The thing about money

I was at a food start-ups & products event the other night and money was consistently the talk of the town. Usually those types of businesses come with much higher start up costs than service based businesses so it’s not a taboo topic at all (unlike most service based business events/conferences). Seed funding, angel investors, bank loans, accelerators, remortgages and huge savings are all just part and parcel (& necessary) of going for the dream. It’s a normal part of the conversation.

And although we might not all need the capital that the fast expanding (& awesome!) Uber needs, all businesses DO have costs. Including yours.

And one of the fastest ways to take your business seriously is to count those pennies.

I never set out to start a business, it wasn’t a ‘thing’ to consider when I grew up. It’s not something you did. And although – and possibly perhaps – I’ve worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, I don’t like the word profit. I don’t like thinking about it. I don’t like ‘aiming’ for it. I don’t like to talk about.

I was the girl in the clichèd 6 figure corporate job.

It’s probably thinking tangled up in a lot of things. We had little money growing up and the focus was always on creativity, whilst money provided the crying, hurt, arguments and pain. We were instilled with a sense of ‘do good’ not ‘make money’. In the corporate world profit was just another way of stating a few big ego CEOs had dished themselves up a few million whilst ensuring they were ruining the world, slashing jobs and keeping morale as low as possible. And in the “better” years it was people living life miserably in order to make some kind of bonus…that could go towards debt.

Profit in my life, was a dirty word.

I read all the quotes of pursuing your dreams with no regard to money. I did – and often do – exactly that. I don’t give a crap about having money when I die unless I happened upon it and I can give it away for good. I live by grounding myself in knowing I’m exchanging my time for life at every minute. I know you can’t buy love, friends, good memories, joy, creative effort & truly intimate moments with money. That no amount of money replaces listening to old records with a lover in a loft or wriggling your toes in the sand and jumping in the ocean. I don’t mind spending money to travel to far flung places on last minute trips to be with friends and laugh, hug and be inspired. And I absolutely don’t believe in big mortgages, new (and multiple) cars and most materialist goods.

You can make money back but you can never arrest time.

I know that looking at where you spend your time and money is a very fast way to determine what your priorities truly are (even if they contradict everything you say).

But all of that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be making good money.

It never really occurred to me that you could do good and be above zero.

I was always a good saver (thank you parentals!) but for a variety of reasons, and predominantly whilst I’ve been running a business, I feel like I should always be at zero.

That if I, and as a collective business, were above zero, we were ripping off our clients. That if they ever found out we were making a profit, they’d go somewhere else or look down at us. Or that we were suddenly ‘in it for the money’.

Of course, the majority of clients we work with are running businesses and are often already making a profit! It would in many ways be a poor decision for our clients to work with a business intent on not making a profit for the services we provide for a myriad of reasons.

In the last year I’ve fortunately finally done away with a few things – working with clients trying to bargain us down, attempting to convince clients to see the value in our work when they just don’t want to/can’t/aren’t ready to see it and working with service based businesses in their first year (I don’t want to waste their money).

I’ve also taken on other things with confidence – we will never be the cheapest. Not the most expensive but definitely not the cheapest. Calls, emails and meetings about costs are now super relaxed and easy. And in order to deliver the level of work I want, the back end functionality for easy management and the creativity, these costs are now in built into every project – it’s not optional.

But profit…I’ve tried not to think about it. That’s easier sometimes isn’t it? I’ve been insanely, crazy busy and stashed the accounts to one side. The place to not look at. The money comes in, the money goes out.


But there’s three things…

1. If you’re struggling to take your business seriously, or if you feel like a fraud, you feel anxiety creeping in, you feel stupid telling people what you do or anything along those lines…count your money – you’ll instantly take things a helluva lot seriously.

2. A business makes profit. A not for profit (or mostly charities) doesn’t make a profit. Money in minus money out = profit. Don’t make a profit and you’ll be out of business. And you know what you can do with profit? Really, really good things.

3. There’s only so long you can live on the edge of zero. In a corporate job, I was ok with spending little and saving a lot – that was how I did things like travel, give to organizations I cared about, pay off uni bills, find little presents for friends & family and do general life things that cost money! We want our clients to make good money & live the lives they dream of – it’s ok to want the same for us. Stay on zero long enough and you’ll no longer have a business.

You’ve probably already got some recurring costs starting no matter how small, big, new or old your business is. Here are some of mine ::

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – $50
  • Buffer App -$10
  • Wufoo – $29
  • Browser Stack – $19
  • Shopify – $79
  • MailChimp – $25
  • Dropbox – $20
  • Zapier – $15
  • Acuity Scheduling -$19
  • Hosting – $15
  • Studio – $550

Or otherwise about $800 per month.

(I’m pretty lucky I get to use some awesome free tools like gist, grunt, filezilla and the likes)

Throw staff costs (a few thousand a month), adhoc monthly expenses such as stock images & other creative bits + pieces, along with plenty of stationery (lettering & calligraphy can be an expensive art!), business insurance, domains (with about 50 that’s not cheap every year!) and then static assets onto that (printers, scanners, laptops, computers, photography gear etc), along with up front, once off costs (like the accounting software I use or development licenses of products), the dreaded tax bills and you’ve got quite some money to cover…without paying myself (or yourself!).

That’s easily between $4,000 and $10,000 per month in costs. And I’m a small studio that needs to cover that plus more to make a wage, to grow, invest in other businesses & to make a profit. Believe me, when I started this thing I had no idea I’d be spending that much money a month (and I absolutely didn’t the first couple of years) – and that’s only the start now. If you’re a bigger business or have full time employees you’d hit 25k very quickly – and before you know it that would be your weekly expenses (and it’s totally cool if that is!).

It’s really nice to say you’re not interested in money. I generally am not either – except that I need it to eat well, get to places and give back. So I do have an interest in it as much as my body is screaming no typing that. And if you’ve got expenses, you need the moolah. Cold hard facts! If you want to live money-less I bow to you. I love you. I love what you’re doing. You live a beautiful life. But you’re most likely not reading this because computers and internet cost money.

Businesses have expenses. You’re a business baby. And to cover those expenses you need to make money just to break even. And you need more money to pay yourself (so you can pay your rent & food – fun!). And then more money to actually make a profit so you can go on that trip, donate to that organization, buy that house or pay your studies, start that new business, hire more staff, put money in savings to have a child or whatever else it might be.

And you know, money for spells when you’re not as busy. Or you’re focusing on another area of your business – doing a bit of a pivot. Or you’ve got to cover new computer costs suddenly. Or you’ve had that baby!

And that is more than ok. It is good. Very good.

As long as you’re not using the profit to destroy the environment, pay for slave labor in India or do some other crazy things – it’s a beautiful thing. You don’t need to focus on the money (definitely not my thing either) and in the long run it’s much better to concentrate on the love, joy, creativity & quality. Do that well, exceptionally well and after long enough, the money will come. But that doesn’t mean you should feel crappy about making it, about wanting it or about not having it.

It’s just money.

You’re doing good already in doing what you do.

You don’t have to be ‘about the money’ to think about money. You’re not a bad person for wanting to make it. You’re definitely not a bad person for creating a profit. Just because you make a profit doesn’t mean you want to be a millionaire. And if you make money doing what you love, it shouldn’t diminish how much you love doing it.

And just because money is in your head doesn’t mean it fills your heart.

You’re ok – you’re more than ok – you’re brilliant. Running a business is already one of the most difficult, anxiety threading, mind tearing and self doubting things you will ever do – don’t make it any harder on yourself.

To doing good, however you do it :)

A couple of thoughts on money

Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.
~ Andy Warhol

Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

I pity that man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth shall starve in the process.
~ Benjamin Harrison

Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed.
~ Gandhi

Big hat tip to dear friend Adam Gillie who sat me down a number of years ago and told me I was pretty useless to others broke if I wanted to do the things I wanted to do and help the people I wanted to help.

And if you do run a charity or need a good reality check on how making money can do good – I cannot possibly recommend this talk enough.

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