Get Clear on the Money

I’ve had a few conversations recently with people about pricing, about raising the prices that you’re charging for your teaching or for your reeds, or for the coaching that you offer. And I’ve had conversations with people recently about choosing to monetize or not to monetize a skill, a passion, or a hobby that they have.

I’m not lecturing you. You can make as little money as you want, if it makes you happy. Not every hobby needs to be monetized, not every visibility opportunity needs to be seized. You get to choose how you run your life and your portfolio career. 

But I’m always going to come down on the side of getting musicians paid. Paid MORE.

Money isn’t everything, and it doesn’t buy happiness – but everyone needs money to live, and you can and should be paid for your good work. You are a highly educated, talented, hard working human with a wealth of knowledge and skills that others don’t have.

The first thing I want you to be clear on is how much you need. Do you have clarity on how much you need to earn every month to pay your base expenses? (If you are partnered, do you have clarity on how much your share of the monthly bills amounts to, including in those weird expenses that come in only every now and then?)

As freelancers we can get used to feeling that the money will always come from somewhere.  There’s always another gig, another student, another opportunity. Maybe next week’s job pays more than today’s, so we allow ourselves to be vague about the precision of the budget. Maybe we’re overdrawn this week but probably next week will fix it.  Sound familiar?

But I think a lot of value comes from clarity. How much do you need to keep yourself comfortable and the lights on and food on the table?  There is a concrete number in there somewhere, and if you know it the rest of this planning will be easier.

How much are you making now? Are you achieving that minimum goal? Or do you need more coming in to meet your basic needs? There’s no shame if you aren’t, but I’d suggest that there’s some urgency to solving that problem.  This is where the portfolio career shines – you don’t have to give up on your dreams and go work in a factory forever, you might just need to take on some part-time SOMETHING while you keep building your studio, your network, or your business. You get to choose.

If you are meeting that basic amount and you desire more, that’s also COMPLETELY acceptable. But again here, clarity is your friend. How MUCH more do you want to make? Without naming a goal, you can get yourself into a cycle of constant striving for more, more, more without ever feeling like it’s ok to slow down and appreciate that you’ve gotten somewhere. What would ENOUGH look like? What would ABUNDANCE look like? How much money do you actually want to make in a month?

Ideally, before you start looking at your pricing or thinking about new income streams, you do this work of figuring out how much you want to earn. Maybe you also think about how much time, money, or energy it takes you to deliver the thing you wish to sell – and establish for yourself what you’d like that to look like. 

Teaching instrumental lessons, for example, can be so enjoyable but also so draining. If you had it your way, if life was perfect, how many students would you teach in a row? How many would you teach in a week? How many hours can you offer to your students and still feel good and healthy yourself? One way to look at the math is to figure out how many hours in a month you can enjoyably teach, divide the money you want to make with that income stream by that number of hours, and use that to set an hourly rate.  

Is that number higher than your current teaching rate?  Or is it well-aligned, but you don’t have enough students to make the math work? The former is a pricing problem, the latter is a marketing problem. 

It might be a problem either way, but doesn’t the clarity help? Once you know what the question is, you can look for answers. 

Same math, different concept: if you want to make and sell a physical product, like a reed, you have to know how much it costs you to make it, how much time it takes, and how many you can reasonably produce in a month. Then you can play with that equation in a million ways! How much money do you want to earn? Divide by the number of widgets you decided you could make, and see if the price seems reasonable. If not, you could try lowering your cost per item – by getting cheaper materials, by batch processing to save time. Or you could find a way to charge more by changing your marketing story. Or you could look at middle-of-the-road pricing and estimate how much you might make, and ask yourself whether that income stream is worth the time.

Whatever you decide, CLARITY is the important point. You can make a good decision if you know how much you want to make, and how you want that work to look in your life.

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