12 Truths Successful Creatives Know About Making a Living (That You Don’t – Yet)

You’d like to make money from the work you love most.

You think you can spin your hobby into a full-time or part-time income.

But you get heart palpitations when someone asks you how much you charge for your highest priced photo, art print, or handcrafted artisan bowl.

Maybe quoting a fair sum to perform at a birthday party or wedding makes you break into a cold sweat. You encourage customers to counteroffer or negotiate.

I get it.

You might think it’s simply not possible to make good money at your dream (and you might be right, doing the same things you’ve been doing).

Or maybe you feel torn between the fear of naming the price you really want and the nagging suspicion that you’re selling yourself short. After all, competition is tough and you don’t want to price yourself out of the market, right?

Yet you can’t make a good go of it doing what you’re doing right now… You feel like you’re spinning in circles.

How to Face Insecurity About Your Worth as an Artist Head On

It’s hard to learn to charge what you’re worth, and it’s not a struggle that goes away overnight. You’ll probably wrestle with this issue again and again as you grow. But you can take a step in the right direction by taking a personal inventory that will help you understand the real value that you and your work bring to the world.

You can’t begin to charge more if you

  • sell your skill level short or underestimate the value of your expertise,
  • undervalue all the preparation, hard work, and artistic growth that have led up to producing something your fans like,
  • haven’t tapped into the minds of your customers to understand what it is they love about you and your work, or if you
  • aren’t clearly communicating what memorable emotional experiences you deliver to your potential clients.
    Once you understand why people need art, and why they need YOUR art, you can more easily communicate how you deliver the emotional experience they are seeking. You can also educate people about the value of your skills and the time, effort, and materials that go into your work.

The Real Scoop on Professional Confidence

Here’s the deal. Everyone struggles with insecurities around their worth – even those who appear to be the most confident. They’ve learned to move ahead anyway – and so can you.

It’s less about how ready you feel – because you’ll never really feel ready. It’s more about your preparation, the reaction your work is getting from people, and your results.

The good news is you can learn the same lessons the pros did, the ones that got them where they are today.

Pull up a chair and I’ll let you in on the secrets…

12 Truths That Will Set You Free

(Or at least free you to earn more cash…)

1. Your Beliefs Are Your Biggest Obstacle to Earning More

Yes, it’s true.

It’s not the economy. Even in down economies there are people who thrive and grow. You can be one of those who prosper instead of suffer.

It’s also not the market, because you can position yourself in a way to make competition much less relevant.

As long as you’re producing good work, the thing that really determines how much you will earn is your beliefs about your worth and your work’s value.

If you have a great product or service, and you’re delivering more than what your fans and customers expect, then your work is valuable and people will pay good money for it.

Where many artists stumble is in communicating that value to the right people so that they must have what you offer. That’s what translates into sales.

Writers, your value might be in telling captivating stories with powerful characters that readers can’t put down. Jewelry makers help their customers express themselves with uniqueness and style. Musicians bring the all-night dance party.

The bottom line – You can’t change much about your environment, but you can determine your personal economic situation. Believe it, and find role models here.

2. The World Needs Art, and it Needs YOUR Art

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” – Pablo Picasso

Have you ever gone to a movie, concert, or play just to forget about life for a while? Have you bought a wall hanging because it stirred some emotion in you? Hung a photo because of the fun memories?

Then you know firsthand why people need creative work.

We find evidence of art and music in pre-historic times, and people have turned to art for comfort during some of mankind’s darkest times.

Creative expression is part of who we are as human beings. It’s one of our most basic drives. We can’t separate ourselves from it for long even if we try – and if we did succeed, life would be pretty dull, if not downright unhealthy.

Music, writing, and photography can all be ethereal, spiritual experiences, but they affect us and the world around us in very concrete ways as well.

I wrote about this in my “Rebel Artist’s Manifesto” (which you can grab here if you don’t have it yet).

Here are just a few of the ways you change the world around you with your work:

  • You help a fan get in touch with feelings or emotions they can’t quite express or understand,
  • You help people to deal with the tough times in life or see the beauty around them,
  • You leave a foundation for future generations to build on, because the people you inspire will share the gift you gave them.

The bottom line – Art matters to the world, and YOUR work matters very much to the world around YOU. (Tweet Me)

3. Your Education Is More Valuable Than You Realize

Some people think that training in creative fields is “soft” or somehow less valuable than education in other disciplines. You may even believe that yourself on some level.

If you think that a degree in performance gives you fewer bragging rights than a degree in engineering, this is for you. (The same applies if your education was less formal.)

People label jobs or studies soft when they don’t appear (from the outside) to be solid or rigorous. They think lessons are airy-fairy and require little effort. Was this your experience? I bet not.

One of the hardest things about a craft is mastering it well enough to make it look easy!

Despite what many believe, your well-rounded education is far from useless in the real world – as a matter of fact, your life skills are actually some of the most critical to success in any field.

Think beyond just learning how to dance or to hold a chisel or a guitar. You’ve probably had to learn to play well with your peers, to cooperate to make events successful, to scramble when time or resources were short, to sell event tickets to strangers, to learn to be a good community citizen, to lead when no one else wanted to, and to network and build relationships, just as a start.

Many people never get off the starting line. They claim they are tone deaf or rhythm challenged. They can’t see the difference between lilac and lavender colors. They can’t distinguish finish textures or plan and build stage sets – and they get frustrated simply having an instructor attempt to show them.

Google “leadership” and “creativity” sometime. You’ll see it’s a hot topic. The skills that you’ve learned through art study are the exact ones that are most highly sought after and needed today, in every field: imagination, tenacity, adaptability, flexibility, collaboration, communication, planning, decision-making, leadership and more.

So if business and industry are falling over themselves to attract people with the capabilities you have, don’t you think your education increases your worth in your own endeavors?

All learning is important and it all adds to your arsenal to help you succeed.

The bottom line – Don’t underestimate or take for granted the value of your years of preparation. The journey matters. It’s professional training and your knowledge is relevant and valuable in many areas of your business as well as your art.

4. You Are a Specialist

Do you have a studio? A spare bedroom filled with equipment, books, videos, and supplies? What about that basement or garage that may or may not be well-organized and sorted?

You’ve spent heard-earned money on gear and equipment and taken time and effort to learn how to use them. This is expertise you may take for granted, but your skills put you far ahead of the beginners and amateurs.

Have you ever tried to use a microphone? It’s weird. You have to get a lot closer to it than you think. Your voice sounds strange to you. You may forget you’re speaking into it, move away, and suddenly hear people yelling that they can’t hear you.

You can probably think of your own examples. Some, as in the case of musicians learning to use a microphone, are just the price you pay to be competent. Other software and equipment can take years to learn and master before you start to get the professional results you want.

What gear and tools have you acquired and learned to use? Which ones have you outgrown as your skills increased? Can you/do you share what you’ve learned with others?

The bottom line – You might take your skills for granted, but someone, somewhere, is probably sitting in a classroom paying good money to learn what you know.

5. Your Dedication to Excellence Over the Long Haul Sets You Apart From the Amateurs

“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.” – James Whistler

Remember the first short story you ever wrote or your debut performance for someone other than family? Think about how far you’ve come.

You probably set modest goals when you started out. You thought, “I’ll be happy if I can just sell a print,” “I’d love to be able to perform in that show,” or “I’d be thrilled to have my work accepted there.”

How many of these dreams have you already reached and surpassed?

How many of your peers quit long ago?

Still, years of experience – and even the often-cited 10,000 hours of practice – are important, but they don’t guarantee mastery. For that, you need to stay open to your fans’ feedback, keep up with new developments in your field, and be open to constant learning from master teachers while honing your craft.

Hours and hours of practice are necessary for great performance, but not sufficient. How experts in any domain pay attention while practicing makes a crucial difference. For instance, in his much-cited study of violinists — the one that showed the top tier had practiced more than 10,000 hours — Ericsson found the experts did so with full concentration on improving a particular aspect of their performance that a master teacher identified.

The bottom line – Stay committed and never stop learning and honing your craft. When people are “freaking out” about your work (a phrase borrowed from Derek Sivers), you’ve achieved something major – and it will pay off.

6. Your Passion Separates You From the Indifferent Majority

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

And according to Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Have you ever bought a trinket you didn’t need, or baked goods with calories you didn’t really want to ingest, just because you wanted to support a favorite person or cause?

Excitement is contagious. When you love what you do, you attract all sorts of like-minded people – fans, customers, clients, partners, and decision-makers. You also attract opportunities.

People need to feel like they are part of something important. They want to belong to an exclusive club, to support an up-and-coming talent, or to know that they’re making a difference in the world through supporting a cause.

Of course, passion alone isn’t enough to attract paying customers. We all know artists whose excitement about their own masterpieces far outshines the public’s reaction to them.

But – when obvious passion is coupled with great work? Suddenly it’s a different story.

Now you’ll see results you can take to the bank.

When you go out of your way to deliver exceptional experiences and amazing products to your fans, they notice. You encourage long-term loyalty, referrals, repeat business – all of which mean greater income (if you harness them correctly).

In the same way, when you are vocal about what you stand for, you attract others with similar interests who want to support you because they believe in your mission.

The bottom line – When you show how much you care about your work, your craft, and causes that are important to you, you become magnetic both to money and to like-minded souls.

7. Be Strategic and Cautious About Giving Your Work and Time Away for Free

The best reason to give away your valuable creations is to encourage and to thank people for signing up for your email list.

Otherwise, there is a time and place for doing free work – maybe when you are just starting out, for example, or occasionally to support a charity or fundraising cause.

It’s a touchy subject.

You don’t want to appear rude or uncaring when you’re approached by well-meaning fundraisers, but dammit, how are you supposed to make a living?

You may have a Fear Of Missing Out when it comes to participating in big events, but you’ve also noticed that many promises of “exposure” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. [People die from exposure, after all. ;) ]

There are many disadvantages to working for free:

    • You absorb the financial hit,
    • Your other work may be devalued,
    • The industry as a whole is devalued (so it hurts other artists as well),
    • Consumers and venues start to expect it.

The bottom line – Decide ahead of time how much you will donate to causes each year. Set a fundraising rate, or prepare counteroffers in advance so that you can propose other options that will not devalue your work.

8. Your Experience Gives You the Key to Peoples’ Hearts

Paid or unpaid, experience is how seasoned you are when it comes to putting your work out in front of people, getting real-time positive reactions, and gathering a loyal following.

Artists hold a unique position in society. We’re looked up to, watched, admired, envied, quoted, emulated, and sometimes even stalked by paparazzi.

We have the ability to touch people deeply, inspire them, and change our corners of the world with strong messages , engaging entertainment, and emotional pleas.

We all learn something from experience. Depending on how you interpret your experiences, they can teach you good habits or bad ones. But the most valuable lessons you can glean from experience are 1) what people love and respond to about what you do, and 2) grace under pressure when things go wrong.

The more you produce and share your work in public, the more confidence and flexibility you’ll have. You’ll learn what your fans like and respond to. You’ll adjust your direction to give them more of what they love while still being true to yourself.

This process is what ultimately creates raving fans who want to buy everything you sell.

(Take care, though, that you don’t cling too much to past experience while the world changes around you. You don’t want to be the 80’s hair band constantly reminiscing about the glory days of 30 years ago. )

The bottom line – If your experience has helped you perfect your craft, give your people what they want, create loyal customers, and hands you the tools to adapt as times change, you are light years ahead of many others.

9. Creative Thinkers Have a Natural Advantage When it Comes to Making Money

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while” – Steve Jobs

If you’re good at connecting seemingly unrelated dots in your creative work, you probably do it in all aspects of your life. You can look at situations at a high level and fit the various puzzle pieces together, coming up with unique solutions that others can’t.

Have you ever noticed that entrepreneurs often start more than one business? That many artists have money coming in from different sources – in other words, they have multiple income streams?

Corporations and investors know the advantages of diversification. Smart creative entrepreneurs follow their lead.

The days when an industry person could come in and “save” you with a publishing or recording deal just because you are amazing are long gone. The deals still exist, but they go to artists who have already grown substantial followings on their own.

It can take a long time to build income traction from your work. Rather than relying only on sales of one type of product, or on trading time for dollars, think of ways you can diversify. Consider 2 or 3 mini-ventures that can all add to your bottom line, and create pricing tiers and packages so that you have high-end and entry-level level offerings for your fans.

The bottom line – your willingness to think creatively about making money is critical to your success. Do whatever it takes for a while to meet your income objectives while still doing your art. Protect yourself from the risks of relying completely on one income source.

10. When You Boost Your Business Savvy, You Become Unstoppable

If you’re an artist, you’re an entrepreneur. You offer unique and interesting stuff to people who exchange money, time, or email addresses for the experience and memories you give them.

It’s Business 101.

And the cool thing is that the basics aren’t hard to learn – but they will set you apart from your competition and position you for success in the long haul.

Many artists never start because they think they don’t have business skills or are afraid to learn them. But the business side isn’t yucky or sleazy – it’s your key to a great living. It can be as fun and creative as making your art – with the added bonus of putting money in your wallet. ;)

Have you made some money? Can you handle at least the basics of selling, scheduling, and prioritizing? Are you learning to view social media as communication and relationship building? If you said yes, you’ve got a good start.

On the other hand, if you know you’re bad at bookkeeping for example, you should probably hire that out. But you might find to your surprise that you really enjoy marketing, once you understand what it’s all about.

The bottom line – if you can accept that you’re an entrepreneur and embrace the business side as just another outlet for your creativity, you’re already well on your way.

11. Your Membership in the Creative Community Advances Your Field and Your Value

Do you support other artists in your town or in online groups or forums? Do you collaborate, share, and promote their work as well as your own? Do you teach, mentor, and encourage young people?

Art endures and progresses because of community cooperation. The members support and help each other, teach the new generation, and give back to society. Participating in this process – even in some aspects of it – is the mark of a professional. It benefits you personally and it benefits your peers.

Your involvement doesn’t have to extend to formal teaching, but it could. You could write articles, produce instructional videos, or teach classes. You might help friends with referrals and connections. Or you could be an inspiration to others simply because you are doing your thing and getting your work out there. It all matters.

Professionals care about their creative callings and want to see their fields advance, not die out.

The bottom line – Your role is important and valuable, even if it starts as a small one. Perception is important. Position yourself as a pro in your community and bolster your earning potential.

12. You Deserve Financial Reward for the Good You Do in the World

Money is an emotionally charged issue. Many creatives – deep down – feel they don’t deserve to make a lot of money or that there is something wrong with wanting money. They fear that accepting payment for their work might cheapen it or make them “sell-outs”.

People buy from you because your work touches them deeply and makes their lives a little better. They buy because of the satisfaction they feel when supporting someone they believe in (you).

Remember that your fans need to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. When you offer options that allow people to pay you well, you are letting them show that they like you and support you and your work. You’re letting them be part of your team.

Making money is definitely not at odds with living a fully creative life – in fact, you need money in order to do so.

Think about it. What could you do for your family if you were making good money? What would your lifestyle be like? How could you help the community? Which charities would you support?

The bottom line – Your goals are all good things. Wouldn’t you rather be able to choose how you spend the money that comes your way than to have someone else make that decision because it went to them?

It’s Time to Start Earning

Whatever your goals are as an artist, recognizing these twelve truths will help you to earn more from your work. You’ll be more aware of the fears and doubts that are holding you back and finally be able to move past them.

Your confidence will increase as you adopt each of these ideas and see the benefits – and success breeds more success.

You’ve already got the tools. Your ability to think creatively and your many skills and abilities put you in a perfect position to excel as an entrepreneur.

Business isn’t rocket science.

It can be tough, and it will require you to stretch – but it’s definitely within your reach.

You’ve got your time on the planet. You can spend it dreaming or you can start making those dreams your reality.

Are you ready to get started?

About Leanne Regalla

Leanne is a writer and musician and the founder of Make Creativity Pay. She's on a mission to help creatives of all types to pursue their art without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death.


  1. Julie says:

    Wow I love this. I’m going to print off a copy and read it when I get that sinking feeling I’m about to ‘give myself away’ AGAIN. It’s a constant struggle for me to value myself and my time and ask to be paid properly! I run a website and coach working mums and this one issue stops them and me too ( more than I’d like) from really thriving. This is really valuable stuff – my life is thanking you for it! Jules

    • admin says:

      Hi Julie – it really is a universal issue. So glad you found it helpful and I’m proud that you want to come back to this! :) Best of luck to you.

  2. Kathy says:

    “The skills that you’ve learned through art study are the exact ones that are most highly sought after and needed today, in every field” …. Amen, sistah! Nice stuff Leanne.

  3. Marshall says:

    So much awesomeness in this post! Thank You! :)

  4. This is an excellent list! Creative people are so important in the world, and their creative work needs to be valued. However, there are so many creatives who undervalue their own work. The world will not value our creations if we do not recognise their value and we downplay their worth.

    • Leanne says:

      Thanks so much, Dr. Rie for the compliment and the comment. Yes, creatives undervaluing themselves is exactly the kind of situation I hope to help a whole lot of readers with in the years to come. It starts with ourselves.

  5. Donna says:

    Great blog! I’m so glad that 12 years ago, I had you by my side as I launched my business. Your expert coaching has given me so much confidence in times of great need! Yesterday, I got a call from a parent who said, “I heard you were a great guitar teacher, I want to sign my daughter up”. I replied with the usual – “let’s have a meeting first to see if we’re a good fit”. She said, “no, you come with great recommendations; we’re going to sign up”. I then replied, “I have only one slot open on Fridays at 5:30 – will that work for your daughter?”. She said, “We’ll just have to make it work!” Thank you Leanne for always pushing me ahead to grow my creative business. You are the best!

    • Leanne says:

      Thanks, Donna – it’s so great to see how far you’ve come over these years. You’ve built a helluva business. Glad you are here for the ride with the blog! :)

  6. sumitha says:

    What a great article, Leanne… talk about starting with a bang! I love the way you sorted through every objection and addressed them so eloquently. Can’t wait to see what you publish next!

  7. Joe Scherrer says:


    Totally blown away by this post. You talked about mastery, well, this post is masterful. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. For me, it’s that good, and I’m VERY picky. All the Best, Joe

  8. Haydee says:

    Happy launch! The website looks great and the post is awesome as expected :)

  9. Praverb says:

    Way to start posting with a bang!

    Great content Leanne. All the truths are valuable but number 10 stands out for me. For years I ignored the power of knowing your niche inside and out. I did not value the power of business or the power of networking. Do It Yourself is more than a motto it is a way of life. If you lack wisdom, seek it.

    Thank you for this awesome blog post. Remember you will always have a reader in me.

    • So true, Praverb. I think many artists have a natural hesitancy around embracing the business side – but as soon as they shift that, life (and business) gets so much better.

      Thanks for being here! :)

  10. Inspirational!

    I loved the part about devaluing worth. In many “content-based” marketing approaches it can be misinterpreted that while some goodies are offered for free in exchange for eye-balls, the real value is in the experience of the art and the life-changing affect that art creates in the heart.

    Great reminder to never devalue that.

    Wisdom in the art of promoting art, you are a master.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Joseph!

      Yes – even if we’re not charging for our work, we can let people know that it’s valuable. And as a matter of fact, we still have to promote the value. If something is free, people will automatically assume it’s value-less unless we tell them differently.

  11. Kevin says:

    This is honestly one of the best articles I’ve ever seen about being a successful creative. Thank you for all the great and inspiring information Leanne. This is exactly the motivation creatives need in order to pursue the things they love.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for writing this very comprehensive article, Leanne! It’s only recently that I began to look at the possibility of earning some cash from my music work.

    I especially liked that quote by Simon Sinek. I love his work and his Ted talks.

    “When you love what you do, you attract all sorts of like-minded people”
    ==> Indeed, I wholeheartedly agree!

  13. Thanks….this was a very helpful article!!!

  14. Akeem54 says:

    Great post that put everything that matter iinto proper perspective. It’s really revealing.

  15. Dawn says:

    Your article was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Seeds of doubt had begun drifting in- even midst the good things that have begun happening in my art career. But it’s funny how those seeds can begin to grow weeds that squelch vision and creativity. Your article helped to clear away some of those weeds by reminding me why I do what I do, and to persevere. Thanks so much!

  16. Ed says:

    This was a great insperation! Thank you!

  17. Linda Ursin says:

    More than ready, and very impatient :) I’d say I have a pretty good basis in entrepreneur stuff, but my art isn’t getting seen by the right people. It’s also entirely possible that I haven’t hit the right price level.

  18. Lots of wisdom in this article. Something to reread often.

  19. Teri says:

    Thank you for writing this article Leanne! It sums up the struggles of a creative person starting in business and gives us a different perspective. There is a lot of food for thought in here.

    I would like to find the fine line between giving things away and be business savvy. Smart business people know when to give something away and when to charge.


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