Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

7 Ways Doing Your Accounts Can Boost Your Creativity

You’re a creative, not a bean counter. So it’s tempting to put off your accounts until the last minute, just in time for the tax deadline. If you’re one of the many freelance creatives who do this, we assume you’ve heard all the sensible arguments why this is a bad idea – and they haven’t persuaded you. But have you considered the potential impact on your creativity?

If not, here are seven ways putting off your accounts can harm your creativity – and seven creative benefits of knuckling down and getting them done each month.

1. Get money off your mind.

The more you ignore something, the more it weighs on your mind, like a mysterious piece of software running in the background on your laptop, hogging all the memory and slowing it to a snail’s pace. When you’re not sure exactly how much money you have coming in and going out, a part of your mind keeps worrying away at it, trying to estimate the figures and see how they all add up. Which reduces the mental bandwidth available for creative thinking.

As a creative professional, your headspace is your most precious finite resource. If you want to create your very best work, you need to prevent it being throttled by money worries.

When it comes to productivity, writing to-do items down is a well established way to get things off your mind and free it up for more important concerns. Doing your accounts works on the same principle – by inputting and checking the figures each month, you transform vagueness into clarity and certainty. That cloud of financial unease disappears from your mind – and, often, it makes way for a renewed creative sharpness.

When you’re not sure exactly how much money you have coming in and going out, a part of your mind keeps worrying away at it.

2. Reduce stress.

Uncertainty is stressful. And when you’re doing cutting-edge creative work, it’s unavoidable. Jonathan Fields has written an entire book about how top creatives and entrepreneurs handle the uncertainty that goes hand in hand with dreaming and daring big. It’s an inspiring book, and he makes a good case that uncertainty is a price worth paying for greatness.

But financial uncertainty doesn’t bring greatness, only stress. The kind of stress that eats away at your creativity. Life and creative work are hard enough – don’t make them harder still by neglecting your finances and adding unnecessary uncertainty into the mix.

What if the figures confirm your worst fears? Strangely enough, we’ve noticed that people are typically less stressed when they know the worst than when they were just imagining it. Once they get over the initial shock, and the world hasn’t ended, they start to make plans and consider alternatives.
Maybe you need to raise your prices, bring in more clients, or find a cheaper studio. Perhaps you need to speak to your accountant, bank manager, the tax office – or all three! It may not be fun, but at least you will be doing something constructive about your situation, and starting to get back your sense of control.

3. Give yourself a reality check


Yes, creativity involves dreaming and pushing the boundaries. And it also involves acknowledging reality and working within the constraints of what you have – in terms of talent, materials, experience, collaborators, budget and time. This is particularly true if you’re working on client commissions!
Taking regular stock of your business finances is one way of keeping yourself grounded and productively creative. If you’re happy with the figures, you can forget them and get back to more interesting work. If not, it’s better to find this out sooner than later – and spur yourself on to do something about it.

Life and creative work are hard enough – don’t make them harder still by neglecting your finances and adding unnecessary uncertainty into the mix.

4. Encouragement

Yes, we’re serious. Assuming you have at least a few clients or customers, it can be very heartening to go back through your invoices and remind yourself of the people who have paid you good money for good work.

Like most professional creatives, you’re probably a perfectionist, with a tendency to dismiss past achievements and focus on the problems you haven’t yet solved. Doing your accounts doesn’t have to be merely a robotic process of entering figures on a spreadsheet. It can also be an opportunity to pause and reflect on the month just gone – on the work you did, the people you helped, and the fact that people have valued your work enough to buy it.

5. Putting useful data at your fingertips

There’s a lot more to creative business finance than recording your accounts. And most of it is a lot more interesting – like figuring out where you can earn the most money with the least effort, to make your working life easier and more profitable.

Maybe you can afford to fire that client who’s making your life a misery. Maybe your cheapest and easiest marketing activity is actually the most effective, and you can drop some of the rest. Maybe you can save money on materials without cutting quality. And maybe making these changes would put an extra spring in your step and an added sparkle on your creative work, as well as more money in your bank account.

But you won’t know any of this for sure, unless you have those figures at your fingertips – ideally on an accounting system that lets you generate charts and see the data visually. Then you’re in a position to make some creative decisions based on the patterns you spot.

Maybe you can afford to fire that client who’s making your life a misery. Maybe your cheapest and easiest marketing activity is actually the most effective.

6. Fund your creative ambitions.

If you’re an independent artist of any kind, you need to buy yourself time, equipment and materials before you can start on a major project. Even if you’re servicing clients, you probably have creative initiatives of your own that you want to get off the ground – side projects, product lines or artistic ambitions.

Unless you’ve got accurate financial data about your situation, it’s hard to see where the money for this will come from. Once you start doing your accounts in order to work how to fund your creative projects – not just to keep the taxman happy – you’ll feel more motivated to get the job done. As Walt Disney said, “We don’t make these pictures to make money. We make money so that we can make more pictures.”

7. Build a remarkable business.

Everything we’ve said so far has been about using money as a tool, a support system that keeps your business running smoothly, and keeps you focused, creative and productive. But there’s also another kind of creative satisfaction that can come from being on top of your finances – that of building a remarkable business, that produces extraordinary things and brings you creative satisfaction in its own right.

If that’s the kind of creative challenge that excites you, then doing your monthly accounts is a small but essential step to making it a reality. And if you do a good enough job of mastering the money side of your creative business, you’ll soon be in a position to pay someone else to take the book-keeping off your desk…

“But can’t I just give it to someone else to do?”

Yes, you can, and at some point you probably should. But even if you can afford to hire a book-keeper right away, we’d suggest you do at least a couple of months’ accounts on your own. Firstly so that you know what’s involved and you’re able to monitor their work and stay in control of the process. And also because getting your hands dirty in the ‘engine room’ of your business, gives you a much more intimate sense of the links between small actions, decisions and expenses, and the big picture of your creative and business success.–

What’s Your Experience?

Do you make time to do your accounts monthly? Why or why not?Have you noticed any creative benefits from being on top of your business finances? (Even if it didn’t last long!)

More insights on: Creative Blocks, Money

Mark McGuinness and Sarah Thelwall

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Mark McGuinness and Sarah Thelwall are the authors of "The Creative Money Manual" - a guide to financial management tailor-made for creative freelancers and entrepreneurs. If you want to learn more about putting money at the service of your creativity, check out the Manual here.
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