How to balance creativity with profitability

Being a creative-leaning, empathic type, I used to think money didn’t matter; that being happy and fulfilled were more important than everything else.  And I was half-right! Being happy and fulfilled IS the most important thing in life, but that’s pretty-hard to achieve without making enough (and then some) money.

What a predicament.

make money with photography

So, for years, I focused on doing what my heart led me to do. Which luckily did make me enough money to support my immediate needs (though not so much I had oodles left over to invest and do all that smart stuff). It took many more years before I learned to see money for what it is, a fair exchange for the valuable service one provides, and as something worthy of respect and daily attention.

And because NOTHING takes the fun out of entrepreneurship more than struggling to make your bills each month, it’s become my mission to help creatives become more intentional about how they regard money, and how that translates into the kind of clients they target in their mission, message, and services.

If you’re a committed creative who loves what you do, but your bank account isn’t reflective of the lifestyle you want to create for you and your family, don’t despair. Here are 4 tried and tested ways to balance creativity with profitability and start bringing more freedom, fulfillment and income into your life.

1) Know how much you want and need to make

Do you have an income goal? If you do, how did you come to it?  Did you just pick a number like 100K because it seems like the number you should be aiming for? Many things, including where you live, your lifestyle, your values, your goals, and how many hours you want to work will influence how much money is enough for you. Not sure what those values and goals are?  I shared a couple of simple exercises in this post to help you get clear.

2) Work on your Financial Intelligence

Thanks to some great lessons from my friend, bookkeeper (and God-mother to my kids) Marsha Stone. I’ve always been totally on top of the money in my business, including diligently tracking income and expenses in Quickbooks. Yet my money story was out of whack with my perception of my own Financial Intelligence. Because it wasn’t something I loved doing, I told myself I hated dealing with this stuff, that I wasn’t good at it, and, if I could goof off on spending a day surrounded by bank statements and receipts, I would. If you have a sneaky suspicion you might be up for the challenge, if only you had the right guidance, I’ll be offering a resource guide at the end of this post you can print out.

And do you know what I learned? During the periods in my business when I was really on top of it, I made MUCH more money. During the periods when I let my whacky money story prevail and didn’t pay as much attention, income dropped.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to change that money story once and for all, and I became a business and personal finance junkie.  I learned that this stuff becomes enjoyable when it’s delivered in my learning style (story-based, no judgement, supportive) rather than the usual shame, blame, and regret that comes baked into a lot of financial advice.  A couple of resources I’m finding really useful and actually enjoyable  to read are:

Mark Butler, the Budget Nerd: Mark’s advice is down to earth, has zero judgement, and bite-sized so you can very easily take action and feel you’re making headway, no matter small.  I’ve already made a bunch of changes, based upon his recommendations. You can find Mark here.

Profit First by Mike Michaelowicz: I’ve only just started on this book, and to be honest, the I’m going to finish the whole thing before I decide if  I’ll adopt his whole system, but the author’s assertion that accounting systems were set up for accountants, not regular people, his plain language, and great personal story have me wanting to read more.  Check out Mike’s website here and see if it resonates with you.

3) Know (and most likely, increase) your rate

I would estimate that 90% of my new clients are seriously under-charging for what they do.  Remember, there’s no shame or blame here. Only empowerment. So I’d like to invite you to review your own rates and assess if they’re aligned with what you want, need, and what the market will bear.  This is a whole blog post in and of itself, but I have a nifty little rate calculator to help you get a clear picture of what YOUR number needs to be. If you do this and learn that you’d have to consistently work 70 hours a week and on-board 10 new clients a month, to make your target number, something needs to give.  You either need to at least double your rate, or figure out new revenue streams. Either way, knowledge is power.

4) Figure out what clients can, and will, pay your rate

If you’re not making the money you want, chances are you’re targeting the wrong (for you) clients. I’ve noticed that creative entrepreneurs often target other small business owners who have big dreams they’re bootstrapping all way.  If that’s your jam, that’s fine, but think about how you might balance those clients with clients who have budgets that don’t come out of their own pocket.  For example, when I represented the fashion illustrator Megan Hess, our target clients were fashion and beauty brands who had advertising and promotional budgets. Megan was then able to do pro-bono work, take on small-budget projects with entrepreneurs who were beside themselves to work with her, and do book projects, knowing her livelihood didn’t depend upon that income.

Granted, getting big clients might not happen overnight, but if your work is top-notch, you know how to position yourself to their needs, and you’re consistent in your marketing and follow up, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t have those clients too (really!)

If you’re serious about doing great work, and profiting from your creative expertise, I’ve put together a one-sheet of resources and tools to get you started.  Click here to download this resource sheet and start making monumental changes in your business!


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