Many artists fantasize about walking into their boss’ office with a sweet resignation speech, but if you’re serious about this art thing, then you’d better have a serious plan to turn your passion to action.
Having been a business and financial manager for entertainment industry clients for some time, there are a few things I have learned about finances and how to build stability. I have taken this knowledge and applied it to my own life in order to build a sound plan for stepping into the role of becoming a serious artist.
Follow these tips to lay a good foundation. Embrace the Bastard Child mentality and make things happen! You’ve done it hard, now do it smart.
1) Lower your expenses.
The lower your overhead, the longer you can stretch your monthly nut. When money is tight, the guy who needs $3K to survive will last longer than the guy who needs $5K.
Look at ways to trim the fat, such as paying off revolving debt or car loans. Consider canceling subscriptions or services that could be considered luxuries, such as cable or a landline. Cable may be costing you $50-$100 a month, but switching to a service such as online video streaming could cost you as little as $8 a month. Spend less money eating out or at bars. Essentially, keep that credit card in your pocket!
When lowering expenses, look at the big picture. Would you rather have that cable and continue waiting tables for the next 30 years, or could you live without it while you build the dream career that could last the rest of your life?
2) Build up a savings.
With the money you save on step one, start putting away into a separate ‘do not touch’ account. The more money you set aside before you take the leap, the longer your survival rate. Any EXTRA money you make from your art should automatically go to this BECOME AN ARTIST FUND. It’s a great game!
This is how you go about it: with your new lean, mean budget, figure out your monthly ‘burn rate’, the dollar amount guaranteed to go out the door on a monthly basis: rent, phone, internet, food, insurance. Get it all down on paper. Be realistic! (Also, be healthy! We don’t want you living on Top Ramen alone, no matter what the stereotype says!)
Now, set savings goals: 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, a year’s worth of savings. Every month watch it grow. You’ll soon find it becomes more important to build up the savings than it does to buy the new pair of overpriced shoes you’ve been eyeing. Every new dollar is buying your freedom!
3) Have a product.
As an artist, it is so easy nowadays to create a product. You will never retire your day job until you have a way to make money! A CD, book, DVD, merchandise or anything that you can sell to make money with your art is crucial. People love what you do. People want to be able to own a part of that. So let them! Have a product! Sell it!
This will do two things. One, it will bring in a little extra cash for your ARTIST FUND and will be an additional source of fast income you can hustle when you step out on your own. Two, it will build confidence. HEY! I can actually do this. I can actually make money. I am legitimate! No more tail-between-the-legs responses when asked if you have an album for sale! Yes, you do!
Beyond the short-term money-maker, you certainly need to have your BIG payoff lined up. Have novels or scripts in the works? Ready to launch that epic album yet? Lining up a tour? Is your feature film working its way through editing? Your game-changer should be finished or nearing completion before you take that plunge. Don’t take a gamble that you will ‘get it going’ as soon as you quit your job. START IT NOW! By the time you step out you should have a very short runway to action on getting it out there.
4) Create supplemental income.
There are big ways and little ways to make money doing what you love. While you work on the big ways – the recording contract, the book deal, the staff writing gig on SNL! – also work on the little ways.
Scour the internet. It is a great tool for finding ways to make money doing what you love. You have a unique talent and people are looking for your skills. Proofreading, content writing, being a street performer… There are plenty of ideas that could earn you a bit of side money and an expanding audience. Every little bit will help, especially in the beginning, so be creative and resourceful!
Also, don’t be afraid to nab that part time job as a transition while you work your way to being a full time artist. It’s better to be a part-time/part-time than a full-time/no-time.
5) Learn your business.
The last and most crucial part of preparing to quit your day job is to know how your industry works. What does the day-to-day look like for a working artist? How do you actually make money?
Of course we know the glamorized, fantasy lifestyle of an artist, but if you don’t become J.K. Rowling, Coldplay or Dane Cook, what does the working artist’s life actually look like?
Read up on what professional artists have to say about living as paid creative professionals. Better yet, if you know someone who is making it successfully as an artist, talk to him. Find out what he did to get there and how he maintains.
This is vital because it gets your head out of the clouds and your feet on the ground to ensure you are ready when the time comes.
I’m not saying it will happen overnight, but starting now is key. This whole plan might take you a couple of years to line up, but think about it, won’t it make the rest of your sentence at that dead-ender much more tolerable knowing you’re spoon-scooping an escape route to freedom?
I’d wish you good luck but you won’t need it. You’ve already got a plan.
The Well-Fed Artist – featured in the 9 o’clock hour on Radio Soapbox every Monday night. Listen live or listen to the archives.
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