In 2007, Elaine Grogan Luttrull’s career arc could be summed up in six words: confidence feigned; successes gained; enthusiasm waned. In fact, that’s exactly how the certified public accountant described it in her winning entry for Smith Magazine’s six-word memoir contest.
The contest, and the realization that accompanied it, marked a turning point for her. A long-time arts lover, she decided to re-ignite her enthusiasm by refocusing her career on helping artists and other creative types further their dreams through good money management. In the six years since, she’s founded Minerva Financial Arts, a company devoted to improving financial literacy among artists and arts organizations, and done work for the Juilliard School, the Kennedy Center and others. Recently, she published her first book, “Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Non-Profits and Other Members of the Creative Class.” We asked her to share some of the financial lessons she’s shared -- and learned -- as an entrepreneur.
DailyWorth: The title seems like sort of a misnomer. You really mean it for a wide swath of creative classes, it seems?
Elaine Grogan Luttrull: The concept started out as just for artists, but as I was developing the work and developing my own business, I found the tips I was offering were equally applicable to my business as a freelance accountant (of sorts). And it dovetailed nicely with the growth in "creative entrepreneurs" we see among all professions... Someone with an open mind who is serious about investing time and energy into building (or re-building or expanding) a creative business.
I suspect if you asked my students, clients, and peers, they would say it’s trying to make more money. But the biggest issue I see is taxes. Often, freelancers are unaware of the self-employment tax responsibilities they have as sole proprietors, and they find the nuances of sales and income tax to be overly complicated. The second biggest issue I see has to do with budgeting. Everyone knows they should "budget," but it isn't always easy to translate a task like budgeting into something useful, rather than simply an exercise in math. Both of these are related to making more money. I found that connecting budgeting to an entrepreneur's goals -- whatever they may be -- and translating it into simple, actionable steps made the process more effective. (Keep reading for more on finding the right career mix for your lifestyle.)
One of the things you suggest is having a career mix of what you call “starring roles” (novelist, for example), “supporting roles” (writing teacher) and “production assistant roles” (say, working in a stationery store). But isn't the point to be a star all the time?
I wasn't prescribing the idea of a portfolio career for everyone. The beauty of the entrepreneurial marketplace is that there aren't absolute answers for everyone. I was simply presenting a way of thinking about different ways of sustaining and building a career without limiting opportunities to only starring role work. I have found it to be fulfilling to do tax work (my starring role), but I also love the supporting roles (teaching, writing, etc.). Sometimes we have to have the other stuff to make ends meet, and I'd prefer to think of them as tools or stepping stones, rather than failures.
As you point out, we don’t always run to engage with our finances. How do you get someone to value money management?
I think creative entrepreneurs are becoming more comfortable with numbers generally. The economic downturn was a big wake-up call. Also, particularly with younger entrepreneurs who have a natural comfort with technology, they are willing to engage with analytical tasks (including numerical ones!) in a way that might be more off-putting to entrepreneurs who are less tech-savvy. But it is also hard to get from simply valuing something to taking action on it. We’re so busy juggling professional and personal obligations that it’s easy to put off tasks like saving or budgeting, especially when it's not something we really want to do anyway.
When I'm speaking with entrepreneurs who are relatively new to the field, I remind them that being an entrepreneur or a freelancer doesn't mean you get to do what you want to do all the time, whether it is writing or painting or dancing, etc. In running an entrepreneurial business, upwards of 50 percent of my time early on was spent doing administrative-type tasks like reaching out to clients, following up on opportunities, applying for gigs, etc. That fact often surprises them, but it gives them permission to spend some of their time doing things like budgeting, tracking expenses, and even saving. And the math behind compound interest really seals the deal as well!
Read an excerpt from her book here.