The events that inform my Why

(TW: Suicide)

I had a light-bulb moment in the shower.

Why I have this desire to help creators.

And I think it’s because of a few key moments in my life when I was impacted by suicide or suicidal attempts…

When I was a teen, there was a night at a church dance where someone pulled me off the dance floor to come help a friend who was holed up in one of the classrooms.

She had a knife in one hand and an exposed wrist.

I talked to her, calmed her down, and was able to get her to hand over the knife.

“Why me?” I thought.

Why did they come grab me?

When I was training to be a missionary for my church I met a young woman who was full of light and joy and a desire to serve people.

We became friends and wrote to each other in the early parts of our respective missions – her in Cleveland, OH and I in Washington DC.

But then one day I got a call from the leader of our mission area.

He told me that my friend had gone home from her mission early.

And over Thanksgiving break, ended her life.

I was helpless, but grateful that I was told. I still have her letter tucked away in my scriptures

Lastly, I was at an event in December 2019 where the speaker said that 1 in 4 people have contemplated suicide.

And that in a room of 5,000 people, that meant over 1,200 people had that thought at some point in their lives.

He asked people to stand.

I looked around at people I had become friends with over the previous week, and instantly burst into uncontrollable tears.

I’d never felt such deep sadness.

Then the speaker asked that those who had those thoughts in the last year to remain standing.

There were hundreds of people still standing.

Then “in the last month.”

Still more than 100.

“The last week?”

I looked around. About two dozen or so stood, vulnerable, their deepest secrets out in the open for the whole room to see.

A woman in the row behind me stood, tears coming down her face.

She was so brave and so beautiful, yet inside something was causing her so much pain.

I felt moved to jump up and hug her to let her know that I saw her and I cared and she wasn’t alone!

But it wasn’t the right time or place, I thought.

I regretted not doing something in that moment.

Later that night, during a spontaneous dance break the event is known for, I turned around and there she was.


I walked up to her. The music was too loud to say anything so I just looked into her eyes, and reached out my hands.

She put her hands on mind and smiled at me. She could feel what I wanted to say.

We both teared up again.

I mouthed “can I hug you?” And before I could move she gave me the biggest, best hug.

I thought about these events and thought about how unfair it was that people could feel so much pain and suffering that that was the only way out.

I thought about how blessed (and privileged) I was to not understand.

And realized that’s why I do what I do.

Sure, I produce movies and tv shows and a whole bunch of other cool things as part of my career.

But the thing that gets me up every morning is the desire to help as many people as I can to know that they are precious, loved, important, seen.

Yet, my work in this space doesn’t really reflect that. I guess that’s why I wanted to write this out, so I could process it and remember it.

I want it to inform the work I do going forward. The way I interact with people. To have it remind me to make people feel special.

I don’t have some great profound end to this thread other than if you’re reading this, I’m grateful for you. I’m glad you’re here. I hope I get the chance to talk to you and get to serve you in some way.

We all have struggles and if I can lessen those that creators deal with so that they can do more of the work they love and feel like they can get through it, that’s a good a reason as any to keep going and doing the work every day.

The Financial Patterns In Your Life

The patterns & habits of your life determine your experience and results.

Picture two different creators:

One is pure artist – they create in bursts when the muse inspires them. Their passion attracts many people to follow them. They believe that money devalues art so they don’t charge for their work, ever. They have no regular income, no savings or investments, and at some point find it hard to grow past their current circumstances.

The other creator shows up every day and puts in the time to work on their craft. They know everything they make isn’t going to be their best, but they believe that they have to show up every day to get to their best work. They have systems in place to consistently grow their following and customer base. It’s slow, but steady. They believe that what they create has value, and that value can be exchanged for money. While their income is also irregular, there’s at least some consistent amount coming in every month, and it grows over time. They set aside profit for growth and investing in themselves, have money saved, and feel that their potential to contribute doing what they love is limitless.

Now, there’s not a ton of difference from the outside looking in. Both are creators, and in some ways the “pure artist” is the more desired path – more followers, a true artist mindset, etc.

There isn’t a “better” path, but it’s easy to see how certain habits, mindsets, and patterns compounded over days, weeks, months, and years will lead to a different experience.

Where are your patterns leading you?

A Basic Business Budget for Creatives

How much should you pay yourself? How much should you set aside for taxes? How much does your business actually need to make to be profitable?

A few years ago I read the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, and it outlines a great starting point for thinking about your business budget.

Since most solo-creatives are making between $0-$250k per year, we’ll just use that breakdown, but you can look at budgets for $250-500, $1M, $5M, and $10M per year as well in the book.

Here’s a starting point for a solo creative business:

5% – Profit (Hence the title Profit First
50% – Owner’s Compensation
15% – Taxes
30% – Operating Expenses

Take a look at your current budget? Where can you make adjustments to ensure that you have more profit, are setting aside money for taxes, and can pay yourself what you need to.

Now, if you’re creating digital products and have super low overhead, you can certainly drop that Operating Expenses budget down to 20% or even 10%, and shift more into Owner’s Compensation or Profit.

But having a very clear “job” for every single dollar that you bring into your business is an essential business practice. The alternative is having money coming into your business bank account (or worse, your personal account) and then spending if there’s money to spend.

Create a budget, set aside money for profit and taxes first, and then if you find yourself short then take the opportunity to figure out how to either cut expenses or make more money by generating more sales.

Have A Plan To Be Profitable

If you don’t plan for profit at the start, it’s harder to try and create it later.

Profit, as mentioned in an earlier essay, is what’s left between what you sell something for and what it costs to make it.

If you sell a physical album recording for $15 and it cost you $5 to create the CD and the packaging, then your profit is $10.

However, you have to think of all of the costs, not just the costs to produce the physical product.

My wife is selling these great art pieces of butterflies encased in reclaimed wood and glass frames.

Her hard costs are only about $6 per frame, so in one way she could charge $10 and be “profitable”.

However, that’s not taking into account the ~30 mins or so it takes to cut the wood, assemble the frame, and glue in the butterfly.

If she values her time at $40/hour, then she would need to charge an extra $20/frame to truly be “profitable”, but even then she would only have a profit of $4 per frame. That doesn’t even pay for another piece!

So, to be profitable from the start, she would need to account for the cost to make the product, the time it takes to make it, and profit.

$6 cost + $20 labor = $26. To have a profit of 30%, she would need to charge $37.

So, from the onset, she decided to price the pieces based on size and type of butterfly, and they range from $40-$100 each. She created a very profitable (and fun!) business from the start.

If you’re struggling to have any money at the end of each month, look at your pricing and determine how you can create more profit in the work that you’re creating and selling.

What To Charge

Simple answer: charge enough to make enough to have the kind of life you want to have.

Longer answer: there are a few ways to think about this – Hourly, Project Based, and Ownership.

To work out an hourly rate, you can figure out what the industry rate is for your type of work in your area, and charge somewhere around there. You’ll likely end up at around $25/hr on the low end, and $100/hr or more on the higher end.

In order to make a professional salary doing that ($75k/year or more), you’ll need to work a certain number of hours every week that turns into ~$1,500. So $50/hr x 30 hours, or $100/hr x 15 hours.

Project based is simpler than hourly, and potentially more profitable if you do it right. Figure out how much the project is worth to your client, and that’s how much you should charge. That is a longer conversation than “I charge $35/hour”, but it also is the next level up where they’re hiring you for your experience as much or more than they’re hiring you for your skills.

If you can charge $1,500 or more per project, you could do 4 projects a month and make ~$75k/year. Then it’s a matter of building a system that can generate at least one project per week, from finding the client, onboarding them, doing the work, and delivering the project.

Lastly is equity/ownership. Owning an asset that compounds or a part of a business that pays dividends can allow you to make money without trading your time for that money.

Record an album, put it up on iTunes for people to purchase, make money while you sleep.

Make enough records and sell enough copies, you’ll make even more. Find other ways to make money from that album, like licensing the music for a fee, and your ownership of that recording is worth even more.

The “right” answer of what to charge will be different for everyone, and may even include a combination of all three. But think about how you want to make your money and change accordingly.