I worked 80–90 hours a week and commuted 110 miles a day for years. In the months of December and August, as many of you know, the film/TV/web content industry all but shuts down leaving me without a paycheck for two months a year. I started producing and directing 15 years ago, maybe being able to charge between $10-$15 per hour for little gigs here and there. I eventually became a trusted resource allowing me to charge a much higher rate, about $90-$150 per hour. That sounds awesome, right? Well it was… sort of… but if I stopped working for any reason, the money faucet turned off very quickly and once I paid for the commute, I was losing about $500/month just paying for gas. In addition, once I reached my max output, there’s nowhere else to go in terms of being able to increase my income. I was capped by the fact that I’m only one dude.
“Sure, but start working while we put that together”…
Our industry has this nasty habit of hiring people freelance to avoid paying insurance and other benefits afforded their full-time staff (and to be fair, many people in creative fields like advertising and TV/online content production are often not needed year-round). However, in my case, I got hired for long periods of time with little to no contract. I’d ask my employer, they’d throw a word doc at me with some bullet points that were intentionally vague, I’d ask for a little more detail, they’d say “sure, but start working while we put that together” and before I knew it, I was six months in and still clinging to my vague bullet points. This was their way of telling me, “we don’t want to fully commit to you or anyone for that matter and we want the option of being able to let you go whenever we feel like it.” Again, their prerogative to hire and fire whomever they wish. But makes for an always precarious future if you’re the one on the receiving end of that often-whimsical process.
Even when there is a Human Resources department at your place of work, companies love to keep things at their discretion… and again, that’s their prerogative. But know what you’re buying with that set up. The cold hard truth, with the way most corporations are organized, there is no such thing as ‘job security’. Current labor laws almost always lean towards the employer’s favor.
Today’s economy is changing from a “sell your time for money to…
Now, before you think I’m getting political here, or diving into the murky arena of the state of labor in America, I’m not, because frankly, that doesn’t affect the way I make a good deal of my income. Why? Because today’s economy is changing from a “sell your time for money” economy, to a purely “Knowledge/skill” based one. Showing up to a building with millions of dollars’ worth of couches, glass, steel and reception areas makes some people a ton of money, but not most of us.
I rely on selling my time for money for about 40-ish% of my income and I do that in several ways which I’ll explain in a minute. The rest is all based on what is called residual income (somes it’s called “Passive Income”) or I earn from leveraged income, having a small piece in the work of other people. In some cases, it’s a hybrid of all three.
I never want to have a single source of income be my only source of income…
Why do this? Well, that’s simple: because I never want to have a single source of income be my only source of income. That, for the most part puts me in a situation where I have subcontracted my financial future to someone who may not always have my best interests at heart. CAUTION: IT’S A TRAP!
For generations, we’ve all been told, ‘Educate yourself, get a great job, work for 45 years, retire into a blissful beach life and quietly die in your sleep surrounded by your loving family”. But, that world died with the VHS tape and the Walkman. Just by the shear fact that the internet literally turned every industry in the world inside out, that script is dead and thank god that’s true.
It’s freedom of choice and an open, unencumbered mind…
By having a DIVERSITY of incomes, I stand an infinitely better chance of being just fine if one of those sources goes ‘bye-bye in the car’. Even if half of them, for some “X” factor of a reason go belly up, I’m assured of feeding myself and having a decent roof over my head. More importantly than just the money and I mean, MUCH more importantly, is because I spread my financial risk over a wider area, I have the piece of mind that allows me to create with an uncluttered mind. Having the constant presence of being broke and relying on other people to determine my future, put me in a place where my ideas were born out of desperation not freedom. It’s freedom of choice and an open, unencumbered mind that allows us to create, and creating is what allows us a life of independence and mobility.
Now before you think I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth or that I had a ton of money to do everything I’m outlining, I wasn’t and I didn’t. My parents were teachers and I struggled financially for most of my adult life. What I’m about to lay out for you was done with very little money (like hundreds of dollars in most cases). It has nothing to do with raising money from wealthy venture capitalists or maxing out your credit cards to fund a project, but has everything to do with starting where you are with what you have and making just a few different, but significant choices that can make your life infinitely better.
So, let me break it down. I basically have 5 income streams:
Freelance Producing/Directing Services: I work 4 freelance jobs a year which take up about 40% of my time. This provides the bulk of my living expenses for the year. I strive to get four big jobs rather than a hundred nickel-and-dime gigs that would literally eat up all my time and leave little time for anything else.
Then I hold 10% of that back (or any money I make) as my seed money for all the other revenue streams I have. I call this, well, my 10% fund. This is money set aside for me to invest in any way I choose without worrying about whether I can pay the rent or feed myself should I lose it or frankly, make a crappy investment…. And because 10% of anything I make goes back into my fund, it’s always getting replenished.
Stock Video/Photo: I take a small portion of that 10% to travel to various locations where I shoot images for stock photo and video services. I use just enough to cover gas or a ticket on a budget airline, a cheap hotel or camping. Revenue comes back from media organizations, filmmakers, TV producers licensing my footage for their projects. The great thing about this, is that once I shoot, edit and upload the content, it can sell multiple times over many years without any involvement from me. Some sites that are easy to work with are https://www.videoblocks.com or https://www.pond5.com/
Copy writing/content development: This portion of my income is earned by writing ad copy, web series scripts or helping content creators develop their ideas into sellable content for digital platforms. I usually do that for an hourly/weekly fee, but if the project is right I will give them my work for free in exchange for a stake in the sale of the idea. This can result in a nice one-time payout or if I’m lucky something that pays residuals over several years.
Genesis Investing: With just a few hundred dollars from my 10% fund, I have invested in several crowdfunded, early stage start-ups which is very simple if you take the time to investigate each company (a great resource to learn this is process is http://www.crowdability.com/. Now let me be very clear, this is speculative investing so I’m not suggesting you go and empty your savings or 401k. I am able to invest in several of these a year, safely, because I am using money that I set aside in my 10% fund. So, I know going in, this is guilt free money that I’ve allocated for just such investments. I NEVER touch my savings or retirement accounts for this. However, this has proven to be a great source of income once I dove in and did it, and it didn’t take me a ton of time to learn.
Coaching: Everybody has knowledge or a skill that others want to learn. The internet is filled with people who want to learn Google Ad Words, Photoshop or how to get that cinematic look with your DSLR camera. Because they want results fast, they are willing to pay. Ask yourself what skill you’re good at, find where the people looking to acquire that skill hang out online, communicate to them through blogs, guest-posts, videos or whatever means works for you and them. You guys see me doing this all the time. Over my career, I learned how to develop, create and sell my web series and online films at a fairly high level and now I coach other filmmakers how to do the same without needing to take 10 years of blood and pain to do it. That income is now rivaling my producing and directing income.
Now the above list is simply how I’ve done it and some of it may not be your bag. However, there are thousands of different ways to diversify your income that keeps you out of the office and into the life you’ve always seen for yourself. I know people who are website testers, one of my friends runs a weekend mountain bike guide service, you can do Photoshop, coding, copy editing/proof reading, online classes or affiliate marketing. There are a ton of script breakdown services in Hollywood, like the SCRIPT SPECIALIST http://www.thescriptspecialists.com/ that allow you to work remotely and make a pretty great hourly rate. The fact is, having just a few income streams can more than pay your bills. In fact, you may even be able to build a number of very profitable online and/or remote businesses that can have a direct connection to your filmmaking desires.
In the end, you get to design your own life. The mental ‘scripts’ we were taught growing up about what was expected of us are crippling and can keep us from really living huge, full lives. Nowhere does it say that productivity and income are derived from working in an office or having a boss. My new life started by literally taking as little as 30 days to learn new skills that have profoundly contributed to my freedom and bank account. Now I have the financial freedom to be able to make choices in my life, rather than someone else dictating how and where I spend my time….and having choices is where true wealth lies. Design your life or someone else will design it for you.