Financial Stability: What is an hour of your time actually worth?

One of the biggest challenges you will face as an artist is attaining financial stability. It is very possible to find financial stability, but nobody seems to share strategies for thinking about how you go about developing a sustainable career.

The Challenge
I get it. I know that quite often, you find ourself taking work that is both artistically and financially beneath you, which is frustrating because it takes you away from the work in which you are most passionate. The result is that often, your art becomes uninspiring and unfulfilling.

Instead of blindly taking every opportunity that comes your way, the challenge is to crunch the numbers and set some basic limits to what you will and won’t take. Let’s dig in a little on some strategies you can use as you work to establish the value of an hour of your time.

In this world, knowledge is power. I’ve created this spreadsheet to help you out. Click on the link to create a side by side comparison of your jobs, including all artistic and non-artistic work. At the end of the process, you should have an idea of the value of an hour of your time, based on an average of all the work you do.

Things to consider as you fill out the spreadsheet:

  • Travel time is a huge factor: If you’re traveling over an hour to and from the gig, you need to factor it into your hourly rate as it will both drive down the amount you’re paid and will take a toll on your ability to have a comfortable work/life balance. There is a place to add extra hours on the spreadsheet.
  • Keep an open mind about work not related to your art: If the work is steady, you like it, and you’re getting paid more than other artistic work, consider the value of making this work a larger percentage of your work load.
  • Make sure you capture everything for the past year: It’s important to have a complete picture of your work in order to make decisions about the value of your time.

Determining the value of an hour of your time

After you fill out the spreadsheet, you will have an estimate of your hourly rate. Inevitably, there will be large discrepancies between your hourly rates. Analyze the breakdown for the following things:

  1. Where do you make the most money?
  2. Where do you spend the most amount of time working?
  3. Are there any outliers? Jobs that either make you way more than your other jobs, or way less?
  4. Are there jobs in which you make less money but you love? Conversely, are there jobs you don’t necessarily like in which you make more money?
  5. What combination of jobs will allow you to maximize your work/life balance?

After you analyze this information, you can start to make decisions about the next steps in your career. It’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen over night.  If you have a strategy about what you might give up and what you might add more of in the coming months and years, you can start to come up with a plan of attack.

Here’s a step by step video to help you in this process:

Did you find this helpful? Please share with your friends and let me know how I can improve the spread sheet for the future.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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