How To Sell Without ‘Selling’

When running your own creative business, selling and marketing becomes a large part of the job description, although most of us feel completely put off by the whole concept of selling. Over on Instagram a few weeks ago @nonisadzi asked “how do I attract clients without being overly ‘marketing’?”

And therein lies the rub. For us as creatives, the idea of marketing and sales is a negative one – it feels dishonest, icky and interruptive. We want to create a comfortable environment for our customers and clients, and it feels like selling to them disrupts that atmosphere. So how do we get over our fear of ‘selling’ so we can grow our businesses, yet remain true to ourselves?

How To Sell Without Selling

Let’s unpack, for a moment, why we hate selling. Because it isn’t the act of selling we don’t like – it’s bad selling. When we’re being sold to effectively and positively, we don’t even realise we’re being sold to; it’s only when someone makes us feel uncomfortable that our sales alarm goes off in our heads. All this means is that we equate bad sales technique with selling full stop – and we, rightly, don’t want to be like that.

Here’s a quick exercise:

Think of the last thing you bought that was a non-essential purchase (i.e., not groceries). What made you buy it? Was it the description or image on the website, had you seen it around on Instagram or Pinterest, did a friend recommend it? Whatever it was, it successfully sold to you – and I’ll bet you didn’t even realise, right?

Selling and marketing are just techniques that get people to buy, and, just like any craft, there are good techniques and bad techniques. It’s no different to making products – some producers use lower quality materials and cut corners, others create their products rigorously so they’re the best they can be. And I think we’re all on the latter end of the spectrum.

How To Sell Without Selling

Redefine selling and marketing

The very first step to successful selling and marketing is to change your definitions of what those things are. You’re not going to be a bad seller. You’re going to adopt wholesome and organic techniques to market your business that mean you don’t need to be afraid of selling.

Marketing is not just going to grow your business, but it’s going to help the people you reach. People deserve to know what you’re doing and how you can help them – if your product or blog post can help them solve a problem or achieve something, then they won’t thank you for hiding it from them! If they follow you on social media or signed up to your email list, then they did so because they want to hear about your products or your journey. Give the people what they want!

How To Sell Without Selling

How to avoid the bad selling trap

Now let’s indulge and think about bad selling for a little bit. When was the last time you didn’t buy something because of a sales technique? For me it was at a local craft fair. We were looking at some pottery and the maker just barked the price of every item we picked up at us – “that’s £8!” “that’s also £8” “that one’s £12”. It made me want to get out of there as soon as possible – and I did.


Draw two columns on a piece of paper. In one, write down all the things that come into your head when you think about bad selling, or what you don’t like about marketing. Then in the other, write what you can do that is the opposite of that thing, or at least how you can do it better.

So in the case of our potter, I’d write in the first column ‘too price-focused’. In the other column I might write ‘start a conversation’. He could have told us about the inspiration behind that particular bowl, he could have told us how it was made, he could have asked us what we liked about it, or even just if we were having a lovely day. By engaging us in conversation, he could have told us his story, why that bowl was unique, got us onside, and then ended with a throwaway, “oh, and it’s £8 today”. By that point the selling would have been done.

How To Sell Without Selling

Let people go

One thing I think we can all agree on that we hate about selling is pushiness. This comes from the seller’s feeling that ‘I just have to make a sale right now”; very much the door to door salesman’s technique. When really, when was the last time you bought something the very first time you looked at it? At a craft fair everyone knows you circle the room once to look at everything then go round again to buy, right? The same is true online – you keep the tab open for a couple of weeks and keep going back to look at it before deciding yes or no.

Giving people permission to leave is counter-intuitive, but it prevents that pushy feeling. Back at the craft fair you can say ‘sure, go and have a cup of coffee and think about it, the carrot cake’s really nice so you should have a slice of that. I’ll look out for you later’. Similarly online, make it easy for people to save your products into a wish list to look at later, encourage them to pin images to come back to, use email sign up forms to offer news on the product or your business.

Your goal is not to get them to buy on first sight– it’s to get them to come back.

How to sell without selling

Be valuable

Here is the crucial tenet of content marketing and the mantra you must repeat to yourself over and over: “how am I providing value to my target customer?” Every blog post you write, photo you take, product idea you develop – how does this provide value to my target customer?

Value is the buzzword of content marketing right now – it.s why podcasts are popping up all over the place and why huge corporations are investing in blogs. Because value-based marketing works:

  • It builds trust by putting the customer first, enriching their lives for nothing and generating all the good feels about you and your business.
  • It allows the customer to ‘try before they buy’, to see if your style and ideas suit them
  • It demonstrates your knowledge and expertise, again building trust in the customer that you know what you’re doing

So how exactly can you use value in your content marketing? Here’s a two step exercise:

First, work out what it is your customers value – it’s no good giving them something they don’t want. Do they want to know how to grow their Instagram following, do they want DIY wedding hacks, do they want a dream living room to cosy up in? What goals do they have and challenges do they face that you can help them with?

Secondly, work out how your knowledge or your products can provide that value. In the dream living room example, write ‘how to’ blog posts about styling and creating atmosphere, offer products to influencers to talk about how they style their living rooms, use images of dream living rooms across your social media and how they can be recreated using your products. And remember to use the 80/20 rule – 80% of content should be valuable to your audience, 20% can be promotional.

How To Sell Without Selling

Have amazing products

Lastly, having completely amazing things to sell is the best way to sell well. Most bad selling comes when the product isn’t great, or the salesperson doesn’t believe in it. Your advantage here is that you love your business and your passion is infectious.

Devote time and energy into making your products as amazing as they can be, and not only will they be desirable to customers, but you’ll feel great about them too. To use myself as an example here, I spent four months devising and tweaking my coaching packages, so that when they launched I knew that they were the best they could possibly be. So now I don’t feel the need to chase after people yelling at them to hire me – I’m happy to sit back and write content that I love because I know the product is great.

How To Sell Without Selling

What are your biggest worries about selling yourself or your business?

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How To Sell Without Selling


  • I love your ideas in this post, super useful. When I started thinking about bad selling techniques it made my skin crawl, but opening my mind up to good selling practices and marketing as made me feel a little more at ease about considering selling in the future. Turning something you love into a monetary sorce is really rather tough!
    Peta x

  • Very useful tips! I’m not in the business of selling, but you’re so right about the bad selling techniques and how quickly they can drive people away with just a few words.