A couple of years ago, a friend and colleague at The Magic Circle articulated something I had already realised. Show business is 50% show and 50% business. You need both. If you don’t have any business sense then, sooner or later, you won’t have a show.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to performers. It applies to anyone who doesn’t think of themselves as a business person.
One day Rodney, We probably won’t be millionaires…
This is an unwelcome realisation for many creative types. The idea of business is somewhat grubby and and they long for the days of yore when an artist could get themselves a patron and just concentrate on following their muse. However, for most of us, that is just a pipe dream.
Business is essentially about people and money. It doesn’t need to be that scary. You need to get good at dealing with people and get good at dealing with money.
Let’s face it, most of us are not going to achieve mega-riches doing what we do, but we can avoid penury, financial stress and debt-misery. It is quite possible to build a comfortable life as a creative as long as you have your business eyes open.
Back to Life, Back to Reality
Firstly, get real. Be completely honest with yourself. You need a completely accurate picture of your current financial position, however scary. If you don’t know how to put together a simple spreadsheet, for goodness sake learn right away. There is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost from denial.
Where the Dickens are you?
Once you know where you are, what you have, what you are currently bringing in, you can start to see what needs to change. Is your income exceeding your outgoings?
As Dickens had Mr Micawber say: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
Heed the Profit
Are people buying what you are selling? There is a continuum between the esoteric art that artists want to produce and commercial art that will sell. Once you are famous you can produce pretty much anything you want and you will probably sell enough of it to live. Until that time you need to produce stuff that people will buy. When I was at mime and physical theatre school some of my colleagues were into performing weird avant-garde theatre at the weekends. I was using the same techniques to do kids’ parties. I made consistent money to support my course, they were reliant on the latest Arts Council grant.
Have a Cunning Plan
Dream big, but plan conservatively. It is so tempting to forecast your income using a best-case scenario. Don’t. Plan for a low level of income and then you can only be pleasantly surprised if you do better one month.
Save for taxes. When you get paid, stick 20% in a separate dedicated bank account for tax. Don’t touch it until tax time. It’s not not your money anyway. I recommend the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz – it is really helpful.
Delegation, that’s what you need
Granted, there are definitely dull and difficult bits to business. Work out what you can and cannot do yourself. Pay someone else to do the bits you can’t do or can’t stand. This might include accounts, bookkeeping, web design, graphics and more. It is always cheaper to pay an expert than to try to teach yourself and muddle through something with less than 100% effectiveness. I have learned that the hard way.
Remember, there is no business like show business, but there is no show without business.