Let’s talk loud and proud about the thing you’re not supposed to talk about: MONEY.
Today, I want to dig into how to figure out how much to pay yourself as a creative entrepreneur. It’s something I struggled with and messed up, and had to work really hard to get on the right track as I built a profitable business:
I didn’t regularly (i.e. weekly) cut myself a paycheck until I’d been in business for 18 months.
👆👆👆Yup, it caused as many marriage arguments as you can imagine it did.
My business was profitable early on (catch my first learning in this YouTube video to learn about what helped it boom), but I worried it would all disappear. So, I hoarded.
I never moved any money out of the business account into our personal account.
I just *knew* any initial success was about to disappear.
Wes, my husband, does math like, for a living (heyo aviation flight planning and routing). Since my business and marriage kicked off around the same time, I’d BEG Wes to puh-leese let us start a family budget. Numbers stick for a shelf-life of a decade in his head, he didn’t need to see a spreadsheeted budget to know where we stood.
Me? I couldn’t remember my grocery store bill number by the time I’ve packed bags in my car.
“We’re not going to do any of this budget stuff until you start paying yourself,” Wes said.
Fair. And it infuriated me. Love ya, babe. 😉
But bit by bit, we got there. Now, I not only pay myself every single week, but have a team, a money plan, and an entire revenue model built out —before a new year even starts.
Financials of a creative small business are something I learned the sloppy way:
But every creative SHOULD know what to pay themselves, know how to track income, and know how to re-invest in the business. You’re not excused from knowing your numbers.
I hope today’s post and video help you map out how YOU can pay yourself as a creative, too!
You HAVE to Define Enough: My Money Story
The lightbulb moment came when I realized the simple economy of “enough.”
All I needed to do was figure out what “enough” looked like for me, market to/book enough to hit that number, and then rest.
I didn’t have to chase, chase, chase money and MORE. I didn’t have to build a business like anyone else.
I DID need to define what “enough” looked like in my life: What did “enough” look like for our family finances? What did I need my take-home to be to cover that? What did “enough” hours look like?
Growing up watching my parents both work, I correlated that a) work harder = make more and b) everything costs money.
I attended a private Christian school and studied classical ballet, but my parents made DARN sure I knew that they both worked to give us a faith-focused college-prep education. I remember Dad saying that just because kids I went to school with got shiny new cars when they turned 16, didn’t mean that would happen for me. 🙂
I babysat to make “fun money” and gas money for my car. While I knew that attending college wasn’t *not* an option (trust me, I tried to get out of college and go the ballet company route … it didn’t work out for me!), I applied for countless scholarships—and even did Junior Miss program stuff!
Ballet was expensive, too—between school and dance, I started telling myself that in ANYTHING, the longer and harder hours you work, the more success you see and the more money you make.
Even in my post-college jobs, it always seemed like the first one in the office/last one to leave was the “winner.”
WHY am I giving you my money life story?
Because that last part was a HUGE block when I became an entrepreneur.
By no fault of my upbringing (It’s how many of us grow up), as a creative business owner, I thought I’d ONLY ever be successful if I said yes to all the jobs and worked 12+ hour days. Sure, I’d heard to “work smarter not harder,” but I didn’t believe it.
Do you believe the same? How do YOU know you don’t know what your enough is? Here are my unscientific thoughts. 🙂
Signs You Don’t Know What “Enough” Is For Yourself/Your Business
The concept of defining enough—working BACKWARDS financially—hit me like a snowball square between the eyes.
Seeing money as a neutral construct (it’s neither bad nor good intrinsically … it’s a resource. Biblically, we’re given more instruction in the Bible about money [more than 2,000 verses] than almost anything else!) was new. I’ve loved studying money as a Christ-follower and entrepreneur, and like this article says, “we’re told to avoid the love of money (1 Tim. 6:6–10) and to choose God over money (Luke 16:13), so we can be generous and ready to give (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16) and put our trust in God, not riches (1 Tim. 6:17–19). We’re also encouraged to plan and save (Prov. 21:20) and look after the needs of our families and others (1 Tim. 5:8; Heb. 13:16).”
I don’t know what you believe, but that’s pretty good wisdom.
Instead of seeing money as so scarce, being an entrepreneur showed me money’s abundant—it’s not a zero-sum game. I’m not called to obsess over it. It’s a tool, it’s not going to “run out” in the world, and I could calm down a bit.
My mindset was starting to change … but I still didn’t know HOW to pay myself as an entrepreneur!
How Knowing My Numbers & Building a Money Blueprint Saved My Business … and Helped My Marriage
Okay, so you see what a hot mess I was.
I’d done a few things right—paying yourself as an entrepreneur comes down to:
Choose the best bank for your business (I like a small bank, and we went with the one we do our personal finances through for ease)
Make sure you’re set up for business correctly for your state/country and have all the right tax info
Organize your company and protect yourself from liability, whether you want to file as an LLC or independent contractor (personal opinion: go LLC, move up to S-Corp when you can)
Know your expenses: Heck, even the MOST rudimentary spreadsheet will do just fine! Start keeping track of them.
Know your hourly rate, which IS an expense: My The Art of Efficiency™ students know I’m all about this—I teach you to keep that number on a sticky by your desk!
Find a CPA you love
Determine a payroll schedule to pay yourself and your time
Yeah. That last one wasn’t happening.
She knew money, I knew words. So we partnered up for a month, and Shanna took me (and Wes!) through her Blueprint Model system. It took a lot of work and thinking, but we crafted a financial plan for our household and the business that made us both happy.
Overhead of my business I’d figured out, but product/service cost? No idea
What Shanna taught me is that the largest percentage of sales dollars are going to go straight back out the door as PRODUCT COST. “I suggest spending no more than 40% of all sales dollars on PRODUCT COST,” Shanna said. “This includes materials, shipping, packaging, labor, client gifts, client meals + entertainment. Let me say again, this is a rule of thumb! If you provide a service-based product or if you manufacture goods this will look different. For example, if I sell $100 of goods, I want to spend NO MORE THAN $40 to create those goods!”
I started to see how to price my packages for profit. I started to see underpricing in my business … and what was right on target (that felt good!)
The basics? We learned my owner’s draw percentage, set long-term goals, and saw how much to sock into business savings.
TOTAL gamechanger of a tool. With our Blueprint in hand, I started planning my business sales goals and budgets for the next year. I mapped out how many clients I ACTUALLY needed (hint: 7, not a zillion). And marriage got a lot sweeter in the argument category. 🙂
Ongoing Money Mindset Adjustments
Okay, to wrap this up, I wanted to tell you 5 ways I’ve STAYED paying myself as a creative entrepreneur.
Read About Finances
I know, I know. I promise there are some good ones out there though! I try to read 3-4-ish money books a year. Here are a few that have helped me:
Hold Weekly “Finance Friday” Check-ins
Shanna calls them money dates, but because I always have them on Fridays, it was easiest to go with alliteration. 🙂 On Fridays, I tackle the following tasks:
Establish Business Credit with a Credit Card
No, I’m not advocating debt. I DO think it’s important to establish a line of credit, same as you would in your personal life. We’re AmEx people and this is the card I’ve liked in my business!
**Note above in your Finance Friday/moneydate planning, you need to pay it off every week. 🙂
Practice visioning, gratitude, and prayer
A few things here: I pray a lot about our stewardship of finances (I screw things up totally on my own), by praying for things like:
That God would replace my thinking $$$ (and the business!) is mine with thinking it’s God’s.
Trusting God when our revenue or launches look different than what I planned
Asking Him to break my heart for what breaks His
Lastly is the semi-woo-woo of visioning yourself doing something. 🙂 I love the practice of closing my eyes and picturing whatever goal I have coming true: booking those clients, finishing that launch, etc.
Continue Your Education to Know Your Worth
Professional development gives me confidence in raising my prices, something that *should* be happening as you become better and better at your job.
That wasn’t so scary, was it? I hope not. I’m telling you—I’m the least likely person to write about this, but it IS possible to be very un-financially savvy and LEARN to get that way as a creative entrepreneur.