Archives for posts with tag: entrepreneurship

The genesis of this entry was a simple question:

“Ten years from now, what will I most regret not having started today?”

In order to live well as an artist, the art itself is one part of a far larger context called “your life”.

What about the distorted positive-thinking mythology of the superhuman “genius” overcoming all odds?

That actually makes life harder. Instead of focusing on the positive (and ignoring the other half of reality), the whole picture will show you how to anticipate problems while reaching for success.

Here is an outline for a creative life that goes farther than starvation-wage “survival jobs” and the “work hard, work harder, become a genius, get lucky and strike it rich” idea that so rarely [if ever] works out in the real world.

A person with an entreprenuerial mindset is always looking for new opportunities.

At the core of this mindset is a practical consideration that’s so obvious, it’s hidden from view — much like the sky being so vast above us that we rarely think about it.

1. The 25% Rule

Never allow any one source to provide more than twenty-five percent (25%) of your income.

Immediately you see the mistake that the typical person makes. The typical worker has one client — called “the boss” — and is perpetually scrambling in fear of being fired by The Boss.

By contrast, the entrepreneur thinks about streams of revenue. It’s needlessly risky to allow any one client to control your ability to eat nutritious food and have a decent place to sleep. If you want to ensure that you can survive the next global “Great Recession” in good shape, make sure that you can lose at least two of your largest clients without causing any undue difficulty.

This means that you keep track of your cash flow — how much is coming in and how much flows out.

2. Live far, far below your means.

Who are you trying to impress?

Hopefully, the answer is “nobody. I live for my art.”
Right?

Well, if that’s not your answer, you may have considerations like young children or old parents or other dependents who need your financial help.

They all need to be factored into the basic amount required per month.

Remember above where the “25% Rule” was introduced? This is where it becomes real.

If you can’t live on fifty percent of your current income, you’re over-spending and under-saving.

Note that this is a ratio, not a law of nature. It’s a place to start from — find four sources of revenue, none of which is individually responsible for more than 25% of your income.

From there, you can find more sources. This means that if you have ten clients who bring in steady monthly revenue, you can afford to lose five clients.

This all depends on first knowing how much money you’ve decided that you “need” in order to finance your lifestyle. Look at the basic needs of life and work — not the “need” for a new phone every six months or the desire for fine dining and an evening at the theatre at least three times per week.

What are your bare essentials? This is what you need to know. Food, housing, transportation, utilities, materials, communications. Start from there. When your total income is at least double what you need to survive, you can weather a tough economic time as long as you save and stick to your financial plans.

3. Basic Financial Intelligence

You do know the difference between “gross” and “net”, right?

If not, you need to learn.

Financial intelligence is a survival skill. If you buy a car or mortgage without realizing that those are liabilities (not assets), you quite likely will regret it later. If you don’t know to never invest your retirement savings in the stock market unless you’re willing to lose the money, then you’ll likely die broke.

The world runs on money. I know, all us artists were fed a fine line of bologna as kids, and as adults. A consumerist society demands that we spend more and buy more, and think very little about anything else. You have to fight the urge to impress your friends and feel like a “winner” because you bought the new shiny toys that will become disposable trash in a few months or years.

Much of this knowledge is not taught in school. Find it and learn it.

4. Sources of Income: Skills, Products, Services

“How do I find _four_ sources of income?”, you ask. “It’s hard enough to find one job. Now I need four?!”

First, remember this shift in thinking: revenue streams, not “jobs”.

This is the M-word comes in: Marketing.

Very briefly, you can think of income revenue streams in terms of three categories.

Skills: do you have four skills that you can use to make at least twenty-five percent (25%) of your income? Are you a writer, musician, illustrator, and graphic designer? You can use each skill to generate revenue by creating products and services.

Products: you can create four products to sell. For example: this can mean different types of art, writing a self-published book about art, or using different media to reach different audiences (galleries, blogs, films, etc.).

Services: services here mean expertise that is intangible. Public speaking is a service. Monthly webinar classes are services. Mentoring is a service.

Figure out how you can help people do what they want to do, and you’ll be on track to creating valuable services.

There can be overlap between products and services as well, for example if you give a talk, record it and then sell that as part of a web series on art.

The key underpinning all of this is to do your homework first.

4. Do Your Homework: Research Your Market

Many artists start with a passion and go from there.

The hard truth is that some forms of art are rarely (if ever) profitable. Writing novels, illustrating comic books, and creating fine-art paintings will generally not provide a liveable income in the early years — if ever.

Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Do your own homework. Research your target market.

You may find that some of your work occupies a profitable niche. If you started out writing erotic short stories, you might find that romance novels are massively profitable compared to mainstream fiction. From there, you can research the structure of the romance novel and take a pseudonym for experimentation in that form.

Or you could find that you art is better pursued in the nights and evenings, at which point your life might need a bit of redesign from “starving artist” to “person with a second job that is an avocation and pays in life satisfaction rather than money — for now.”

Tip: Never think of your art as a “hobby”. Hobbyists end up saying things like “life got in the way” and de-prioritizing what they love to do. After survival, make art your top priority if you truly are passionate for it.

One day, if you work on your craft for at least two hours daily, you will find yourself near the top of your field. Why? Because most people are too disorganized to do _anything_ on a regular basis. This is why the average person needs a Boss to tell them what to do.

If you’ll have to spend at least nine hours of every day working for someone, you might as well work for yourself. Learn the skills and be willing to make mistakes. We’re all going to die, sooner than you might think. Life is too short to wait for retirement before pursuing your passions. Start now with a mindset of practical, flexible resilience, and you’ll never regret a single moment for the rest of your days.

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These seven guidelines just might help you (and me) from languishing at a “survival job”. Do whatever it takes to keep your dreams, inspiration and creative energy from fading with time and the ceaseless onslaught of the nine-to-five daily grind. Don’t make the mistake of conflating financial poverty and artistic integrity.

1. If you love what you do, get good enough at it to get paid for it.

I hear the same excuses over and over from mediocre “amateurs” and
dilettantes who call themselves “artists”:

I don’t want money.
I do this because I love it.
I do it for myself and no one else.

Don’t fall into the “amateur trap”. If you truly love what you do, other people will love it, too. Art is interpersonal communication. If no one cares about what you do, what you’re doing is little more than artistic masturbation.

Masturbation is fine — and the real thing is better. Likewise, if you haven’t captured a person’s complete attention, assume that they’re not really paying any attention at all. If you’re going to spend the rest of your life doing what you love, you might as well get good enough that other people will find real value in it, too.

In a capitalist society, the exchange of value between strangers is expressed through payment for a product or service. If you continually work on improving your skill, it’s practically inevitable that at some point, other people who want your work will notice you’ve created something that goes beyond a casual hobby.

If you’re just a weekend hobbyist, that’s fine. Are you a writer who endlessly complains about “writer’s block” and never actually writes anything? “The empty page terrifies me”, the poseur says (hint: an empty page should thrill you, because you can already see your work living there). That’s cool. Are you a painter who only does it in between the moments when life inevitably “gets in the way”? Okay, fine. Recognize that until you sacrifice the time and effort to continually improve, you’re a hobbyist, not an artist. The difference is a simple question of your methods, time, and effort.

All true artists are amateurs, in that all artists must love what they do. And if you truly love it, others will, too. When you find others who value your work, it’s only natural in our society that you can expect to be paid for your labor.

Anyone who says otherwise is probably justifying their desire to steal from you, guilt-free. Never open the door for those whom you know are thieves.

2. Don’t rely solely on live performance. Create a product that you can sell.

This one is more universal than you might think. A theatre actor performs live. So does a teacher, comedian or public speaker. So does anyone who offers an ephemeral, one-time experience that disappears after it’s done. Think of other professions and activities that fit this description.

Either you repeat your performance a thousand times for a thousand dollars, or you can create it once and sell the performance a thousand times.

This one has a deceptively hidden element that is it’s real importance. That element is time.

Money less important than time. You can never buy more time; you can always make more money. A thousand hours spent is a thousand hours you’ll never get back. Time is not money. Time is life.

Read the previous paragraph as many times as it takes to start valuing your time more than you value a quick-and-easy paycheck.

3. Learn how to market your product. Study marketing until you can sell anything that you might want to create.

Self-explanatory. Marketing is probably the opposite of what you believe it is, mainly for two reasons: first, we’re immersed in marketing all the time, so we often don’t notice it. Second: we’re taught that anything we do notice as “marketing” is automatically evil.

This leads people to think that television (which is an advertising medium interspersed with programming to distract you) doesn’t influence you. Obviously it does, which is why large corporations advertise so heavily on TV — and pay a high premium for prime-time when most people are watching.

On the other hand, an artist on the Internet who tries to sell his or her work is considered a threat to the “freedom of Information” or some other nonsense.

Notice how this serves large corporations while screwing everyone else.

Your most important skill will never be your work, or how incredibly smart you are, or how you’ve become “so good that you’re impossible to ignore”.

– A mediocre product with outstanding marketing will still sell.
– A good product with average marketing will not sell much better.
– A great product with abysmal marketing will tend to sell poorly.
– A brilliant product with no marketing will never even be known.

Study marketing until you can sell your best work at the price that you want to be paid. Until you can command that price, keep learning more about marketing, and be prepared to make the necessary adjustments.

4. Don’t give valuable work away for free, unless you have a means of making back the value that you’re losing.

The Internet is a great place for artists to go to die (unless your name is Taylor Swift, apparently). If you’re not Ms. Swift, the point applies to you.

There is no such thing as “free”. Again, large corporations are making money from the Internet through advertising and by selling users’ personal information. As security expert Bruce Schneier succinctly summarized recently, “surviellance the business model of the Internet.”

If you’re not making a profit from spying on anyone (and hopefully you’re not), be careful about what you give away “for free”. Free is bleeding you in exchange for every Retweet, Like and Follow. If you’re spending hours of your life and receiving only empty Internet Fame in return, realize that your ego and narcissistic need for artistic validation is making someone else rich while you go broke.

For every item you give away, place a price tag on that item and find a way to make up the loss. Otherwise, you’d just as well take money out of your own pocket and flush it down the drain.

Don’t fall for the fallacy of free when your valuable work is at stake.

5. Don’t trust what people “would” buy from you. Only trust the number in your bank account after the sale has been made.

Humans are notoriously poor predictors of their own future actions, particularly when some form of sacrifice is involved. Don’t be glad-handed by friendly Internet advice-givers who tell you, “I would definitely buy that!”, or worse, “if you make it a little better or more ‘professional’, I’d be your first customer in a heartbeat!””

“I’d buy that, if…” is the same pleasant kind of lies that your friends tell you about your odd haircut, tight new jeans or fashion-fetish shoes. They say nice things because they like you, or they want to sound “positive”, or because words are free whereas opening your wallet is not.

Ignore praise if your goal is to be paid for your work. Listen to the opinions of people who are already paying you; everyone else’s opinion is just background chatter unless they are either a mentor or a competitor.

Payment comes before praise.

6. Make it a top priority to get the person’s contact information and obtain their permission to be notified for future updates/releases/news/etc.

Once a person buys from you, make sure to get their information so that you can send them more items that they’ll be interested in receiving from you. Better yet, your first payment option should be enrollment in a recurring subscription so that they don’t have to keep deciding to pay you. (Also offer a single-item payment option.)

And for people who whine about subscribing, realize that they would have been the kind of client that you probably would have had to fire, anyway. Always be willing to fire a client who’s a pain in the ass. They will do nothing but waste your time — time you could have spent doing more for your better clients and finding new ones who will stay with you over the long term.

Find more “yes’es” and ignore the “no’s”. “Maybe” means “no”. Never try to convince a “maybe”.

7. Don’t rely on word-of-mouth, “going viral”, your friends telling their friends, or the hope that your existing sales will continue that way for ever.

This the “if you build it, they will come” fantasy that dooms many creative people to a lifetime of confusion and unnecessary obscurity.

Always find new fans who can replace the old ones when they are inevitably distracted by the next new shiny moving object.

“If you build it, they will come” is a pervasive myth among non-entrepreneurs and people who know nothing about the harsh realities of getting and finding clients.

“I’ll just create this awesome product, find some fans, and then they’ll spread the word for me!”

If only real life were that easy.

Think of everything you sell as being part of pop culture: most people will eventually be lured away by the next pretty thing that captures a moment’s attention. Unless you’re selling something that literally means the difference between life and death, your client list will fluctuate by a natural law of continual attrition. Plan for this and make sure that you’re always finding new fans to replace the ones who will fall away. Be pleasantly surprised when they come back, rather than desperate to keep them hanging around. Your independence will free you to take new artistic directions without fear of displeasing people who liked your old work, and give you an air of ease that will paradoxically attract those who may not have stuck around if you were keen on keeping them from leaving.

Expect no more than fifteen percent of your business to come from unsolicited recommendations given by existing clients and fans. The other eighty-five percent is the result of your planning and continual discovery of new people who are willing to pay for your best work.

All artists are eternal amateurs. Love what you do, and make sure that every new work is your best one yet. As long as you relentlessly improve, one day your work will be worth more than anyone could possibly pay. In fact, from the first moment that you realize this, it already is true and always will be.

Now all you have to do is make sure that you get paid. That’s what this journal entry is for; re-read it and seek out the resources you need in order to make these seven steps into your reality. These are my notes to myself, by the way, gathered from three years of study. Hopefully you can gain (and profit) from them, too.