Time, Money, Mojo
Knowing the value of your time, the limitations of your abilities, and how much creative mojo you have left to spare makes it easier to decide when to pay others.
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I learned to hand code HTML during my final semester in college and then went on to work as a web designer for three years before being let go when the web bubble burst in 2002. After that, no more web design for me— I was miserable doing it.
By 2015, my web skills were rustier than a sink in Atlantis.
At this time, I had seven main brush sets for sale, along with six freebies. All sales still came through a single Gumroad shop page with no real branding or custom layout. Though growth remained steady, I was certain that a custom website could dramatically increase sales.
After all, if I was to play ball with the Disneys and Pixars of the world, I needed to have an online presence that reflected that status.
Like it or not, perception is linked to price. Appearance matters. It is difficult to get a seat upgrade on a plane when you are dressed in pajamas and crocs. You could be a Nobel prize-winning inveterate puppy rescuer, but the airline employees don’t know this. They see two things: pajamas and crocs. (Continued after the break)
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All this to say: even if my product was of the highest quality, I was presenting it to the world in the digital design equivalent of a fast food clamshell box. An upgrade was overdue.
Building the kind of site I imagined (updatable through a content management system, responsive, custom layout, easy-to-manage customer art gallery) would have been a huge undertaking for me. Even if I could have figured it out, I estimated it would have taken me a minimum of two months of work to complete.
I was presented with an all-too-common challenge in business: deciding whether it was wiser to spend time or spend money to solve a problem.
I chose to use some simple math to make my decision fast. First, I needed to know the value of my time. So, I looked at my sales over the last two months. This total dollar amount allowed me to calculate roughly how much money I stood to ‘lose’ by building a new site instead of actively promoting the brush sets and continuing to develop new brushes. My logic was simple: I saw brush sales as a direct result of my consistent promotional efforts (contacting artists, social media, creating new art assets for ads, etc.). Pausing those efforts for two months to build the website would erase roughly two months worth of sales.
This might have been an exaggeration, but I didn’t care. The point of this exercise was to arrive quickly at a decision and a worst-case scenario to consider made that easier.
The total sales for those last two months amounted to $40K (average of $20,000, gross, in sales per month). After Gumroad fees and affiliate payouts, the total dropped to $36K. After taxes, $23,310. Assuming real professionals could handle the construction of a custom site like mine in about 4 weeks, I budgeted $10K for a website.
In isolation, that figure would have scared me off. I had never spent $10,000 on one single purchase in all the years I had been in business. Remember, up until this point I had only worked as a freelance illustrator (and occasional iPhone app/game maker). The most I spent on anything up until that point was $2400 on my Macbook Pro and that was *the* single most important tool I owned at the time.
However, in the proper context, this price actually seemed LOW!
Option 1: spend two months (realistically, more like three) struggling to figure out how to build a custom CMS website and lose tens of thousands of dollars in sales from lack of promotion and development.
Option 2: pay $10K for a real expert to handle the whole project while I continue to build my business and ride the wave of steady growth I had established. Oh, and bonus: it’s a business expense (translation: tax write-off!).
The choice seemed clear.
But I realized there was a third element to consider— an element that, more than any other, had gotten me this far in my business: creative energy. Even if I had decided to tackle the website and build it slowly over the course of say, 5 months, what would this have meant for my limited reserves of “creative mojo?” I’m not a machine. If I were to spend four hours of each day in web coding hell, how draining would this be, and what would be left over for the remaining four hours when I would need my brain and body to feel energized and ready for the essential CREATIVE work that kept my business growing?
A lot is written about the value of your time. Time is limited, it has great value, etc., but you must also consider the value of your creative mojo. It, too, is far from limitless.
The new website was everything I hoped it would be: professionally designed, fast and easy to update, a superior representation of my brand and a great showcase for my products, as well as a great gallery of artwork from customers (more on how this gallery became an amazing promotional engine in a later issue). And during the time it was being built, I could focus on what I was good at: making brushes, making art, and making customers happy.
And how about you? Have there been times when the thought of spending money on your creative business was daunting? Even terrifying? How did you think through this problem? If you can roughly calculate the cost to you/your business of *not* spending money, whether because of inefficiencies or stunted sales, does this make the decision easier? How much more can you get done (and how much more can you earn) if you occasionally let a trained professional take over the odd task? Considering these questions using the CBT methods I outlined in the last few issues can help. Guidance from facts, evidence and logic, rather than emotions, can help you make accurate assessments.
Leave a comment below, if you like.
Thank you for reading this issue, friends. I really do hope you are enjoying my writing. If you are, the best thing you can do is share posts. Though they are short, it actually takes me about 3-4 hours to put together each of these issues. It only takes a few seconds to share them. It means a lot, and I appreciate the support. Remember, audio versions are available with a paid subscription. Sometimes, listening to this content helps it sink in, or maybe you just prefer audio content to written content. It’s nice to have options!
👇Resources are below. Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other, remember to be kind, and I’ll say, Ciao for now.
Resources for You
I could spend days window shopping in the Art of Play shop.
Gary Kelley made me want to be a professional illustrator. If you wandered into a Barnes & Noble in the 90s, then you know his famous café art of notable authors gathering together.
An excellent 2-hour seminar on pricing for artists from Jessica Hische.
Steven Zapata’s thoughts on A.I. and art.
Wow, Kyle If I could earn 40,000 for an entire year, this would subsidize my social security. I have been working from my home studio as a freelance graphic designer for over fifteen years. Additionally, I’ve written, illustrated and self-published five children’s picture books. Still, I struggle with finding the balance to the time equals money equation. The ONLY time I’ve paid for a service related to my creative endeavors is when I had one of my books translated to Spanish. That book has not sold even one printed copy. Your article triggered me for sure. Especially when I sold myself to a best friend of more than 40 years only to have her take advantage of me, refuse to pay and sever the friendship I so highly value.
This is a subject I've been thinking a lot about lately. Since I've made a living mostly from IT jobs (regrettably so given my Arts degree) when I decided to set up my current illustration portfolio at alzamon.art I was confident I could take it on from scratch due to my professional coding/design skills, and so I did, moonlighting over the course of several months. It runs on a flat file CMS system I had to learn all by myself since I didn't want to use Wordpress for it. And I think it's okay for now — but setting up a site like this is a high maintenance compromise since I'm the only one who knows how everything is set up, how to update/fix it, fix or replace web services and scripts when they change/fail over time, and so on and on. Sure enough part of what moved me to take the matter in my own hands is the personal pride on doing it myself - but I'm doubtful it would be worth my increasingly limited lifetime to go over it again — I'd rather delegate this task to a younger talent who is more enthusiast of messing with code than I currently am. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do absolutely everything by yourself — this has been a lesson long and hard to come by.