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What Is a Business Model and Why Your Artistic Business Needs One

As a creative person who wants to earn a living, you might think that’s as easy as selling the fruits of your creativity. That’s true on some level, but it’s likely not enough to get you to a point where you can sustain yourself. Having a business model that you understand and can craft into a business plan will help you get more time in the studio doing what you love!

 

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When you look at the careers of successful artists, it might seem like they got there through sheer luck. Maybe they were at the right place at the right time. They found a patron or stumbled into a relationship with a dealer when out on the town. But that’s probably not the case. 

The truth is that more often than not, getting to the point where you’re earning a living off your art takes more than just divine intervention. It takes thoughtful planning. That’s where having a business model for your art comes in. Hours spent building your business model will give you many years in your studio.

 

What Is a Business Model?

A business model is a plan that describes how you intend to make money. Every business—no matter what size or type of business it is—needs to have a business model. A business plan, built around a business model, gives definition for what needs to be done, and prepares for when things don’t go as expected. A plan can also be used to attract resources, money and talent, to a firm. 

Business models can be simple or complex, but they do need to have some key ingredients if they’re going to be useful. While larger businesses often use very complicated business models, I find the Business Model Canvas to be the easiest and least cluttered way for an artist to conceptualize their business. 

In my experience, a business plan, which we will connect to the model, minimally needs:

Executive Summary:  A short description of what the business is, what it does, and who it does it for. 

Market Analysis:  An understanding of how an artist’s work, the products, fits into the market; i.e. is it fine art, public art, 

Marketing Plan:  A method for identifying and attracting audience and customers.

Sales Plan:  A process that identifies your sales goals (transactions), tactics, and challenges for closing sales.

Finances: A description of your sources and pricing, and the costs required to produce the goods or services. 

Team Players:  The critical people that make the business run. That certainly includes yourself, but it might include staff, partners, vendors, venues, etc.

For internal purposes it is valuable to have a plan of operations. These are the manuals for production and process for delivering services, as well as the means of maintain great company culture.

Of course, none of these items exist in a vacuum. You need to understand how they connect and influence each other.The business model canvas is a tool that outlines and connects the different aspects of a plan.

Value Proposition: What is the unique value that your work brings to your audience?

At the heart of any business is the value it is producing for the world. This will influence internal operations of production and external communication of marketing and sales. The executive summary of a full business plan will focus on the value proposition and concisely address other facets of the plan.

Customer Segments and Channels: Who are your customers and audience? Who will value what you are doing? How will you present the value of what you are doing with them? The marketing portion of a business plan will identify customers and define methods of connecting with them. 

Customer Relationships: How will you build a relationship with someone from meeting  for the first time to being a repeat audience member or customer? Sales is about building relationships, a sequence of exchanging value. The plan for sales will define the process the business uses to develop and grow meaningful relationships with its audience. 

Revenue Sources + Cost Structure: How will the business make money, what will it cost to generate the revenue. The financial piece of a business plan has many details and most relate to revenue and expenses. The plan may also define sources of outside cash like investors, patrons and traditional banks.

Key Partners + Key Activities + Key Resources: How does the business make its product or deliver its services? What special relationships, resources or skills are required? This is the operational plan for making a product or delivering a service. A note on partners, they are critical vendors and others necessary for your operations who also share in risk and reward. 

Do You Need a Business Model?

I hope that by the time you’ve gotten to this point, you realize the answer is a resounding YES! Putting them together can be challenging, particularly if you’ve never done one before. That’s where I come in! I’m happy to help you strategize your business model. Contact me to schedule a chat or join one of our Creative Coworking sessions. 

 

Cash Flow for an Artists: What Is It and Why You Need to Pay Attention to It

Have you ever opened your banking app to look at your balance, only to find it’s much lower than you thought it would be? Not my favorite feeling either, but if you have encountered this sensation, then you’ve experienced the effects of cash flow!

If there never seems to be enough cash on hand for your creative endeavor, consider signing up for our business of art newsletter.

 

Just like you need to keep an eye on your personal account balance to make sure you have sufficient funds to live, so too do you need to pay attention to what’s coming in and going out of your business to sustain your practice. That, in a nutshell, is cash flow. 

When mastered, strong cash flow for an artist can make the difference between a business that’s healthy and one that’s no longer in business, or the difference between making more art or waiting for the next check. Let’s take a closer look at what cash flow for an artist  is, how to ensure you have a positive cash flow, and the impact that it can have on your arts business. 

 

What Is Cash Flow?

Cash flow is the movement of money through your business. Typically speaking, money coming into your business is revenue, while money going out of your business is expenses. Cash flow for an artist takes into account both revenues and expenses to date, as well as future revenues and expenses. In this sense, it’s also a forecast of what you can expect financially.  

Cash flow is calculated over a duration of time. Frequently it is analyzed over the course of a month, but you might also calculate the flow for a day, week, quarter, or year. A month tends to be most helpful as “bills” or invoices from vendors are usually calculated on a monthly basis. 

What Is Positive Cash Flow?

Cash ebbs and flows; sometimes we have more cash on hand, sometimes we have less. Having a positive cash flow for an artist means that more money is coming into your business than going out. It’s a sign that your business is healthy. It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re profitable, as things can change over time. 

The dynamic nature of your cash position makes it important to look at your cash flow monthly. Consistent check ups allow you to a) ensure you’re not spending more than you’re taking in and b) adjust your forecast of revenue and expenditures of future cash flow to keep sufficient funds on hand to stay operational. And yes, when you are in business for yourself you can control the expenses and revenue. You can put more energy into marketing and sales to increase revenue, and you can reduce costs by changing vendors for products and services.

Additionally, a cash flow report for a certain period is often required by banks and lenders in cases where you need to take a business loan. 

 

How to Calculate Cash Flow

There are a number of ways to calculate cash flow for an artist, some more complex than others. If you’ve invested in an accounting tool, they frequently offer a cash flow report, but it’s good to still understand how it’s measured. 

A basic cash flow formula looks like this:

Income – Expenses

So, for example, let’s say last month you sold $5,000 worth of art. But you also spent $3,000 in expenses such as supplies and materials, studio rent, utilities, etc. during the same time period. You therefore have a $2,000 positive cash flow for the month; i.e. $5,000 revenue – $3,000 expenses = $2,000 cash flow) .

You can certainly project the same numbers out over a time period, but it’s important to take into consideration that both revenue and expenses are likely to fluctuate over time. That is, you’re not going to necessarily bring in $5,000 every single month, and your expenses may shift based on your business activities. 

But, let’s say you want to project your cash flow for the next four months. That’s a little trickier, particularly for an artist with revenues and expenses that fluctuate. A cash flow report might look like this:

January February March April
Cash at beginning of period $5,000 $7,000 $5,000 $9,000
Estimated Revenue  $5,000 $2,000 $6,000 $3,000
Estimated expenses $3,000 $4,000 $2,000 $3,000
Final Cash on Hand (change in cash + cash at beginning) $7,000 $5,000 $9,000 $9,000

 

Of course, your cash flow report should be more detailed, with itemized expenses and potentially income (particularly if you have multiple income sources). 

Ultimately, putting together a cash flow report and reviewing it on a monthly basis will help ensure you’re staying on top of expenses, operating within the bounds of your income, and whether or not your business is on a positive track. 

Your cash flow report can also help you prioritize your activities. If you need more revenue, you may want to work on your sales or marketing. If you have ample cash on hand, it may be time to invest in new equipment or more materials. Understanding cash flow for an artist, can give you more time in the studio with better gear to make the things you want to make!

 

Want help putting together a cash flow statement? I’m happy to help! Set up a time to chat with me or check out one of our Coworking with Creatives sessions

How to Make Money Online as an Artist

A common question artists ask me is how to sell their work online. For some artists, such as those who work in digital mediums, the answer is usually straightforward how to make money online. But for others whose work is more visceral, the answer isn’t always as clear. There are a number of ways artists can use the web to make money online, but there are tradeoffs for the convenience of selling work while you sleep. 

Let’s take a closer look at three common online sales channels open to artists and see how they might help you make money online as an artist.

 

Your Website

Every artist should have a website to share their portfolio and artist statement. But some artists may want to take their site a step further by turning it into a place to actually sell artwork online. Setting this up can be done fairly easily, even if you don’t know how to code. Sites like Shopify and Wix make setting up a personal website marketplace fairly easy, or if you use WordPress, there’s the Woocommerce plugin, which is free but can be a bit more challenging to figure out.

Benefits:

  • You 100% own the site and can control the content and presentation
  • You can set the price of your artwork
  • General low financial overhead

Costs:

  • You have to pay for the domain name and website hosting 
  • Potential additional costs for shop/market platform or plugin (e.g. Shopify costs a minimum of $29/month)
  • Setting up and maintaining an ecommerce site takes time and energy
  • You have to manage your own purchase fulfillment: packaging, cost of shipping, and logistics of shipping

 

Online Fine Art Gallery

There are many art galleries who have digitized over the years, as well as several galleries that are only present online. Ugallery is one of my favorites. Similar to a real-world art gallery, an online gallery curates and sells artist works, often across a variety of media. Some galleries will specialize in a specific medium, a specific geography, etc. Some might be local to you, while others might be more global. 

Benefits

  • You do not have to run your own digital market place or shop
  • Gallery will market your work for you
  • Professional representation and presentation of your artwork
  • Can potentially be passive income 

Cost

  • Limited control of the online experience for your audience
  • Galleries take commissions or charge fees for services
  • You may still have to handle shipping to customer or gallery
  • You may not be excited about the marketing or lack of marketing by the galley
  • Can’t control your own prices

 

Online Marketplaces

Online marketplaces might be the best of both worlds in terms of selling work online. Marketplaces offer the opportunity to control how your work is presented without the financial or time commitment needed to manage your own website. In some ways, they’re similar to online galleries, but they tend to have larger audiences. Etsy is likely the most well-known online marketplace for creative businesses, but there are others. 

Benefits:

  • Control over pricing and presentation
  • Established marketplace brand name
  • Community of other sellers

Costs:

  • Fees for each sale
  • Algorithm often drives visibility and you do not control the algorithm
  • You have to do your own marketing
  • You have to do your purchase fulfillment

Of course, these aren’t your only options for selling artwork online. There are also social media ecommerce channels like Facebook, as well as online merchandising sites. We’ll cover those in a separate post.

 

Feeling a little lost? I’m happy to help you figure out which of these channels is right for you. Contact me to set up a chat or check out one of our upcoming Coworking with Creatives sessions. 

Accounting Tools for Artists

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Let’s face it: Doing accounting for your business probably isn’t at the top of the list of things you enjoy doing. After all, you probably became an artist to express yourself, and spreadsheets and tracking income and expenses is probably not your preferred medium. Yet, as someone who wants to earn a living doing what you love most, you need to do at least a little bit of accounting.  

“Why?” you may ask yourself. 

For one, it is important to know your financial health. Just as taking care of your physical health allows you to create more art, a healthy perspective on your money will serve both your business and your creativity. Of course, you want to make sure you report the right amount of income and pay your taxes correctly in order to avoid major penalties and life-wrecking finances later down the road. And you might be surprised by how exciting it can be when you can see how your business is doing financially—especially when you’re profitable. Good accounting will also improve your pricing! Ultimately good accounting can give you more time in the studio and less time worrying.

Luckily, technology is here to help! There are a number of great financial tools for artists out there to help with accounting. Here are three that I like to use and that I’ve seen work well for some of my clients. 

Before we get to the financial tools for artists, it is important to note that the best tools for your business are the ones you will use. A powerful and great looking app may not be as helpful as a paper and pen sometimes. Choose the tool you want to learn and are willing to embrace!

Spreadsheets

I know, you’re probably thinking there’s nothing less interesting than a spreadsheet. I feel your pain. But hear me out:  The spreadsheet is a powerful tool that, when set up correctly, can make accounting a breeze while also giving you all the information you need to properly run your business. 

The best thing about spreadsheets:  You can set spreadsheets up anyway you like. They’re incredibly flexible to serve multiple purposes, and they are low cost or even free!

The worst thing about spreadsheets:  You have to have a basic understanding of how they work and how to manipulate them to get the most use out of them. They are also pretty boring to look at.

The good news is that there are plenty of templates out there that might be perfect for you, so you don’t have to start from scratch. There are also plenty of resources on how to utilize spreadsheets and even set them up for financial purposes. Finally, there are a number of free platforms out there that offer spreadsheets, such as Google Sheets or Apache Open Office. So, it’s often just a matter of finding the platform you prefer and choosing an appropriate template. 

Spreadsheets are a great financial tool for artists that are just getting started in business. The price is right, they are pretty easy to learn how to use and understand, and there are many individuals who utilize spreadsheets and can possibly help.

 

Quickbooks

Sometimes, it’s good to just pick a well known entity. And in the world of accounting tools, that winner is Quickbooks.

Quickbooks is the industry go-to for accounting software for small business owners. Unlike spreadsheets, you  have to pay for Quickbooks, but they offer a few different packages to fit different budgets. The cool thing about Quickbooks is its many functions.  You can track income and expenses, use it to send invoices to customers, send reminder invoices to customers, manage and pay bills, track inventory, and prepare for your taxes.Quickbooks offers a lot of automation and can connect to your bank account too. Quickbooks might be worth the investment as it will save you a ton of time and headaches.  It also generates reports that can help you make better business decisions that give you more resources (money) and enables more time to create.

Quickbooks is a great  financial tool for artists who have figured out their business to some degree. They likely have gone through a tax season or two and know what their sources of revenue are and what expenses to track. There are excellent resources and lots of professionals to help set it up as well as possibly do the financial work. It is a great financial tool for an artist who wants to automate some of their finance work and is interested in how finances can influence operational decisions.

The challenging thing about Quickbooks is that it requires at least a basic understanding of accounting terminology and principles. It also requires a bit of time and effort to set it up properly. You can certainly do this yourself, but there are plenty of accountants out there who are more than happy to help you with this.

HoneyBook

Want something that’s easy to learn, easy to use, and kinda pretty? If so, you might want to consider HoneyBook.

HoneyBook calls itself a platform to get everything done that you need to. In addition to accounting features, it can help you manage projects, clients, proposals, and more. It helps you manage essential documents (contracts, invoices, etc.), and  allows you to streamline client communications into a single platform. You can  manage bookings (such as if you’re scheduling photoshoots) and payments. Honeybook can be a great place to manage your customer contacts, particularly for relationships points like quotes/estimates, invoices, and tax reporting.  For the full price ($390/year at the time of this writing) you get all the platform’s features, but they do have more affordable plans if you don’t want to make that level of financial commitment. 

Honeybook is a great financial tool for artists who want to integrate their finances, customer information, and production calendar, while creating a high-touch experience for customers. It doesn’t quite have the support system of spreadsheets and Quickbooks, but there are resources and individuals who can help get things set up properly.

 

Want to learn more about financial tools for artists? You’ve come to the right place. Check out my upcoming Finance Friday coworking session where we’ll discuss all things financial for your artist business. Or if you have a burning question now, don’t hesitate to contact me

 

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Pricing Artwork doesn’t have to be magic: How do I Price My Artwork?

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“How much should I sell my art for?” 

Too often, I find that artists asking that question don’t have a good sense of what their work is worth and are vastly undervaluing their art. 

Case in point: I have a client who was recently offered a commission for $2,000. It sounded great on the surface, but when we dug into the details, we realized the project would run six weeks and prevent the client from doing any other work. Projecting out based on that one project, this artist would make less than $18,000/year. Basically minimum wage. 

Your work is worth more than that, isn’t it? I certainly hope you believe it is. 

So how should you price your art? 

 

Subjective vs. Objective Pricing

Artists frequently price their work subjectively, meaning they give it a price based on what they think its value is. But price and value are two different things. 

Value is what an artwork is worth to somebody. It’s subjective because many factors go into the value of an artwork, such as the owner’s sentiment towards it, rarity, age, etc. When we say something has a “market value,” that’s basically what a piece could get in a market. But that doesn’t always mean it’s what someone is willing to pay. 

Price, on the other hand, is objective. Or at least it’s based on some objective measures. Price is a function of supply and demand (I know…economics terms always make me groan, too). As an artist, you control the supply of your artwork and you can influence the demand (see blog post: art marketing plan). 

 

How to Price Your Art

Luckily, there’s a relatively simple way to price your art (the objective part), though it does require a little bit of math.

(Good accounting can help you with this part)

First, you need to consider what the cost of your supplies are. That includes all the items you need to make your art (tools, materials, etc.) but it also includes things like your rent for your studio, electricity and heating costs, etc. Basically, anything that you need to create your work should be included. This is where tracking your finances comes in handy. 

Secondly, you need to figure out your hourly rate. Even though we don’t like to think of ourselves as hourly workers, this is an essential step to coming up with a fair market price for your work. To calculate this, consider what you would like to make annually before taxes. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say $52,000/year. 

To calculate your hourly rate, you need to divide the annual salary by the number of hours you work each week. First, divide your annual salary by 52 (there are 52 weeks in the year), and then divide that number by the number of hours you work. For argument’s sake, let’s say 40, since that’s the standard for full-time work. Here’s what that looks like:

$52,000/52 weeks = $1,000 per week

$1000 per week/40 hours = $25/hour

That’s your hourly rate. Now, consider how long it takes you to complete a single piece of art. Let’s say something took you five hours to finish. 

5 x $25/hour = $125

But that doesn’t account for things like supplies. Let’s say it costs you $50 in supplies to make a particular piece. Thus, your total cost would be $175 (your labor and supplies). It’s important to note that this should be considered the base price. Don’t forget you have to add in other factors like a portion of your studio rent, insurance, marketing costs and other overhead items. The price needs to be closer to $300 (labor + supplies + overhead)

Ultimately, how you price your work should be a combination of objective (the real costs like labor, supplies and overhead)  and subjective (the desirability, rarity and non-measurable things) approaches. It should meet your bare minimum of what you need to make to sustain yourself as an artist, of course, AND you can also take into consideration how others feel about your art.  The good news is, that could be a whole lot more than you think!

If pricing still feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. It takes time to figure out your numbers. It can also be helpful to have someone to talk to about it. Feel free to reach out for a chat if you want more space to think out loud with someone. 

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Mental Prowess Part 3: Alchemy of Turning Mistakes into Knowledge

Check point three was 45 miles into my Shenandoah Mountain 100 ride. It is located at the base of a downhill run that rides like a wooden roller coaster: tight turns, stomach altering elevation changes, and near misses of low hanging tree limbs. The descent was several miles of thrills that set the mind racing with norepinephrine and gave me a sense that I can walk on water. I felt great rolling into the stop! I took very little time to eat and refill my water and felt like the remaining 55 miles were mine.

Things turned quickly in the next section of the ride.

The course to check point four starts with several miles of flat highway riding. It can be a spot to pick up ground and I thought that was what I was doing when I put my head down to draft off of a guy passing me. We took turns pulling to the trail head. The pace was high and I kept some of the steam up into the notoriously technical climb in the woods. Eventually I succumbed to the grade, the roots, the rocks and my rising heart rate. I hiked a good portion of the final ascent, but alas the summit came.

I took a breath, took in the view and giddily I mounted my metal stead.

Something was wrong. I could not maintain my line on the single track. I found myself off course and unable to sustain any meaningful speed. Each root and rock sent a shock wave through my bike and into my body. After a miserable few miles of down hill, I slow pedaled the final mile of flat into checkpoint four. A volunteer made eye contact and asked if I was alright. I was not alright. I tried to avoid verbally acknowledging the anguish but my body would not hide the truth. She persisted and brought me food, filled my camel bak and made sure the mechanic lubed my chain.

I did not know if the next 18 miles to checkpoint five were possible, let alone the remaining 43 to the finish.

There is a good chance the over exertion on the highway clouded my thinking. I did not listen to the cues of my body, or even the voice in my head, until I started THE DESCENT of the day 20 miles later. Several hundred meters into what should have been my entrance to euphoria, I encountered the same sensations of the previous down hill. This time I stopped. I decided to check my machine and behold I found the problem! My suspension was locked out by mud. I spent a few moments cleaning and working the parts and got my bike operating much better. I remounted and proceeded to find a state of flow far beyond my typical daily existence!

Processing the experience allows me to see a lesson I can take into life beyond the saddle. Your brain and your body are finely tuned machines, particularly if you have done your homework or practiced. They can provide you with incredible information that you just need to pay attention to. I rode 20 plus miles on faulty equipment. It cost me time, it cost me energy, it could have lead to a DNF and it could have damaged my nearly-new-shamefully-expensive bike.

 

Space to think turns mistakes into the gold of knowledge!

Do I need an agent… or any expert

Last week my accountant emailed me with the out come of our tax return. He suggested that if I move some cash into retirement savings I could reduce my burden by 2x what I am paying him for this year’s service. He has paid for himself with a simple suggestion. It is the second time in as many meetings he has added depth to my knowledge and numbers to my bank account.

He is a valuable resource to have. It is interesting though, that the value of the accountant seems to go up as our net-worth goes up. When there is little to account for there is little opportunity to recoup the cost of counting. Yet, I have utmost confidence that had a professional financial guide been at my side in the beginning we would be in an even better position today.

When resources are scarce one of the hardest things for us to pay for is knowledge. Yet it is precisely knowledge that we need when we have little else to work with. We need to work smarter in tandem with working hard, because often times we are working harder due to lack of efficiency, or rather, lack of knowledge..

The benefit of efficiency is a curious thing, it has drastic impact at the start and overtime it compounds.

One of the most evident signs of our need for knowledge is with our most precious resource: time. When we first start a business, we are constantly busy. We are terrible at time management because we can not assess what is important. Assessment is about awareness. We lack knowledge of the right questions to ask to gather the right information to guide our actions. Is the product more important or finding my audience? Should I work on a partnership or focus on a sale? Is that gig worth it? Furthermore, when we lack time because we are busy, the last thing we prioritize is sitting to think. Thinking seems like doing nothing and how can we afford to DO nothing.

Unfortunately doing nothing is likely one of the most valuable things you could do to not only win back time, but also win the life you want to lead.

If you are unable to think, who will for you?

More than Price: Pricing Art

Finance is complex but it is by far the easiest field for assessing one aspect of value. There are “logical” rules within the world of dollars and cents. BUT, because the world of finance is inhabited and controlled by humans, rationality is not always followed nor the driving force. The complexity can, and often does, become chaos. And that uncertainty yields a rightful sense of fear.

Probably one of the biggest fears is to confront the financial worth of our work. Does price really define my worth?

The simple answer is no. But let’s dig into price to understand why that can never be the true measure of our worth and success.

In the realm of economics price is the point at which transaction happens. Transaction is an exchange of value, often times currency/money FOR an object or service. Transaction requires two parties, it can not be done in isolation. Price is therefore never determined by a single party. This means that “price” is not necessarily the number printed with a dollar sign next to an object on the wall, nor is it the the number in the head of a potential customer. The number on the wall is the financial value assessed by the producer of the object and vice versa, the number in the head of a customer is their financial value for the product. Neither party is right or wrong, they are both true.

The challenge might be to get to place where exchange can happen.

The easiest experience is when the number in the head of a customer exceeds the number on the wall. Of course an exchange can happen, and possibly include more then what is stated (a bonus on your work; Wouldn’t that be nice!) As you progress in your work and build the value of your brand this is likely to happen. Think of how often you purchase an object or a service because you value what you are getting sometimes even before the object is produced for your inspection or the service is provided. You know it is worth it either from your own experiences in the past or the trusted guidance of a friend. You know that the brand carries a level of integrity that you trust and will deliver the dollar value, or even more, than what you are taking out of your wallet.

Things get more challenging for the exchange to occur when the reverse is true, the number on the wall exceeds the number in the head of the customer. There is a misalignment of assessed financial value. How do you get the numbers to match up? This is the art of sales and negotiation.

Often times our first inclination is to question our assessed value. This is an icky feeling situation! However, this makes sense as it is what is in our control and likely the easier move on our part. But… there is the possibility of increasing the assessed value in the head of your customer. How do we demonstrate that our number is more accurate for the value of the experience?

When it comes to art, we likely can not lean on objective financial value. The cost of materials and our labor is not likely where the number we put on the wall comes from, nor will those two things add up to what you have put on the wall for the customer. We therefore can not debate the physical value of the object or creation of the object with our customer. The caveat to this might be if we have the market (an “objective” valuation platform that is agreed upon by many) to support our number, but many of us do not have that for our work.

So we have to ask ourselves where did the number on the wall come from?

CONFIDENCE

Confidence is hard to find because it is not something that exists on its own. It is something that has to be developed.

In our early life, confidence comes easy. We do not have any limits because we do not understand the physical boundaries of the universe nor the social constructs of society. And, if we are fortunate we have cheerleaders. We touch hot stoves. We leap off sofas. We work on an ollie repeatedly until we get it. Our parents congratulate our first simple words. Our grandparents push us to try new foods. Our friends egg us on to hit the jump one more time. We push ourselves out of naivete, out curiosity, out of ambition and out of the encouragement of others to mature and get better.

The opportunities are endless in early life. We will become the next Shaun White. We will master the Sommelier’s level four. We will write the next To Kill a Mockingbird. We literally can do anything.

Then something happens.

We learn to fear. We get hard introductions to gravity. We get laughed at for our crude drawings. We get told our writing is not good because of technical conventions. We start to experience the ease of being comfortable and rarely venture beyond the simple tastes we were able to develop in early childhood. We get stuck and our confidence falters.

How much better would our ability become if we got back up after the fall and did it again? How much more refined might our skills become if we pressed on through the practice? How much more nuanced might our taste be if we continued to explore the unknown? How much stronger would we be as a person if we ignored the external and internal critic?

How much further could we have gone if only we had continued to expand our confidence?

Performance Mindset

I have always been an active person. I grew up playing team sports both organized in public gyms and impromptu scrimmages in neighborhood yards. I ran cross country in high school and eventually retired from sport when I went to college. While studying to be a grown up, I came out of retirement when I was wooed into mountain biking. After a baptism at my first stream crossing, Saturday bike rides in the woods and on the roads became ritual. For 15 years my fitness had been maintained exclusively outside.

Stepping back into a gym changed my body but also enhanced perspective on success beyond the facilities doors.

In 2015, I entered a gym for my first indoor workout since freshman year of college. I bought a Groupon for Yoga. My friend Brandon, requested my support for his effort to get chest-baring-ready for a professional dance performance. Yoga captured my being. I enjoyed the physicality of the sessions, and found enlightenment in the practice. I dreamed about my mat and watched my body change. It was going great until our sessions were up.

Brandon still had 3 months to curtain and wanted to continue the path to professional form. He suggested we buy another Groupon, this time for Crossfit. Yoga had been great, so why not?

I entered my first crossfit gym for a 6:30 PM work out of the day (wod) on a cold February night. Intimidating is an understatement. The space was sparse with tortuous looking apparaty around the walls. The previous class was wrapping up and their strained looks showed desperation for seconds to pass and more than hinted at what was to come for me. The specimens of humanity present in the gym were lessons in platonic human-body form. I am not fat, but I certainly did not have ripples in those places. Music was blaring to pump up the athletes and likely to drown out the grunts of agony. The gym owns the title of “box” as inevitably a box is the only place you could imagine physical duress to take place.

Inside this box, there is much to learn from a mindset of daily performance.

The typical session for crossfit starts with a coach describing the routine you will endure during the next hour. The coach walks you through the technique and the strategy you will need for the performance. A coach shows the most appropriate positioning for a movement and suggests the most efficient tactic for completing the task at hand. Too much reliance on oneself in crossfit might lead to injury and likely will elongate the agony you must endure to finish.

During the chalkboard dialog, and in the midst of warming up the body and mind, the coach will note who is in attendance. It is important to document when we have done work and what we have done. In some crossfit gyms it is merely a name on the board, but technology is also used to preserve the information for greater analysis. Without documentaiton, the we cheat ourselves of both knowing our victories and understanding our weaknesses.

Once attendance has been taken, the plan has been made for the work out, and the technique tweaked through several rounds of building the motion or the volume of weight… the performance begins. The surroundings fade. There is little energy given to the cognitive efforts beyond the physical task at hand. It is hard to discern even what the blaring music is in the background, let alone what my colleague five feet away from me is doing. Is she ahead of me? And is that guy really doing more weight than I am? Those questions are not able to cross your mind. The challenge of the work, and the desire to excel at it, requires utmost focus on what matters, finishing. To complete the task you must do every rep yet only be thinking about the next movement required to conquer the beastly workout.

When the clock stops or the last round is retired, there is a chorus of euphoria. You hear the music of the room again. Your body is singing to the beat of your racing heart and tingling with the natural high of hard exertion. Your mind is back to a harmonious state thinking about the sense of accomplishment. You are rewarded for stepping up and performing!

The wonder of crossfit is not over when the timer chimes. You still need to report on your work. Either publically or in private, you record your score. The documentation allows for consideration of your position, certainly by you, likely by your coach and if you really want to grow, by your peers. You have a mark to compare either to the past or to the future with yourself, and even with others. You have an opportunity to improve and consider what might lead to different results. Performance is not complete without evaluation.

Crossfit highlights the value of approaching everyday as a performance.

First and foremost, peak performance requires guides. There are people who have gone before you that can provide insight on optimum execution. They can refine your skills and expand your thinking. Their understanding of rudiments of life, business and recreation are what you can build your practice upon to achieve and exceed beyond your goals.

Peak performance requires preparation. The warm up is key to success. Anticipating the feel of an experience and tweeking the small things when the clock is not held against us allows the mind and body to do exactly what it needs to when it matters.

Peak performance requires focus. Circumstances change and are hard to predict, we have to be able to complete the task at hand regardless, and to do so requires that we focus on every step along the way.. We will certainly miss the minor but meaningful shortcuts if our frame of reference is wrong, and we will likely miss the mark if we do not keep it in sight.

Peak performance has destinations that you can celebrate. Smart goals, or knowing the intent of the performance, gives you something to pause and stand in wonder at your abilities. They are natural points for rest, reward and conjuring up the next idea.

Peak performance is achieved through analysis. It is hard to know if you have reached the peak if there is no marker. It is also hard to know where you are at in relation to the destination if there is no accounting. Documenting our work allows for constant reflection which leads to adjustments that lead to meaningful change. Knowing where you are at and asking questions about the position and how you got there, is the means by which we will conquer new territory.