Finance for Creatives: Earning

Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

As some of you who follow me on socials may or may not know, I’ve been asked to lead a seminar on the subject of finance for the non-profit organization DreamFoundry

I’m extremely excited to be able to talk about anything remotely related to creativity, and finance is no exception! You can register for the seminar here.

Ahead of this discussion, I want to break down the main points of what I’ll be presenting, which will center on Earning, Investing, and Taxes. Obviously, I’m not a financial expert (although I do hold an MBA!), but I’ve been pretty successful at setting myself up for a financially stable career should I want to be a full-time author in the future. Further, I know quite a bit about this space and love the idea that we can have a discussion on the subject of finances, which has somehow become a bit of a taboo, and without good reason.

So, without further ado…

Earning for Creatives

Obviously, there are so many creative fields, whether you’re an author like me, an illustrator, photographer, music producer, etc. What tends to group these together is the common fact that, unless you are at the top of these fields, the incomes don’t tend to be exorbitant. Of course, that’s not to say they can’t be, but don’t expect to bring in the income of a doctor or investment banker when starting out.

Further, as a symptom of the way our society has made public discussion of money so taboo, there’s little in the way of financial literacy for professionals in these spaces.

It’s for that reason that I’m going to begin with talking a bit about my finances (in general terms, but enough that you get a good picture). I’m currently 25-years-old and my income streams are as follows:

  • Day job in marketing

  • HarperCollins book deal (attend the seminar where I will break this down in more detail!)

  • Freelance Book Editing

  • Real Estate Investments (A condo, which I rent out)

I’ll preface this by saying that, although I grew up in a very low-income immigrant household, I do enjoy some privilege from living in the United States, where salaries are generally higher.

Taking that privilege into account, I bring in six-figures each year, and all of it in creative fields (yes, I count the marketing day job as a creative field, more on that later) or investments. It’s for that reason that I believe that one can live at least modestly as an artist, depending on the artform. I’ll throw in a little write-up of how I built these income streams in just four years at the end of the post, but I don’t want to take up too much space talking about myself.

Now, diving into income streams, there are generally two different routes you can take: becoming salaried or remaining a freelancer. Here’s a bit on the differences for each….

  1. Salaried

    • Fixed Income

    • Benefits

    • Typically corporate

  2. Freelance

    • Artistic freedom

    • Pay is variable

    • No corporate

You can see that going for the salaried career choice comes with the stability of knowing what you’ll make each week as well as benefits such as health insurance, paid time off, and more. However, being a freelancer provides freedom, both in terms of creativity as well as in pay and scheduling. No corporate is necessary for the second option, and you’re welcome to work out of a beach somewhere.

Both options are viable, and the important thing to note is that being a salaried worker and a freelancer are not mutually exclusive. I do both. The second item to keep in mind is that the financial principles around investing are almost identical, while taxes have a greater variance between the two.

So, what path do you take? What choice(s) will you make?

Having to decide between the risk of going freelance and the freedom you give up with a salaried role can be tough.

Currently across the United States, we’re seeing folks leave their workplaces in droves, eager to get that freedom of working from home and spending more times closer to themselves, those they care for and cutting out all that comes with having to go into an office. They are sacrificing stability in exchange for some happiness.

Alternatively, I’ve seen friends who were previously freelancing see their client base dry up due to the pandemic, and so they flock to working salaried roles after a rough year or so.

For me, the answer is to go after a mix of the two, and the best way to decide what’s your best option is based on calculating your average monthly expenses. Remember, minimizing your expenses will help give you flexibility with what you take up as a career. Now, find a job that allows you to bring in income that, after taxes exceed your expenses. Also, aim to make enough so that you have money left over to save and invest.

To give you an idea of the range of careers and jobs available to creatives, here are some average salaries based on job (per U.S. sources):

Salaried (entry-level):

  • Marketer: $37k-63k annually

  • Graphic Designer: $47k-77k annually

  • Editorial Assistant: $35k-42k annually

Freelance

  • Copywriter: $23-31 per hour

  • Social Media Manager: $15-50 per hour

  • Illustrator: $25-100 per hour

As you can see, there are options that can make one enough money in both buckets. Of course, you have to get your own work with freelance, but work does exist out there!

How I Built My Income Streams

Being completely transparent, I am not worried about my finances, but that wasn’t always the case.

Reading on, you’ll notice my journey included a mix of side hustling, frugality, and patience (all good things take time).

So, how did I get here?

Well, it began with college, where I studied business as well as political science. At the time, I hadn’t yet discovered my passion for writing. My love was for politics, and recognizing it was difficult to get a job in that industry, I hedged my bets with a business degree and, later, an MBA. Additionally, I chose to attend a school on full scholarship and graduated without debt.

I KNOW. Not everyone has that luxury, and if you do have debt, my recommendation is to factor it into your expenses and, if possible, prioritize paying it off.

My decision to study business alongside political science helped me land decent internships, which set me on the path to land a good job out of school in 2017. Note, it was not a super high-paying job. However, here is where the magic comes in…

As mentioned, I grew up in a low-income immigrant household. As such. saving and frugality were ingrained in my brain at a very young age. So, when I landed my job, I saved as much as I could. In fact, I saved almost everything while living very frugally. What helped was discovering that I LOVE to write near graduation. It turns out that writing is a very cheap hobby!

After a couple of years of saving, in 2019, I decided to stop renting and bought a condo shortly after moving to a different state. I continued to live frugally, all while getting familiar with the local bookstore and library, and landed my agent in 2020! My hard work had begun to bear fruit and I received yet another promotion, moving out of my condo and renting it for a humble, yet welcome profit.

My book deal came in 2021 and with it, additional income for doing what I love. Currently, I have that day-job income, book deal income, a rented condo, and work as an editor-for-hire, where I help others to achieve their dreams using my skillset.

Closing Thoughts

The point I want to leave you with, and what I believe to be the most important is this: follow your passion.

Whatever path, whether working for yourself or a company, studying one field or another, discover what you love doing. Why do I say this rather than make the most amount of money? Well, the truth is that if you do what you love, you’ll be willing to work harder in an effort to learn and improve. That often results in better performance and the quality of your work will increase. And, no matter what you do, high-quality work is your best friend when it comes to financial success.

For me, writing was something I’d have done for the rest of my life even without a publishing contract. Because of that, I was willing to put in long hours on manuscripts that never went anywhere, until one of them did go somewhere, and now I have a writing career. It’s not just the advance, but the workshops, the speaking opportunities, the editing work…all of it stems from my book deal, which in turn comes from years of hard work.

If you’re stressing about the future, don’t. Instead, determine what you’re expenses are, find what you love, and pursue a career in it. Whatever you do, don’t give up on your dreams!