The Fuck Does This Make Money: Starting Stats

An authentic (not transparent) breakdown of how I think about making + spending money.

The night before I started this piece, I saw a wellness Instagram post about authentic sharing v. “compulsive honesty.”

(I keep talking about feelings instead of saying any actual dollar amounts, but bear with me for a second.) 

The whole post was extremely wellness Instagram — #embodiment,#selfcare, #Wellness, #polyvagaltheory, #LoveYourselfAndOverComeShameBecauseYou’reWorthItAndTheWorldNeedsIt

But the sentiment was something I’d never really thought about before - how “transparency” can be a way to overshare protectively.

Since I wrote the word transparency like 80 times in the first post I decided it would be helpful to read the rest.

They said it‘s way better to focus on authenticity — only sharing the information you actually need to say what you mean rather than transparency — Oversharing out of your own inability to deal with your emotions.

Saying What I Mean

I wrote 3 different introductions for this piece, almost all of them referencing different memes about bad budgeting, and my anxiety about my money circumstances (“someone help my family is dying,” “its one banana Michael, what could it cost, $10?”)

But, with that article in mind, instead I’m going to jump right in, I try to focus on authenticity rather than transparency.

Instead of spending hundreds of words agonizing over my addiction to wellness convenience foods, I’m going to focus on what actually matters in understanding how the fuck things make money: deciding where to put your energy and resources in a way that is realistic for who you are, the power you have, what will truly be sustainable, and is in line with your values

Remember that episode of parks and rec where Chris Pratt got super jacked for some imperialist action movie, and Ben is like, “how did you get so jacked?” and what’s his name is like “I stopped drinking beer. Turns out i drink a lot of beer.” This is how I felt when I stopped buying perfect bars + suddenly my food budget… Quadrupled. Ok that’s the last time i will over-explain inauthentically.

Here’s how I’m thinking about my current budget — expenses, revenue, and potential revenue for the projects I’m working on now + in my personal world, for December 2020.

Working 2050 Production Budget

Actors — $70 an episode (3 recorded at $210)

Audio Design/Edit — $150 an episode 

Interview Tools/Storage/DAW/Mailchimp — $40 ($150/12)

Total: $400

Personal Budget

Rent — $990

Health Insurance — $369

Food, misc expenses — $350

1099 — 30% of revenue (saved from previous months/gigs)

Total: $1509 + $400 = $1900

Production Costs for the Future:

Mic setup — $150

My Labor (Reading, editing, interviewing, voiceover recording, teaching/training, casting, directing, promoting, marketing) — $40-90 x 30?

Income for December 2020:

Science Fiction Workshops: $150

Center for Story Based Strategy Grant: $1000

Personal Loan: $1000

Total: $2150

Expenses — Production + Personal

As I ideally increase revenue, hopefully some of these expenses will get easier.

For example, I have a terrible mic, no pop filter except a pair of pantyhose, and a computer set up that is entirely based on what I could scrounge or borrow from other people. There is no reason to do this besides my anxiety about money.

As I am writing our contributor guides, trying to plan and build a structure for a writers room and inviting other writers, audio producers, and editors to collaborate, not mention figuring out how to do more interviews with organizers in a deep way, it’s clear to me that this project will always require a little bit of uncertainty: that’s what makes it fun and important. 

But if it will not scale, the goal of the project itself, collaboration with others around imagining a hopeful future, simply isn’t being met because I am on a path to burn out. More on that next week.

Income/Cash Flow

The Center for Story-based Strategy grant is the final half of a grant I got this summer to finish Working 2050, a group that works with organizers and activists to tell better stories through campaigns. 

The science fiction workshops are a new project I’ve been starting as I think more about what actually helps people imagine the future. This has been a fun experiment with the grounding and embodiment tools I’ve learned through personal research and therapy to help other people make space for reflection and writing in spite of burn out.

They are a lot of fun to do, but as you can tell, they are not a money maker – I charge sliding scale $8 to $20, and invite people to email me if they can’t afford it so we can figure something out. But they bring me a lot of joy.

The organizers and people I care about who participate often say that it’s the first time in months or years they made space to do writing, any kind of writing, which to me is more meaningful, more of a sign of real success than any freaking campaign press conference I’ve ever done.

Personal Loan/other factors — This is the important stuff, the stuff I am sharing authentically rather than “transparently “. 

First and foremost, I have no student loan debt (and I went to college). I know.

This is because of a combination of parental help, scholarships and  aggressive steps to repay the student loan debt I did have in my 20s ($20K, an amount Ernestina describes as ‘fake student loan debt,’) and forgiveness through public service programs. Right now, when most of the people I know regardless of their current income have incredible amounts of student loan debt that seems never to end, with the interest constantly accruing, this makes it a lot easier for me to do what i’m doing than it is for others.

The other component is that I have a back up plan, a safety net if everything goes wrong, that doesn’t exist for many people, particularly trans people. My mom is a retired special education teacher, a former teachers union negotiator and bad ass I really admire. My dad is a social work professor — a social worker who got a PhD and wildly upwardly mobile-d our family’s class once he did so.  In a situation where I could no longer find a way to work or be sustainable, I could move in with my mom, or find another way to lower my expenses, and would not face being houseless. Right now, over 43% of people under the age of 31 are living in multi generational household, mostly gen z and millennials living with their parents because the rent is too high. I’ve been lucky to not have to do this so far even while treating mental illness, trying to build a new career, and frankly, just flailing a lot. But that’s only because of those resources.

Other Factors

So those are the hard numbers for December. Again, trying not to spend 800 words on Perfect Bars, but there are a couple of other variables worth mentioning.

Energy Expenses

I rarely see people talk about energy, activation, or executive dysfunction in financial blogs, economic justice conversations, or even in calculating how much time you spend on say, setting up a Patreon page. This is totally a riff on spoon theory, created by disability justice activists explain why some things that seem “easy” are not easy for people living with disabilities.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the part in the L Word when Bette is cheating on Tina with that contractor who draws the triangle of fast, good, cheap, and says “ you can only choose two.” It’s true.

This may be the only healthy thing I learned from the L Word.

With everything I’m working on, be it client work, Working 2050, Notes on Feednet, or even just taking care of my brain, you truly can only have two.

Most of my working professional life, I have pretty much always chosen “FAST, REALLY FAST, and cheap,” with my energy, working in PR and Digital Media for small radical organizations that I believed in with very limited resources. Even how I learned to do “digital marketing” was “fast and cheap,” by teaching myself by doing PR, Facebook ads, social strategy, and other “digital tactics” for campaigns for free.

Fast and cheap, especially at this point in my life, is a recipe for misery, not just for me but for the people I’m working for — projects that make a difference in the world, but require the “good “ point on the triangle in order to do so. 

In a lot of ways, the last six months have for me to figure out how the hell to spend my energy without compromising the “good” point on the triangle, a risky goal, but one that has made me a lot happier and easier to be around.

It turns out that a lot of the things that I thought were a big part of who I was and how I approached work (what emergent strategy fans would call “addiction urgency,”) had more to do with coping than anything fundamental to what I wanted to work on

And as I’ve done more work that is “good “ or meaningful, to me, it’s much easier for me to do it without working 13 hours a day, spending all of my time online and never going outside, forgetting to eat sleep or talk to other human beings, etc. 

One of the things I’ve also learned is that ambiguity takes a lot of energy – since I never formally learned how to do digital marketing or PR, and most of the contracts that I’ve taken on over the years have included a substantial “learn by doing “component. Many of the things that I had hoped to do to make money this year simply weren’t sustainable for me because I had never really specialized in any particular type of work. I had clients that I was serving month-to-month, but I wasn’t actually able to build them what they needed beyond piecemeal temporary campaign components. I wasn’t focused with my energy, so often results were not great for those groups anyway because I wasn’t able to be proactive about our workflow. Knowing ambiguity is a big energy suck for me has helped me prioritize the right parts of the triangle for everything I do — no matter how much time or energy, or how few clients, that takes.

PPP

Because sole proprietors qualified for PPP loans with forgiveness so I applied for one and received a 16K loan in June. BUT — my bank refused to accept this money and it was sent back to the SBA. In spite of diligent following up, I am still in ‘review,’ waiting to hear if I am eligible for that money.

I mention this for two reasons:

  1. It sucks. It was something that would have made a huge difference in my year and the overall growth for both of these projects.

  2. In a lot of ways, even with the really shitty part, it made it possible for me to prioritize with better focus, at least for a couple of months. I had been thinking about moving into a studio because of issues around noise and a fun new thing I learned I had in July called , and quit a lot of projects I was not taking care of. 

  3. But — it also meant that when there was a certain level of radio silence from the SBA, instead of turning to the projects that were working for me, I had to realistically assess my energy, activation, and the actual services I can provide. This reads a little Stockholm syndrome to me, “thank you precarious economy for allowing me to challenge myself! I love making health insurance payments!” But as you know — no one‘s health, stability, housing, or healthcare should be tied to how much money they can make

I also able to take out a smaller $1000 personal loan, again because of access to wealth. Even still, a lot of the fundamental pieces of setting up a business, including filing an LLC, being proactive with my tax payments, even setting up new bank accounts has been something I’ve avoided because of anxiety.

Values

I have a great deal of residual skepticism around the word “values” after years of working in PR, and years of working in nonprofit organizing. But your values are literally what you use to make decisions

For a long time, when I thought about doing social justice work, or how I could contribute to social justice work, I thought about either donating time or money through mutual aid, supporting the causes that I cared about, and being politically active. After divorcing myself from the tenant organizing work I was passionate about, I was adrift. Though I did some communications and emotional first aid support when I could for some of what was happening in Minneapolis this year, it was limited.

Dealing with my own anger and resentment meant that I had to be real about what I actually valued, what made me feel unvalued, disrespected, or angry, and what that meant about where I wanted to put my time. What I really valued.

I stopped being involved with a number of different political groups that I cared about simply because I found myself angry, activated, and thinking about things that happened to me years and years in the past when I was involved, rather than being present or actually making a difference in their campaigns.

Since the pandemic has hurt so many people, I’ve felt shame and guilt around being financially unstable and not as able to donate money to causes or the people who should have it, whether as reparations, or because I believe in the work that they are doing. I don’t think this guilt, most of it coming from Whiteness and Class, is particularly useful.

But being unable to spend that time, energy, and money on other work helped me realize that values, obvious as it sounds, show up in every single component of what we do every day.

It also helped me realize why Working 2050 was so important to me: it’s a project where I have tried to build a container to have meaningful conversations about what a hopeful future looks like, particularly with people who don’t usually get the time or energy to do that.

 It also is something that is deeply important to me as a project that BIPOC, queer + trans, living with disabilities or who are Neurodivergent, actually want to work on. They are not held hostage by a paycheck in the room, but actually want to be there because they have power and autonomy, because they are able to afford the time and energy to do it well, and because… the project itself feels meaningful to them.

Easy to Say, Hard to Do

All of this takes time and energy and structure and a genuine commitment to building something that works not just for me, but other people. I realize I need to create spaces for everyone I work with where we can all take risks, be vulnerable, not be dicks to each other or ignore our own power, and… make cool shit.

The best thing that happened to me this month that was in line with my values is that after recording with an actor for an episode of Working 2050, a process that scared the crap out of me , the actor said “you know, this was really cool because… maybe you are not a shitty person? So… This was actually fun. “

An Honest Assessment

I am far from viable for the future. But because I am giving myself the energy I need to figure some of these things out, I have to admit that I am less anxious than I have been at pretty much at any other point in the last year. I have an actual plan for what I’m working on, how the fuck to make money, and how to do all of it in a way that feels genuinely like myself and keeps me from burning out or acting fake, desperate, or resentful.

Getting clarity on my goals and what is easiest for me to do has also helped: writing a show bible/contributor tools for Working 2050, committing to making Notes on Feednet good and valuable every week, and designing a full six week course for people who want to write their Working 2050 episodes, or at least turn oral history audio interviews into fiction, have all been new ways for me to explore potential new revenue that actually aligns with my goals, values, and what actually helps me get energy.

That’s it!

Those are the authentic as possible details of what I’m spending my money on, and how I’m trying to make money. The good and the bad, the naïve and the savvy, the neurotic and the slightly less neurotic. I hope it was helpful to you, and that the more we talk about these things, the easier it is to be real about how our money does and doesn’t line up with our values.

Next Week: Growth, member models, Patreon, and what I am no longer doing for money.