If you want to someday make money from your skills and your craft, you owe it to yourself to read this.
If you have never read Lucas, you owe it to yourself to read him.
Buy Cashflow for Creators!
My highlighted notes from the book follow …
Craft is the nuts and bolts of how you do The Thing. For a writer, it’s stuff like grammar and spelling and reading. For a glass artist, it’s not mixing different COEs or—at the highest levels—how to mix different COEs. Painters need to understand that light and pigments blend colors very differently, how to prep and clean a canvas, and so on.
Art, as a verb, is how you express yourself through your craft. Stephen King and Danielle Steele both work with the same tools of the craft, but they create totally different books.
Art illuminates an ideal.
As a noun, art is the finished product; the book, the painting, the song, the Thing.
Trade is the business of the finished art. Once you have mastered your craft, you need to master your trade. For writers, it’s how to format a manuscript and how to sell your books. For an artist, it’s how to get into galleries and garner commissions. Maybe it’s how you use Redbubble, Etsy, and eBay. It’s how you pay your taxes and siphon off money to pay the mortgage.
Professional artists must master craft, art, and trade.
The trickiest part about a creator learning their trade?
Never letting the trade into the creative process.
Thoughts like “this will never sell” or, worse, “this will sell millions!” are death to creativity.
A creator with a stressful job must put aside their concerns to create. You can’t fret about your stock portfolio and carve a masterpiece. When you step into your creative space, discard these business concerns in exactly the same way. I promise you that when you finish the day’s drawing or writing or sculpting, those concerns will still be there, ready to be picked up. They won’t even miss you.
Think of art and business as hats.
When you put on the Art Hat, you are purely a creator. You are expressing your innermost self through your craft to create a piece of art. During that moment, you must utterly believe in yourself. Other people have the exact same craft you do. The only thing you own, all you can express, is your sincerity and personal truth. Without letting yourself do that, you have no art. When you finish your work, take a moment to admire it. Tell yourself you did okay. Creative work is still work, so give yourself a chance to rest.
Then take off the Art Hat, and put on the Business Hat. You’ve expressed your personal truth, now it’s time to trade that work. Don’t even think about the creation process while you’re wearing the Business Hat. Don’t consider the trade while you’re wearing the Art Hat. They must be wholly separate.
Even long-time creators have trouble with this. I just had a discussion with a writer whose artistic side is demanding she write a certain novel. Her business mindset keeps shrieking, “You don’t want to be known for this!” Truth is, her inner creator is going to write the book. The only question is, will she come along quietly or will her Muse drag her by the handcuffs? Maybe she’ll put on the Business Hat afterwards and say “No, this can’t go into the trade.” That’s fine. Everybody occasionally creates unsaleable work. Maybe she’ll give it for free to her most dedicated fans, or bury it in the trunk for her literary estate to discover.
Chapter 4: The Long Slow Slog
A creative business that makes money but doesn’t yet pay all your bills is in the Long Slow Slog. You’re making money, just not enough. The Slog might last years. It might last decades. You’re not making enough yet.
“Yet.” That’s the key word. You’re still learning how to make money, improving your artistic skills, and figuring out how everything fits together. So long as you continue improving, you will get there.
The Long Slow Slog is an absolutely critical stage of your career. It’s not an easy time. You’re still doing some sort of day job to keep the roof over your head and food in your belly. It’s also when you learn how the trade (the business of your art) works in the real world.
How do you trudge through this endless era and build a long-term business?
With a support system that includes your family and your attitude.
The Long Slow Slog started because you love The Thing so much that you kept doing it. You improved at it enough that you started to bring in money for it. That made you think that maybe you had a business here. Perhaps you could even make a living with your art.
Whatever you do: never stop creating.
Money comes from practicing your art. You must keep making new things. One best-selling book or one perfect painting is not a career.
People don’t want more of the same. They want the same, only different. They want the thing they love, plus something extra. They want their creators to achieve new heights, new depths, new something. If you want a career, your art must constantly improve. Without adding new things, your fans will drift away. The cash flow will dry up, and your fans won’t be able to tell you why.
The only way to achieve “the same but different” is through practice.
Deliberate practice focuses on honing one aspect of the art at a time.
How much do you create?
I’m a writer. I wrote four books last year. Easy. How many copies of each book I sold doesn’t really matter in this discussion.
If you make something more tangible, like beads or clay figurines or capybara parachutes, your inventory is the number of them you made. If the items are all similar, a simple tally when you finish each piece will start. If you create different types of thing, you’ll need a separate column for each type.
You also need to know how much you sell of each thing. The way you track this depends wholly on what you make and how you sell it, so I can’t recommend any specific system. Talk to other professionals in your craft. Do what they do.
Also track how much time you spend working on your craft. This isn’t only the time you spend actively sewing or writing or working the welding torch. If you have a dedicated workspace that needs cleaning, count that time. I do all my writing on a dedicated computer in my home office. In theory, I can’t possibly get dirty or make a mess doing it. Even so, I must swill the filth out of my garret every month or two.
If you decide to go full time, this knowledge will be precious—and there’s no other way to get it other than you recording it during the Long Slow Slog.
A small business owner has two rules for spending money.
- If it can be a business expense, it is a business expense
- Spend money on needs, not on wants
These rules are directly contradictory, except when they aren’t.
So many folks dream of creating to pay their rent. Remember, a dream is something you don’t control. Transforming that dream into a concrete, actionable goal requires knowing how to get there. It requires a way to measure success and risk. You must continuously improve your art, understand business, and run your life as if it’s a business.
there is zero shame in deciding you don’t want turn your art into your living. Relying on your art to feed the kids is not for everyone. You entirely own the choice and the responsibility. Once you accept both, any choice you make is correct for you.
The Bucket shows you how everything averages out, however. Experience has shown me that four books in a year lets me at least scrape by.
the Bucket is a business machine that converts those irregular bursts of cash into a smooth, steady stream. My life is a hole in the bottom of the Bucket. The bigger the hole, the faster the Bucket drains. Rent and food and expenses are predictable, and subject to my control. Before I can control them, though, I must know what those expenses are.
discussing financial disasters is easiest when you aren’t under financial pressure. If you get laid off, you’ll come home with a spinning head, churning emotions, and a pounding heart. You could find a worse time to make financial decisions, but it would probably involve black market organ transplants and an armored car heist.
If your income drops, what expenses will your household cut? What must you keep? The time to decide this is when everyone’s employed, not under pink slip pressure. This discussion doesn’t need to involve everyone; there’s no need to worry the kids. (Once they’re teenagers, having them listen to the discussion might be a useful education.) All decision makers must be included, though, and that’ll vary depending on who’s in your household.
My budgeting vastly improved once I looked in the mirror and conceded that I was an idiot who was going to buy books before food, and set aside money for it. 1
When the money level drops below Yellow, you’ve crossed the Red threshold. Your business cannot sustain you. It’s time to get back in the straight workforce.
Front-loading decisions relieves huge amounts of stress. Nightmares of going bust have awakened me at stupid o’clock more than once.
Yes, I discuss the Bucket with my family. Money is our society’s last big taboo, but the successful creators I know all discuss money with their families. If you trust your family with your children and the capybara and to sign for you to have emergency surgery when you’re unconscious because you caught the gangrene, you can discuss business with them too. Your family will call you on your daft decisions, point out perfectly obvious things you never considered, and in general help keep you from driving into the ditch.
Where Red is about recovering from failure, the Yellow threshold is about lifestyle. How long are you willing to endure living at Essential Expenses to have the job you want? No extras. No vacation. No cable TV, no meals out, no nothing. Bupkis. You are deliberately deciding to scrape by for this length of time. This is where you say “I’m gonna give it a year and see what happens.”
If you have family, the answer gets more complicated. Your family wants you to keep doing your art, because it makes you happy. But how many months are they willing to live at Essential Expenses level so that you can have the job you want? That’s the core question. Maybe you’re willing to go forever, but your spouse says a year. Or five years. Or never; it’s full expenses or nothing. Get this all out before you set a number of months.
If you can’t reach agreement, you’re stuck with the time demanded by the person with the shortest tolerance. To do otherwise declares your business is more important than your loved ones.
We haven’t discussed income much, because you don’t control it. While working hard, improving your craft, practicing your art, and learning your trade all enhance your chances of making money, other people’s purchasing decisions are beyond your control. What matters is how much the Bucket’s level rises over a year, or two years, or even five years.
If you made over a year’s worth of Essential Expenses last year, maybe you could make a go of it. If you made over five years’ worth of Full Expenses over the last five years, you could almost certainly make a go of it.
My Essential Expenses for both home and business total $2,500 a month. That’s $30,000 a year. Did I add more than $30,000 to the Bucket last year? If so, and if spending the additional time at my art and my craft has a reasonable chance of increasing my income, I have a decent chance.
If I added less than $30,000 to the Bucket, it’s a lot more iffy. How confident are you that working like an obsessed artist will boost your income?
Your life hits a crisis. Should you jump into full time as a creative? If your business’ yearly income exceeds your Essential Expenses, or even your Full Expenses, and your Bucket is way up in Green, do it.
Again, this never happens. In the real world, we have to act on experience, logic, and hope for just a touch of luck. Everybody’s decision is unique.
In my case, I had chosen a technology job that gave me a lower salary in exchange for being treated like an actual person and a total18 absence of company stupidity. Five years later, the company went under. If I returned to a standard corporate gig, my salary would double. So would my stress and my weight. Family dinners would vanish, just like the bad old days. Over on the artistic side, though, I was making nearly as much from my art as from the day job. The Bucket was in the lower end of Yellow and making more than Essential Expenses.
I discussed the situation with She Who Must Be Obeyed. We agreed that I should jump to writing full time. We would go on Essential Expenses for a year and see what happened.
For the next year, I wrote like an obsessed maniac scribbling on his padded walls. A standard corporate job demands nine- and ten-hour days from their technology staff. I treated my craft and my trade like such a job and refused to spend a penny that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I wrote seven books that year and published six of them. At the end of the year, I broke into Green.
If you can’t drain Essential Expenses from the Bucket every month without slipping into the Red, your trade is not yet viable. It is not yet the time to jump to full-time creation.
Knowing your personal Red and Yellow Thresholds, and documenting your Essential and Full Expenses, lets you easily make those decisions.