Are you struggling with creating a consistent stream of revenue in your business with your art? Do you feel your particular discipline of art lends itself to leaving you in the dust when it comes to finding a revenue stream that is constant?
I used to feel this way, and had the most insatiable poverty mindset around how I was going to build a business that thrives as a writer/performance artist. It just didn’t happen. I didn’t have one single role model to look to in the performance art space who had turned her profits from her work into a lucrative business that was thriving at all times. I even had my professor in undergrad announce to my dance technique class that we would be happy as dancers but broke for the rest of our lives, which left me feeling utterly depleted and fearful of my future.
But then I met Mary. She was an acting instructor in NYC who had been teaching a class of between five to seven people for the last 25 years in the same small studio. She was 73 years old a that point. I heard about her class by word of mouth from another actor, and decided to check it out. When I arrived to the tiny black box studio I bore witness to some of the best acting I had ever seen. This woman didn’t miss a beat; she was on her feet the whole time, critiquing each actor with the precision of a surgeon. Each actor was complete putty in her hands, trusting her so deeply and allowing her to help them shape their work from the position of a director who knew the playwright’s intentions for each scene inside and out.
The class went on for four hours, and finally at 11pm we all packed up to call it a night. All six of us paid her for the month (I decided to join the class after the first scene went up): $150 each. That’s $950 she made for the month for over 16 hours of her master teaching. This was less than half of what some of the top studios and teachers were charging in NYC, and they weren’t half as good as she was.
I felt depressed just thinking about how she made such a small living doing such important work. I pictured her living in a small, rent-stabilized apartment on the lower east side, not having enough to do anything but sleep and eat, just like a young starving artist imagines her life might end up if she doesn’t figure out how to sell her work or get hired immediately for the best-paying gigs.
When I spoke with her after the class, I had to ask her why she charged so little and how she was able to survive on what she made. She smiled, and looked me straight in the eye to say, “Sweetie, I do this because teaching is my life. It’s not my main source of income. It’s where I practice my craft. I make my living from my acting work.”
She had been an actor all her life and had worked with almost every top director on Broadway, in television and film in NYC. She traveled the world doing regional theater, starred in several Broadway shows and had an IMDB profile that put everyone else in the room to shame. All the time she was working she was bringing in revenue with her art. All the time she was not working, she was taking part of that revenue, reinvesting it into her career and saving and investing the rest.
At this point in her life she had done such an incredible job investing her earnings in the right places that she didn’t really have to work if she didn’t want to. She had a home in the country, an apartment in the city that she loved where she raised her two daughters as a single parent and two other places in Florida and California she could go to anytime she wanted.
She became, in that moment, my biggest hero and role model. I was humbled and in awe of her in every way. How spectacular she didn’t have to work anymore, I thought.
But Mary loved to work- in fact it turned out she was also one of the top commercial actors in NYC. She had the top commercial agent, was in almost every commercial that called for a woman in her 70’s, and was often called in by top brands directly who knew her and loved working with her.
Every now and then she would get cast in a Broadway show, every now and then she would work on a top feature film, every now and then she would get cast on a TV series, sometimes as a regular. But at that point, at age 73, she was at the top of her game shooting commercials and loved every minute of it: she got to work with people she knew and loved, she would shoot for one day, two days tops, and get paid quadruple what she would make on any other gig. AND she then got to teach the most incredible acting class that was literally life altering for the actors privileged enough to take it.
When I asked her how she made this incredible life possible for herself while never compromising her art, she said, “You have to work as an artist, but think like a businesswoman. You need to take the opportunities that will afford you the luxuries you so desire, and then know what to do with the money when you get paid, and then use all of it to do exactly what you know you’re meant to do. For me, that’s teaching.”
Mary spoke from a place the top entrepreneurs in the world speak from when describing how they got to the top of their particular industry or field: their success is a combination of the vision they have for their work and the financial skill they have in making sure the business can thrive in the name of that vision. I call this financial skill your Financial IQ. Having a strong Financial IQ is the single differentiating factor that separates the 10% of small businesses that survive out of the 90% that fail every year in the U.S. The same ratio holds true for artists in business- those who have a strong Financial IQ are the ones, like Mary, who create the most incredible lucrative businesses that uphold the vision they have for the art they are meant to pursue in the world.
So as artists, we have to stop thinking with a poverty mindset and shift into thinking about what our vision is for our art. We need to then create a business plan that enables us to achieve inevitable results in terms of profit and reinvest that profit to support the life we want to live and enable us to fulfill our vision with our art.
If you’d like to begin that journey for your art and your business now, sign up HERE for my special Master Class: Investing For Artists, coming up on Tuesday, May 24th at 7pm.
Now I’d like to hear from you: what is ONE frustration point you have about creating a consistent profit with your art? Leave your reply in the comments below and earn the chance for a free consulting session with me, and to help hundreds of other artists who are struggling with the same!