By Build cohort member, Cass King.
I’ve been making money as an artist for 26 years, a few of them entirely financed by creative income. (Ah, 2007, we were good together.) I’ve been a slam poet, a member of a sex-positive musical comedy duo, a rock and roller, a singer in an acapella quartet, … and then there was that time I flew 14 people to New York for a month to present our musical, SHINE, at the New York Fringe. That was one expensive good time!
All of these endeavours have one thing in common: Accounting. God, I love a good budget. (Hashtag-not-sarcasm.) I’m one of those rare creatives whose eyes light up at the mention of the word spreadsheet.
A couple of weeks ago, Groundswell presented a budgeting workshop with advisor Ross Gentleman, a longtime artist and former board member of many co-ops and non-profits, including the CCEC Credit Union. He presented basic accounting principles in a way that was simple and accessible. The guy really knows what to leave out. That’s a hard thing to do when you know a lot! I was a little starstruck, not gonna lie.
I get that my obsession is odd. After many years of teaching people to use Excel at my day job, I can tell you that most of us go cross-eyed when we look at all those columns and rows. To me they are beautiful, because I can see in them the shape of my social venture, kind of like the way Neo could read the digital rain in the movie The Matrix. This is a poetic way of saying ‘insert-nerd-emoji-here’.
There’s a certainty in numbers that I find very reassuring. A realness. Budgets give us handrails for our decisions. They take away the stories (“I can’t”, “I’m hopeless with money”, “I’ve never done anything like this”, “I can’t afford this”, “I CAN afford this”) and replace them with a simple question: “OK, but how?”
Creating a budget requires no less imagination than dreaming up a pitch or creating the perfect marketing plan, but it does require a lot more specificity. How much does insurance cost? Where will I host my website? What must I charge for my time? It’s questions like these that drive the forward motion of our ventures and turn us from dreamers into business owners.
A lot of people find this stuff dull, and I don’t blame them. Who really cares about the cost of a trash bin while you're busy trying to save the world? But it's important in the same way that it's important for Olympic athletes to visualize exactly the number of steps up to the diving board. Getting specific is a non-negotiable requirement in the process of building something real. Anyone can have a dream but not everyone can have a budget. Because budgeting requires decisions. It's very humbling, because it requires us to act from where we are. Still, at the end of the day isn’t it better to have a real lemonade stand than an imaginary microbrewery?
Another way a budget can be intimidating is when we imagine success. Build an income statement like Babe Ruth, pointing beyond the outfield in the direction of anticipated revenue. It makes us ask: What would I have to do to earn that money? What would I do with it? Who would I be? To answer, we have to confront our class biases, along with our relationship to money and with ourselves.
In a capitalist society, it can be hard to embrace the concept of making money, bound as it is to all the distasteful Kardashian-ness of the world. But I have come to view making money as a form of receiving love. People love and appreciate my art, and one of the ways they express their love is to pay me. It’s just one of the ways, but it’s a way that fuels my ability to eat and sleep indoors, and ultimately, my ability to make more art. Money is just applause that I can deposit.
I think about money a lot in relation to my social venture. Not just re: my balance sheet but in my pricing as well. My venture is called Mojo Emporium. We’re a sexual health and wellness e-retailer and consultation service.
Growing up working class, I understood that the luxuries the middle class had access to were not available to me. Common business advice says not to compete on price, but it’s really important to me that my products and services are accessible to lower-income people. To me, a solution that excludes students and the working poor is not a solution. So I’m working hard to think outside the box and deliver sexual health goods in a way that is accessible to low income people and folks with mobility needs.
I can’t wait to tell you more about it at the Groundswell Showcase, March 6th, at Performance works. See you there!