Creative people have a love/hate relationship with money.
We love it, because – well, who wouldn’t want it?
But we also hate it, avoid dealing with it, and avoid even talking about it. Here are some of the reasons why.
1. We Think It’s Not Important
And of course we’re right. There are more important things in life than money – love, art, justice, world peace and coffee being just a few.
We live in a world obsessed with money, where human beings are treated according to their bank balance, not their intrinsic worth, and we instinctively revolt against this.
Creativity offers a window on a different world, with different values. Art exists in a different, more meaningful dimension. In a world gone mad, it can serve as a reminder that money is not the be-all and end-all.
2. We Don’t Know How to Get It
The starving artist cliche didn’t come from nowhere. It’s no secret that many creatives don’t earn as much as they’d like. And it’s not much fun talking about something you don’t have.
If we were better at selling than making, we’d be salespeople, not creatives. Sales and marketing can feel like impenetrable mysteries – we don’t understand what makes people buy, so it’s tempting to retreat back into our comfort zone, doing the best work we can and hoping that will be enough.
3. We Don’t Know What We’re Worth
One obvious barrier to earning a decent living is not charging enough for our artworks, products or services. That might sound like a no-brainer, but many creatives simply don’t realise the value of their work to potential buyers.
To us, it’s nothing special. It’s just what we do. Looking at it with a perfectionist’s eye, we see all kinds of flaws that are invisible to the untrained eye. That’s great for perfecting your craft, but not so great when it comes to closing a sale.
Because what may seem barely good enough to us may well look utterly fabulous to a potential buyer. But if we price ourselves or our work too low, it knocks buyers’ confidence, and makes them assume there’s something wrong with it.
Believe it or not, many people are happier paying more for quality than shopping around for the cheapest option. Who wants to have a knockdown painting on their wall? Or to give their loved one a cut-price ring? Or to do their big launch or party on the cheap?
4. We Don’t Want to Sell out
One of the reasons creative people have a reputation for eccentricity is our ambivalent attitude to money and success. The rest of the world would jump at the chance for fame and fortune, but even when it’s laid on a plate for us, we hesitate.
We hesitate because we are terrified of selling out – selling our artistic soul to the devil, earning piles of cash by churning out commercial crap. We know that all the money in the world won’t compensate us for the loss of our creative integrity.
5. We Don’t Want to Look Greedy
We’re sensitive souls aren’t we? And we have to be, it’s part of our job. If you’re not finely attuned to the subtleties of sounds, images, words, textures, movement and/or rhythm, you won’t go far in a creative career.
But this sensitivity has a flipside. We tend to be shy and diffident, easily pricked by barbed words or the merest hint of criticism. So we’re not always the best negotiators, and can shoot ourselves in the foot by avoiding discussing money issues for fear of looking ‘greedy’.
6. We Don’t Know How to Manage It
Spreadsheets, balance sheets, cashflow forecasts, profit and loss sheets, amortisation, appreciation, depreciation, fixed costs, variable costs, cash cows, averaging ratios …
Have your eyes glazed over yet?
The language of finance can be bamboozling – let alone the actual numbers. No wonder many creatives do the bare minimum of accounting, often at the last minute, when the tax deadline is due. It just seems too complex, too intimidating, or too plain boring for us to get our heads around it all.
7. We Wouldn’t Know How to Spend It
The whole process of earning, collecting and managing money – while at the same time preserving our creative integrity – can seem so difficult that we never seriously think about how we would spend the money if we did succeed. In other words, we don’t consider the purpose of money in our work and lives.
Sure, we may daydream from time to time about winning the lottery or landing the big contract, but we stop at daydreaming. We don’t articulate our financial goals, set ourselves targets and make concrete plans for using money to bring us security, stability, freedom – and even to support our creativity.
So we creatives have plenty of reasons for looking down our noses at money, or ignoring it and hoping it will go away.
But deep down, we know this is dangerous. Money is a fact of life, it’s not going away. Sooner or later, we have to deal with it.
Because money is important. Not the most important thing, but maybe more important than we care to admit, when we avoid thinking about it, talking about it or doing something about it.
Money stress is no fun. It poisons every aspect of life. That’s true for anyone, but if your passion is creativity, then one of the biggest dangers is that worrying about money will kill your creativity.
As a creative, your headspace is your workspace. If it’s taken up by worries of any kind, it’s hard to settle to the task in hand, and harder still to get into the creative zone where you do your best work.
Does that sound like a reason to take money a little more seriously?
“OK so what do I DO about this?”
I’m glad you asked that. 🙂
The first thing to do is to visit this page and claim your free copy of the audio seminar I’ve recorded with Sarah: 5 Essential Money Skills for Creative People. It’s packed with practical advice to help you get a grip on your business finances and use them to support your creativity.
And if you want even more help getting on top of the finances of your creative business, check out Money for Creative People, our new course for creative artists, freelancers and entrepreneurs, teaching you the mindset and money skills that will help you succeed commercially as well as creatively.
What do you think?
Which of these seven reasons do you relate to?
What would you add to the list?
Do you agree that creative people could benefit from taking money more seriously?
About the author: Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach, and the owner of Lateral Action.