Asking for money is a bit taboo. No matter what it is you are asking to fund- a creative project, your new line of personalised luxury watches, or a donation to charity, the act of asking for cold hard cash makes us uncomfortable. It flies in the face of all the ideals we hold true about growing up and establishing ourselves in the world. You get a job, the job pays you, and you take care of things from there. That’s the way we do things, right?
But what if what you ‘do’ doesn’t pay you? What if you want to work in an industry that expects you to have a body of tangible, professional work before you can be considered for paid work? If you’re nodding, then welcome to the arts. There is essentially no art form in which it is possible to become a professional without time spent, and work produced, prior to having a job, becoming a freelancer, running a business, completing projects with a salary attached, or in fact, earning any money from your art at all.
If you work —or hope to work —in the screen, visual arts, performing arts, literary, or music worlds (and there are many others) then this is absolutely the norm.
So what to do?
The reality is that if you want to be a successful artist, you will need help at some point. It may take the shape of mentorship or you might be lucky enough to get a job that can help you develop and hone your skills. But if not – then you’ll probably seek to fund a project at some point that can showcase your talent and act as a calling card for future work.
If you don’t want to go into debt or spend your savings on doing this (and many artists do either or both), then your only option is to throw caution to the wind and just ask. Whether its in a formalised fashion, such as via a grant program or informally via a crowd funding campaign or seeking investment, there are some key principles that can help you get there without too much pain or awkwardness.
- Stop apologising. This is harder than it sounds. A lot of us feel a sense of guilt about the fact that we might need to ask for money to fund our work. But if you’re apologetic or embarrassed, not only does it make for an awkward exchange, it sends the message that you’re not confident your work deserves to be funded. To shift your attitude so you feel a bit more comfortable, see point 2 below.
- Focus on the economics of the exchange. Most of us are pretty good at accepting the conditions of buying and selling. They operate like this: someone produces/provides a product/service that is of value to a market, puts a price on it loosely based on similar products or services in that market, and then people buy it. Grant funding and crowd funding sit outside this exchange, and yet, the principles are ultimately the same. If you are producing something or offering a service in exchange for the money you receive, no matter what it is, you are providing value to a person or group of people. So act like it!
- Find your audience, then connect. If you’re starting out you may not have an audience yet. But in the case of asking for money, this is actually easier, because you know who your audience is. You’re going to be contacting them to ask for donations to your crowd funding campaign, or for private investment, or to submit a proposal for grant funding. Keeping the focus on your audience is a double-edged winning sword. Think about what they value, what’s important to them and your message will speak more clearly to them. If your message is clear to them, they’ll be more likely to give you money (if you’re unsure about how to be clear in the case of applying for funding check out my tips here). As a bonus, doing this will take the focus off the ‘me, me, me its all about me’ thinking that leads to the embarrassment, awkwardness and fear of rejection stuff.
- Do the work. It’s a no brainer really. Nothing comes for free. There is a perception out there that people that ‘get funded’ via grants or the crowd are lazy or receiving something for nothing. This could not be further from the truth. No matter what, you need to have enough respect for yourself and whoever it is that you’re asking, to put the work in. It usually pays off.
- Bonus points: Read The Art of Asking. I highly recommend Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, for anyone who is an artist (full stop), but particularly if you need to ask for money to fund your art. She writes beautifully about the experience of choosing to be an artist and the challenges that come with that, but mostly about the unexpected benefits of asking – often within the framework of artist and donator/funder – such as the fact that it truly brings people joy to contribute to the creation of art.
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