Starving Artist No More Blog

016: The Six Components of a Thriving Creative Business

Feb 14, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
016: The Six Components of a Thriving Creative Business

What are the components that make up a thriving creative business? If you listen to business coaches who are working and teaching in the non-creative business spaces, you’ll frequently hear discussions about the components of a successful business, things like providing value to customers, hiring great employees, understanding the market, employing sound financial management, et cetera et cetera. And those business coaches are correct. For a traditional business, those things are incredibly important. But what about a creative business? Do the components needed for flourishing change at all when the business in question is an artistic business, one in which the product being sold by the business is the creative work of the artist running that business? What components do creative businesses need to grow and thrive? That’s the question we’re going to answer today.


 Hello, and welcome to episode 16 of the Starving Artist No More podcast. My name is Jennifer Jill Araya, and I am a creative entrepreneurship coach, in addition to being a creative business owner myself, and I’m so glad you’re here with me for today’s discussion about the structural business elements that are necessary for your creative business to thrive. Today’s episode is going to be super practical in terms of strategy, and I really think it will help you make sure your business has what it needs to grow and flourish over the long term. Exciting stuff!

Before we really dig in to that discussion though, I want to make sure you’re aware of an upcoming, in-person workshop I’m offering in New York City on March 26, 2023. If you’re listening to this episode as it’s being released, or shortly thereafter, you still have time to sign up! If it’s February 28, 2023 or earlier as you’re listening to this, you even have enough time to sign up at the early bird price and save yourself $50 off the regular registration price! This workshop is specifically for the actors, storytellers, and audiobook narrators in my audience. It is titled “Starving & Panicked No More: Text Breakdown & Business Strategy for the Thriving Artist,” and that’s exactly what this workshop is going to be about.

I’m teaming up with the award-winning actor and acting coach Marni Penning, who will be sharing with you her process for text analysis. I’ve taken classes with Marni myself, and I can say from first-hand, personal experience that her system for text analysis is absolute gold. I use it every day in my work as an audiobook narrator. And in my portion of the workshop, I will be focusing on the business strategy side of things, helping you concentrate on the types of projects that are most creatively and financially fulfilling for you, and develop a strategy to bring more of those projects your way. This workshop is going to be a time of learning and growth for everyone there, and I cannot wait. If you’d like to learn more, simply visit my website, and click on the “Events” page.

And, if you’re listening to this episode way in the future, long after March 26, 2023 has passed and this workshop is done and gone, you can still head on over to the Events page of my website. I keep that page updated with any in-person or online workshops I have coming up. Who knows, maybe there will be a workshop listed there that you want to attend!

Alright, now that you know about my upcoming workshop, which I am so excited about, let’s focus in on the topic of today’s episode: the six components of a thriving creative business. You hear me say all the time that my goal is to help creative entrepreneurs build businesses that support them holistically: personally, creatively, and financially. And back in episode 10, the very first episode of 2023, I explained exactly why those three elements are so important for you and your business. But knowing that you need to think about your business from that 3-part framework is different than knowing what business structures you can put in place to make sure your business actually gives you what you need in those three areas. What do you need to do from a practical perspective to get fulfillment from your business personally, creatively, and financially?

Here's the answer to that question. For your creative business to thrive and support you holistically – personally, creatively, and financially – you need to have six primary components within your business:

  1. a systematized process for marketing and networking,
  2. well-managed finances,
  3. consistent focus on working within your creative & financial sweet spot,
  4. sources of asynchronous income,
  5. habits that support you as an artist and support the needs of your business, and
  6. a commitment to ongoing artistic growth.

Let’s talk about each of those components in detail so you can see both why they’re so important if you want your creative business to thrive, and how you can implement them in your business.

Let’s start with number one, a systematized process for marketing and networking. “Systematize” sounds like complex business jargon, but its Merriam-Webster definition is really quite simple. To systematize something means “to arrange in accord with a definite plan.” In other words, it’s not haphazard or random or accidental. It’s purposeful and planned, with a definite end goal in mind. If you want your creative business to thrive, your marketing and networking needs to be systematized; you need to have a plan around your marketing and networking.

Marketing and networking are related, but they are not the same. Here are their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Marketing is “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service,” and networking is “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” In essence, marketing is letting people know that you have a product they can buy, and networking is building the industry relationships that will allow you to have the support of your colleagues and peers as you sell that product.

Marketing and networking are component number 1 for a thriving creative business because if you don’t have clients – if you don’t have someone buying your creative products – then you don’t have a business. Letting others know that you have a thing you want them to see is step number one to turn your artistic work from a hobby into a career.

And it’s systematized because you can’t just do this once. It has to be ongoing, as part of a repeating process or system. You can’t tell others about your work one time and expect that clients or casting directors or hiring coordinators or gallery owners will come flocking to you on a regular basis. Part of your responsibility as a creative entrepreneur is to continually remind the people who buy your work that you exist and that they should keep buying your work from you. Contrary to what pop culture tells us, being brilliant isn’t going to bring you fame and notoriety all on its own. If no one knows you’re brilliant, being brilliant by yourself won’t do anything. You have to let people know you’re brilliant before they’ll come to you to get a piece of your brilliance.

This is where a lot of artists get stuck, right at the beginning on component one. They either think they shouldn’t have to do marketing work, that it’s “beneath” them or that it somehow “cheapens” their work, which is a complete and total myth and simply is not true, or they think that marketing once is enough, forgetting that marketing and networking need to be an on-going process.

I work with so many artists who get stuck in the feast or famine cycle solely because they are constantly starting and stopping their marketing efforts. The feast or famine cycle in your business is when you have months of huge, way-higher-than-normal income (the feast months) followed by months with little or no income (the famine months), alternating back and forth like some sort of demented financial seesaw. The feast or famine cycle can wreak havoc on both your personal and your business finances. It is an awful thing to experience. And one of the biggest causes of the feast or famine cycle is inconsistent marketing.

Let’s look at Imaginary Artist’s business. Imaginary Artist realizes that his project schedule for the next few months is almost empty, and he panics. He sends out emails to all of his past clients letting them know that he would love to work with them or for them again. He’s got time available, he says, and their kind of project is exactly what he wants to do with his time. So some of those clients respond, giving him work. Whew! Sigh of relief! His schedule isn’t empty anymore. In fact, it’s filling up … and now completely full … and work is still coming in … oh dear, his schedule is overfull, and he’ll be working weekends for a month or two (or more) to get everything done. But man, it’s going to be awesome when those checks clear for all these projects! Woohoo! This is so exciting!

Three or four months down the road, Imaginary Artist delivers the last of the projects that came his way from all those reach-out emails a few months ago. Wow, what a crazy time that was! But he got it all done, and he’s proud of his work, and this is great, isn’t it? Except wait a minute … his schedule is empty again. He pushed and pushed and pushed to get the work done, but now it’s finished, and there’s no “next project” waiting in the wings. In fact, his schedule is completely empty, with no more work for the foreseeable future. He needs to send out emails asking for work, now! It’s time to panic … again!

And that, in a nutshell and super simplified, is what causes the feast or famine cycle. Marketing has to be done consistently, regardless of whether your project load is currently full or not. Only then will you be able to keep a consistent level of work coming your way.

Systematize your marketing and networking. They are ongoing, continuous activities in your business. Make a plan to allow this outreach work to happen on a regular basis, and then projects will come to you on a regular basis. That way, rather than resembling a feast or famine rollercoaster, your finances will turn into a gently rolling countryside. Only when you are consistently seeking out new work and new projects will you be able to keep a consistent flow of work coming your way.

Components numbers 2, 3, and 4 of a thriving creative business are well-managed finances, consistent focus on working within your creative & financial sweet spot, and sources of asynchronous income. I did an entire 4-episode podcast series on these three aspects of your business, back in episodes 5 through 8, so I’m not going to go in depth on any of these three elements right now, but I will at least tell you what they are.

First, well-managed finances means that you are using the financial resources of your business wisely and efficiently. Think back to the last time you went on vacation or took any significant amount of time off of work. Now think about the week before that time away. If you’re like most other working people on this planet, that week before your time away was one of your most productive weeks ever. You were careful and intentional with your time, and so you were able to do more with it and get more done than you normally do, even though you had the same amount of time as you always have. That week, as you were getting ready for your time away from your business, your time became a well-managed resource.

Having well-managed finances is basically the same thing, just with your money, and all the time, instead of just one week every once in a while. Having well-managed finances means that you’re using the money that comes into your business bank account to the greatest possible advantage: you’re managing your financial resources effectively and efficiently. This includes the basic “business-y” things you’d expect, like budgeting, regularly balancing your accounts, and saving for future business activities.

But it goes beyond those activities. For a thriving creative business, well-managed finances also include paying yourself a regular salary so that your personal finances are never impacted by the income variability that is a predictable side-effect of owning a small business, and so you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your personal bills are always going to be paid. It means making sure that you are saving in your personal finances so that you have resources to handle personal emergencies when they happen, because emergencies are going to happen.

When you have well-managed finances within your business, you will feel like you’ve given yourself a raise. It will feel like you have more income because your business money is being used so efficiently. I talk about managing your business finances in much greater detail in Episode 6, so if managing your business finances is something that interests you, I highly recommend that you go back and listen to that episode.

The next component of building a thriving creative business is working within what I call your creative and financial sweet spot. This is the type of work that checks both the “creatively fulfilling” and the “financially fulfilling” boxes for you. When you do the thought-work necessary to figure out where your creative and financial sweet spot is, and then focus all your efforts on getting more work within that sweet spot, you will both be paid your absolute best for the work you do, and you will do your absolute best, most creative, and most innovative work on every project. This will, in effect, give you a raise, since you’ll be paid at the top of your rate for a higher and higher percentage of your projects, and you’ll be doing work that you enjoy, which means it’s work that is the best representation of who you are as an artist and that will inevitably bring more work like it your way. Working in your creative and financial sweet spot is an incredible place to be. I did a whole podcast episode about this topic, back in Episode 7. I’ll link that episode in the show notes, or you can just scroll back a few episodes in your podcast player.

And next, the fourth component of a thriving creative business is establishing sources of asynchronous income. Thanks to component #2, well-managed finances, you will feel like you have more money because you’re using your business income so efficiently, and thanks to component #3, working in your creative and financial sweet spot, you will actually start making more money over time. This will give you extra time margin in your schedule that you can use for component #4, developing asynchronous income streams that will pay you over time into the future. Asynchronous income is often called passive income, although I hate that term, both because it’s become a buzz word with really awful connotations and because it’s not actually passive: this type of income requires a lot of work! It requires a huge investment of your time. There’s no passivity here. But it is asynchronous: rather than being paid at the time you do the work, you’re paid over time into the future.

In episode 8 of this podcast, I go into a lot more detail about what asynchronous income is and how to figure out what asynchronous income streams are right for you and your business, so if this is something you want to know more about, go back and listen to that episode. But a few of the most common asynchronous income streams for creatives are things like royalty income, online courses, licensing fees, downloadable content, and so much more. The options are limited only by your creativity!

As I mentioned, asynchronous income does require time to set up, so if you’ve not already “bought” yourself extra time within your business life by setting up well-managed finances and by working within your creative and financial sweet spot, you might not yet have the margin to start working on asynchronous income streams. This is definitely the 3rd part of the process. If your business finances are super tight right now and you’re constantly finding yourself on the “feast or famine” rollercoaster in your business income, asynchronous income will need to wait until you’ve set up the other components first. But, asynchronous income is something you can start thinking about and planning for no matter where you are in your business growth process.

Asynchronous income is important to your creative work because it provides a buffer in your business finances. It guarantees that you’ll have at least some money coming in regardless of whether or not you work a given day or week or month. Asynchronous income is your paid time off, your sick days, your vacation days, and your business emergency fund, all in one. Asynchronous income gives you the time you need to take a vacation with your family. Asynchronous income will make sure the bills get paid even if you have a family emergency or get sick. Asynchronous income can be the difference between your business surviving and thriving even as you go through a lean period, and your business ceasing to exist during that same lean period. Healthy asynchronous income streams within your business are a game-changer.

So that’s a super quick introduction to components 2, 3, and 4 of a thriving creative business: managing your finances well, working within your creative & financial sweet spot, and developing sources of asynchronous income. If that brief description didn’t give you enough info and you want to know more, go back to episodes 5 through 8, and those episodes will give you more information. And of course, as always, if you listen to those episodes and still have questions about these components, just reach out to me through my website, Developing these areas of your creative business is a prime focus of my work with my one-on-one coaching clients and my group workshop participants, and I’m always happy to work with you as you grow your business in those areas.

Now let’s move on to component number five of building a thriving creative business: establishing supportive habits. This component is a bit unique to the life of a creative entrepreneur. It’s different than what an entrepreneur running a traditional business would need. If you’re running a business cleaning houses, for example, you’re still going to be able to clean your clients’ houses effectively even if you’re having a slightly-harder-than-usual day mentally, or if you’re working when you’re a bit tired or feeling a bit off your A-game. I mean, sure, the house cleaning is going to go a lot more smoothly if you’re not dealing with those things, but even with those bumps in the road, you’ll still be able to do a good job that will satisfy your clients and keep them using your services.

That’s not always the case for creative entrepreneurs. When someone hires you for your creative work, they are expecting – they have a right to expect – that you will give the project your absolute, 100% best creative focus. And that is not possible if you aren’t able to focus because you’re tired or because you’re trying to work during a time of day when you aren’t able to focus, or if there’s something in your life that is keeping you from getting into flow with your creative work. As a creative entrepreneur, it is essential that you develop habits that support you as a person and as an artist and help you grow.

Figuring out what you need to be your best artistic self isn’t always easy. It is by definition an individual process. It will likely involve a lot of trial and error as you work to figure out what does actually support you and help you be the best artist you can be. Some questions to consider are things like, what conditions allow you to do your best work? Do you need to work in absolute quiet, or does upbeat jazz music on the radio help you while you’re painting or editing photos or writing? Do you need to have a water bottle and a steaming mug of your favorite tea, or is coffee with creamer more conducive to your working style?

What do you need to grow and learn and thrive as an artist? What daily actions help you be your best? What time of day do you do your best work? I know that my best recording hours are in the morning, often in the early morning, frequently before breakfast and while everyone else in my household is still asleep. I don’t always like getting up early to record, but when I do, I know I’m going to be rewarded by some of my very best and most focused work, so it’s worth it. When do you work best?  

How do you divide your work time between your creative work and your administrative tasks, like answering email, balancing your business finances, or sending out client invoices? Do you work best if you batch these tasks together, so they all get done at once? That’s the process that works best for me. I spend one afternoon every week working on those kinds of administrative duties and aim to complete most of my non-creative tasks during that time. But this batching doesn’t work for everyone. Some creatives prefer to spend a little bit of time each day on those business-focused tasks so that they don’t take over an entire afternoon or a complete day and therefore don’t feel quite so overwhelming.

In terms of your daily habits as they relate to your artistic work, much of the benefit of having well-established habits comes from the reduction of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue happens when you have to make too many decisions, one right after the other. As you go through that repetitive decision-making process, your decisions get progressively worse. The simple act of making decisions makes your later decisions worse. The more decisions you make, the more tired you get of making decisions, and the worse your subsequent decisions will be. To fight decision fatigue, reduce the number of decisions you have to make.

In a 2012 Vanity Fair article, Barak Obama said, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Steve Jobs did this same thing: he wore a uniform, a black turtle neck, every day so that he wouldn’t spend any brain energy at all figuring out what to wear. He could instead devote all of his mental capacity to his work.

Now, this limited wardrobe daily habit is not a habit I follow myself. I enjoy wearing a variety of clothing. It’s part of my self-expression. Picking out my clothes each morning is a task I enjoy and that helps get me ready for the day. But the concept behind this practice is one I very much support: reduce the mental energy you expend on things that don’t matter to you so that you have additional mental energy for the things that do. The less time I spend thinking about what time I’m going to get to work each day, the more focus and attention I have for actually doing that work. When I’m not worried about when I’m going to take care of the business emails I need to send because I’ve established a process around how I handle my business correspondence, the more brain power I can devote to my creative work within my recording booth or in my practice time. Establishing daily, weekly, and monthly habits around your work is all about conserving your mental energy for the part of your work that brings you the most joy: the creative work on the projects you love.

Your personal habits also play a role in you being able to be fully present within your creative work. Personally, what do you need as a person to stay healthy and whole and happy, physically, mentally, and spiritually? For me, this includes things like working out every day, going on hikes and long bike rides whenever the weather allows, spending time with my family each evening after work, scheduling game nights regularly to enjoy board games with my friends, participating in activities at my church, and attending plays and concerts on a regular basis. These are the things that refill me and fulfill me, that allow me to be the best version of myself. These are the activities that keep me healthy and whole.

What activities do you need in your personal life to be able to be a focused, thriving, productive artist? How much time do you need each week to nourish the relationships that are important to you? What activities bring you joy personally? Do you make time for them in your daily, weekly, and monthly life?

In terms of your habits as they relate to your personal life, the focus here is to make sure that you regularly set aside time for the activities that matter to you as an individual. The best art comes from artists who are whole people both within their art, and away from their art. Starving artists, whether that’s starving physically or starving mentally or starving emotionally, don’t actually make good art. If you are living in a place of scarcity and fear, your art is not going to be a representation of the best of you. It’s instead going to be a representation of your anxiety and despair. In order to create your very best art, you must yourself be your very best. And that means having time for the relationships that matter to you, which includes your relationship with yourself and your relationships with others.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that you, like many artists out there, have a tendency to shove aside those personal commitments and get completely engrossed in your work, at the expense of everything else in your life. And if that’s you, no shame and no judgment – I do this too!

The way to keep this from happening is to establish habits around your personal needs so that they happen regularly. They’re scheduled. They’re part of your routine, and you know they’ll be taken care of. You get what you schedule, and making personal care a regular part of your schedule is the quickest and easiest way to make sure that your personal life is whole and thriving, which is the best way to make sure you are able to be your absolute best, most innovative self when you’re doing your creative work. Establishing supportive habits around both your personal life and your work life is essential for you to do your very best work.

The final component of a thriving creative business is ongoing artistic growth, which means that you are regularly working to expand your skills and expand yourself as an artist. This is similar to the continuing education component of many other careers. Nurses and teachers and accountants and pharmacists and many others have to undergo regular education to keep their licenses valid. This continuing education ensures that their knowledge and skills stay relevant and up-to-date. As artists, we don’t have licenses that we need to keep current, but we still must do the same kind of continuing education. We must always be growing and improving in our craft, or our work will get stale and stuck. Our craft is always and ever evolving, and in order to allow it to be so, we need to be intentional about taking advantage of opportunities to always be learning.

Ongoing growth for you as an artist includes things like taking classes, attending workshops, going to conferences, and participating in seminars. Those are all things that typically cost money, and they are incredibly helpful, but I’m not telling you that you have to go out and spend the big bucks. Those are not the only ways to continually grow as an artist.

On your own, you can study the work of your peers and of those who are notable in your industry. For me as an audiobook narrator, I can check audiobooks out of my public library and listen to them critically, with a focus on learning from the work of other audiobook narrators. I can read the reviews in AudioFile Magazine and note what reviewers call out as being good or not so good. For actors, you can watch movies or TV shows – again, check them out from the library if even streaming services are outside your budget – and pay attention to the acting techniques and how effective the actors are (or aren’t) in their work. Spend time studying great works of art, which can be done via books if museum tickets are out of your budget. Visit art galleries in your area, which is often completely free. Listen to recordings by the musicians who inspire you.

There are plenty of free or inexpensive ways to grow your skills. Setting up a process of ongoing growth can include things that cost money, and when you do take part in those kinds of events, that money is a well-spent investment in your business. But establishing a process of ongoing growth for yourself as an artist doesn’t have to be super costly.

Whatever you do to grow yourself and your art is an investment in your business. Your creative business cannot thrive unless you are continually improving, growing, evolving, and expanding your skills. As a creative business owner, part of your responsibility to yourself and your art is to continually improve your own skills so that you can better create and innovate in your artistic work. When you spend time and money growing your creative skills, you are fostering your ability to do your creative work. And that is always time and money well-spent.

And that’s it: those are the six essential components of a thriving creative business: a systematized process for marketing and networking, well-managed finances, a consistent focus on working within your creative & financial sweet spot, sources of asynchronous income, habits that support you as an artist and support the needs of your business, and a commitment to ongoing artistic growth. Those are six practical areas within your creative business where you can focus your attention, and when you do, your business will grow and thrive as a result.

How are you doing in these six areas? Where do you struggle? Are one or two of those components more difficult for you than the others? Is there a component in this list that you’ve never even considered?

As you work to build a creative business that truly meets your needs, think about each of these six areas. Commit to one strategy of growth in each area that will allow you to improve in that area. Completely revamping your approach to all six areas all at once is probably going to be way too overwhelming to even contemplate, so don’t! Instead, pick one action you can take in the next week to improve in each area. Six small, intentional action steps in the week are a lot easier to handle than a complete do-over of your entire business.

Or, maybe the right strategy for you is to not worry about all six right now but instead to focus on just one. You can pick one of the six areas where you feel a bit weaker right now, where you think you have room to improve, and focus on that component intentionally over the next few months. Then, when you feel like you have a better handle on that aspect of your business, when you’ve established some ongoing processes for yourself that will help that component improve going forward, move on to the next area where you want to make improvement.

Building a creative business that works isn’t a finish line. It’s a process of growing and evolving over time. And if you’re thinking about your business from the framework of these six components, I know you can get there.

Thank you so much for your time today. I hope today’s episode has helped you understand how to think about your work within your business, or perhaps this discussion helped you figure out what areas of your business you need to focus on moving forward. Thinking about your business from the perspective of these six components really can help you know what steps will be most helpful for the growth of you and your business. I would love to know: where are you most confident in your business, and where do you struggle? Reach out to me via my website,, and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

If you found this episode helpful, I would be so grateful if you leave me a rating or review. I love reading your reviews, and they are great for helping new listeners to find this podcast. If you know a fellow creative who you think might find this episode – or any of my podcast episodes – helpful, please pass this along to them. After all, sharing is caring! And again, thank you for spending your time with me today. I know that, as a creative, your time is precious, and I will never take for granted the fact that you choose to spend your time with me. I am so excited for you as you work to build a thriving creative business that truly supports you personally, creatively, and financially. I can’t wait to see what you create.


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