Money Matters: To All The Businesses I've Started Before

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Written by Chelsea Laine Francis

When I started Pass/Fail, the goal I had for the website was to create a safe space where we could talk about failure, picking yourself back up again, and walking away better for it. A secondary goal, fully related to the first, was to have a space where we could talk about money. Money seems to be the Moby Dick of creative industry. Heck, money seems to be the Moby Dick of adulthood. In my experience, everyone has questions about money and no one really ever answers them.

When I began the search for partners for Pass/Fail I knew that I wanted someone to work with us on creating content centralized around money. Freshbooks reached out to me right after I launched this website to speak on a panel about freelancing and after a few phone calls, and a wonderful event together, it became apparent that their vision lined up with ours here at Pass/Fail. You’ll be seeing a monthly post in collaboration with Freshbooks, and we’re so excited about this partnership we could burst.

It seems only fair to kick off this partnership with some money transparency on my part, and as nerve wracking as that is I am up for the job.

I have always been an entrepreneur. When I was 12 years old I made customized picture frames by collaging mattes in cheap frames from Walmart. That business, which was named Framed of course, earned me around $1000 from my best estimates. A few years later at the ripe age of 16, and when I was in High School, I started selling jewelry for a multi level marketing jewelry company, and I made around $1800 dollars hosting parties for the ladies at my church. Eventually I decided I didn’t enjoy the jewelry game and I got a job at a pharmacy.

When I was a freshman in college, and Etsy was very much in it’s prime, I decided to make flowers out fabric scraps from my grandma’s fabric collection. I put bobby pins and elastic headbands on them with fabric glue, and I sold a lot of them. Probably around 150 or so! I made about $1100 out of that business.

To be honest, in the past looking back at these things has made me cringe a little bit. Having a digital footprint of several half baked businesses is a bit embarrassing, but now that I have some distance from it, I understand that these things have paved the way to get me to where I am now.

When I was a sophomore in college I decided to step it up a little bit. I was studying marketing and I was pretty excellent at it for a student. I was creating fake social media campaigns in my classes and I decided that I could probably make a good amount of money doing that for real businesses. That same year I met a leather goods company, called In Blue, at a music festival and a short time after they let me run their social media accounts. I managed their social media for about 5 years. Managing their social media, getting to grow, fail and flourish with Mary Lynn, the owner of the company, was so important to me as a person and as a business woman. In the meantime: I also started managing social for a few more accounts after college like a frozen yogurt company and a coworking space I loved dearly. This paid my bills through college.

After college when most people were trying to get jobs I was trying to find clients. I spent a year working the front desk at the coworking space I mentioned earlier, and managing social media for around 4-5 clients on an off at around $250-300 each per month.  Through that time I picked up a camera and fell head over heels in love. This was also a great value add to people who were hiring me to run their social, but pretty soon I decided that social media management wasn’t for me. I did better work with the photos and I really wasn’t interested in being on Instagram constantly anymore. I picked up a camera in early 2014 and in the course of that year I made around $7500 in photography. I ended up filing my taxes incorrectly for that year and I owed $4000 to the IRS which I paid before I found the discrepancy.

On January 1st, 2015 my husband and I packed all of our things in our van and drug the smallest Uhaul that you can rent from Lynchburg, VA to Austin, TX.

I applied for around 75 or 80 jobs between September of 2014 before the move and April of 2015 and I got exactly 0 job offers. But in the meantime I decided to try and use my camera. I emailed a few bloggers and one person offered to meet me for coffee. She’s now one of my best friends AND she introduced me to a creative conference that brought me on as event photographer and completely launched my career in Austin.

In 2015 I made around $22,000 with my photography work and a few straggling social media management accounts.

In 2016 I finally realized that my business had potential! And I started investing time, a little money, and our spare bedroom as office space. I ended up making around $30,000 that year after taxes. But I ended the year very stressed out. My husband and I moved into a larger place (rental!) and got a roommate.

In 2017 I was BURNT OUT. I sat down with a friend and I told her I wanted to stop working for myself. I applied for two jobs, and essentially got job offers on both of them. But the starting salary was around $40,000 a year and I knew if I really buckled down, and treated my photography business like it was going to be around for a while, I could make more money than that and be my own boss, which I have learned I thoroughly enjoy. So in early 2017 I started a business bank account, and for about three months did any work that any one would pay me to do to get a month ahead, so that the money I was making this month, was paying me next month. I also set down a set amount of money that I get paid monthly on a set date no matter what. When I started that amount was $2000 a month. I was at a point that I could no longer handle the inconsistency of will I be able to pay my bills or not this month. I made $40,000 last year and ended the year with the resolute knowledge that I’d made the right choice not taking either of the jobs I was offered.

This year I made a goal to make $100,000 with a dear friend. We sat the goal together over Russian christmas tea on Thanksgiving day of 2017 and we both just knew it was going to happen. I met with a life coach and a money coach. I started transitioning my business model to bring in more inquiries, but take on fewer clients that paid more money, and I sat a goal to travel more for work. This would in theory open me up to being able to take on clients all over the US. And I was on track at the beginning of the year to do it, but life had other plans. Travel costs a lot of money, but even after you get those expenses covered you still have time away from booking in your home base. Travel, though, has always been something that I’ve wanted more of in my business. Other notable things that happened this year: I got an intern this summer and brought her on as a part time employee, I got an office space that I desperately needed for my mental health, I gave myself a raise, and I launched a new business. All these things were incredible and I’m so happy they happened, but some of them took up a lot of time (which is money!) and certainly money (also money!). So mid ways through the year I ditched my original goal, and I decided I wanted to travel monthly and make $60,000, which is the average salary of an in house photographer in Austin, TX. I’ve been on 12 trips this year so far, with 2 more in the works, and if all goes well I’m on track to make my yearly earnings goal too. And my friend? Who sat the goal with me? She’s been working on her second $100,000 of the year since July.

Money is, of course, not the only indicator of professional wellness. This year has also presented a lot of wonderful opportunities to me. In March I was asked to host a photographers Meet Up during SXSW. I also got to work with Modcloth and host a party with Wrangler during. I emceed Thrive Creative Conference. I got asked to speak on a Freshbooks #Imakealiving Panel about how I manage to do all the things I do and pay my bills with it. Speaking of the Freshbooks #imakealiving event-- I would highly recommend them to anyone navigating the ever changing landscape of operating your own business and trying to make money doing so. They have events scheduled in most major cities in the US and they’re coming back to Austin on November 14th so save the date!

My goal in sharing this, even though it is scary, is to open up a dialogue. All of these things are just numbers that confirm to you what you already might know about me: I run a business and it pays my bills. When I was making $7500 a year with my camera, I would have loved to read this from someone and know that they started where I did. It would have been inspiring to me to know that I could make triple what I was making the very next year. Writing this now and reading through my history with entrepreneurship and money makes me realize that I can do this. I’ve always done this. And you can do this too.

Money flows. It’s energy. As two therapists, a clairvoyant, a life coach and a money specialist have all told me: You have to realize that your biggest money making tool in your toolbox is you. By working on your limiting beliefs around money, you open yourself up to being able to price what you’re worth and earn what you need without the constraints of worry or fear holding you back.

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Chelsea Francis is a photographer, editor, connector, and all around people person residing in Austin, TX. She's most passionate about helping people see the beauty in their own lives, a good cup of coffee, helping businesses thrive, and finding a great slice of pizza. When she's not answering emails, she's writing and editing pieces for Pass/Fail, hosting networking events, and shooting photographs for incredible companies both in Austin and elsewhere.

This blog is sponsored by Freshbooks, though all the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer and approved by Pass/Fail. Freshbooks is a cloud based small business accounting software. Send invoices, track time, manage receipts, expenses, and accept credit cards. They make managing every aspect of your business easier, whether that’s project workflow, billing, or following up with clients who haven’t paid you yet. Pass/Fail readers can get two months free to give it a try by clicking here.

Chelsea Francis