In my previous two posts we’ve covered whether creatives can really achieve a comfortable, independent lifestyle from creativity alone (you can), and we’ve covered three of the Five Elements of Creative Business that you need to have in place in order to make it work. You’ve crystallised what you’re doing all this for, what your grand mission is, and who your customers are.
Now, it’s time to get down to the stuff that keeps you up at night, but that no-one wants to talk about… money.
“How do you find serious clients who are truly interested in actually paying for your work?”
“How do you decide your prices?”
“How do I charge for my time without being too precious & uncompetitive?”
Your latest masterpiece got hundreds of “likes” and countless compliments, but when you actually labelled it for sale and put a price on your work, you got crickets. How do you convert “likes” into sales?
One thing is for certain; it’s not by writing a lengthy, educational social media update about What Our Work Is Worth. It’s been done a hundred times, and while you’ll get the frustration off your chest and be bolstered with the solidarity of your peers, it won’t make a blind bit of difference to your bottom line. Why?
The value of your work is not the same for your customer as it is for you. Buying is more of an emotional decision than an intellectual one, so while they might appreciate hours of handwork on an intellectual level, it’s not what moves them to buy. For you, it’s all about the midnight oil you burned and the cost of all those Swarovski crystals. For them it’s about how it will make them feel when they wear it; how many different events it can be worn at, or how many different ways it can be worn; how much it feels like it’s their style; whether it will turn heads. Sell the sizzle, as old-school salesmen used to say, and not the steak.
There’s another level to this. If the value for them is about the sizzle and not the steak, then so is the price. In other words, the cost of your materials and labour is not the same thing as the price you need to charge. The price you advertise needs to cover the cost, obviously, but the price is based on what the market will stand. In other words, what story do you want the price to tell? Where do you fit among your competitors? Are you the best and most exclusive, or are you the affordable alternative, or something else?
“How long did it take before you really felt like your business was going to work out? What were your criteria for deciding that it was working?”
“How can I sleep peacefully when I don’t know whether I can pay my bills next month?”
Money is the lifeblood of your business. Fact. If the money isn’t ebbing and flowing smoothly and efficiently, there’s no business. In order to run a business that fuels and satisfies your creativity and feels like fun, you need to have a feeling of control over cashflow (literally, the flow of money in and out of the business), an ability to predict the future, and an overview of your business’s financial health that makes decisions quick and easy.
This sounds like an impossible request, but it is do-able if you keep a simple record called a cashflow forecast.
It doesn’t have to be complex or overwhelming. A cashflow forecast is a month-by-month breakdown of
- The money coming in during that month
- The money going out during that month
- (Money coming in) – (money going out) = the spare cash you have that month. If you have some spare cash, gold star for you: all is well.
Having a cashflow forecast is like standing on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. You can see all the moving parts from that vantage point, and that really gives you a stunning sense of clarity. You can make predictions, offset dry spells, become less likely to make unwise purchases, get more confident in making sensible purchases, and generally feel in control. Obviously, stuff happens and your forecast will never be 100% perfect, but it gives you a good sense of where things are heading, and the opportunity to change course if necessary.
Sweeping this stuff under the carpet will make your business feel like a runaway train, and it doesn’t need to be that way. Take the time to learn to manage the money with a simple cashflow forecast. If you can learn a creative skill, you can do this too.
The Road Ahead – Where Do I Go Next?
My aim for these essential Five Elements of Creative Business – Your Dream, Your Mission, Your Tribe, Your Prices and Your Money – is to take you very quickly from flustered to focussed in your business. It’s the guide I wish I could give to my 23-year-old self (good heavens, the years I could save myself with a sneaky time machine!)
It’s simple: I could have bypassed the struggle. I did not have to “pay my dues” in years of frustration, shame or sleepless nights. If I’d known to focus on these five simple areas, I could have come straight to my destination without the decade of farting about. Whether you are just starting out and unsure how to focus or organise your ideas, or whether you’re somewhere along the road but feel like it’s an uphill struggle right now, I want to provide you with the field guide I never had.
After I left University in 1996 I was a struggling dressmaker for ten years, probably a lot like you. I would tell people that I had my own business, and I created lots of pretty pictures of stuff I’d made. I even got a spot on the local TV news that made me sound fabulous (below), but it was no use. The commissions were few and the “wages” were really just occasional fits and spurts of pocket money. I felt like a fraud. I lived off my husband (and felt terrible about it). Sometimes I worked as a waitress.
Five years later I was taking credit card applications in an enormous, noisy call centre, and I was pretty despondent. There were times when I hardly sewed at all.
By the ten year mark I was living off a partner again. Still doggedly determined, I had descended into a deep anger and frustration that led me to one stunning moment when I stood back, filtered out the noise and realised that if I wanted dramatically different results from this, I’d have to start doing dramatically different things.
And then things began to change.
Your Wardrobe Unlock’d launched in 2007, Foundations Revealed in 2009, and that year was also when I made the Oak Leaf Dress and hitched my cart to the House of Worth, finding my niche in the costuming world, and teaching at Costume College in Los Angeles for the first time. In 2011 I found I had enough influence to raise $18,000 for charity in three months, and in 2012 I donated another $5000 from the proceeds of my business. Today I live alone, completely self-sufficiently, with no day job. I’m teaching and/or studying at three American conferences this year, flights and accommodation paid for by my business (I still live in England.)
Somewhere in there, people began asking exactly what it was that I’d done differently. I’ve listened to a lot of stories from creative friends and acquaintances who are in that deeply frustrated place I know so well. I have spoken at conventions and conferences on both sides of the Atlantic to try to communicate exactly what changed in my mindset and my strategy, but I really want to reach more people. I know what it’s like to be an introvert in a state of excruciating frustration, who wishes she could leave the fluorescent lights and the ringing phones behind, stay home, stay calm, and be creative. I know the deep longing to be independent, and give back to the partner on whom you’ve depended for financial security for so long.
Last year I took a core group of creative friends through a group coaching program based on what I’ve learned, and the results have been astounding. Each of these talented people applied the material in amazing, individual, creative ways that worked for them. I could never have predicted the variety of directions in which they all went! Just five examples:
- Lowana brought a whole new product to her industry that her customers are now clamouring for;
- Denise took on a new professional identity with confidence and is now established as a totally unique specialist in her field;
- Jenni came up with a whole new way to make a fashion collection work, and ditched the struggle in favour of true work-life balance;
- Angela officially launched her business and was voted Best Corsetry 2015 by the Lingerie Addict blog;
- Clare gained so much clarity that she quit the art form she thought she loved, and completed that half-finished novel she’d been sitting on for six years – the sequel is on the way as we speak!
Word has spread. People are stopping me at events and asking when I’m running the course again, so with the help of feedback from my first group, version 2.0 is opening for registration this week.
What The Course Involves
This is focussed training. There’ll be no fluff and no filler, just a deep dive into the vital elements you need to start turning your ship around.
- Attend classes online, wherever you are in the world – pj’s optional
- Five group coaching calls held over a period of five weeks
- Interactive, with opportunities to get your burning questions answered
- Homework to help you work towards clarity in your business
- Private online community for you to support and keep each other accountable on this epic journey
I promise, by the time we’re done, you won’t recognise yourself or your business. Those of you who feel like you’ve been flustered will be on a laser-focussed mission, and those who are fledglings, hesitating on the branch, will be leaping into the sky with confidence. You’ll have the road map you need, the destination defined, the route planned. You will have a team of other creative entrepreneurs around you, cheering you on, and that’s so important when you’re venturing into the unknown.
Who This Course Is For
Not sure what you’re doing, not sure where you’re going, not sure you’re ready? Then, at the risk of sounding evangelical, this is exactly for you. Finding your way out of a hot mess is exactly what this course is all about; my job is to turn you around and point you in the right direction so the way becomes clear. Clear in terms of your Dream, your Mission, your Tribe, your Prices and your Money.
We’re going to start right from the beginning. If you’ve just been dipping your toes into the professional creative life, you’re welcome to join us, and if you’re floundering some way down this road and need to get back to absolute focus, you’re welcome too. This program is all about getting back to basics so that you can get up each morning and know exactly what you need to do to move forward and get your business where you want it – whether in terms of recognition, influence, remuneration, or a certain type of client.
Places will be limited. Many of my students from last time want to be involved again (they loved the clarity and community support of this intensive five week experience), and I want to ensure that the group stays reasonably small and interactive, so when registration goes live this week, do sign up quickly to reserve your place.
Obviously, registration will not be free. Being a part of this requires a considerable investment from you, both in terms of time and money, because to grow to the next level, you need to be serious. I also want your classmates on this program to be as committed as you are to moving forward and supporting you along your way. But the good news is that this kind of investment is sure to pay you back… tenfold, a hundredfold or even more. To grow a harvest, you must buy the seed and till the soil, but the bounty makes it worth your investment.
How to Get Involved
At the bottom of this page there’s a link to a mailing list opt-in form. This isn’t going to be some big, fancy, drawn-out launch, I want to keep it quite small, so if you’re interested in going further with me, then go ahead and put your email address in there and I’ll contact you when registration opens this week. As I said, some of the spots are already spoken for, so go ahead and put your email address in if you’re interested in being on the contact list for an intensive training on making your creative business a success.
Whether you do or don’t go forward with me, I can assure you that being in a creative business is a fulfilling, challenging, joyful path. I don’t regret a thing about the road I’ve taken in life, and I’d absolutely do it again. You end up with a great career and you end up with a great life, and you end up creating great success for your customers, clients and fans. The whole experience is an outstanding package, and I commend you for giving it your energy and hope.
I’ve given you the overview of the Elements here, so I hope that whether you come and join me on the course or not, that you’ll take what I’ve shared and run with it. If you want to be on the contact list to join me in the deep dive training, go ahead and click the link below. Good luck!