On Creative Entrepreneurship: A Guide For Side Hustlers From Two Women Artists
Whether you’re a side hustler, solo artist, freelancer or small business-owner, you’re always a full-time creative. No matter where your revenue comes from, it’s good to understand your work, its value and your own expectations, resources and needs.
In this little guide, artists Xochi Solis and Alie Jackson share some tips, strategies and tools for side-hustling creatives and entrepreneurs looking to make a sustainable income from their work. (For context, Solis is an Austin-based painter DJ and cultural producer, and Jackson is a full-time Art Director and freelance illustrator, animator and augmented reality designer.)
ON FUNDING AND FINDING CUSTOMERS FOR YOUR WORK
You should bring the same energy and individuality to creating funding strategies as you do to creating your work, keeping in mind striking a balance that works best for you (i.e. you are your own model.) There are countless ways to fund one’s work in the creative industry and continuous changes in the field. Part of our job as an artist is to understand the climate in which we work.
ON NAVIGATING YOUR NEW INDUSTRY AND NETWORKING
When it comes to navigating your industry, determining where to find resources and fostering successful collaborations, building relationships is key.
Be generous with what you have, things have a way of coming back to you
Be gracious and acknowledge credit where credit is due.
SAY THANK YOU! A small note, text, phone message helps foster healthy giving relationships
Ask for feedback and be open to criticism
ON INVESTING IN YOURSELF AND YOUR NEW SKILLS
Take it upon yourself learn new skills even if they have nothing to do with your current practicE. If you are strapped for cash and find a class or workshop you really want to attend, contact the organizer and see if they offer payment plans, scholarships or work/trade. The public library and free, online blogs (start googling!) are also great resources.
Don’t be afraid to learn on the job. Offer discounted work or trade with clients and be transparent with them about your intentions and the stage of expertise you feel you’ve reached.
ON DETERMINING YOUR INITIAL FEES/PRICES
Creatives, artists, service-based business-owners and freelancers, etc. are not always paid a traditional fee, but it is important to predetermine what your time is worth and how that can be clearing communicated to your funder, client, etc. Expressing your worth and expectations at the start of any professional relationship, sets the groundwork for a more enjoyable working scenario. Whether or not you are asked for a budget by your client, MAKE ONE! Never generate one that leaves your artist fee out.
Here are a few methods to determine your fees:
By the cost of your labor per hour and your cost of materials (WAGE is an excellent resource for determining your cost per hour.)
By the month. (Say you have a one-month project coming up with 10 hours a week. You know you need $4K to live on monthly and you are marking 25% of your total work hours to the project. Voila! The project needs to pay you at least $1K a month.)
By the budget. If you really want to work with a client or offer a particular service or product (or even offer something discounted for friends, collaborators and nonprofits), figure out how much you need from other sources to justify the time or resources you spend doing free/discounted labor. If you can’t justify it, it may be good to say no for now.
ON BALANCING CLIENT WORK, EXPERIMENTATION AND PERSONAL WORK
When you’re just starting out as a new entrepreneur/side hustler, it can be difficult to determine where to spend all of your time (especially when you’re creative and have a million and one ideas). Here are some suggested strategies to make balancing your interests a little more feasible:
Figure out your own workflow to to prevent creative burnout/fatigue
Know when to take or turn down a project based on personal beliefs/morals
Don’t feel guilt for taking on client work that pays really well. You have to pick your battles to pay the bills
When looking for work or customers, seek out companies/audiences that align with your personal beliefs and interests to keep the feeling of “selling out” to a minimum
ON FINDING DIFFERENT SOURCES OF SUPPORT
Self-Subsidy: As a creative, you are often your own biggest financial supporter. It’s OK to have a “day job,” or take out loans, live off of investments, etc. to get your dream off of the ground. Whatever method you pursue that funds your ability to work creatively and autonomously is best.
Fellowships: There are many entrepreneurial and creative fellowships, as well as artist residencies, out there that offer financial support and opportunities to take time to focus on a specific project, travel to conduct research. Do some research around what fellowships exist in your industry and explore where you might apply.
Project Grants: If you’re launching a project, business or artistic endeavor, seek out grants that may be able to fund your work! These may be offered locally through your city or through the state, or even through other businesses, organizations and institutions. Head to your local grants library or start researching / talking to people about grants at networking events. (They’re out there, y’all.)
Corporate Support: Depending on your business or project, you may be able to strike a partnership/sponsorship with a corporation that could be looking for advertisment/visibility through your work.
In-Kind Goods and Services: Ask for donations, barter, trade—just go for it. There may be many resources at your fingertips.
Earned Income for Services: Find different ways to sell your services to different target markets. (For example, if you’ve launched a small accounting firm and you need to find new clients around tax season, perhaps you also begin marketing Intro to Accounting workshops, etc.)
Earned Income for Goods: This goes without saying, but spend time honing in on what you provide, make and sell. Identify your mission, target customer and start marketing those products, honey!
ON BUDGETING AND CREATING POSITIVE CASH FLOW
To create products and services that actually generate revenue, you should be designing your business with a budget in mind (more on how to design budgets here). If you want to have a sustainable cash flow (i.e. your bank account never hits zero and you cover all of your expenses each month), Xochi and Alie say to:
Be realistic about your expenses
Diversify your portfolio so your income streams are varied and you are not solely relying on one way of making money.
Remember that your worth is not measured by how much is in your bank account. There are going to be floods and droughts—know that.
Be open to exploring something new. If boundaries and expectations are expressed early on, you can navigate these new projects with grace.
Prioritize building an operational toolkit for your business. Create templates for invoicing, build a website that you can easily update (or if you hate doing that type of stuff budget to hire someone). Utilize professionals to support your craft (i.e. photographers, lawyers, CPAs) this will make you more grounded.
Make friends and mentors in your field. Join organizations for artists or art organizers that strengthen your connection to the creative community.
Remain curious about yourself and how you can grow your business and your investment in yourself.
Looking for additional creative entrepreneurial resources? Try out #BBATX’s biannual WORK Conference on Jan. 19, 2019.