010: What You Need From Your BusinessJan 03, 2023
What do you need from your business? What does it mean to have a creative business that gives you what you need to grow and thrive as an artist? If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you’ve heard me say many times that my #1 goal as a creative entrepreneurship coach is to help you build a creative business that fulfills you holistically: personally, creatively, and financially. What does that mean? Why do I say that all the time? Today we’re going to dig into those questions and talk about what it means to get what you need from your creative business.
Hello, thriving artists, and welcome to the new year! When this episode is initially being released, it is January 3, 2023. Happy New Year! I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday season and a great start to the 2023. This is episode #10 of the Starving Artist No More podcast, and I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Araya. I’m thrilled that you’re here with me for this first episode of the new year.
Before we get started, I want to make sure you’re aware of a free resource to help you manage your business finances that is available on my website, www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com. In today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about what you, as a creative entrepreneur, need from your business, and supporting you financially is big part of that. The free guide on my website, titled “Say Goodbye to Feast or Famine: Three Financial Must-Haves for Creative Entrepreneurs,” will help you figure out how to get your business finances in order so that you are rewarded financially for the dedicated creative work you put into your business. Just visit my website, www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com, and fill out the contact form to receive the free guide.
And with that, let’s dive on in to today’s topic. I started this episode by asking you a question: what do you need from your business? I want you to think about that for a minute. Why are you a creative entrepreneur? What does your artistic business give to you that benefits your life? As you well know, being a creative entrepreneur is hard. You wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t get something positive and beneficial out of it. So, what are those things? What does your business give you?
Too many creatives buy into the “starving artist” stereotype that they shouldn’t expect anything at all from their creative enterprise, and so they don’t get any benefits at all from their business. So often in life, we get what we expect, and if we don’t expect our business to support our needs, then it won’t.
But that’s not how it has to be. That’s not the only way you can exist as an artist. You can build a business that meets your needs, that gives you benefits and that improves your life in real and meaningful ways. I would go so far as to say that you deserve a business that meets your needs. But what does that mean? How do you define a business that meets your needs?
By all external measures, I am a very successful creative entrepreneur, and I am so incredibly thankful for that. I do not take that for granted at all. But external indicators of success aren’t the whole story. A business that appears successful externally is not necessarily a business that is truly meeting the needs of the creative entrepreneur running that business. My creative businesses – and yes, I say “businesses” plural because, yes, my audiobook business is not my first attempt at creative entrepreneurship – my creative businesses have not always met my needs. In fact, they failed to meet my needs a lot over the years! I’ve shared in past episodes some specific instances when my past creative endeavors failed to fully meet my needs, despite being seemingly successful. Getting to the point that my creative business was meeting my needs was not an automatic or easy process. Over time and after a lot of trial and error, I’ve been able to build a business that is fulfilling to me. Helping other artists get to this point is the driving force behind my work with Starving Artist No More.
I started this creative entrepreneurship community because I saw a lack in the way traditional business coaches are talking about how to build a business that works. Namely, the strategies and techniques and business structures that traditional business coaches recommend don’t work for creative businesses. Sure, those techniques help, and I do use a lot of them myself. Systematizing your processes within your business can make a huge difference, as can outsourcing some of the non-creative tasks. But if you’re a creative entrepreneur, which I assume you are or you likely wouldn’t be listening to this podcast, outsourcing, automating, and systematizing will only get you so far. As creative business owners, as artists, we are limited by our time. What we sell is our time, so how do you grow and thrive and evolve your business if you’ve sold all of your time?
Society tells us that we can’t. That we are destined to be “starving artists” simply because we dare to work within a creative field and because we have the audacity to attempt to support ourselves with the fruits of our creative energy.
But society’s message isn’t reality; it’s a myth. It’s a harmful stereotype. Get that awful voice out of your head! Tell it to sit down and be quiet. It is not speaking truth to you.
The truth – the reality – is that you, the creative entrepreneur listening to me right now, you deserve a business that meets your needs, that supplies you the personal growth, the creative joy, and the financial rewards that you need to grow and thrive and evolve as an artist and as a person. You deserve a business that fulfills you.
What exactly that fulfillment looks like will be different for every artist. A business that meets my needs perfectly is not going to meet your needs perfectly because your needs are different than mine. That’s part of the joy and the adventure of being an artist – our creativity is as unique as we are, and so the ideal shape and structure of our businesses will by necessity match our individuality. This is not a comparison exercise or a competition.
But there are some broad truths that exist in terms of what will allow a creative business to uniquely fulfill the needs of the one-of-a-kind artist running that business. Namely, a creative business will fulfill the needs of the artist behind it if it meets the needs of that artist in three areas: personally, creatively, and financially.
You’ve heard me say those three words a ton of times. Perhaps you’re sick of hearing me say them. But I repeat them so often because they are that important. These three areas of your business – of your life – are like a three-legged stool. If your business gives you what you need in these three areas, you have a sustainable business that will support you and will grow and will thrive over time, and that will help you stave off the awful feeling of artistic burnout that is so familiar to so many of us. But if you take away any one of these three areas, it’s like a three-legged stool that’s missing a leg. It might balance precariously on two legs for a little while, but it’s ultimately not going to stand the test of time and stay upright for the long term. You need all three.
The answer to that question I asked at the beginning of this episode – “What do you need from your business?” – is this: you need to be fulfilled personally, creatively, and financially.
Let’s look at each of those three areas individually to see what they entail and so you can understand why they are so vital to you building a creative business that works. And we’ll actually start with the last of those three things: your finances.
I’ve talked about financial concerns a lot in the last few episodes of this podcast, so if managing your business finances is a topic you’re interested in, I encourage you to go back and listen to the “Time & Money” series, as well as the other podcast episodes that are already available. In several previous episodes, I’ve already discussed what it means to have your business fulfill you financially. In simple terms, being financially fulfilled from your business means that you are making enough money that both your personal and business financial needs are met by your business income. What that means in actual dollar amounts is going to vary widely from person to person and from business to business, so actual numbers aren’t important here. What matters is that the money coming into your business gives you what you need financially to pay your bills – however much that adds up to for you, your family, and your business – and that you have enough left over to save for a rainy day. That is what business financial fulfillment looks like.
Why does that matter? What difference does it make whether or not your business supports you – gives you what you need – financially?
To put it bluntly, if you’re not making enough money with your business to meet your daily needs, you won’t stay in business very long. Artists who don’t make enough money to live off of their art don’t keep making art. You have to pay your bills somehow, and if those bills aren’t paid by the proceeds of your creative energy, then you’ll have to find some other way to make money to pay those bills. Can anyone say “day job”? And any time spent at your day job is time you are not spending creating your art and honing and evolving your craft. Being an artist takes time. It takes what author Cal Newport calls “deep work,” time spent in single-minded focus on the activity in front of you. If your business doesn’t fulfill you financially, you will be forced to find financial fulfillment elsewhere, taking time and energy and focus away from your creative pursuits. Trading your work, your art, for financial payment allows you to keep creating. It allows you to meet your basic financial needs and to engage in your artistic pursuits at the same time. Being financially fulfilled from your creative business matters because your art matters, and the financial support your business provides to you gives you the time and freedom to create that art.
Now for the next area in the list of what you need from your business: creative fulfillment. The meaning of creative fulfillment is a lot less precise than that of financial fulfillment, but don’t let that vagueness distract you from its importance. Creative fulfillment is what gives your work joy, what gives you joy, what makes your work worth doing. Creatively fulfilling projects are ones that you find interesting and engaging, that pull you in almost without you realizing what’s happening. Without creative fulfillment, you’re an automaton doing work without heart or soul or passion. With creative fulfillment, you are blossoming as an artist and growing into the very best version of your artistic self.
When you think about the work you’ve completed, the projects you’ve finished, which projects, gigs, or products light you up inside? As Marie Kondo would say, which ones “spark joy”? What are the projects that make you lose track of time, where you seem to almost effortlessly slide into the flow of the work and lose yourself in the joy of the creative process? Those projects, that type of work, are what fulfill you creatively. These are projects that refill your wells of creative energy rather than draining them. Sure, you may be tired when the workday is done, but you’re also excited to get back to it the next time around. You’re excited and invigorated about the prospect of getting back into the studio or the practice room or the recording booth. You’re invested in the work, and so you are doing your best work, work that causes you to stretch and grow and thrive as an artist.
What a privilege it is to get to spend your time creating this type of work! For me personally, work like this, the projects I find creatively fulfilling, will never get old. I truly love what I do as an audiobook narrator and as a musician. I sometimes am in awe that this is my life, this world of creative effort and energy and excitement. When a project is a good fit for me, it seems like I’m in a state of “smooth sailing,” literally flowing down a breathtakingly beautiful river with not a rock or a rapid in sight. What joy that is!
My goal as a creative entrepreneur is to maximize the number of projects on my calendar that bring me this kind of creative joy. Because I am focused and intentional with my marketing and networking efforts, and by being careful about what projects I choose to accept, I’m lucky enough that the vast majority of the projects and gigs that I participate in are ones that do bring me incredible creative fulfillment. But even when I do my due diligence, sometimes a project will sneak through that is less than my creative best, or something happens during the course of the project to take what I had hoped to be a fulfilling experience and cause it to be less than that. All of a sudden, my smooth and free-flowing river has rocks and whitewater rapids. Getting into the flow state with my work all of a sudden isn’t so easy. My work takes more, well, work, and not the kind of work that I enjoy but the kind of laborious, exhausting work that leaves me drained and weary. I don’t want to get back in the booth, or head back to the practice room or rehearsal. I just want to give up and go home.
That place of creative weariness is not where I do my best work. I am not my most creative and innovative and focused on these difficult projects. These projects are not a true representation of who I am as an artist, or of what my art can and should be. And the adverse impact of these projects isn’t limited to the difficult projects themselves. They have a negative ripple effect on my work as a whole. When I finish a creatively unfulfilling project, my feeling is not that of “a job well done.” Rather, all I can think is, “oh thank goodness that’s over,” which saps away the creative energy that I need to get started on the next project in the line. I’m not excited to get back to work and dive into the next creative adventure. I’m longing for a break and time away so that I can somehow refill my wells of creativity before I have to get back to it.
From a practical perspective, I think it’s important to acknowledge that no artist will be completely and totally fulfilled by every project on their plate. There will always be the project that somehow goes sideways, that for some reason that you couldn’t foresee becomes more frustrating than fulfilling. And when that happens, I think it is incredibly important that you take the time away from your work to refill your well of creative energy before you dive back into the next project. Your subconscious is telling you what you need artistically, which is a bit of a break so that you’re not starting your next project, one which will hopefully be wonderfully creatively fulfilling, from a place of creative lack. Bad projects will inevitably happen, so we must be prepared to deal with them constructively when they come.
However, that doesn't mean that all of your projects should be like that. You deserve to be creatively fulfilled from your work. You deserve to have a preponderance of projects that light you up inside. Spending your creative energy on work that lights you up and brings you joy is something that you can and should strive for, and it is a very achievable goal. Episode 7 of this podcast is titled “Working in your Creative & Financial Sweet Spot,” and it’s full of practical ideas about how to get more work that does fulfill you creatively.
But for the purposes of today’s discussion, it’s enough to know both that being creatively fulfilled from your work matters and that it is possible to be in a place with your creative business where the vast majority of your projects are ones that you can say, with confidence, fulfill you creatively. Being creatively fulfilled from your artistic work matters because it allows you to do your best work, work that is representative of the very best of yourself and your abilities. It keeps you energized and engaged in your work and helps prevent burnout because you’re not caught up in the “struggle”; you’re too focused on the work and too in the flow to register the work you’re doing as hard or laborious. When you are being creatively fulfilled from your business, you’re your very best artistic self, and that’s a pretty amazing place to be.
Now for the third part of our three-legged stool: personal fulfillment. This is the most nebulous and the most elusive of the three. I think this is the one that is the most difficult for most creative entrepreneurs. I know it’s the most difficult one for me! When you are fulfilled personally by your creative business, you have the time you need for yourself and for the relationships that matter to you.
As I’ve already mentioned, because we are creative entrepreneurs, our time is the product our businesses sell. Our businesses run off our creative energy – our time. And sometimes the pressure to work 24/7, to sell all your time, can be pretty intense. It can be hard to justify taking time away from your artistic endeavors for personal activities or to nurture the relationships around you. Especially if you do find the work creatively fulfilling and if you’re being rewarded financially for that creative work, the pull “to get back to work” and neglect your personal needs and the needs of those around you can be quite insistent.
Not that you need it, but let me give you permission to take that time! You matter. Yes, your art matters, but you – the person behind that art – matter more. Your personal needs are important. You deserve to have the time you need to grow and evolve as well-rounded human being, and to cherish and cultivate the relationships that matter to you.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. As I was developing my plans for this new business coaching and creative entrepreneurship community, I struggled to come up with a name for this new enterprise. I didn’t come up with the name “Starving Artist No More” until just a month or so before I launched in September. It was just about the last thing I decided in my business plan! The name I used in my head for many months, while I was planning and formulating and dreaming of what this new entity could be, was this: “Prioritize Your Life.” Now, I like the name I ended up with, Starving Artist No More, much better. It’s much more descriptive of what this creative community is and what it can be. But I still have a soft spot in my heart for the phrase “Prioritize Your Life” because it speaks so simply and so powerfully against the problem with the way society tells us artists should live and work in the world. Instead of “starving” yourself for the sake of your art, you – the artist – deserve to prioritize your life, prioritize yourself, prioritize your personal needs over the perceived needs of your art. And when you do that, you actually end up able to more powerfully serve your art.
Only when you are a whole human being, steeped in the beautiful complexity of what it means to be part of this great teeming mass we call humanity, can you be the incredible artist you are meant to be. Only when you are personally well and whole and thriving can you pour of yourself to create with fullness and abandon and joy and innovation. Only when you are surrounded by those who love and support you can you throw yourself wholly into the act of creation. Receiving personal fulfillment – aka time for personal pursuits – from your business allows you the freedom to grow into your fullest potential as both an artist and a person.
Financial fulfillment. Creative fulfillment. Personal fulfillment. Those are the three areas where you deserve to have a business that meets your needs. I’ve talked about each of them individually, and they each matter immensely all on their own. But if you remember back to the very beginning of this discussion, I called them a three-legged stool, such that all three are necessary for you and your business to truly thrive, that just one or two aren’t enough. Why is that? Why isn’t it enough to have just one or two?
Personal, creative, and financial fulfillment are intertwined. They rely on each other. When we have enough personal time – personal fulfillment – and when we don’t have money worries – when we have financial fulfillment – we are free to be our creative best – creative fulfillment.
Regardless of how creatively fulfilling the work would be on its own, it’s impossible to fully dive into the flow of that smooth and rock-free river if you’re worried about how you’re going to pay your bills, or if you’ve not had a day off in months because you’ve neglected your personal needs, or if you’re stressed about a tense relationship with your partner or your child or someone else important in your life. Without personal and financial fulfillment, creative fulfillment is impossible to fully achieve. The lack of personal and financial fulfillment throws whitewater-causing rocks into our flow. Lack of personal and financial fulfillment takes the creative fulfillment you would otherwise receive from a wonderful project and slashes all the joy and excitement out of it.
By contrast, if you are personally fulfilled from your business – you have time for yourself and for those you care about – and if you have peace and ease around your finances – you are financially fulfilled – projects that before might have only been a 7 or 8 on the creative fulfillment scale are suddenly a 10 or 11. When you aren’t worried about neglecting your personal relationships, when you’re feeling recharged because you’ve taken time for self-care, and when you’re not stressed about money, your mind can focus on maximum creativity. Being your creative best is dependent upon being personally and financially fulfilled from your business.
But that relationship between these three aspects of your business isn’t a one-way street. It doesn’t just flow in the direction of benefiting your creative fulfillment. Your creative fulfillment contributes back into a virtuous cyrcle. Being financially fulfilled from your business relies upon your creative fulfillment. When you’re working at your most creative, you are producing your very best work, work that is the absolute finest example of the pinnacle of your abilities and your artistic efforts at this point in your development and growth as an artist. And if you are properly marketing that work, then that work will also be the point of greatest financial reward for your work. It will land you in your “creative and financial sweet spot” that I mentioned earlier in this episode and that I discussed at length in episode 7 of this podcast. Being financially fulfilled is dependent upon you being at peak creativity.
Personal fulfillment likewise relies on financial and creative fulfillment. As artists, for better or worse, our work is part of our identity. It’s part of who we are and how we relate to the world around us. When I’m struggling creatively in my work, I am not my best self personally. I get self-absorbed and inward focused, which is never a good place to be. But when I’m immersed in and enjoying the flow of the creative process, when I’m operating at my best creatively, that’s when I’m able to be most present and intentional about my personal relationships and self-care. Add to that a sense of peace, comfort, and ease about money that comes from knowing that my financial needs are taken care of and that my work situation is stable, and I am then able to be the best version of myself. I am able to live authentically in the world, not just as an artist, but as a person.
The fulfillment you need – you deserve – from your business is a three-legged stool. Pull any one of these elements away – have your business not fulfill you properly in any of these areas – and the whole thing collapses. You may be able to maintain your balance, teetering back and forth as if you’re on stilts, but you won’t be able to truly rest. You won’t be able to find peace or ease or tranquility in your work, your finances, or your life.
Building a business that truly meets your needs in each of these areas isn’t an easy thing to do. It is most definitely not automatic! But it is possible. And that possibility starts with you recognizing what you, as an individual, need from your business in each area. Yes, I’ve painted with broad brush strokes what each of these three areas entails, but I’m not you. I’m not in your skin and creating your art. Only you can determine what dollar amount equals “financially fulfilled” to you. Only you can define a project that brings you joy and therefore is creatively fulfilling to you. Only you can establish how much time you need for your self-care and relationship care and what specific activities are appropriate to fill that time.
I encourage you to take the time to define for yourself the details and definitions that each of these three areas have for you. The clearer and more precise you can be as you build these concepts for yourself and your business, the more likely you are to be able to truly get what you need from your business. Only by doing the mental work to determine what you need will you be able to actually build a business that meets those needs. And you can do it: you can build a business that fulfills you holistically – personally, creatively, and financially. The first step to getting there is recognizing the role that each of those three things play for you as an individual and defining what fulfillment in each area means for you. Going somewhere means first deciding where you want to go. Determining what you need from your business gives you that starting roadmap, showing you where you can go and what is possible from your creative work.
Thank you so much for being with me today for this discussion of what you need from your business. Today’s episode got a bit deep into the weeds of how we think about our work as artists and entrepreneurs, but mindset matters, and how we think about our work and our business matters. I hope this episode encouraged you to think differently about your creative business and to strive for the strategies that will allow you to be fully fulfilled by your work. If you have any comments or feedback for me on today’s episode, or any episode of this podcast, I would love to hear from you. You can reach out to me via my website, www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com. And as always, ratings, reviews, and subscriptions to this podcast are so very much appreciated. I recently noticed a few new 5-star ratings on Apple Podcasts, and I just want to say thank you to those dear listeners who left such kind words of encouragement for me. I’m so glad my episodes are helpful to you. You are the reason I’m so excited about this new creative community. And don’t forget – sharing is caring. If you know a fellow creative entrepreneur who would benefit from listening to this podcast, please pass it along. But most of all, thank you for sharing your time with me today. I’m so excited walk with you as you grow your business into one that truly meets your needs. I can’t wait to see what you create.
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