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How to Take Positive Steps to Diversify Your Income


Let's talk about the importance of diversifying your income as a Creative.  For those of you who have made it in your art careers, or those of you who are retired and reading this blog on your yacht, this is probably not something you need to hear.  Though if you would, call me later…

I know creating new income streams is difficult, and of course no plan is going to work for everyone.  But step back for a moment, grab your last bank statement, and look at where your monthly income comes from.  How many sources do you actually have?  

I saw some research quoted that said that millionaires average 7 different revenue streams.  If you’re doing that now, great, keep it up, and please tell us how you managed that in the comments below.  When I look at our business, we have some personal savings from the old day jobs that are tied to the stock market.  We have our art sales. We shoot some commercial B2B video and photography, and we have seven online platforms that we’re not using to their potential.  Four streams sounds pretty good until you realize that our online sales don’t yet earn us $300 a month. So functionally we’re down to 3, and two of those were decimated by the stay-at-home order surrounding Covid-19. So we’re currently down to one source, which is a finite sum in savings that depends on the stock market.  How’s that stock market doing lately?

Now I can’t fix the market, and I can only wait out the coronavirus.  But I know that there are some really positive steps I could be taking today to improve and expand on other revenue streams… even if it takes a while for them to start to pay off.

Now what does that look like for a creative?  Let’s say you’re a fine arts type. You make and sell art in your studio, and you make enough to scrape by on those sales and your spouse’s job.  Where do you start to expand your revenue streams? Do you have a plan for approaching galleries? Do you plan to make it without a gallery? Do you submit your work to online competitions and exhibitions?  Do you reach out to publishers and magazines? Do you do the art fair circuit? Do you have agreements with consignment shops? Do you specifically promote individual works on social media? Do you have a way for someone to purchase your art online (Website, Etsy Shop,Squarespace, etc.)? Do you take out ads on Google, Facebook, etc.?  Do you pay for print advertising? Do you teach courses? Have you written a book? Do you blog/vlog? Send out a newsletter?  

It’s so easy to get lost in the weeds with all the possibilities, or to get burned out and give up.  And the worst part of those choices, not one of them involves making better art. So the reality is that we may well have too many options.  It used to be simple, you paint, a gallery sells your work to wealthy industrialists, and you keep right on painting. As lovely as that sounds, that world is gone.  

So do a little survey of what the world looks like now in a post Covid-19 economy.  List out the revenue options available to your creative career, and start with baby steps.  Come up with a checklist, or a spreadsheet to mark your progress. Devise some measure by which you measure your success.  We’ve put a cap on spending for art calls. We’ll apply to the ones that make the most sense, until our budget runs dry.  

There’s no one right way to do all of this, but it needs to be done.  Map it out, take small steps toward your goals, review your success along the way, and give yourself a break if you mess it up now and again.

What would my ideal revenue stream be?  A nest egg of savings for the next unsuspected crisis in the world economy.  Perhaps 30% of my income from direct art sales, 25% from B2B photography and video, 20% of my income from online sources, 10% from publishing, (writing, vlogging/blogging), 10% from teaching courses, seminars, and 5% chasing grants and prize money.

So if I think I need $50,000 to live, that breaks down as follows:

Selling Art Direct to Buyers 30% $15,000 $1,250 month

Commercial photo & Video 25% $12,500 $1,042 month

Online sources 20% $10,000 $   833 month

Publishing 10% $  5,000 $   417 month

Teaching 10% $  5,000 $   417 month

Grants & Prizes   5% $  2,500 $   208

Is that less frightening?  There may be months when I feel we can't make $1200 on selling art, but the commercial photography is always above that number. While I'm certainly not making $833 per month online, that seems like a very achievable short term goal. I can stretch the publishing income a bit by selling a couple of articles, perhaps some photos to publishers, and we are still making zines. I think we can do that. Teaching, well, we're making that now easily with just a couple of tutorial sessions a week on Lightroom and Photoshop. And if I can't find $200 in grant money, I'm not really trying. My point is that all of this seems far less daunting when you break it down into smaller pieces. It's my dream budget, so if the numbers need to be tweaked around, I have the right to do that.

So my challenge to you, if you've not already done so, is to figure out what a dream income would be that is not frightening, and plan out some small steps that will get you there… adjusting all the way.

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