My husband is an artist. He’s also a magician. I don’t mean that he does stage tricks or practices the arcane arts. I mean that I have no idea how he does what he does and I am convinced it’s sorcery.
He reads a script and within 24 hours has a beautiful sketch. After a director approves his sketch he makes some minor changes and then puts it into his computer. He does some magic with numbers and proportions and then he disappears for five weeks. I see him at nights when he comes home smelling like sweat and sawdust, tired and ready for bed. Then, I go to the show.
Those 70 or so pages of text have morphed into a three dimensional, two story, brightly colored reality. The set strong enough and large enough that adults run, jump and dance on it for a few weeks. Then he tears it all down and starts all over again. It’s hard work. He has literally put blood, sweat and tears into he does. It’s amazing.
Art for Art's sake
He does this full time for a local community theater. It’s good and steady pay for him to do what he loves. But there’s this pervasive idea out there that artists do "art for art’s sake." That they didn’t get into this gig for the money because “everybody knows that artists don’t make money.” It’s victim blamey and gross.
So artists starve. They do their work for peanuts while working a barrista job on the side. They take what work they can, even if it’s less than what they value their work for because at least it’s something, right? And the cycle continues.
When we lived in an artists’ co-op we saw this demonstrated on the first Friday of every month. Our co-op would open its doors to the public and they could come into our homes - for free - to look at the things we had made. And usually they’d walk back out again saying, “Who would pay $2000 for a painting? Why would I pay $500 for that vase?”
But they fail to realize that painting took a month of work and that the supplies aren’t cheap. Or that the sculptor had to rent kiln time, pay for clay that didn’t make it into the final piece and may have scrapped dozens of other vases to reach this final result. And they don’t see the six weeks of work my husband put into a show that they watch for 2 hours and complain about paying $20 a ticket for. He’s just one of many people that gets a show up and running and all of them have bills to pay.
Our society recognizes the worth in a minority of art. We see the beauty of things that make it into museums and CEO’s offices. But we don’t like to recognize the worth of the work that goes into it. Not the technique, the blood, the sweat or the tears.
Healing for Healing's Sake
There is a similar attitude in the complementary medical field - that we get into things like teaching yoga or practicing massage because we “want to make the world a better place.” I guess it makes sense that the further to the left you get on the hippy spectrum the more you’re going to see attitudes that are “above money” and about doing things for the “good of humankind.”
I embrace my hippiness. I’d love it if money were not an issue and that I could do what I do for free. I want to be above money. I want to do this for the good of humankind. But that’s not the world I live in. The world I live in requires money to survive. Gone are the days I could be a midwife living in a hut the village provided trading my services for food and goods. I have student loans, rent, grocery and other bills to pay for. I can’t turn away money.
Your work has value - see it. Ask for it.
The idea that you have to be a starving artist or an dirt poor healer is bullshit. You’re not selling out because you want a roof over your head and food in your belly and you shouldn’t be ashamed of surviving. You value your work, if you didn’t you wouldn’t be doing it. That means that your work has value. Whether it’s art or healing - you are making the world a better place. We live in a fiscally focused society and it’s time that we accept that the only way we can convince our customers and patients that our work should be appreciated is to put a price tag on it.
Related links and posts:
Another way we devalue our services is discounting our services for the sole reason of bring people in. Check out this awesome Being Boss Minisode - Discounts are Bullshit
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How do you demonstrate to your customer base that what you do has value?
I’m a number girl. I like spreadsheets, budgets and doing math. However, I’m terrible about doing it when it matters and it has caused me an undue amount of stress over the past year. I’ve been feeling incredibly guilty that the time I spent in school and the money we invested was wasted. My business was doing okay and I was making a moderate amount of money at the spa and clinic, but it wasn’t enough to make me really confident that I had done the right thing going back to school.
Getting real about the numbers
Getting real about numbers is one of the tools that I have been using to build my practice. Figuring out my wage and the hours I worked every week was just the beginning. This past week I sat down and did the two sets of numbers I’ve been dreading: a comparison of how well I’m doing in my acupuncture practice to the previous acupuncturist and a comparison of the money I’m making now as compared to when I was working my cubicle job before going back to school.
Set a benchmark
The first set of numbers was meant to determine how well I should be doing. I spent a week sifting through six years of medical charts to find:
Really riveting stuff, right? As I went through it I found myself getting more and more bummed because “I haven’t been seeing this many people”, “God, I’m not seeing any repeats - nobody likes me as a practitioner” and finally ending with “Holy crap the doctor is going to fire me.” Yikes!
Then I took all of my numbers since February and I ran the same kind of analysis and you know, it wasn’t bad. The thing is, once you have the numbers in front of you and know their reality, your stress about them will decrease tenfold. Number analysis always looks worse as you're working through it because you can't see the whole picture.
The truth is that I had quadrupled my business since March. I was seeing a completely different type of clientele but my return rate was 17% better. I was seeing the same amount of people per week on average. And now I can expect and prepare for the slump next month. I can use that time to work on classes, blog posts, a website and a newsletter and I won’t have to beat myself up about not seeing patients.
Turns out that I’m doing as well as the acupuncturist who had her practice there for over six years and that’s not too shabby.
I took that newly found confidence and directed it towards the even scarier thing: my financial contribution to my marriage. I’ve had a lot of guilt about going back to school because in a lot of ways it has kept my husband and I from doing the things we’ve wanted to do. We have more debt, we lost time together and I’m not bringing in a ton of money (yet). But I had been beating myself up about my contribution at the clinic and I was wrong. What would happen if I took a real look at the numbers at home?
My milestone has always been to make as much money working fewer hours per week than my old desk job doing something I love. I think that that’s every entrepreneur’s dream. So along with the time tracking I mentioned last week I started tracking my wage per hour and how much I was bringing in each month. These are things I’ve tracked for our budget but never something that I looked at separately.
I was astonished to find that I’ve already surpassed that milestone. I’ve been there for a long time, possibly years. And I’ve never given myself credit for that success because I’ve been so down on myself for being a failure (a topic for another time, perhaps). Except that I hadn't been. All that negativity was because I was too scared to look at the numbers
Moving forward with a solid numerical foundation
Now I’ve spent the past few days focused more on how grateful I am to have gotten this far doing what I love and not feeling guilty about it. I have made a new financial goal to work towards that has motivated me and given me hope. Depression and lack of self-confidence can blind us to our successes and sometimes reality is much better than the fantasies that we let run our lives.
Look at your numbers. Establish your goals. Make it happen.
Related links and posts:
How to build an awesome practice for free
How to suss out your true passions and make your practice thrive
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What milestones have you surpassed?
Jessica Gustafson, L.Ac.
I am an acupuncturist and a mama from the Twin Cities. I needed a place to talk about the nitty gritty of bootstrapping a clinic, parenting and freelancing so I made a blog. Hooray! It was never meant to become what it has, but blogs evolve. I've enjoyed the process and look forward to developing it more as I grow.
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