How my niche found ME...by Ilise Benun

It all started when I was fired from my second job out of college.

(To be honest, I realized later that I got myself fired because I didn’t know how to quit. Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me! But that didn’t stop me from being mad at the moment.) “How dare they fire me!” That’s when I decided I was never working for anyone again. Let me back up. I studied Spanish and French at Tufts University in Boston. I had no idea what to do with my degree so, after college, I used my budding network to get my first (and only) 2 real jobs: first as a buyer in the fashion industry (thanks Mom); I quit that one to waitress (sorry Mom). The second was in the travel industry (thanks to my best friend at the time) — that’s the one I was fired from! It was 1988, I was 27 years old, living in Hoboken New Jersey, surrounded by musicians, actors, dancers, and other artist friends in New York, all of whom seemed pretty disorganized.


“I can help with that.”

So I invented a term for what I would offer: professional organizing. (Or so I thought. Turns out there was already a National Association of Professional Organizers. No matter.) For the first couple of years, I would sit with these creatives, patiently sorting through pre-Internet piles of paper. It wasn’t long before I noticed that, at the bottom of everyone’s pile, there was always a piece of paper related to their self-promotion that they had buried. It struck me that the clutter and overwhelm was not the real problem; it was instead an obstacle to their self-promotion.


A little common sense and a lot of chutzpah

So, listening to the market, I started helping with their self-promotion as well. I had no formal training, but my entrepreneurial past, a little common sense and a lot of chutzpah, made me think I could. Soon, I came up with a company name — my first brand — Creative Marketing & Management (a.k.a. CMM). I can’t take credit for that name. It was suggested by a French woman I met at an East Village dinner party. But I liked it. It was broad enough to encompass everything I was offering — the organizing and the self-promotion — and it was clearly for creatives. Soon, my business started to focus itself more narrowly. Self-promotion was clearly what people needed the most help with. So within 2 years, my second brand emerged: The Art of Self Promotion. That one had a bit more longevity — it lasted for about 10 years. Under the umbrella of that brand, my elevator pitch was simple: “I help creative people promote themselves.” And that’s what I did. I made the cold calls for them. I wrote the letters (there was no email yet) from them. I did the networking and attended the trade shows on their behalf. I was in the trenches, practicing and learning as I went.


The Art of Self Promotion

During that time, I started to write about what I was learning in a self published, printed newsletter, also called The Art of Self Promotion. I tried charging for it at first, but then it seemed to serve me better as a marketing tool. So I mailed it (bulk mail y’all!) to thousands of creatives on a mailing list I built from scratch. In it, I shared tips and tricks I had learned. Yup! Content marketing, although we didn’t call it “content” in the 90s. That content got me some publicity in magazines (Self and Entrepreneur), newspapers (The Washington Post), as well as some of my first speaking engagements. Then, as a new millenium dawned, the market spoke to me again.


Listen when the market speaks

A graphic designer who needed help with her self-promotion but couldn’t afford to hire me to do it for her, asked if I would teach her how to do it herself. Why not? By now I knew all too well to listen when the market speaks. That’s how the third incarnation of my brand was born: Marketing-Mentor.com. For almost 20 years now, I’ve been teaching creative professionals “how to get better clients with bigger budgets” — that’s the evolution of my elevator pitch. I went from organizing to self promotion to mentoring. I’ve followed the needs of the market and my brand has evolved as well, from CMM to The Art of Self-Promotion, to eventually, Marketing Mentor. The market is growing and the need for help with marketing (and money) is great. So my brand will continue to evolve as I build more products to serve more creative professionals, such as The Simplest Marketing Plan, which is in its 4th iteration. (BTW readers of this newsletter can get $10 off The Simplest Marketing Plan with the code “PERSONALITY” before Jan. 31, 2022 at https://bit.ly/BuySMP4) Who knows what’s next for my brand? I can’t wait to find out.



Ilise Benun



Ilise Benun is the founder of Marketing-Mentor.com, the go-to online resource for creative professionals who want better projects with bigger budgets, through which she offers business coaching to small groups and 1:1. She is also a national speaker and author of 7 books, including "The Creative Professional's Guide to Money," 3 online courses via CreativeLive and and Domestika.org, and The Simplest Marketing Plan – all tailored to the needs of creative professionals. Since 2008, she has hosted the Marketing Mentor Podcast. Connect with her on LinkedIn and get her Quick Tips at www.marketing-mentortips.com