Sustainable Growth is Based on Your Ability to Sustain Yourself

Sustainable Growth is Based on Your Ability to Sustain Yourself

Creative people (like all people) love to spend money, but not the way most of the world thinks we do.

In my, still limited, experience they love to spend on two main things:

  1. Their business (training, travel, making stuff)
  2. Charity

This is why I absolutely love you crazy folks.

It’s actually making me feel like a real jerk to continually convince people to hold off on giving money to worthy causes… just for a little bit…

But I stand by it because it’s my job to make sure you’re taking care of yourself first.

 

A lesson from a kind hearted little boy who didn’t know any better

I like to help people.

I’ve always been one who can’t quite focus when there’s someone in the room who’s upset. So when I was a little kid… I had to make sure that everyone was okay.

A joke or a hug turned into a casserole or a search for the perfect advice as I got older.

But I got into trouble by stretching myself way too thin.

I gave too much to other people, and didn’t take care of myself… and then things would fall apart a little bit.

It took a long long time, but slowly I’ve learned that in order to take care of things outside of yourself, you have to take care of yourself first.

And I’ve dragged that lesson in the world of finances.

 

Sacrifice isn’t the same as starving

I think we need to draw a line in the sand.

People think that in order to be successful they need to risk everything. We’ve heard that story again and again.

And so we try to live it out. We want big things, we have big dreams and we’re willing to do anything to get them.

Until we burn out.

In a short period of time we’ve given everything we have, and are left with nothing.

I want something different.

It’s not as fast, and it’s not as sexy… but it’s sustainable.

It allows you to slowly work on the things that are important to you… while still supporting the things your mind, body and soul need.

 

Finding your point of sustainable growth

It starts with accepting that you need to take care of YOU first.

Before paying for that lesson, and before supporting one of a thousand causes… your money needs to pay rent, buy good food, and support your other basic needs.

And it’s not about being greedy.

If you truly care about supporting these things, then you need to take care of your ability to support them.

And that means making sure you don’t burn out in the next 2 years.

You need to know what you can afford to do now, and then force yourself to stay in your lane…. taking small consistent steps forward every month.

That’s where your power comes from – committing to small steps over the long haul.

It’s not as sexy as giving up ‘everything’ for a bigger cause.

But I’m convinced it can still change the world.

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact... I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be 'financially out of control'.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money... that doesn't stop... the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what's made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I'd love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

Can I be an artist AND be profitable?

Can I be an artist AND be profitable?

I’m not a bad driver, at least… I don’t think I am.

Turns out my family doesn’t agree.

I always had my suspicions, but I found out just how wide spread this belief was last weekend when I DROVE my mom, brother and girlfriend up to a family cottage.

When we got there (safe and ON TIME might I add) everyone waiting for us was shocked to find out that I had driven.

They had been talking and I had been the least likely choice because… I was not a good driver.

Everyone believed it, even people that had never set foot in a car with me.

And if you’re honest with yourself, I doubt you believe me either.

Why I am clearly lying about my driving skills:

I’m not going to lie. The whole thing bugged me.

Why did everyone think that about me? Was it true? Am I actually a really bad driver and I just didn’t know it?

And then I realized that part of the reason everyone thinks I’m a bad driver, is that I’m always talking about how I’m a bad driver.

Let me explain…

I’m a pretty self-deprecating kind of guy, and one of the things I often joke about is my driving ability. I joke about how slow I like to drive, how out of practise I am, and how many times I almost died when I first stepped behind the wheel at 16 (I was not a good driver then).

And apparently people started to believe the things I say.

Which is really not their fault… it’s mostly mine.

Turns out sometimes the way you talk about stuff shapes what people think about you… who knew?

The things the world believes about the creative class:

How often when you meet someone new and tell them about your work do you get some version of this question?

“You do that for a living?” or “You actually make money?”

This conversation hasn’t changed as I’ve slipped from the opera world to the online world.

I usually answer with some version of:

“It pays the bills!” or “I get by.”

And I walk away pretty smug. Knowing that it is a lucky thing to be able to cobble together a sustainable income from a combination of singing and online work.

But I doubt the other half of the conversation watches me leave with thoughts of Warren Buffet in their mind.

The world doesn’t think working in the creative class is a good financial choice, and the way I answer that question sure doesn’t change any minds.

Doctors don’t get asked that question. Programmers don’t get asked that question.

So how can the creative class stop getting that question?

A bad driver and a shitty business owner too:

I’ve been reading a book called “Profit First”. It’s got a ton of great ideas in it, but there’s one big thing I’ve been stuck on every time I pick it up.

What is ‘profit’?

I’m not sure if the author expected someone to struggle with that simple business basic… but I am.

I have carried a belief, which I have talked about a lot, that I’m not interested in being rich… I just want ‘enough’ to live my life.

Now, that word ‘enough’ has changed from being ‘enough’ money to get through the month, to ‘enough’ to get through the year (especially December), and is starting to encompass ‘enough’ to get through my life (retirement, risk management, all of that).

But profit… by definition that’s when you have MORE than enough.

Despite never officially naming my business a non-profit, I have adopted its core tenants. In the way I speak to others, and in the way I speak to myself I have decided that I want to have ‘just enough’.

And I’m beginning to think that it’s holding me back in a huge way.

Creating a profitable and thriving creative class

… just look at those words for a little bit… it was weird to write them.

A profitable and thriving creative class.

How could that be possible? How could we start to reform the way the world sees us… well… I have a hunch it starts by changing the way that we see ourselves.

I don’t think most of us believe that we can be profitable, at least not without losing some core artistic value.

That’s how i’ve always thought about myself, and my business.

Now… I’m not so sure.

After reading ‘Profit First’ I’m starting to think there’s a mental shift around the idea of ‘profit’ that could be a powerful one.

I’m starting to realize that ‘profit’ isn’t the same thing as ‘paying yourself a salary’… and that there’s a way that you can have ‘more than enough’ without making 6 figures a year.

If that all sounds vague, I’m sorry.

I don’t have any answers yet, but I’m starting to question that core belief that so many of us carry around the creative industry.

That breaking even is enough.

That paying the bills is enough.

That building a profitable creative business is next to impossible.

What if what everyone believes about us is wrong?

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact... I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be 'financially out of control'.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money... that doesn't stop... the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what's made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I'd love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

Employees, employers, and both: how to balance paying your people (when you’re just getting by yourself)

Employees, employers, and both: how to balance paying your people (when you’re just getting by yourself)

This post was commissioned as part of a pilot program at Rags to Reasonable. In an effort to both support artists and gather financial resources and stories, R2R is offering money for content (written, visual, or video).

If you’re interested in pitching an idea fill out .

If you have any questions, email me at ragstoreasonable@gmail.com

paying your people

At heart, I am a leader.

It’s a role I fell into accidentally, when I realized that my opinions and my voice were important, and grew into being able to use them for good. I’m not a loud, up-front leader – I prefer to set good examples, be organized, take charge when I need to. Which doesn’t preclude being loud, thankfully, but it’s at least where I started from.

This has naturally translated into my career – I lead five projects of my own and play in about as many more, depending on the time of year.

One of the things I’ve discovered, though, about leading a band, is that it’s not just your own interests you have to keep in mind.

I’ve learned so much about being a people person over the past five years leading my bands – and if you check out my previous post, then you’ll know I’ve had a few bigger fish to fry over those years, too.

So the question I’m trying to address today is: how do you balance taking care of the people you care about and work with…with taking care of yourself?

The employee side: getting paid

paying your people

So I’ll start with the easy stuff.

Someone hires you to do some work – play a gig, transcribe a tune, show up somewhere and help out with minor lifting. If the first message asking you to do the work doesn’t have all the details, don’t be afraid to write back and ask for more information, including how much you’re getting paid. And if they ask you for your rate, this is a good opportunity to think about how much you actually want to make when you leave the house to work.

If you don’t already have a typical rate for your gigs or freelance work, ask your friends what they would charge! The community succeeds when people try not to undercut each other, and if you’re going to take a low-pay gig, have a good reason to do it.

Also worth asking at this point is: when do you get paid?

At gigs, usually I get paid on the day of, at the end of the gig, in cash. If the bandleader seems unsure, I’ll usually ask when I arrive or before I leave: “Do you have cash for me or should I wait for an e-transfer?”

And for other work that I invoice for, I have a net-30 clause at the bottom of my invoice. “Payment due in 30 days by cash, cheque, or e-transfer. Cheques should be made out to [name] and e-transfers to [email address].” Some people have “due on receipt” clauses on their invoices as well, so whatever you decide, figure out what works best for you.

And last caveat: some people just send the invoice after, without talking about the money first. But sometimes that can lead to some tricky situations, so just be careful.

Know your client!

The employer side: paying your people

paying your people

For this one, I can’t stress enough how important it is to look ahead.

Now you have all the easy stuff above – do you get paid day of, before completion, some time after the gig – but you have to figure out: when will you get to pay your people?

There are a few strategies on this one, so again, easy stuff first: is it a performance? Do you get paid in cash?

If the answers to those are yes, then that one solves itself – just split the money on the day of! But say you get paid by cheque. Do you have enough money in your back account to e-transfer your people on the day of? How much do you get charged for e-transfers? Can you take out cash instead? And if you know it’s going to be a long time before the cheque arrives (see: some corporate engagements), do you have enough money to get through until then?

This isn’t a question with an easy answer, but a rule of thumb from me: giving good karma usually results in its return.

When I’m hiring people, I’m very up front about when they can expect money. And I try and pay everybody as soon as possible, sometimes stealing a trick from my friend’s book and paying people ahead of time if I know I have a payday between then and the gig.

What I have noticed among the people I work with is that as long as people know when they’re getting paid the first time, they are way more likely to trust you when things inevitably go south.

My last gig horror story involved me getting shorted nearly $1000 – so I took what little buffer I had saved and paid everybody half up front, and then as I saved up the rest, sent them the difference. It meant that I didn’t make nearly what I was supposed to on the gig, but I felt much more strongly about the people I worked with being able to take care of themselves.

And as stressful as that is when you are also an artist with no money, I made that decision knowing that I had other income that would help me survive the loss – and in the hopes that if I found myself in that situation, some other bandleader would be able to help. (If you’re the kind of bandleader who charges a leader fee – you should be! – then this situation also helps mitigate itself.)

paying your people

In short…

As with most things in life, communication is key. Be clear about your expectations, be fair with your rates (to yourself and to the people you work with), and if things are going to be less than ideal, make sure you have a plan in place to deal with that – whether it’s paying people ahead of time, or just making sure they know that that money won’t be in their bank account for a few more weeks. A little trust goes a long way – and really, when it comes down to it, we’re all just trying to get by.

Chelsea McBride

Chelsea McBride

Paid Contributor

Driven by an endless need for expressing herself creatively, young composer and multi-instrumentalist Chelsea McBride has burst onto the Toronto jazz scene. Whether it’s her big band (Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School), her jazz trio (Chelsea McBride Group), her pop-fusion band (Chelsea and the Cityscape), her Latin-soul nonet (The Achromatics) or her video game cover band (Koopa Troop), Chelsea is a diverse musician who refuses to stay in one creative box. Chelsea can be heard around Toronto playing several shows per month. She has released three albums with Chelsea and the Cityscape and two albums with her Socialist Night School.

You can find out more at www.crymmusic.com

THE TROUBLE WITH MONETIZING YOUR PASSION

THE TROUBLE WITH MONETIZING YOUR PASSION

So you got into a great arts school, and your head is full of dreams about how awesome it would be to dance or sing or paint for the rest of your life.

Or maybe you just really like to act and you want to get better and learn, but haven’t given much thought to what you’ll do after you graduate.

Either way chances are it didn’t take long for people to start talking about how few people ‘make it’ and how hard it is in the arts world… how you have to be the best to even have a chance of fulfilling your dreams.

Your dreams of turning this thing you’re passionate about … into enough money to live on.

The trouble begins

It’s not that they’re wrong. It is tough to make a living in the arts.

The thing that really burns my tomatoes is that in most situations schools are just focused on training for ONE kind of living in the arts.

For me, in music (opera), it was all about performance – a career singing on the world’s grand stages.

It’s a beautiful idea, but seriously hard to live out. And not because I’m not good enough or special enough (that’s between me and my therapist), it’s just a practicality: there are few stages and a ton of amazing singers.

But somehow, despite these limits, thousands of opera singers work out a way to pay their bills by working in the arts. So where was the talk during our training of the hundreds of other ways THOSE artists monetize their passion?!

What about building a teaching studio? Not just as a way to ‘pay the bills’, but on purpose… because you love teaching.

What about leaning to be a producer and make your own art? Starting your own company? Touring?

The danger of the single minded drive:

The problem with this intense, in my case big-operahouse-performance based, focus is that it sets up the idea of success and failure.

If you don’t succeed at making a living in the arts in that hyper-specific way… you failed. You are not an artist.

Hand in your badge and your gun. You are the weakest link…. goodbye…

Can we all agree that that’s insane….?

You’ve been an artist since your first chocolate pudding painting, and you’ll be one until you die. How you make your living has nothing to do with that.

Also, most artists are CRAZY DIVERSIFIED. We make a little money here… a little money there. Some in the arts … some outside of it.

That’s just reality. But it’s not a reality that our training reflects.

So consequently a great cello teacher can feel a little ashamed because their performance calendar isn’t super full, even though they’re pulling in a great living with a full studio.

A wonderful singer can’t identify as an artist anymore because she works in marketing (even though she spends 5 evenings a week at choir rehearsals or teaching lessons).

To monetize or not to monetize

Making money doing what you love can be great. But it can also come at a cost.

There’s a lot of pressure to be creative on demand. The lifestyle is … non-traditional at best…

But whether you make money as an artist or not, never feel like your ‘artist status’ is on the line.

Making a living is all about finding the right balance for you. Every choice comes with a consequence.

Do you want stability or variety? Lots of money or lots of time? To be a part of a team or to be your own boss?

And if the arts really appeal to you… know that there are thousands of artists making a living in unique ways. Don’t let someone tell you there’s a ‘right’ way to do it. Let that fountain of creativity flow out of the practice room and into the rest of your life.

And create something beautiful (that also, hopefully, pays the bills).

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

Dr. Artist and Mr. Chris: Separating your business and personal selves

Dr. Artist and Mr. Chris: Separating your business and personal selves

A while ago I talked about how, through separating your personal and business finances, you could pay yourself a salary and better handle the variable income that comes with being a freelancer: artist or otherwise.

But that’s not the only reason for separating your personal life from your business one. And I’m not just talking about record keeping and all that stuff.

It can be a really useful mental distinction.

Mental stuff matters

I think for a lot of small business owners it’s tough to separate what we do, from who we are. That’s probably true of lots of people, freelancer or not, but for us there aren’t some of the natural separations that come from more traditional types of employment.

It’s just you. You’re the boss and the employee. Artist or not, if you pour your heart and soul into a business you believe in it can be hard to figure out where the personal-you ends, and the business-you begins.

So when it comes to applying the idea of a financial plan, it can become confusing and overwhelming because you’re just trying to do so much… and often it doesn’t seem like the two sides fit together all that well.

When I started to get control over my money, I cut back on a lot of things. I was trying to be good. Not spend too much, but the problem was that so many of my business expenses weren’t cheap. (more…)

HOW I SURVIVE ON A VARIABLE INCOME: SEVEN STEPS FOR LIVING ON LESS… THEN MORE… THEN NOTHING

HOW I SURVIVE ON A VARIABLE INCOME: SEVEN STEPS FOR LIVING ON LESS… THEN MORE… THEN NOTHING

Variable income. Such a nice way of looking at it. Variable brings up thoughts of income coming soon, or maybe… simply that it varies a bit every once and a while from the norm.

But those of you who have lived on ‘variable’ income know that sometimes it means ‘low’ income, or even ‘no’ income.

It’s feast or famine in today’s freelancing world, and sometimes no matter how hard you work you’re left sitting with nothing on the horizon wondering how you will possibly be able to eat this month.

I have been in that place.

I’m kind of in that place now. That no-income place.

The nice way of putting it is I’m just in a bit of a dry spell… and then people give that sympathetic nod, before trying to change the subject away from my clearly flagging career.

But even though I’m currently in a three month ‘dry spell’, I know that I have a system in place to sustain my basic living costs. More than that, I have money set aside to take weekly lessons and coachings, money for the gym and the odd concert. I have the tools I need to both decrease my ‘no income’ stress and to use this time off productively: namely, to do some reworking and development on the trusty vocal chords.

How do I do it?

One big tool that I started using this last fall is paying myself a salary.

Yup. That’s right.

You’re currently talking to the reigning employee of the month of the Christopher Enns Tenor company. Now, before you get distracted by the fact that I put the word ‘company’ after my name… no, I am not incorporated. There is no fancy paperwork that you need to fill out in oder to set yourself up this way.  You just need to make a mental shift.

So let’s take a look at this 7th-grade-science-project style (because why not make a personal finance blog just a little more nerdy..):

microscopy-148139_1280PURPOSE:

To create stability when living on a variable income stream.

HYPOTHESIS:

By separating your business and personal accounts, your business can pay you a monthly salary thereby creating the feeling of stability even though your income stream is still variable.

MATERIAL:

You will need:

  • 2 bank accounts.
  • An idea of your basic living expenses
  • Optional: Pipe cleaners (cause they’re fun)

PROCEDURE:

Salary Procedure Step 1

It’s probably best to use two chequing accounts. Separate banks are fine. The same bank is fine. Just remember that if you bank with one of the big banks, opening another account will probably come with more fees. So poke around a little to find a solution that costs you the least.

I use separate banks. One of them is TANGERINE, which has no fees associated with its accounts. PC financial is another no-fee option.

Salary Procedure Step 2This is more of a mental step. Your business account doesn’t have to be an actual business account at the bank. I tried this originally, but found that it was just a bunch of extra fees for services that I didn’t use. Those business accounts are set up for people who are making tons of deposits in a week, or who need to have several people access the account; Services that aren’t all that necessary to your average artistic freelancer.

Salary Procedure Step 3

No more mixing business with pleasure. When your business makes money it all goes in to the business account.

This separation is great for all kinds of reasons, not just for paying yourself a salary. By keeping business transactions and personal stuff separate your records are clearer for tax time, and it can also be a good tool for separating out finances as a couple.

CHECK OUT: DR ARTIST AND MR CHRIS: SEPARATING YOUR BUSINESS AND PERSONAL SELVES

Salary Procedure Step 4


FREQUENT QUESTION: How much should your salary be? That’s something that may take you a while to figure out. I recommend finding out what your basic living expenses are.

Rent + Food + Basic Utilities (heat, water, internet, phone) + transportation (Transit, bike, car) + medical/health needs

After you get that number, see where you’re at. Obviously that doesn’t include any cash for entertainment or fun, or personal savings like retirement or that big fancy house you’ve been dreaming of.

I take those basic expenses, add a few bucks for spending money, add a fixed amount that I tuck away for long term savings, and that’s my basic salary.

Of course it can fluctuate. If your business is doing well you can give yourself a raise! But remember, the point of this is to keep your personal income dependable, and absorbing the variable thing in the business account.

Need help figuring out your 'salary'

I made you a worksheet to help you figure it out!

Salary Procedure Step 5Yet again. It doesn’t have to be separate but it can be. It can be a budget category on your spreadsheet, or you can open up an actual savings account (watch for fees again!). What ever helps you separate out this money in your mind.

Salary Procedure Step 6I try to aim for 4 − 6 months of salary just hanging out in that account. It can take a while to get there, but any amount is helpful when you don’t have money coming in. I think that when the job market is as crazy as it is, the more you can have stocked away the better.

Salary Procedure Step 7Here’s where it all pays off: I have no income coming in, and yet I can still pay all my bills, keep my savings goals going, and even eat occasionally.

Thereby achieving complete personal stability even though there is tons of variation on the business side.

EXPERIMENT:

I’m living this experiment!

I’ve been using the “pay yourself a salary” method for the last 6 months.

I opened a separate business account with TANGERINE (no-fee banking rules!!), and kept my old TD account for my personal banking.

INTERESTED IN A TANGERINE ACCOUNT: IT’S EASIER TO OPEN THAN YOU THINK…

All the income went through my Tangerine account and I started paying myself on the first of every month.

Budgeting got a whole lot simpler, at least on the personal side. Almost a little boring, which is nice.

January has been the first time I’ve had to dip in to my payroll fund, and even though I’m making next to no income this month, the same ‘boring’ payments keep on coming through.

DATA ANALYSIS:

For some people this system might take a while to put in to place. A payroll fund might just seem like another thing to save for, or worse… another thing that you can’t afford.

But you don’t have to worry if you can’t plunk down 6 months of salary. Even just putting a few of these ideas in place will really help:

  1. Separate your personal and business funds
  2. Figure out what a good salary would be for you. First calculate your most basic expenses: that’s the lowest salary you could live on. Then add a few things that make it actually livable. And hey, presto! Your ideal salary! Knowing this number is an incredible tool… seriously… I’m gonna talk about it all the time.
  3. A plan for when money does come in. It’s tough when you get a few thousand dollars in a week to not go crazy and spend it immediately on shiny things. If you have a plan for how you want your business and personal finances to work (the plan is above… see pictures) then you know where you can funnel that money.

DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO START BUILDING THE FRAMEWORK. BUILD IT AND THE DOLLARS WILL COME…. Or build it, at least… so you’re ready if they do come.

want to take your variable income to the next level?

Check out this spreadsheet I made – it lets you compare variable income AND expenses over the course of a year. 

CONCLUSION:

It’s so hard to create stability, to make a normal budget when your income is all over the freaking map.

There are other ways to handle variable income, but paying yourself a salary is clearly a really great tool for getting the job done.

With just 7 steps you can make a system that allows you to:

  1. Separate business from personal income and expenses
  2. Create complete stability on the personal side, by receiving the same amount every month (it’s so much easier to budget)
  3. Make budgeting way simpler. By separating out your business from your personal, you keep a lot of the crazy variable purchases (1000 dollars in plane tickets in November, a tuxedo in December) off your personal books. So you can keep all the nice normal, regular things in one account and budget, and keep all the crazy, variable, artist stuff over on the other side. 
  4. Weather the dry times by creating a payroll fund that can keep the paycheques coming, even if the business isn’t making any dough
  5. Take the power away from variable income. Reduce stress. And live a happier, healthier life.

IN JUST 7 STEPS.

It’s basically magic.

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

EMAIL ME