I’ve written before about the myth of the starving artist and why creative workers need to get paid their due. But often the next question they ask is, but how? How do you actually make money as an artist? Hint: it may not be the way you think.

The way you make money as an artist is not necessarily going to be from your most important work. Important work and popular work are not always the same. Often, a person’s most significant creative expression was not what made them famous or even paid the bills. Nonetheless, it was work that needed to be made.

Important work and popular work are not always the same.
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There are two ways to look at this. First, we could look at the cynical way: the world doesn’t care about important, only popular work. And certainly, you could make a case for this perspective.

However, the second way to look at this—the way that I look at this—is that some work is naturally going to be more commercial than others. That doesn’t make it bad or superficial. It just is.

The challenge, though, is to not camp out here and keep producing popular work. Sometimes you need to make something important, something daring, something people just might not understand at first. And yet, it still needs to be made. That’s the important work.

So, my philosophy is this: do both. Create popular work, and use that commercially successful work to pay the bills. But don’t stop there. Keep creating and go deep in your craft so that you can also produce the important work that world needs but may not want.

In other words, be the Batman of your industry: the artist we need but don’t deserve.

Be the Batman of your industry: the artist we need, but don’t deserve.
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Let the popular work fund the important work. And the way that you do that is through multiple income streams.

Not only do I want to share my thoughts with you in this post, but I also recorded a special episode of The Portfolio Life to expand on these valuable lessons. You can listen below or read the article.

Before we talk about income streams, let’s explore another concept briefly: why are you creating this work in the first place?

What’s it for?

My friend Mark Almand (who has given me many great ideas including “experiment-chase-program”) has a great framework for deciding what the priority is in any given project. He calls it Reach-Revenue-Legacy. Here’s how it works:

  • Reach: Some things you do to help your brand grow. You may spend time, money or other resources to make this happen, but eventually as your reach grows, it will come back to you in the form of revenue. Most people call this “marketing”. Some projects help you reach more people, and money should be taken off the table as an expectation—at least in the short term.
  • Revenue: Some things are about bringing in money. There’s nothing wrong with this. If you run a business or are self-employed, this is a necessity. You’ve got to keep the lights on. So, on occasion, you may do something just to get some cash so that you can keep doing your work.
  • Legacy: Some things are about the long-term—how you want to be remembered or the dent you want to make in the universe. These efforts and projects may or may not generate revenue. They may even cost you money. But they are so important to you and your mission that you can’t avoid doing them. These are big-deal projects that you will be grateful you did when you’re on your death bed.

That’s the framework: reach, revenue, legacy. Most projects you do will fit into one—but probably not all three—of those buckets. Before you set out to do something—launch a book, build a website, host a conference—you need to know why you’re doing it and which bucket your project fits in.

If reach is the goal, the questions become:

  • Who do you want to reach, and how far will you go to reach these people?
  • How much money will you spend?
  • How much time?
  • How will you know when you’ve reached enough people?
  • What do you want them to do, once you reach them?

If revenue is the goal, the questions become:

  • How much money do I want to make off this and for what?
  • What’s the income goal, and what do you intend to do with it?

The answers can be as simple as, “I want to make $10,000 so I can pay that down payment on my house.” Or it can be more involved, like, “I want to make $1 million so that we can give $250,000 to that school project in Africa.” Or so you can reinvest in your business, hire more people, etc. Whatever. You just need to have a number in your mind and a reason for that number.

If legacy is the goal, the questions become:

  • What kind of impact do I want this to leave?
  • Why do you think this is so important that it’s worth remembering?
  • To what lengths will you go to make sure you or this project leaves a legacy?
Build an audience to answer the questions

Whether your goal is reach, revenue, or legacy, you have to be able to serve an audience:

  • The people you want to reach are an audience
  • The people you make an income off are an audience
  • The people you want to impact are an audience

Starting a blog is one of the best ways to identify and serve an audience with your work. Join me for a free webinar and learn how to launch a successful blog and build an audience for your art.

3 revenue streams for every artist

Okay, so now that we’ve covered the reach-revenue-legacy framework, that should help you decide when a project needs to make money and when it doesn’t. Because of course, not all your work will pay the same.

Some of your most important work may not end up being your most successful. That’s okay. You still need to create it.

At the same time, you can’t go broke. Not if you want to keep creating for the rest of your life. And you don’t have to sell out to make an income off your art. You do, however, have to diversify.

In Real Artists Don’t Starve, one of the “rules” of the Thriving Artist was “Diversify your portfolio.” You need to create more than one thing. A body of work. A portfolio life. That’s how you’ll be able to do this kind of work for a lifetime.

Here are three income streams you’ll want to include in that portfolio. Of course, there are more ways to monetize your art, but these three categories are a pretty good start. Almost every Thriving Artist I see uses them at one point or another.

1. Teach your art

The old saying “if you can’t do, then teach” is not true. Some of history’s best practitioners of their art were teachers. And what better way to make some money off your art than to teach what you know?

Many, many artists have done this at one point or another to support themselves, including David Foster Wallace. Of course, you don’t have to do this.

The pro to this approach is it gives you more time with your craft, because even when you’re teaching it, you’re learning about it. The con is that you may feel like a fake, teaching something, if you’re not actually doing it yourself.

2. Sell your art

There are two ways to do this.

First, you can sell your art—your books, your paintings, your music—directly to the market. Or you can sell your art to a handful of patrons.

The Beatles are a prime example of the first category. So is Taylor Swift or any very successful commercial artist. The challenge to this approach is you have to sell a lot of widgets to a lot of people for a long period of time to make a career out of this.

An example of the latter category would be any successful Renaissance artist, like Michelangelo, who used the resources of a handful of wealthy patrons throughout his career to fund his work and make ten times the average rate of his peers.

There is, however, a third way to do this today that doesn’t require you to sell millions of records or books, nor does it require you to know a bunch of wealthy people. You can build a tribe—a small but significant audience of anywhere from 100-10,000 people who are all in on your art. They want what you have, and you can spend a lifetime creating just for them.

3. License your art

The third way to profit from your art is to let others use it while you retain the intellectual property, publishing rights, and copyrights associated with your work.

In other words, you maintain ownership of the work but license your art—your words, your images, your music—to others who pay a fee to use it every year. The advantage to this is you typically don’t need a huge audience to make a living doing this, so long as you license your work to the right individuals or organizations.

For example, cartoonist and author Hugh McLeod has had a very successful career as an artist licensing his artwork to major companies who use it in employee training materials. The music of Ryan O’Neal (AKA Sleeping at Last) is another example of employing the licensing model to make a great living as a an artist.

All that to say, the point of this is to not just make a buck. It’s to make something important, something that lasts. And in order to do that, we have to reach the right people, make enough money, and leave a legacy.

As I am fond of saying, we don’t make art to make money. We make money to make more art. Good luck.

You can learn more about developing multiple income streams for your work when you pre-order the paperback version of Real Artists Don’t Starve. In addition, you can pick up some extra bonuses available for a limited time:

  • Artist edition of the RADS workbook
  • Writer edition of the RADS workbook
  • 7-week book study Facebook group
  • Exclusive discount on Real Artists Don’t Starve Course ($70 off)

Get your copy of the book and claim you free bonuses here.

Sign-up for a free webinar with me and learn how to launch a successful blog and build an audience to serve with your art.

Do you have multiple income streams for your art? Let me know how in the .

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Most of us have been through a career transition – we know something is missing or there is more we are meant to do.

Our guest today, Shawn Askinosie, went through a challenging career transition that led him on a journey to meaningful work. It was so significant that he wrote a book about the journey called Meaningful Work: A Quest To Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, And Feed Your Soul.

Before reading his book or being introduced by our mutual friend Seth Godin, I tried Shawn’s chocolate at Jenny’s Ice Cream years ago. They offered an Askinosie chocolate flavor, created from ingredients provided by Shawn’s family-run company. And it was delicious!

Eleven years ago, Shawn started Askinosie Chocolate after a twenty-year career as a defense lawyer. Using a bean to bar model, he sources the beans himself from around the world.

Askinosie Chocolate’s work toward community development locally and globally has been well-recognized. Oprah Magazine called him “one of 15 guys saving the world” and Forbes recently named the company one of the 25 best small companies in America.

On this episode of The Portfolio Life, Shawn shares the story of his journey from lawyer to chocolatier to an author. His experiences allowed him to learn how to navigate life, measure company growth beyond profit, and what practical things we can start today to find meaningful work.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Shawn and I explore:

  • What did a monastery teach him?
  • When do you know you are in the right place at the right time?
  • What does it mean to be resting in the presence of God?
  • What is his heart metric for his book?
  • Why did he write his story the way he did?
The best way to find ourselves is to lose ourselves in service to others.
Shawn Askinosie
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Sean’s search for his next venture
  • What was a daily activity that helped him find his next passion?
  • Did he know anything about chocolate before starting his business?
  • What happened when he went to the Amazon?
  • Why did desperation actually make his discovery harder?
  • What did volunteering with palliative patients in a local hospital teach him?
Our greatest joy is our sorrow unmasked.
Shawn Askinosie
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Lessons from Shawn’s book Meaningful Work
  • What can you learn from the two parts of his business’ vocation?
  • What is farmgate and why is it important?
  • How to answer the question: how much is enough?
  • What happens if you don’t find the purpose of your work?
  • Why and when we should practice reverse scale.

What is one thing you’re going to do to bring meaning to your work after listening to Shawn? Let us know in the .

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Never. That’s when. You should always work for something. Never work for free.

In my bestselling book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, I made the argument that creative people should never work for free, and this has to be one of the stickiest point of the book for many people. Some of my mentors and fellow creatives (like screenwriter and popular podcaster Brian Koppelman) called me out on this, saying it just wasn’t true.

So, is working for free really a bad idea? Is it necessary to occasionally do a gig for nothing in exchange for exposure? Or should you always charge for your work?

Like most things, this issue is a little too complex for a simple cliche. So let’s take it one piece at a time in this article:

First, let’s explore why working for free is a dangerous precedent to set and why you should avoid it at all costs if possible.

Then, we will talk about the difference between working for free and working for nothing, and why you should always get something for your work.

And finally, I’ll share when it’s okay to work for “free” (but not for nothing). Confused yet? Don’t worry. It will all make sense soon.

Not only do I want to share my thoughts with you in this post, but I also recorded a special episode of The Portfolio Life to expand on these valuable lessons. You can listen below or read the article. Whatever works best for you. Let’s begin.

Listen to the podcast Why you should never work for free

To start with, I’m sticking to my guns here, saying I don’t think you should work for free. Ever.

But here’s what I mean. Working for free means you are doing your best work—making your art, writing your poems, composing your music—for absolutely no compensation whatsoever. And that’s a bad idea. Here’s why:

  1. Typically, people won’t value your work until you do. So the best way to make others take your art more seriously is to charge for it.
  2. Getting paid will give your work greater dignity. We tend to value the things we pay money for. So not only will charging for your work cause others to take you more seriously. It will cause you to take you more seriously.
  3. You will be able to support yourself. It’s no surprise that we all have bills and financial responsibilities. Making money off your art will allow you the freedom and flexibility to do more of the work you love while paying the bills.
The difference between free and nothing

Recently, I was on a panel with a couple of experts in the music industry and one of the speakers explained there is a difference between working for free and working for nothing. I liked that.

Another way to say it is you should always work for something. And that something needs to be more than “opportunity.”

So many creatives chase opportunity without knowing their real goal. Is it an introduction to a gatekeeper or tastemaker? A new addition to the portfolio? A testimonial or referral? They usually don’t know. As a result, these talented makers, artists, and creatives give away their best work for no apparent reason, ultimately setting a precedent that their work is, well, worthless.

As Steven Pressfield poignantly puts it, “Opportunities are B.S.”

If you do not value your work, neither will anyone else.
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If you do not value your work, neither will anyone else. This is why we charge what we’re worth and always work for something. Because the work is worth it, we’re worth it, and this is the best way you can get people to value your work and therefore take it seriously.

But, on occasion, it makes sense to not ask for money for your work. This isn’t the same as working for free in the sense that you’re not getting anything. It just means you’re not being compensated with money.

Let’s talk about that.

When to not charge for your work

So when does this make sense? When is it better to not receive cash for your efforts but instead charge something else? Here are three times when you shouldn’t charge for your work:

  1. When you can barter your services or products in exchange for other items of equal value.
  2. When you can legitimately leverage this opportunity for future opportunities.
  3. When you want to simply be generous.
A final thought

Stuart Brand once said that information wants to be free. I think in many ways art wants to be free too. Most of the Internet supports this theory. That’s why most great works of literature, music, and art quickly get pirated. Information wants to be free. It wants to be a gift to the world.

So this is bad news for artists, right? Maybe not. Because even when it’s free, your work is not worthless. We understand there is inherent value to creative work. At least to good creative work. Otherwise people wouldn’t want to pirate the work in the first place.

But we as creatives are constantly fighting this increasing expectation that our work should be available for free. So what do we do? Fight the trend and swim upstream against the status quote? Give up and give in and go broke?

No. We do neither. We don’t fight it or give into this reality. We dance with this tension between art and commerce and use the expectations of the market while at the same time subverting a system that so often takes advantages of genius. We give away some of our work, but not all of it, and though it may seem as it we are doing this for free, it’s not for nothing. Never for nothing.

This is where the idea of a freemium comes in: give away a part of your work in exchange for an opportunity to follow up with a potential client or customer. Use your work to earn a new fan. Noisetrade. Blogging. Story Cartel. These are all examples of ways in which creatives are trading their art for attention. It looks like they’re working for free. But they’re not. They’re doing something far more clever and strategic than that.

Money isn’t the only currency. You can trade your art for the attention to spread your work even further.
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They’re letting you download their music or writing or art in exchange for an email or a phone number or another chance to sell you something later. It’s not free. It’s worth something. And that’s all I’m saying. Always work for something. Your art deserves better than being a mere freebie on a toothpick at the grocery store. You deserve better too.

So that’s it. Never work for free. Always work for something. And always know what that something is.

You can learn more about the value of your work when you pre-order the paperback version of Real Artists Don’t Starve. In addition, you can pick up some extra bonuses available for a limited time:

  • Artist edition of the RADS workbook
  • Writer edition of the RADS workbook
  • 7-week book study Facebook group
  • Exclusive discount on Real Artists Don’t Starve Course ($80 off)

Do you value your work? Let me know how in the .

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Many of us want to find our purpose in life. We want to know that what we’re doing ultimately matters. We want to leave our mark on the world. But how do we do this? The process is not always so simple.

One man who has found his unique calling is Jon Gordon, a best-selling author, well-known keynote speaker, and influential voice in the leadership and motivation space.

Jon is also one of the most positive people I know! But his journey wasn’t always so positive. It was a difficult period in his work life and marriage that led him to find his purpose and cultivate a positive approach to life.

After graduating from Cornell University, Jon pursued a graduate degree in teaching and he opened a bar with some fellow investors and an inheritance from his grandma. He also started a non-profit when the bar began doing well. His real passion came through, though, when he decided to go into politics.

Jon ran for city council and was gaining support and leading in the polls. Because he was doing so well, his incumbent opponent began a smear campaign. He was only 26 at the time, so there wasn’t much to smear. His opponent lied, and he lost.

Devastated and confused, Jon was at a loss as to what to do next. He went to law school for a little while, then left to pursue a dot-com business with some friends. Then he discovered they were stealing from him, so he moved on from that, as well. Despite his earlier successes, he was left wondering what to pursue next.

This lack of direction made John miserable, which led to his wife also feeling miserable. They were fighting a lot, and she told him she was ready to leave because she couldn’t deal with his unhappiness. He begged her to stay and agreed to change. It was then that Jon began to research ways to become more positive, and discovered the emerging field of positive psychology.

Jon started taking gratitude walks every day, and it was during one of these walks while he was praying that he asked God to show him why he was here on earth.

Writing and speaking immediately came to mind.

On this episode of The Portfolio Life, Jon tells us what happened next and why his early days as a writer and speaker were challenging and what he did to get through them. We also talk about how he got his first book deal, which of his books is his favorite, and what daily practices help him the most.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Jon and I talk about:

  • Does he have to work at being so positive?
  • How many rejections did he receive for The Energy Bus?
  • Hong did it take for him to become a best-selling author?
  • Does he consider himself more of a messenger or a writer?
  • What is failure meant to do for us?

Everything in your past prepares you for your future.
Jon Gordon
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  On writing and speaking as a calling
  • What did he do to become a sought-after speaker?
  • How did he discover his calling is writing and speaking?
  • Is he a writer first or a speaker?
  • How long does it take him to write each of his books?
  • What is his writing process when not working on a book?
Everyone has greatness inside of them.
Jon Gordon
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On life after law school
  • What do you have to give up to be truly great?
  • What is his book The Carpenter all about?
  • How did his biological father leaving Jon at an early age influence him?
  • Where did his drive for success come from early on?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for anything we have in our lives?

What is your unique calling and how did you find it? Let us know in the .

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It’s been almost a year since publishing my book Real Artists Don’t Starve. During that time, I learned some great lessons in writing, art, and business that seemed good to share with you.

Heads up: the paperback version of the book comes out later this month, and you can pre-order it here.

After talking with thousands of readers who loved the book and several who didn’t, I’ve learned three incredible lessons:

  • Your work is not for everyone
  • Commercial success and creative success are not the same
  • We need more artists

Not only did I want to share my thoughts with you in this blog post, but I also recorded a special episode of The Portfolio Life to expand on these valuable lessons.

Listen to the podcast Lesson 1: Your work is not for everyone

One of the biggest struggles I had with Real Artists Don’t Starve was the title. A friend recommended the title, and as soon as I heard it, the idea of “real artists don’t starve” both scared and excited me.

In general, I try to lean into the stuff that scares me, because that’s where life is. Of course, I want to make wise decisions, but I never want to avoid a risky endeavor or a bold, creative move just because someone might not like it.

So, when the book came out, and people said, “You’re saying I’m not a real artist,” that bothered me. No matter how much I protested and defended and explained, some people got mad.

One guy, who is some sort of Christian blogger, called me a “douche bag” and then said that writers shouldn’t insult their readers. Which I thought was a little ironic, since he was a reader insulting a writer, but I digress.

Anyway, some people didn’t like the idea. They didn’t have to read past the cover to know that the book wasn’t for them. But here’s the thing: for those who did pick up Real Artists Don’t Starve, many of them loved it.

In fact, I get an email or social media message (usually Instagram) about once a day from someone sharing how the book has forever changed their creative work. And almost always the parts that one group hated, other people loved.

This scenario raises an interesting question:

Who is your work for?

Seth Godin likes to ask this question often, and it’s a question I’ve been considering more and more.

Who is my work for?

Probably not everyone.

If I know from the get-go that my work won’t resonate with everyone, I don’t have to play it safe. I’m free to go all in on a specific message for a particular group of people.

I can take risks and say bold things like “real artists don’t starve” and know that while it isn’t for everyone, it will be for someone.

Don’t play it safe. Your work isn’t for everyone, but it is for someone.
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Lesson 2: Commercial success and creative success are not the same

David Bowie once said that he would prefer to do work that was artistically important than work that is merely striving to succeed. I think that’s a fantastic take on an age-old question:

Can you make money making art?

The somewhat-obvious answer is yes, but the practice of how this gets done is complicated. Almost every creator I know, including the case studies in the book, understands the constant dance between art and commerce that professionals face.

In my case, Real Artists Don’t Starve was, in my mind, the most important book I had written. It is by far the best-written work I’ve created to date and has the most poignant message.

And yet, it didn’t sell as well as previous books. Don’t get me wrong. It did well, hitting the Wall Street Journal bestsellers list twice and selling tens of thousands of copies in the first year, but the process was more slow burn than a huge explosion.

To be honest, part of me was disappointed with those results. Then, I would read the incredible stories of people who read the book and applied it.

Like the painter who reached out via Facebook to share how they had applied the principles and, as a result, was now painting the royal family in their country (Romania, I think it was).

Or the songwriter who’s making half a million dollars a year and told me, “Every word you wrote in that book was true.”

Or the actor I chatted with on Instagram who told me the book emboldened her to pursue her dream.

And so many more.

Look. I like success. I sometimes even crave it in unhealthy ways.

On the Enneagram, I am a 3, which is also called the Performer. My whole life, I’ve loved accomplishing things—making them and sharing them with the world and getting a little applause.

But sometimes, success isn’t merely topping the charts or putting cash in the bank. In fact, real success rarely looks like that, if ever.

Success is about doing the thing you set out to do, and if I’m honest, all I ever wanted to do as a writer was know that my words mattered to someone else.

Success is doing the thing you set out to do.
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So when someone reads a book of mine—or listens to a podcast or takes a course or attends an event or whatever—and their life is changed, truly changed, I am on Cloud Nine.

And so, I embrace these stories of life change. In many ways, the book has reached people in a way I never imagined. And for that, I’m grateful.

The lesson here is reasonably clear: creative success and commercial success rarely happen at once. The latter can follow the former, but we must be careful not to confuse the two. They are not the same.

Lesson 3: We need more artists

One truth I am convinced of after seeing this message go out into the world is this:

We need more artists. We need more people willing to share their hearts with the world through spilling their proverbial guts, pouring themselves into their work. We need more bold souls willing to do that.

We need more artists. We need more bold souls.
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I never wrote Real Artists Don’t Starve to shame anyone. It was a challenge. A challenge to you, or maybe your child or student or next-door neighbor. But it was a challenge to take your work more seriously.

To not believe the myth that you had to suffer and starve for your art. To understand you could indeed do important work and get paid for it. To realize you have to learn the dance between commerce and art if you want to stay in this game and keep creating the rest of your life.

And to my surprise, many took the challenge.

In this next season, I hope many more will.

Take up the challenge today and pre-order the paperback version of Real Artists Don’t Starve. When you do, you can pick up incredible extra bonuses:

  • Artist edition of the RADS workbook
  • Writer edition of the RADS workbook
  • 7-week book study Facebook group
  • Exclusive discount on Real Artists Don’t Starve Course ($80 off)
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Is it possible to blend your art and creativity with commerce and entrepreneurship?

Can you still be passionate about your art while blending creativity with commerce? Madeline Ellis, founder of Mimosa Handcrafted Jewelry and our guest today, answers yes. She joins us and shares how she has not only successfully balanced art and entrepreneurship, but also family life.

In this episode, we join Madeline on her journey from starting her jewelry business through today. She also gives us practical tips and advice for artists and creatives who want to pursue their passion as a vocation on today’s The Portfolio Life.

Madeline began making jewelry part-time in 2008. It was piling up around the house and her husband encouraged her to start selling some of it. He helped her branch out from selling to family and friends to delighting a broader customer base.

When she was pregnant with her son she had 4 months of maternity leave, unpaid. So it became their trial run to see if they could live off of her husband’s income and her supplemental jewelry income. It went pretty well so after working part-time for another 5 months, she struck out on her own. She’s been full speed ahead ever since!

Mimosa Handcrafted has grown from the back of her house in her husband’s old woodshop into a second story with three more full-time employees. They’ve expanded to selling jewelry online, at art markets, festivals, and boutiques.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Madeline tells us:

  • How did her family influence her creatively?
  • Did she ever think jewelry was her calling or was it a gradual realization?
  • What are shadow careers and did she have any?
  • How did her landscape work prepare her for her jewelry business?
  • Why did she decide to stop making custom pieces?
Creating things I wanted to exist was a natural thing to do.
Madeline Ellis
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On starting her jewelry business
  • How did she know when to quit her job?
  • When did her husband start working in her jewelry business?
  • What resources helped her learn about the specifics of running a business?
  • How did failing guide her on her journey?
  • When did she start to get more serious about the business side of making jewelry?
I see myself as a creative person who makes jewelry right now.
Madeline Ellis
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The art and the business of your passion
  • What is her thought process behind new pieces?
  • Has she lost any of her passion as she has monetized her art?
  • Who is on her team and how do they support the entire business?
  • Did she have an “I made it” moment?
  • What is the difference between work-life integration and work-life balance?

What new ideas do you have for combining art, creativity with commerce and entrepreneurship after listening to Madeline? Let us know in the comments.

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Have you ever found yourself burned out from making your art?

Our guest today has and she’s learned some valuable lessons as a result. Melissa Dinwiddie is is an artist first, and entrepreneur second. She has a great story to share. I loved it so much I included it in my book Real Artists Don’t Starve. Today we’ll hear what I didn’t include in the book and what new endeavors she’s taking on.

Before she was paid as an artist, Melissa wondered whether or not she was worthy of that title. But after her friend paid her $25 for a commissioned piece, Melissa finally believed she was an artist.

That her friend took her seriously enough to pay her made it a very big deal in her mind. Melissa says she needed someone to hold up a mirror and tell her she is an artist before she could make art for a living.

Many of us have experienced this, too. Even though we understand intellectually we don’t need others’ permission to be an artist, there are still moments like Melissa’s that are pivotal to helping us own our inner artist. It doesn’t have to be a gatekeeper like an art dealer or gallery owner, it can be a loved one like it was for Melissa.

Once she began making art for a living, she eventually stopped making art for herself. Soon, Melissa was putting business first, and artistry second. On this episode of The Portfolio Life, she shares why they need to be inverted with art first and entrepreneurship second.

We also talk about why we often get stuck in a rut and how to we can get ourselves out. Finally she tells us about her current business: it’s creative consultancy that shows companies how to be more effective through the use of methodologies like LEGO.com-serious play.

Melissa tells us what that is, how she found it and much more about learning to play in your creative sandbox on today’s The Portfolio Life.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

On today’s show, Melissa and I explore:

  • What is paper cutting and why did she combine it with calligraphy?
  • Why did she get burned out making art for pay?
  • What is a ketubah and how was it critical to her evolution as an artist and entrepreneur?
  • How can you keep the fun alive in your creative process?
  • Why is play NOT the opposite of work?

I stopped following the fun, and starting only following the money.
Melissa Dinwiddie
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  The choice to make money from art
  • Should a creative person be trying to monetize or not?
  • How much time should you be spending on marketing and commerce for your art?
  • Is making money from art something every artist should pursue? Why or why not?
  • What is her golden formula?
  • What does it mean to think daily and tiny?
There are so many different ways to be a creator.
Melissa Dinwiddie
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What it means to be creative
  • The lesson we can all learn about creativity from my 4-year old.
  • What is the question to ask yourself if you think you are not creative?
  • When did she start believing she was not an artist?
  • What is the comparison-trap gremlin?
  • Why did she stop taking art classes for 15 years?

How are you going to add creative sandbox play to your life? Let us know in the

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Many people dream of turning their blog into a traditional book deal. Are you one of them?

Our guest today has made this dream her reality. Erin Odom is a blogger and author of two books. She’s been sharing her story with me via email for the last year. It was compelling, and I’m excited to share it with you today on The Portfolio Life.

Not long ago, Erin and her family were in poverty. Today, she has a successful writing business reaching countless people with her work that was 7 years in the making.

In January of 2011, she had a 2-year old and a newborn. Her family was barely making ends meet. Erin’s husband was teaching high school Spanish, she was working several jobs, and they were dangerously close to foreclosing on an out-of-state home.

None of her jobs were bringing in the income they needed to thrive and allow her to be a stay-at-home mom. So when her newspaper editor and her best friend both separately approached Erin about starting a mom blog- she was open to the idea.

For the first six months she secretly wrote and published posts, repurposing the newspaper articles she had been writing. Then Eric decided to go for it and see if she could make it work. Within a year she had replaced her husband’s salary. Within two years she was making a very good income for her family.

In January 2014 she got an email from a literary agent which led to a two-book deal and much more. She’ll share all of those details as well as:

  • Why you shouldn’t take rejection personally
  • How she approached me in a polite yet persistent way about being a guest on this show

Join me and Erin Odom to hear her inspiring and insightful story on this episode of The Portfolio Life.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Erin and I explore:

  • When did she start to think this was for real?
  • Why did she think an email from a literary agent was a joke?
  • Why it took two years to write her first book proposal.
  • What she learned from writing about her family’s lean financial times.
  • Why she joined numerous book launch teams and how it helped her.

Be authentic with all. Be transparent with some. Be vulnerable with few.
Erin Odom
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  On growth moments with her blog
  • How long did it take for her to replace her husband’s teaching salary?
  • What encouraged her to keep going when things were tough in the early stages?
  • How an online mom blogger mastermind helped her write her first book.
  • Why being authentic with your life can resonate with your audience.
  • Why readers need to know you are not perfect.
Keep on showing up for the work every day.
Erin Odom
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The importance of outside support
  • Why you have to put yourself out there and find your tribe.
  • Where can you find people who are on the same path as you?
  • Why did her husband take a “wait and see” approach with her initial plans to become a blogger?
  • What’s the difference between criticism and feedback?
  • How to know who has and who hasn’t earned the right to speak into your life.

What did you learn today to help you make your dream of writing a book become your reality? Let us know in the .

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Three years ago I got serious about turning my passion project of Tudor history into a business, and now I see regular five figure monthly revenues with an average profit of 50%.

If you would have told me then that selling physical products would be the way I make a full time income, I would have laughed. I’ve only been studying eCommerce for the past six months, hardly an expert!

Still, over the past 5 months, I’ve sold nearly $50,000 in products related to my niche, and I’d like to share the three steps I took to turn my passion project into a full time business:

  • Build a passion project platform
  • Develop a proof of concept
  • Give your audience more
Build a passion project platform

In 1998 I started writing about history online. In 2009 I started podcasting about Tudor England. My dream when starting was to be surrounded by history, to write and be creative, and to be able to work anywhere I could find a wi-fi signal.

There’s a quote I keep on my wall that says:

Never compromise on a dream. Always compromise on how it will come true.

This is what my platform looked like when I started:

  • Podcast
  • Blog

I was on a call with a business mentor who noticed that, while I had a great site filled with lots of useful information, I wasn’t actually making it very easy for people to give me money. “Well, I have Patreon,” I responded.

She pointed out that there are only a handful of profitable organizations that rely solely on asking readers to pay directly for your content. Even National Public Radio has to sweeten your pledge by offering swag.

The lightbulb turned on. What if I tried selling things to people? Real physical, tangible things that they could own? Things that would also remind them how much they love my show, and give them an easy way to share my show with people?

I didn’t know anything about shopping cart software or sourcing products, but three years ago I got serious about making a business out of this passion project. Being an introverted writer type, the idea of customer service made me queasy.

Develop a proof of concept

After brainstorming for a month, I came up with the idea of doing a planner/diary filled with Tudor history:

  • Monthly calendar with a quote from a famous Tudor
  • Weekly pages with ‘This Week in Tudor History’
  • Renaissance music listening lists and Spotify playlists
  • Gorgeous cover inspired by an illuminated manuscript

With a company like Blurb you can print books on demand, so the only out of pocket costs are a designer for the cover, a subscription to InDesign, and the time spent learning how to create a planner. All told, it cost me less than $200. 

I spent the month of October, 2016 designing the planner, gathering the dates and information, and putting it all together. In early November I put up some Facebook ads and got my first sale!

I had no idea how many would sell. I was hoping for 50. Before Christmas I had sold over 300! It took me two months and less than $200 to develop a proof of concept.

Now that I had proof, I knew people would pay for physical products in my niche. I also noticed customers who found me through the Facebook ad had never heard of me before. They liked my Facebook page and started listening to my show.

That made my download numbers go up, which meant that more people could find me through the podcast charts. Many of those people signed up for my mailing list, because I offered a discount on the planner in exchange for the email address.

In six weeks, I added four times as many email subscribers as I had the entire year before.
Heather Teysko
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This is what I have termed the Abundance Whoosh, because it was a whoosh of new email subscribers, new listeners, and sales, in one big spiral. 

Give your audience more

I spent early 2017 trying to replicate this success. I only knew about print on demand books, so I stuck with that strategy for the first few months of the year, creating journals that were historic.

For example, I created a journal with a cover based on a 15th century French book of hours. It was shaped like a heart and filled with quotes from Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn.

I also started working with a printer to create a 2018 planner with customizations you can’t get with Print on Demand, like a pocket in the back and a ribbon marker. But I really wanted to add more products like:

  • clever mugs
  • t-shirts
  • creative leggings

Sites like CafePress and Zazzle had margins so small you aren’t left with any money to pay for the ads you run on Facebook. I knew ads were a big part of my success with the planner, and I wanted to duplicate the Abundant Whoosh- growing my audience and not just selling things to my existing one.

Then I found out about Shopify and print on demand services. What’s the difference between using Shopify and going the CafePress route to give your audience more ways to support you? Ownership of the sales process.

The CafePress compromise

When you use CafePress, or similar merch sites, you hand your customer over to that company. They take care of the entire transaction from start to finish, sending you a commission once a month. All you have to do is:

  • Upload your artwork
  • Share your shop address

This is easy for brands with limited time but want to offer something for their audience to buy. But handing your customer over to another company mean you are losing touch points with them.

Most of these march sites won’t give you the email address of the people who bought your products. They add your customer to their own email list, where they will then send marketing campaigns featuring other creators.

You can’t set up discount codes as an incentive to sign up for your mailing list, and when the customer receives their purchase, the branding isn’t yours. You have, in effect, created a customer for another company instead of your own.

The Shopify difference

Shopify is a web host, shopping cart, and payment processor all in one. When integrated with a print on demand company that only prints and fulfills your orders, you’ve got the perfect recipe for success.

Shopify handles the payments and Gooten or Printful handle the fulfillment automatically, from my shop, TudorFair.com, with simple integrations. No more directing customers to a different company. 

I tell my podcast listeners they can support the show and buy cool stuff. Here is the flow after that:

  • Customer buys from my site
  • I collect the money via PayPal or Shopify Payments
  • The fulfillment company charges me and fulfills the order
  • The fulfillment company ships the product, with my branding, to my customer
  • The next day, an automated app sends a personalized thank you note to my customer
  • The fulfillment company updates the tracking information

I don’t pay the fulfillment company anything until I already have a sale. There are no fees to get started, or to import your products to Shopify. The only fee is from Shopify, where the basic plan after free trial starts at $29.99/month.

The margins are larger because I’m doing more of the work. If creating a full time income from a passion project is your goal, you have to work.

If creating a full time income from a passion project is your goal, you have to work.
Heather Teysko
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The downside is when a customer hasn’t received their order, or wants to return something: you’re the one handling that. The percentage of people doing that is so small, the extra bit of work is a tiny price to pay for ownership of the process.

You have more options for products

With Shopify you can sell a huge variety of products through various fulfillment companies:

  • AliExpress imports goods from China
  • Printful offers clothes and posters
  • Gooten has tote bags and phone cases
  • ArtsAdd offers everything from clothes to home decor
  • Art of Where does some very cool clothing
  • Galloree even offers custom printed skateboards
  • Beeoux offers laser-cut sterling silver jewelry in designs you provide

You can put your designs on nearly anything you can think of! Many of these fulfillment companies have cross-over in their product offerings.

Some products may not be a perfect fit, but they can be on theme with your niche enough to make sense. I’ve sold Tudor-themed jewelry that was not an exact English history match.

You have more places to sell

Shopify will integrate with Facebook so you can have your store on your Facebook page, and in many countries people can check out within the Facebook environment directly, never having to leave the app.

As you get more experience, you can explore the dozens of apps in Shopify that will help grow your customer base, and provide subscription options, affiliate selling, reviews, and social proof.

Your steps to success

If this is something that appeals to you, here are the steps you can take to start off:

  1. Sign up for a free trial of Shopify. (Use my affiliate link to get a two week trial, and I’ll get a small commission.)
  2. Investigate the various print on demand companies you can work with to get your products into your shop.
  3. Ask your audience what they want from you and what they’ll pay for.
  4. Design your products, hiring freelancers from Fiverr or using PicMonkey.
  5. Link your fulfillment provider to your Shopify store.
  6. Make sales.
  7. Send personalized thank you notes with links to your content.
  8. Use the Abundance Whoosh to spiral your success.

Since October I sold nearly 1000 2018 Tudor Planners, and hundreds of items ranging from leggings that have portraits of Henry VIII’s wives, to combat boots with portraits of Elizabeth I.

I also started a subscription box service where each month I send a box of curated treats related to Tudor history. All of this has equalled nearly $50,000 since my shop launched.

Running an eCommerce site isn’t for everyone, but I have more blog traffic, more podcast listeners, and more interest in my work overall, simply by integrating product sales into my portfolio.
Heather Teysko
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Once we purchase something from someone, we become more invested in their success, so now I have a growing number of supporters who are personally interested in helping me grow my work and spread our shared love of history.

I have become a huge believer in product sales as a way to grow, serve, and deeply connect with an audience, especially for creative passion-based businesses.

I believe in it so much that I’ve started teaching other creatives how to build their own shops. You can learn more when you get my free Getting Started on Shopify Guide and join my Facebook group where we share our experiences growing stores based on creative passion businesses.

Here’s to lots of new paths for creating income and spreading our messages!

Click here to download your free copy of Heather’s Getting Started on Shopify Guide.

What products could you add to your writing portfolio to serve your audience? Share in the .

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If the question is how to sell 1,000 copies in two weeks as a self-published author, do you know the answer?

If you don’t, have no fear because our guest will tell you! Natalie Brenner joins us on today’s The Portfolio Life.

Natalie is the author of This Undeserved Life; she’s also a professional photographer, a doula, one of my coaching clients, and someone I call a friend. But most of all, Natalie is a writer. She’s always loved writing, and even as a kid would dream of writing a book.

Recently, she made that dream a reality. In fact, Natalie sold 1,000 copies of her self-published book in the first two weeks of her launch! When I heard she accomplished such an impressive feat I had to have her on the show so you could learn what she did and how to follow in her footsteps.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Natalie and I talk about:

  • When did she know this story would become a book?
  • What was the hardest part of this process for her?
  • Why “crappy first drafts” are okay!
  • What was the most effective marketing strategy?
  • How did she tap into the power of community to sell so many copies?

Everything weaves itself together to make us who we are.
Natalie Brenner
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  On the self-publishing process
  • How did she find an editor and how long did it take?
  • What were the first two expenses for self-publishing?
  • What questions did she ask of potential editors?
  • What was her total budget for this project?
  • How long did the book editing process take?
There is no right time!
Natalie Brenner
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The marketing side of launching her book
  • When did she begin preparation?
  • How many email subscribers did she have to begin with?
  • How many pre-orders did she have for her book?
  • How did she sell 1,000 copies of her book?
  • The important role endorsements played in her launch.

Do you want to write a book? If you do what’s your next step to take after hearing this show? Let us know in the .

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