Money Tips from a Creativity Coach

How to get ahead as a creative entrepreneur.

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As a creativity and career coach, Gail McMeekin specializes in helping people make a living out of their entrepreneurial ideas. A trained therapist and coach, she’s also the author of a new book, The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women. To continue our series on the entrepreneurial life, we spoke with McMeekin about her strategies and tips for creative entrepreneurs. Excerpts:

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How often does money come up when you’re coaching clients?

Ninety-five percent of the time. My specialty has always been careers, work, and business planning, so people are often coming to me to talk about changing careers, building their business, and trying to be more creative. The financial piece is always really important, and often I find women in particular are under-charging, giving stuff away for free, or don’t know if they’re making money.

How do you help them with that?

We come with a plan. What are they passionate about? What is their life purpose? Do they have the skills and experience to do that? Do they need to invest in school or mentoring?

One of the first things I have them do is start tracking what’s coming in and what’s coming out of their business to understand how their work fits into the marketplace. Have they thought carefully about what they’re doing and how it compares to [competitors]? Sometimes they’re doing business for 18 hours a day and getting burned out, exhausted, and irritable because of overwork. They need to step back and stop doing everything.

When I’ve worked with men, one of the first things they do is hire a bookkeeper. They don’t even think about doing it themselves. Whereas for women, it often takes them years to delegate and say, “I can’t do that,” or “I don’t like to do that.” We still have the idea that we’re supposed to take care of everything and everybody by ourselves.

Do you have a favorite money exercise for creative people?

One exercise that helps them clear the decks is about making peace with things they’ve tried that didn’t work. You put yourself in a circle with unfinished projects and you do a ritual to let go and stop beating yourself up. Creativity is about experimentation. Women who are successful realize that failure is part of the deal. We’ll have things that don’t work. We need a process to let go of it and move forward, and see what we learned in the process, as opposed to languishing in it or reacting to rejection in a way that gets us paralyzed.

Is there a way to make financial management more appealing to right-brain people?

I tell people to color-code their spreadsheets. The things that cost money, the favorite things they did, the projects they need to pass on to someone else. A lot of creative people have multiple businesses going on, so if you color-code them and see which are generating income and which aren’t, and where your expenses are going, then you can look at it as more of a mind map than an Excel spreadsheet.

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What types of financial challenges do creative people often face?

Because they’re going from project to project and not getting out there and selling, they have financial troubles. They don’t stay long enough with a project to promote it and sell it. It’s the bright, shiny object syndrome. They put time into it and then move onto the next thing. Often with them, you have to sit down and say, “What have you got that’s 90 to 95 percent complete that you can finish and get out there, and have it generate some money for you while you’re generating new projects and products?" There can be a heaviness for them about never getting recognized for what they’re doing and the whole idea that they never finish anything. You might even need to pull in another person to get it finished and out to the market.

The fantasy is that if you put a product out there, that somehow magically it’s going to take off. That happens to some people, but not to most people. So I really encourage people to not get overwhelmed by all the marketing options now. You have to think about your style. Do you like TV, radio, retreats, speaking, social media? Then focus on that and learn how to do it well.

You write that money isn’t the only way to define success. What do you think makes people feel fulfilled?

One of the questions people need to ask themselves is, ‘When I get up in the morning, am I excited about what I’m doing, or not?” Some days we might have to do taxes, but in general, do we feel good about what we’re doing? Or are we in touch with the fact that we’re not living up to our potential? The statistics on how many people hate their job are pretty high. If you really hate what you’re doing, it’s time to get some assistance and look at other options. That’s scary for a lot of people, but there are smart ways to do it.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer