issues and more daddy issues, yours may stem from brain chemistry or a past trauma. All I can do is offer solidarity.

With all that in mind, though, if you genuinely believe you are not “good enough,” tangibly, to have a career in the arts, you have two choices: get better (through education, through practice, through training, etc) or quit.

Assuming you don’t want to quit …

Managing shyness

Try not asking for money. A simple reframing of your own vocabulary can go a long way, because when you’re crowdfunding, you actually aren’t asking for money (I’m serious). You’re asking people to get excited about a project you’re already excited about, and giving them a single place (your campaign page) where they can decide how to spend that new excitement. Maybe it’s simply following the campaign so they get the news about it first, maybe it’s snagging a great incentive that seems perfectly designed for them (because you’ve done your research, so it is), maybe it’s sharing the campaign with their friends for whom it will similarly strike a chord. All you can do is give people information that, through research, you believe they’ll want to know about. You have to be able to be ok with what they do with that information, and be willing to change how you share it if you’re consistently getting the same bit of feedback.

Try changing the format and language of the promotion. I asked Joe, the creator previously mocked for “wh*ring himself out,” what his reaction to it was. Did he pivot the kind of promotion (or who the promotion targeted) to see if there could be a different response, or did he simply change the frequency of the promo? He responded with the latter, so I would encourage him next time to remix his promotional style. Clearly, something wasn’t connecting, so message test a bit. Writer/director Jules Pigott has a similar frustration, noting she isn’t sure “how to word things to make them seem interesting.” The best way to do this is to try different things, and interview your audience (who at first may just be trusted friends, family, and classmates) to start to see what people respond to and what they don’t. If you don’t know something, research and ask around.

Try promoting to new people. If you’re worried about being annoying, despite your posts being solid and your project exciting, seek out a new community of people who have literally no reason to have seen your posts before.

Try asking yourself: why do I think I’m being annoying? If you can’t come up with a tangible reason, tell imposter syndrome to piss off, reread your list of reasons (see below), and hit send. If your language seems too marketing-y, rephrase. If it seems too soon since the last communication, make sure the new post/message includes new information within or schedule it for another day, so you feel like you’ve accomplished something now and allow for a bit more space between asks. Also, remember, not everyone sees every post. You engage with everything, across all the platforms you blast it, so you’re seeing everything a million times, but if you ask most of your email contacts or social media followers, they’ve probably only seen a handful of what you’ve been putting out there.

Try making a list of the reasons why you want to make this project. Print it out, or write it out long-hand, and affix it somewhere in your eye-line while you work. Then, every time you start to veer into “why should anyone care about this?” territory, you have your answer. You are a person, with inherent value, and you care. Here are eight specific reasons. Cool, let’s go write that email.

Try interpreting scary best practices in unexpected ways. Melanie Addington, Executive Director of the Oxford Film Festival, says her shyness crops up when it comes to “putting myself on video.” She’s not alone! Many creators prefer to remain behind-the-scenes, so perhaps the strategy for you is to get more creative about how you make things personal. If being on camera feels terrifying, limit it, and pivot to audio, voiceover, animation, or something more abstract. When we give the advice you must be human in your marketing, whether it’s in your pitch video or your social media, it’s up to you to interpret how to do it in a way that feels authentic and purposeful and personal. It’s about building trust and credibility, and there are innumerable ways to do that that don’t involve personally being on camera (or at least, limiting how often you’re personally on camera).

Try what others have done before. Research how fellow creators in your format/theme (popular and niche) communicate CTAs for crowdfunding and marketing new content. I frequently find case studies and concrete examples more helpful in developing my own processes than abstract advice, so perhaps you’ll find a similar comfort.

Bottom line: you are valid, your art is valid, and you have a right to want to shout about how proud you are of your work from the rooftops. If this is the career you want, don't apologize, don't wait to get picked. Pick yourself, and let's get started.

*Featured Image: Photo by Eleanor Jane

At Seed&Spark, we ensure that all kinds of stories are told and that all kinds of storytellers have avenues to spark vibrant conversations among people everywhere with their work.
More posts by Seed&Spark.
Bri Castellini is a screenwriter, director, adjunct professor, and, like any good millennial, a podcaster. She’s known for the short film Ace and Anxious and the podcast Breaking Out of Breaking In.
More posts by Bri Castellini.
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