• tarahthornburg

You MUST Master These 3 Things Before You Go Into Business for Yourself

This post airs today on The Fearless Creative podcastIf you’d rather read instead of listen, I’ve included the abridged transcript below.

If you do listen, please take a moment to subscribe and leave a review on Apple PodcastsGoogleSpotify, or your favorite podcatcher. (If you don’t know how to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, I’ve got a wonderful little cheat sheet here.)

And now for the transcript…

Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the show! I wish you all could see me right now…I am sitting in a blanket fort that I built for the purpose of recording this podcast. I live in a really old house with very high ceilings and plaster walls, and I have had a difficult time creating the optimal recording environment. The acoustics in this house are just not great, and because it’s an old house, I don’t have any closet that’s big enough to convert into a little recording booth.

Fun fact: A lot of your favorite podcasters record from odd places like closets and kitchen pantries because of the sound. When I recorded the author’s note for one of my audiobooks, I actually recorded it from my bathroom sitting on the toilet because that was actually the room with the best acoustics. I can’t record in there right now because the facet on our clawfoot tub is leaking slightly, so you would hear a constant drip, drip, drip.

So instead, I have my Jarvis standing desk raised up to the maximum height, and I’ve covered the whole thing in blankets. I am sitting on a cushion under my desk with my laptop and mic on a chair in front of me. I don’t think that’s what the manufacturer intended for this standing desk, but I think it’s working really well..

This week has been a really big week in terms of launches.

I just released a new fiction book to my Patreon subscribers, and it goes live for the rest of the world this coming Thursday. Last Monday I launched the podcast, and I spent the first half of the day reaching out to friends and family and asking them to subscribe and listen.

I was really nervous about releasing the podcast because I’ve never launched a podcast before. I’ve done so many book launches under my fiction brand that it’s really no big deal, but the podcast felt really personal to me, and so on launch day I was raw. I’d kind of been angsting over how it would be received, and thankfully everyone was really supportive and seemed to enjoy listening.

On that note, I just want to let everyone know that there are now a total of four episodes available for you to listen to. For some reason Apple Podcasts just shows you the newest release in your feed, but I recorded three episodes for the launch, so if you haven’t listened to those yet, just select The Fearless Creative from the shows in your library, then scroll down and click on Available Episodes. You will find them all there.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of my business and kind of the foundation of any good business. I’m a writer, I’m a creative entrepreneur, I’m now a podcaster, but I am also a solopreneur, or solo entrepreneur. I don’t have any employees or board members, so my business is ME. I am the CEO, the creative director, the chief marketer, and the writer.

Most creative entrepreneurs I know are also a business of one, which means that anyone who is in business as a solo entrepreneur needs to have self-mastery. More specifically, a solopreneur needs to master three key areas of life — preferably before going into business.

Building a creative business can put a lot of pressure on these three areas, and so if you don’t have a rock-solid foundation to begin with, you are really going to struggle once you open shop.

Of course, we are all works in progress, and so these are usually areas that we need to continue to work on and refine to be our best selves and the best CEOs we can be.

And the first area we all must master is our personal finances.

Now, let me start by saying that I know this isn’t fun. Most creative types really shut down whenever the issue of money comes up. Money is a really loaded word and it can bring up some really strong emotional reactions for some people. Usually our thoughts about money come from our parents and how they dealt with money. Money may have been a point of conflict or stress or shame for our parents when we were growing up, and so we tend to internalize some of those feelings about money.

A lot of New Age-y people like to say that money is energy, but that metaphor really doesn’t work for me. I like it because it implies that money is neutral, but it’s just a little too woo-woo for me.

I prefer to think of money as a tool. Tools are helpers — they’re designed to make our lives easier. If they make our lives harder, it’s because we’re not using them correctly — or we’re using the wrong tool for the job. In other words, we’re using money to solve a problem that needs to be solved by other means.

Changing our mindset around money is the first step to mastering our personal finances. The second step is to get familiar with your money. You need to know how much money you have coming in, and how much money you have going out. You need to know your expenses and your spending patterns.

If you DON’T have a household budget, you have no business going into business. Starting a creative business means that you will only have more bookkeeping to do — not less — and so you need to get in the habit of balancing your family budget first.

For me, keeping a household budget is EXTRA important because my husband and I are both entrepreneurs. Neither of us has a set salary. Our income varies from month to month, and so knowing what our baseline spending is is critical to make sure we can cover all our basic expenses when things are tight.

So…How do you create a household budget?

A lot of people I know like to use automated budget trackers like Mint or Quicken or You Need a Budget. I’ve tried a couple of these myself, and I just don’t really like them. I prefer to use a simple Excel spreadsheet that I built myself.

I have a template that lists out all of our recurring bills. All of our bills are on Autopay, and so I check our bank statement online every week and check them off as they come out. I record every single transaction we make — every trip to the grocery store, every time we eat out, anything we buy. It sounds tedious, but it’s really quick and easy if I keep up with it every week. This way I can see at a glance how much money we’ve spent and how that compares to previous months.

If you don’t like to use an app and you know that you aren’t going to record your expenses manually, you can try the envelope system. An old professor of mine gave me this idea: Every month he takes out the cash he needs for groceries, eating out, entertainment, etc. and puts them in separate envelopes. When his eating out cash is gone, he stops eating out. It’s as simple as it gets. I personally don’t like to carry around the cash I need and I like to have a record of where my money goes. This is why I manually record my expenses every month.

The point is just to get a handle on how much money you’re actually spending versus how much money you’re earning. Once you see the cold hard numbers, you’ll know if you need to reduce your spending, you’ll know how much debt you’re have, and you’ll know how much (if any) you’re saving.

I think I might do a whole other podcast on reducing expenses and saving for retirement, but if you haven’t mastered your personal finances yet, the first step is to create a budget and learn your spending patterns.

The second area you need to master is your TIME.

Time is money, and it’s your most valuable asset as a creative entrepreneur. As I mentioned in the first episode of the podcast, time is the great equalizer. We all get exactly 24 hours in one day.

Now let’s assume that you’re spending 8-9 hours at work and 7-8 hours sleeping. You’re left with 7-9 hours that you could be spending with your family or on your business or doing something fun. Are you spending 3 hours on your business or 3 hours on Netflix? Do you waste two hours on a commute every day? What about social media?

Now, I have to admit: Time is the area that I struggle with most. I like to think I use my time well, but I know I also waste a lot of time on things that don’t make me money or bring me joy.

  1. Email is one of the things that seems to suck up a lot of time.

  2. Creating product display ads for my books on Amazon is another thing that takes a lot of time. (That one does make me money, so I wouldn’t call that a time waster. It is something that I would like to outsource, but that’s a topic for another podcast.)

  3. Checking my sales stats and number-crunchings also sucks up a lot of time. And a lot of that time doesn’t directly make me money.

Even things that are weekly or things that don’t seem to take very long can be secret time sucks. For example, I know that I spend 9 hours at the grocery store every month. Nine hours. That’s an entire extra day’s worth of work! And I freaking hate the grocery store.

I spend anywhere from 12-15 hours a month walking my dogs, but that’s good for me and good for them.

How do I know these things? Because I track my time. Remember from the accountability episode that I’m a Questioner, which means I track a lot of things and I love spreadsheets.

I don’t do this frequently because it would drive me crazy, but I highly recommend doing it at least once just so you know where are your time is going. There are all these crazy apps you can use to track your computer time, but I literally just jot down on a sticky note how I use blocks of time for a day.

That three hours spent on Netflix I mentioned? That was an unfortunately statistic from the time study I did the day before recording this podcast.

It sometimes makes me cringe when I become aware of how I spent my time, but just like with money, it’s better to know. Remember: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Measuring is the first step to evaluating a habit and potentially changing it.

And that brings me to the final area you must master before you go into business for yourself: your health.

Health is something a lot of us tend to neglect when we get really busy or when we’re under stress. If we’re busy or stressed, we tend not to sleep very well. We tend to eat poorly and neglect our workouts. If you’re in the process of building your business, you might be getting less sleep than usual. You might be working really hard, you might be under extra stress from trying to squeeze more in, and this is going to affect your health.

Even if we’re just happily making our art, we can get so absorbed in our creative pursuits that we forget to eat…we go to bed late…You know how this goes.

But it’s so important to get the health component of your lifestyle under control before you really run headlong into your business because the more things you add to your plate, the more difficult it’s going to be to optimize your health when you’re busy with everything else. When I was working and trying to build my business, I was always pressed for time. I was getting up really early. I had fewer hours in the day to cook or exercise, but I still managed to get it done, and I think that really helped me be more productive because I felt better.

These days, being a full-time author really supports a healthy lifestyle for me. I have more time and flexibility to wake up when I want to, cook healthy meals, and catch a yoga class in the afternoon when a lot of people are still at work. My eating is one thing that has really benefited from working out of my home. I can grab leftovers from the meal I made the night before or whip something up really quick in my kitchen.

But I know a lot of writers who DO NOT operate this way. They sit at their desks all day, binge on crappy food, or they write at all hours of the day and night. Personally, I keep bankers hours because a routine is so important to me.

I think that mastering your health BEFORE you rely on your creative business for income is so, so important. Keep in mind that mastering your TIME will help you master your HEALTH, which will help you master your MONEY. For instance, if you have more time to cook at home, you will be healthier, but you will also save money by not eating out. All of these areas feed into one another, which is why I want you to tackle them as a trifecta.

If you only do one thing for your health and your creativity, get plenty of sleep. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sleep fanatic. I sleep 8-9 hours almost every night, and if I ever get less than 7 hours of sleep, God help you.

Sleep is critical to our immune function. It’s how our bodies heal themselves. Sleep is a reset button for our brains. And sleep is free. You don’t have to do anything extra. In fact, you get to do less. Sleep is the lazy person’s way to literally improve your health overnight. You can also improve the quality of your sleep by sleeping in total darkness or with a sleep mask. I like a sleep mask and a fan or some white noise for total sensory deprivation.

The other thing I am always working on is optimizing my nutrition. My husband and I cook at home for 90% of our meals. At the moment I do most of the cooking, but he is also a very good cook. For the last ten years or so, I have been a big breakfast eater. I cook an eggwhite veggie omelet almost every morning. We cook dinner at home, so we will usually eat leftovers for lunch. Lately I’ve been on a green smoothie kick…I am in the middle of a 30-day green smoothie challenge, so half of my lunch is a green smoothie with leafy greens, avocado, and some kind of frozen fruit. I am a convert.

I think a lot of people tend to struggle with their nutrition because cooking healthy meals can be very time consuming, and if you don’t like to cook or you aren’t in the habit of cooking, this feels like a big burden. But if you start with one meal at a time and make that your focus, I think it’s easier to build healthy habits. So if you are rushed in the mornings and you don’t have time to eat breakfast or you’re a drive-thru donut kind of person, try doing a green smoothie for breakfast. It takes five minutes, you can drink it on the go. It’s really easy and simple.

Some people also meal prep on the weekends so they have healthy things to eat throughout the week. To me, this seems like a huge undertaking, but I think the key is to make sure you keep food in the house so that your dread of going to the grocery store doesn’t prevent you from cooking something. One thing I am working on is keeping a meal on hand in the freezer, like some frozen fish so that we always have a meal on deck even if we haven’t been to the store.

I talked a lot about the importance of moving your body in the previous podcast episode, so I’m not going to dwell on that here. All I’m going to say on that topic is that if you feel LOW ENERGY. If you just feel sluggish in the morning or kind of blah, moving your body can really help. Even five minutes of stretching first thing can get your blood pumping, stimulate your digestive tract, boost your metabolism, and really just get you feeling more energized immediately. You don’t have to go for a run or do anything very strenuous to experience some of the benefits.

The last thing about health I want to hit on is something that people don’t talk about very often. I think they avoid talking about it because it’s an unpopular opinion and people don’t want to hear it. But one thing we often ignore when we’re working on our health is to watch our alcohol consumption.

Drinking is something that we don’t like to talk about as Americans because people tend to think that you’re either an alcoholic who needs to abstain, or that you’re fine and you should just drink as much as you want to. But more and more I think there is a lot of gray area there about how we use alcohol to self-medicate or as our default way to relax.

I really enjoy wine and margaritas…usually with food or just before food. For me, alcohol is always linked with food. But for the past five or six years I’ve really tried to reduce my alcohol consumption to just a couple drinks a week. This is partly because I have a family history of breast cancer, and if you look at the research, there is a strong link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption.

I’m reading from Breastcancer.org:

“Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day.”

The American Cancer Society is also a fan of reducing your overall alcohol consumption. It recommends limiting alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men.

So that’s all I have for mastering health. Health is the third component of the trifecta that we all need to master to be the most effective CEOs we can be.

Now, you may be wondering why mastering your personal relationships is not part of this episode. While I think that personal relationships are incredibly important to our health and the health of our businesses, I don’t know if one can ever “master” relationships.

Money, time, health…all these things boil down to a science. Romantic relationships, family relationships, friendships…these things are more like art.

Every time I think I have “mastered” marriage, we move on to another thing in life that is going to challenge us in new ways. People are dynamic. Life is dynamic. We have to approach our relationships with the love and passion and nuance that we bring to our art.

But if you can take a few concrete steps to master your finances, your time, and your health, you are going to lay a foundation to support any type of creative business you want to build.

If you have ideas for future topics for the show, you can get in touch with me on Instagram or Twitter at writewithtarah — that’s W-R-I-T-E  W-I-T-H T-A-R-A-H — and find me on the web at www.WriteWithTarah.com. There’s a contact form on the website that goes straight to my inbox.

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Supporting the show helps me and it helps other creatives like you find their home away from home in the vast wilderness of the Internet.

See you next time…and happy creating!

Did you enjoy this transcript? Don’t you wish you could hear all of that in my sexy radio voice? If so, you should check out the podcast! It’s available for download on all the major platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Music.

Photo by Jason Briscoe

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