Expert Interview with Debra Russell on Business Finances for Artists

Debra Russell focuses on an industry you rarely think about when it comes to money management: The arts. Russell runs Artist's Edge, an online center educating artists how to turn their passion into a paying career. She spoke with us about the arts, finding money in your passion, and how the two combine.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How'd you get into acting?

I started acting when I was 12 years old and got bit by the bug. I pursued it as a career for a while, but then really got more interested in directing and producing, which I pursued actively into my early 30s, until I became too ill to work. The next 10 years were about recovery, and a new direction, once I was clear that I couldn't go back to film/TV and retain my health. It was through the exploration of my new direction that I discovered coaching and became certified in 2001.

When did you first realize the need for Artist's Edge?

As a performing artist myself, and because I knew a LOT of performing musicians throughout my life, I've known that becoming a savvy entrepreneur is necessary for a successful career in the arts and entertainment industry from a young age. And I set about learning what I needed to, in order to do that in my own career.

But it wasn't until after I became a coach that I saw myself in the role of supporting other artists in their pursuits. I chose to specialize in the arts and entertainment industry in 2002, and focused more specifically in the music industry in 2003.

You have a lot of useful courses on your site. How do you decide on the content of each?

The content in my Artists Marketing & Business Academy grew organically from what my private clients seemed to want and need. I launched the program in 2005 with new content monthly until 2013. I now have over 100 hours of classes available. It is my goal to provide the success skills, small business fundamentals, and entrepreneurial know-how that many creative are missing.

What are some challenges faced by an artist's small business that are unique to the industry?

Well, for one thing, most industries tend to be either B2B or B2C, but most artists have to juggle both for their business. They need to attract customers/fans/end-buyers AND they need to be able to speak to the needs of the businesses that promote their art, such as venue owners and galleries. Understanding the difference of these two distinct markets is critical to their success.

Another thing that's unusual is that most artists don't think of themselves as business owners and don't operate or function as business owners. And at the same time, they wonder why they aren't profitable. Learning business fundamentals and applying it to their music or art is not only critical to creating a successful business, it's the key to avoiding burnout.

Too often, creative believe that they are the product - because they identify so closely with their product. And this can be damaging to their self-esteem, because rejection is a big part of the game, but if you take that rejection personally, it will eventually eat you up

What are a few steps any small business, artistic or not, need to take right away?

Get real with their finances! So many business owners, artistic or not, are in denial about their numbers, don't operate with a budget and run up debt that they have no plan to pay off. Getting real with the bottom line and managing their money responsibly is critical to their success. The #1 reason small businesses fail is because they are undercapitalized.

What lessons can we learn from the arts about personal finance?

Well, that's an interesting question! For most people, the arts are an expression of who we are as individuals and who we are as a society or culture. It is a reflection of our values.

And when it comes to personal finance, how you deal with your money is also an expression of your values. If you think of money as a symbol of your energy - the energy you expend and the value that others place on your energy - then ignoring your finances is disrespecting your own values as well as the values of others.

So many people have issues around money - as if money is a problem or a vice, but it's neither of those things. Money isn't evil; it's just a reflection of your energy and the value that others place on your energy. If you can take that mindset, dealing with your personal finances becomes an art, not a chore.

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