Welcome back to Money Talks! We’re here every 2nd + 4th Friday of the month with all kinds of juicy thoughts from artists/entrepreneurs who are making a living and living a creative life.
Today we feature Melissa Dinwiddie who knows all about living a creative life. After all, she’s a creativity coach and most definitely practices what she preaches. (Melissa is one of those people who oozes creativity!)
Melissa has a lot of thought-provoking things to say about the business of art. One of the things she pointed to that seems important to me is that often times our old money stories can get in the way of what we know to be true. For instance, in her own story there was the childhood belief that “you can either do good, or make money, but not both.” I suspect this may be one of the stories lots of folks carry around. (I know I do!)
I also found myself nodding my head in agreement when I read, “Of course I know all of these stories are untrue, but they’re still hard to shake!”
One of my hopes for this Money Talks column is that the more we talk about these old stories + embedded beliefs, the easier it will be to shake off the old ones and step into a new money story. (Unless you love your current money story, in which case, don’t change a thing! And also, let’s get you interviewed here so you can share your wisdom with us!)
Be sure and comment below to join our conversation! Happy everything-you-celebrate! May 2016 be full of lots of happy money stories for us all.
Artist / Happiness Catalyst / Creativity Instigator (aka Creativity Coach & Consultant) Mountain View, California
Melissa helps people turn their creative taps to the “on” position, so they can stop living life in black, white and grey, and start living life in full-color. An artist in multiple forms, Melissa models living a full-color life and shares her writings, artwork, and music on her blog, Living A Creative Life, where you can also find her podcast, Live Creative Now! melissadinwiddie.com
1. Are you earning what you’re worth? My first response to this question is to laugh hysterically.
My second response is to ask all sorts of questions about what it means to earn what I’m worth, and if anyone’s assessment of my value in terms of dollars has any meaning anyway.
And yet, we assess value in terms of dollars all the time.
I run a business, and put a price tag on everything I sell, whether it’s a painting, a workshop, an online course, a one-on-one coaching package, a consulting session, a live performance, a music CD, or a keynote speech.
So. This is obviously a complicated question!
In the general scheme of things, I am not yet earning the income that I aspire to, and which would reflect what I consider to be the value of what I put out into the world.
But one woman’s junk is another woman’s treasure, as they say, and the people who see value in what I do are happy to pay me, and sometimes pay me very well for it. Those who don’t see the value—whether it’s simply not of interest to them, or I haven’t done an effective job in communicating the value—don’t buy.
Over my almost 20 years of being in business, I have been paid what I considered very well for certain individual projects, particularly when I was still accepting private commissions for my art. On the other hand, I can also point to dozens of projects over the years where I was paid nowhere near what I felt my efforts were worth.
That led to a lot of resentment, I can tell you!
I’m grateful for that resentment, however, because it made me realize that whenever I feel resentful, it’s time to raise my prices!
Meanwhile, though I still have much area for improvement, I’m continually getting better at communicating the value in what I offer, and commanding prices that feel good to me.
2. What does the expression “starving artist” bring up for you? Mostly it makes me angry. I’m angry that so many artists are starving, or at least underpaid for the value they create.
And I’m angry that a big part of this is due to mindset, and to the cultural idea that artists must be starving, that nobody could ever make a good living as an artist, and even that artists shouldn’t make money from their art — that making money equals selling out, that wanting to make money means you’re greedy or bad, or less “pure” than the alternative.
Making money is what provides you the resources to do your art and change the world! There is nothing bad or greedy about wanting to earn a good living.
So many people embrace the label “starving artist” as a badge of honor, which does not serve them, or anyone. It’s a victim move, absolving yourself of responsibility.
Personally, I’d like to wipe the term “starving artist” from our vocabulary.
Artists who don’t want to fit the “starving artist” stereotype would do well to take their circumstances into their own hands. This means:
- Stop waiting to be discovered, and grow your own audience of customers and clients.
- Get over the idea that business and marketing are scary, horrible, impossible things that artists can’t do.
In fact, marketing can be one of your most creative acts.
It can be fun, too! For example, writing this article is marketing for me, because some people who read it may want to learn more about me, and some of those people may visit my website, join my audience, and eventually decide to purchase my products, adopt one of my paintings, or work with me in some way.
3. Do you have any childhood money stories that have to do with making a living from work you love? The money stories I have from childhood are, first, that men are the real earners, but only if they stick to a proven path.
My dad had thought about becoming an actor when he was a young man, but he was dating my mom at the time, and she made it crystal clear that she wasn’t marrying an actor! So he pursued mechanical engineering instead, and later worked in high-tech as a consultant, bringing in the bulk of the family income.
My mom taught nursery school for 25+ years, and used to joke ruefully that she earned enough to pay my dad’s taxes. I’m sure the fact that the main woman in my life never saw herself as an earner influenced my money story that I didn’t have the moneymaking gene.
The other money story from childhood is that you can either do good, or make money, but not both.
When my mom retired from teaching nursery school, she started her own freelance business, teaching and facilitating trainings for parents and teachers of young children. Her specialty was social problem-solving and conflict resolution, so she did truly important, world-changing work, and she would often justify her low income by saying that she was making a difference.
The unspoken story there was that making a lot of money and making a difference are mutually exclusive, and I still hear this message from my mom in various ways to this day.
Of course I know all of these stories are untrue, but they’re still hard to shake!
My favorite money story, though, isn’t a false belief, but a true story from my life as an earner and an artist.
When I was just getting started with art in my late 20s, my best friend, Amy, asked if I’d make a piece for her to give as a gift to a family she babysat for. She knew I had a dream of turning my art into a business, so she wanted to pay me, but when she asked how much I would charge I told her I’d do it pro bono. I had no idea how much I would charge for the kind of piece we were talking about, but I knew it would be way more than her budget as a graduate student in theater would allow!
Well, she absolutely insisted that she wanted to pay me, so I finally relented and asked what she would spend if she were to go to a store and buy a present.
“Oh, probably about $25,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, “You pay me $25, plus $10 for shipping, and I’ll make you a piece.”
I ended up spending 40 hours on that piece (which comes to about 62 ½ cents per hour for my time), and after I shipped it off to her, I received in the mail a check for $34, and a crisp, new dollar bill with “Melissa’s first artistic sale” written on the front.
That dollar bill holds a special place in my home, and always will. Amy’s championing me in that way really boosted me up as I launched into the scary unknown of starting a business as an artist!
4. What’s your biggest money story currently? The money story I’m working on deprogramming is that old story that I was in the wrong line when they handed out the moneymaking gene.
I’d love to earn enough to be able to “retire” my husband from his job, so that he could pursue his passion and write full-time, instead of only on the weekends, but I have a nagging fear that I’ll never manage to achieve the financial success I desire.
I can crunch the numbers that show that the income I desire is merely a matter of time, but until I prove that fear wrong, I suspect part of me will continue to believe it!
5. Do you think the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow” is accurate? On its own, no, I don’t think it’s accurate. In fact, I think it does people a disservice.
A more accurate—and helpful—expression would be, “Find the intersection between what you love, and what people will happily pay for, and learn to effectively market what you offer in that intersection, to the right people, and the money will follow.”
This is, in fact, exactly what I’m working on doing!