How to Make Money as an Artist

This story was originally published at BiggerPockets.com

Most people pursuing financial independence own businesses or have stable jobs, working as hard as they can to make any extra dollar, throwing their money into the stock market or real estate, and betting on the economy to take them to higher and higher levels of wealth. But what about those who AREN’T chasing every dollar or dedicating their lives to the pursuit of passive income? Can creatives, musicians, writers, or anyone wondering how to make money as an artist still find FIRE?

Today, we’re talking to Paco de Leon, business owner, musician, podcast host, and author of Finance for the People: Getting a Grip on Your Finances. Paco’s world involves working with other creatives who rarely speak or think about money, helping them link their creative work with cash flow so they can continue doing what they love while building wealth for the future.

Paco knows the system we live in isn’t perfect but recognizes that simply not participating isn’t an option. So, she serves as a voice for those who want to make a difference in the world, go against the grain, or care more about people than profit. In today’s episode, she’ll share the common money mistakes most creatives make that end up hurting them in the long run and why making money and building wealth is something ANYONE can accomplish, no matter your life’s passion!

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Mindy:
Hello, my dear listeners and welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. My name is Mindy Jensen, and with me as always is my weird in his own way co-host, Scott Trench.

Scott:
Thanks, Mindy, I guess. I certainly am interested in creative finance. Hi, Mindy. We are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else to introduce you to every money story, because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you’re starting. Today, we talk to Paco de Leon, author of Finance for the People and host of the podcast, Weird Finance. Paco’s work centers on artists, creatives, and freelancers. And on today’s episode, she’s going to share with us her insight and tips on how artists and creatives of all types can shed the belief systems that have kept them behind and build new practices and work a system to get them financial success.

Mindy:
Paco really gives insight into the mindset shift it takes for creatives to make in order to be able to reach financial success. And this episode is not just for people who view themselves as creatives, but also for anyone who is a freelancer, anyone who does not want the 9:00 to 5:00 work model, or really anyone who has limiting beliefs around money that have kept them behind.

Scott:
Yeah, and a lot of these creatives, it seems, struggle with two fundamental problems. One is the belief that pursuing wealth is a worthwhile goal. There’s often an aversion to some of the capitalist constructs that we take for granted here on the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. And then second, once we’ve overcome that limiting belief or aversion to building wealth, there’s a playbook that creatives need to follow that’s different than the playbook that W2 employees might follow, because they’re not receiving a steady paycheck. They might have project-based work. And so, you’re going to really get a lot of value out of this if you’re in any one of those camps. If you know anyone in any of those camps, I think you’re get a really good perspective on how challenging it can be for some folks to accept value of building wealth, and then to actually master the playbook.

Mindy:
Let’s bring in Paco de Leon. Paco de Leon, from the Weird Finance podcast. Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. I’m so excited to talk to you today.

Paco:
Thank you so much for having me on. I’m excited to chat with you folks as well.

Mindy:
So Paco, you studied finance, and work in finance, but you identify as an artist and a creative, which are two very, very separate things. How do you reconcile these two different parts of yourself?

Paco:
Well, philosophically, I sometimes think that not everything reconciles. So I’ll start with that. Sometimes, things just feel like they don’t fit. But, I will also say that I don’t think that being an artist or a creative person, and also understanding the abstract world of money, and finance, and accounting, I don’t think that those are mutually exclusive things. I think you need to have a wild, and robust, and vivid imagination to try to understand financial concepts, because they are quite abstract. If you think about the concept of interest, inflation, inflation is a good one, that one, we can all feel it. You can’t really touch it, but we all understand how it’s impacting our lives. And, those are the same brain activity that is required for imagining a story, or imagining a drawing in your mind’s eye. It’s the same activity going on. So, I don’t think that they conflict, but I will say that I know that I have a high tolerance for boring things in life. I have a high tolerance for tedium, and that is what I think accounting is ultimately.

Scott:
I think you’re an exception here where… At least there’s a stereotype of creatives not being good with money. I love your framework of saying, “No, they’re actually using the same brain and the same thought processes, both for storytelling, art, and finance.” But, in your experience, is that stereotype often true, that creatives are not good with finance? And if so, why?

Paco:
So, I think, a lot of creatives might buy into this idea that they’ve been sold and that they’ve been told that this world is not for you, that there’s complicated math, or just if you think about the images that are reflected back to us from the world of finance up until very recently, you go to a financial planner’s website and it’s a closeup picture of a super nice watch and a sailboat. And, the images alone, I think, project a world that a lot of creative people feel like, “That’s just not for me.” It’s very serious and it’s very stuffy. I think there’s a lot of jargon that happens. And, I’ve been in those rooms. I worked in a wealth management firm. And I have before thought like, “Oh, what the world wants of me when I’m playing this role is to seem super smart and to say big words, so that I prove to the client that I’m smart.”
And, creative people, at least in my experience, they’re scared of that. It feels intimidating. Even if you have issues with authority, then there’s another layer of intimidation because that person sitting across from you is authoritative. They’re using words that scare you. So I think the world just feels like it’s not built for them. And, yeah, they’ve been sold this idea that, “I don’t know if you’re good at drawing. You’re bad at math.” But, again, my partner is an interior designer and she tells herself, “I’m not good at this stuff.” But, she can understand space and scale. She can understand the depth of something. She can understand the world in meters. Or, yeah, she understands math. I think, it’s just not applied in a way that is palatable for creative professionals.

Mindy:
With so much confusion over money just with everybody. This is not just for creatives, this is for everybody, I wonder if it’s sometimes easier for people to just say, “Oh, that’s not for me.” Than it is to dive into it. I mean, I’ve certainly done that.

Paco:
I definitely think that we’re experiencing a moment in the world where it feels a lot easier to blame a lot of externalities than to find where you have agency. Of course, there’s things outside of our control that are always going to have an impact on our lives. I’m not saying that that doesn’t exist. But, in every moment, we can figure out how are we going to reframe this? How are we going to think about this? How are we going to find those little slivers of agency where we can exercise our power? And, yeah, I feel like, I definitely have encountered a lot of folks where they just think they can’t do it. And, sometimes part of my job is to just say, “Hey, let’s take a deep breath and figure out why you think you can’t do it. What stories are there. And, can we rewrite the stories if you really believe that? Where can we find examples where you have done something that feels outside of your wheelhouse in the math finance area and you’ve done well? And let’s try to follow that trend.”

Mindy:
So, you studied finance. What does your childhood look like that led you to studying finance? Did you guys talk about money growing up?

Paco:
No. I am a lazy person. Around when my time was starting to run out in college and I needed to pick something, it was 2006, right, so we’re right in the peak housing bubble. And so, what I started to observe was there’s these salespeople and these sales positions in the world of finance and they don’t seem to have to work hard like a lawyer, or a doctor, or a professor, and they make a lot of money. And I thought, “Well, I’m probably smart enough to do that job where you sit down, and it’s air-conditioned, and you look at the computer, and talk to people, and do math stuff.”

Scott:
No blood.

Paco:
Exactly, exactly. It seems easy, sell somebody something, this idea of, “I’ll take your money and make more money. And then, I could go home at a reasonable hour, and still play in my band, and be an artist, and do all this stuff.” So, I was really assessing where can I be the laziest with the maximum return? And also, what is a good fallback or what is practical? I didn’t want my parents to be worried if I got a liberal arts degree, or went to study music, or something. I felt like, “Yeah, they’re probably going to worry about me, so let me do something that’s going to not let them worry and feels practical.” So, that’s the lens. It was not a real strategy, frankly. But, I’m glad I chose the path. I think it’s unfolded in a beautiful way for me.

Scott:
Wonderful answer. Thank you for sharing that. Can you give us a little bit about your career, and what you started out doing, and how you got to what you currently do?

Paco:
Yeah, it’s a funny beginning, because I was the first person in my family to go to college. So there’s so many unknown unknowns. And I thought, “I’m just going to lock in this degree and everything’s going to work out.” And so, I’m getting my degree. And then, I’m like, “Oh, I should probably not have Jamba Juice as my only job on my resume. I should probably, I don’t know, try to get some finance job.” So, I stumble upon a job from a big bank and it’s called credit manager. And I’m like, “Okay. Well, I don’t know what that is. Sounds fancy. Let’s apply for it.” It’s a big cattle call. And, there’s a big line at a call center. I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t know what this is.”
Next thing I know, I’m doing a role playing exercise with one of the managers and I’m interviewing for a debt collector job. I didn’t think I would get it. Got the job, was there for two years, collected on auto loans for two years of the last years of college. Everybody, whenever I say that, they look at me like, “Oh, you poor thing. That must’ve been horrible.” It was truly one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, because I was not a hardcore collector, and I was working for a bank, so I was only collecting on the debt that the bank owned. I wasn’t at some agency where the debt had been sold off. So it wasn’t hardcore collections in that sense, one.
And then, two, I sat on the phone for four hours a day, five days a week for two years asking strangers to pay the bank money back. And after that, I was like, “I could talk to anyone, anywhere, any place about money, because I have done the most awkward thing you can do.” Call somebody at dinner and say, “Hey man, sorry, you’re 35 days past due on your Honda Civic. Could you make a payment?”
So that was my first job. And then, I left truly right as the infrastructure was starting to crumble during the housing crash, I didn’t know that was what was happening. But in retrospect, as soon as that started to fall apart, I graduated, jumped ship. I tricked this small boutique business consulting and management firm here in Los Angeles into hiring me, the summer of 2008 with a finance degree. Can’t believe it. Just can’t believe it.

Scott:
Is that your version of saying you successfully interviewed, and applied for, and got a job?

Paco:
Yeah, yeah. I absolutely somehow still got a job in the summer of 2008.

Scott:
That’s because you’re saying, “I love calling people at eight o’clock at night to collect them their auto loans.” And, I bet you, everyone was like, “You’re hired. 2008, this is it.”

Paco:
Okay. I didn’t love it at the time. It, for sure, was just a job. It’s one of those things, like hindsight is 2020, where I’m like, oh, my job now, as a financial planner, running a bookkeeping agency, just trying to help people with their money, that job was so, so, so integral, because all of the awkwardness was just washed away those first two years. I didn’t even have a degree yet, and I was like, “I’m pretty sure I could talk to anyone about money after this.” So, 2008… Sorry, this is such a long story, this is probably not what you bargained for.

Scott:
This is great. No, you take your time. This is wonderful.

Paco:
2008, I’m working for this boutique small business management firm. It’s basically bookkeeping and accounting for a book of clients. And then, the boss does some consulting. It is all creative businesses. So, in this job I am learning QuickBooks, I’m learning bookkeeping. My boss sends me to do another accounting 101 class at UCLA extension. I’m like, “This is great.” So, I’m running the books for a bunch of creative firms. And then, I’m interacting with creative people. So, the big lesson here I learned, creative people are just scared to death of doing the wrong thing. And I’ll give you one example where I had one owner of this interior design firm. She was writing a check to pay herself from the business account or something like that. And she was paralyzed. She was scared about writing the wrong thing on the check. So, 22-year-old me is sitting there with this 45-year-old woman who owns this company and helping her write this check, right?
So that’s where I was like, “Okay, creative people, I love them. These are my people. But, they’re scared. Something’s going on here. This woman’s freaked out about writing a check.” After that, I got laid off from that job. I’ll tell you, my career has been a bunch of times getting laid off and almost getting fired. And it’s because I have an entrepreneurial spirit, I’ll tell you that much. But then, after that, I go into financial planning and wealth management. It’s a boutique firm again in Los Angeles, they’re managing just north of a billion dollars. And that’s where I’m working with a lot of Hollywood people. I’m sitting at the table across from two Harvard graduates. One is a VP of Paramount, the other one is a VP of some other studio. And I’m just getting schooled. I’m learning how deals are made. I’m learning how people are negotiating contracts. I’m learning how you save $50,000 on a tax bill.
And then, first I’m like, “Oh, this is shiny.” My ego is like, “Hey, kid, look at you. You’re smart. You made it. You’re legit.” And then, after time, I was like, “Man, what about the artists? We never get to help the people that actually need help, right? We’re only helping people with millions of dollars. We’re only helping artists after they’ve made the money.” And around that time, my friends start asking me things like, “Hey, what’s a bond?” Or like, “Hey, dude, my grandma gave me 10 grand. What should I do with it?” Or like, “Oh crap, it’s April 15th at 9:00 PM, can you come over and help me with my tax return?” And I’m like, “Bro, not an accountant, but I’ll sit down with you.” So, it was this parallel thing happening, where I’m getting all this professional experience, again, just showing up. And then, my artist community is starting to recognize, “I think you know stuff about money kid.” And those eventually start to converge.
One day, I find myself unemployed and I don’t know what to do. I think I’m going to go to law school. I know that’s not the right path. And, it’s a very LA story. I’m meditating every day and I’m asking my intuition, I’m asking the universe, “What should I do? What should I do? What should I do?” And, the thing that keeps bubbling up is, “Oh, maybe try to help creatives with their finances.” And so, I formed this company, The Hell Yeah Group, and the great hypothesis that I had, right, the question I was trying to answer is, “Is there a way to serve the creative community in a way that makes sense? They don’t have to already be rich and feels good for me?” Right?
And so, I started a bookkeeping agency. And so far, that has been the service-based business that makes money, that helps people. And then, that allows me to then do weird stuff, like write a book called Finance for the People, do a podcast called Weird Finance, make a bunch of free content online, and hang out with Mindy and Scott on a Tuesday afternoon just shooting the shit.

Scott:
You, I think, said you were broke around this time. So, was there a paradox here where you were getting better and better at learning the ins and outs of finance in general, but your personal finances were not growing at the same time congruently with it?

Paco:
Yeah, Scott, I was a broke financial planner. The people who I’d be sitting across the table from, right, they’re Harvard graduates, $5 million net worth. And, that morning I had ridden my bike seven and a half miles to get to work. Did a bird bath in the lobby of the office building. And, I was growing lettuce in a garden to save $2 at Trader Joe’s, which I’m going to tell you what, not a great budgeting strategy. Not a great strategy for cutting down your expenses. But yeah, I was not making a lot of money in those jobs and I didn’t recognize that maybe I could talk to my boss and negotiate higher pay. I just accepted the default. And, I think one of the things that was holding me back, outside of things that were systemic, like the wage gap internally, I just felt like, “This is what I’m worth. And, I can’t possibly ask for more, and I ought to just be grateful for what I have.”
So there was a lot of internal work that I needed to do to figure out, “Why do I have these ideas about my own self-worth?” Or, “Why do I feel like I’m not valuable compared to other people when I am helping move the needle, I am helping increase revenue?” So, that’s where I started to learn, “Oh, you could know everything about why you should put 10, 20, 30% into a 401k. You could know about the 50, 30, 20 budgeting rule. You could know the academics with finances, but there’s so much internally sometimes that your…” There’s internal discoveries, I think, that you can make that can help you propel or reach your financial goals. And sometimes, you got to be in a tough spot, I think, before you could recognize that there’s even something holding you back.

Scott:
So what was this pivot point? How did you go from Produce Inc to producing?

Paco:
Ooh.

Scott:
Yes, I knew that you were going to love that one. But, what was the catalyst that changed your mindset around this and got you going?

Paco:
This is a little controversial, but I’ll tell the story. So, remember how I told you I had the bookkeeping experience. When I went to go work for the financial planning firm, my boss was like, “Hey, kid, you are bookkeeping. So why don’t you do my books?” So I was doing my boss’s books. And, we had a deal where he was like, “Okay, if I make over half a million dollars, then you’re going to get 10% of everything.” Right? So, we had a profit sharing. And that was really what saved me was the bonus at the end of the year. But it was 11 months of struggling. And then, that one month I got the bonus. But one day, I was doing his bookkeeping. And, I knew how much he paid himself the whole time. But, a couple years in, I was like, “But how much does he pay himself relative to me?” And so, I did the math, because he was paying himself $23,000 a month and I was getting 36,000 a year. And so, I did the math and it was 13 cents for every dollar or something stark like that.
I’m not saying I deserved a dollar for every dollar, he’s taking a risk, it’s his business. But that I felt punched in the gut when I did that math and made it relative. And so, for me, and I know it’s not black and white anymore, but in that moment I thought, “Oh, this is a game. And you will either be exploited or you exploit.” Right? You’re either employer or employee. And in that moment I thought, “I think I can probably get people to pay me more if I go off on my own.” And so, that’s when I went to the dark side, and was like, “I’m going to figure out how to start my own business, and leverage my skills, and maybe reach an audience that I know I can inherently reach.” So that’s when the seed was planted, but it was a lot of time, months after, maybe even a year after that, I think, when I finally did something about it.

Scott:
So I’m going to ask a biased question here, and you check that bias and throw it out here, but you’ve used the words now exploit, dark side, leverage in the context of starting a business, is that mindset common in the creative world? And, is there a defense mechanism that you’re employing there with some of those clients to help them get money? Is that just a part of the interaction you have on a regular basis with your clients in having to couch some of these things in those terms?

Paco:
Yeah. I use that language as well to show that I’m cognizant of the fact that the system that I am participating in, it is inherently exploitative. There’s things I could do, Scott, I could set up a co-op, but I’m actively choosing not to. Right? There’s a lot of things that I could do. So, yeah, I think a lot of people reckon with this. And earlier, Mindy, when you’re like, “How do you reconcile things?” This is a beautiful example of sometimes things, you don’t reconcile them, you recognize that they’re… Can I say a bad word on here? I know I already said one bad word. Okay. You recognize that things are fucked up and you maybe participate in that way.
But, what you do is maybe you find other ways to offset your participation. And I’ve done that, right? I put out a lot of free stuff and I help people who can never afford to pay me. I feel like writing finance for the people is a community service. Yes, I was paid for it. But, my God, it takes years to write a book and it’s truly a labor of love, because it’s really not that much money at the end of the day when you think about everything that goes into it. And I really felt like I needed to put this out there. So, am I dodging your question or am I answering it?

Scott:
Well, you certainly answered the question for you, which I think is awesome. I guess, the other part of my question was, is this something that you find common among creatives that you work with? Is almost an aversion like, “Hey, accumulating wealth is unpleasant, because of what it represents about our society”? Is that something that you contend with your clients regularly?

Paco:
One of the things that I see with the mindset thing when it comes to entrepreneurship is that a lot of creative people are much more willing to be a freelancer when it’s just them selling their time, not having to leverage another person’s time, and energy, and care, and effort, and labor. They’re much more comfortable with that. But, oftentimes, what happens is you start to see the limits of freelancing, where it’s just you, right? You can only trade your time for money, or you can only take on so many projects. So, if you’re trying to accomplish a certain level of wealth, you’re going to be bound by constraints as a freelancer, that’s the reality. You could sell a product that’s one way to scale. Or, oftentimes, what I see a lot of people do is create an agency. Then we start to see some of these layers of, “How do I not be evil?” Is the question.
Then, we see that on the investment side, and certainly we see that on the real estate side for sure. The investment side, I have a great example. The most common thing people ask me when it comes to reconciling these feelings in the investment world is, “What is your recommendation for investing in companies or in funds that they’re not evil, they’re not doing bad things to the planet, and funds that are not holding bad companies?” And the answer is always, this is very complicated. Sure, there are funds that exist that are “socially responsible.” I’m not going to get into the weeds about green-washing and all that stuff. Sure, that exists.
But, the thing that we need to understand is that the mechanism for extracting profits from companies where the people who are creating the labor, they create the value and they don’t get to extract the profits, right, that trickles up to the shareholders. That is inherently exploitative. But, I still don’t think that conscientious objection is the way to go. I think that this is the system that we’re in, that if you want to have power and make a difference, then you must get the money, that is part of it. You must have money in order to direct change, to have power, and that is an unfortunate… Not an unfortunate, it’s just that this is the game that we’re playing. This is the game that we’re continuously choosing to opt into every single day.

Mindy:
Switching gears slightly, you have an agency that does bookkeeping for creatives. What are some of the common problems around money that you’ve found that creatives run into?

Paco:
Different businesses at different levels are going to have different problems. So I would say, when you’re first starting out, the first problem is figuring out if people are going to pay you for the thing you think they’re going to pay you for. Right? Are you solving an actual problem, one? And then, if you are, will people solve that problem for you? So, one funny example I like to throw out there is, on the one hand, it might be hard to get people to pay you to do something. But on the other hand, there are companies out there where the service is a guy will drive to your house in a van, and then he will clean up all of your dog’s poop in the backyard because you don’t want to. That’s bizarre that that’s a service, because I would rather keep the money in my pocket and go pick up the dog poop. But, things like that exist, right?
So, I think it’s all about finding the right solution for the people who are willing to pay. And I think once you understand that framework, it will be a lot easier to make money. And the other framework I like people to think about is, yeah, when people have pain, they will pay you to take the pain away. That’s the world that we live in. I have a tooth right now that’s bothering me, and I’m going to wait until it bothers me a little bit more frequently. I’m going to wait until the pain is too much, because I don’t know, maybe I’m a bad person, and I should pay attention sooner. But, that’s just how I am. It’s like, when the pain gets to me enough, that’s when I’m like, “Fine, here’s my money.” When you think about business in that context, I think it makes it a lot easier to find out like, “Okay, whose problems can I solve?”
I will say some timely things that a lot of people deal with is waiting until the very last minute to file their taxes, and then recognizing, “Oh no, I did nothing. I didn’t do any bookkeeping at all for the prior year.” And so, right around this time, I get emails from people and the panic is palpable through the words on the screen about how worried they are. Everybody thinks they’re going to go to jail. So yeah, not really understanding their place in the market and who’s going to pay for the solutions that they provide.
Another big thing that I see a lot of freelancers deal with is making money for the first time and not saving for taxes, getting sticker shock with the tax bill. Yeah. So that’s a tough one. There’s a really easy remedy for that. And, all you have to do is open up a sales tax savings account, and then for every dollar that you earn, you save between 10 and 30%. Check with your accountant, whatever they recommend. 10% is probably going to be okay, 20% is better, 30%, maybe you’ll end up with too much, but then you’ll have cash come tax time, and you can put that into a IRA or you can reinvest it into the business. It’s not a bad thing to have extra cash on hand. I would say, those are some of the most common issues that creative entrepreneurs and freelancers deal with.

Mindy:
Paco, I’ve heard you say assets are either bought or created. Can you explain what you mean by this?

Paco:
Yeah, I use that in the context to help people understand how to build wealth, right? Because building wealth at the end of the day is having assets. So the way that you get assets is you either make them, like creating a business is a really great example. I guess, you could build a house from the ground up and that would be an asset, not my cup of tea, but if it’s yours, go for it, or buying them, right? So, we go to work, and we get a paycheck, and we use a portion of our paycheck to scoop up assets. And the way that the great majority of us are going to do that is through a tool, like your 401k account, your IRA, or if you have a brokerage account. So you’re buying assets, right? You’re buying stocks, or oftentimes funds that hold stocks, and that is how you are buying assets every time you get paid. And, it’s really boring, but that’s the path to wealth, folks.

Scott:
We talk to a lot of W2 earners on this podcast. Right? And, there’s a lot of different ways to get to financial independence and to build wealth. The one that I think is heavily weighted and discussed here is, “Hey, you save up a percentage of your paycheck. Get those raises. Keep your lifestyle static and let the wealth build up here.” There are themes that go along with that, like, “You don’t need to have that big of an emergency reserve if you’re going to be employed for 20 years.” Right? “You don’t need to have a lot of cash. You can invest in long-term assets that aren’t really liquid there.” I imagine with artists and creatives, there’s more irregular cash flow for many folks there and a different overall financial strategy is needed to build wealth, and be sustainable, be safe, be conservative. What do you typically see as a pattern for these folks?

Paco:
It is really hard as a creative to manage your finances when you have lumpy cashflow. That’s definitely one of the biggest issues that a lot of project-based creative people deal with. And so, that’s why I am such a champion when it comes to… You really need to think about your freelance practice as a business. What are the processes that you have happening and how can you repeat them on a regular basis, so that you can always have options? And, for what that looks like really is options for different clients and different projects to be working on. So I think that’s definitely something that if I had the answer to figuring out how to help creatives manage the most volatile piece, I think I could be president, right? Then, I would have a crystal ball, I would know everything. But, that’s the name of the game. That is the hardest part. And I don’t have it figured out yet.
And even myself, the way my business is set up is, I run this boring, straightforward fee for service business, and then that allows me the latitude to then do project-based work. That’s really not lucrative at the end of the day, but it’s fun, and it goes back into the business in a good way, like having a book, having a podcast, those are forms of content marketing and advertisements. But, yeah, that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is because we’re no longer in this zero interest rate environment, right, there’s no longer the TikTok creator fund. There seems to be a lot less money being thrown at creative projects than there were 3, 5, 7 years ago. And then, anecdotally, some of the creators that I’ve spoken to lately said 2023 was a tough year for them. Brand deals have dried up. They’re not making as much money. I’ve heard podcasting was a rough year for a lot of my fellow podcasters.
So yeah, one of the things I’m thinking about as we’re out of this 0% interest rate environment is things that were super un-sexy 3, 5, 7 years ago, which is a pretty classic, boring, straightforward service based business or a boring business. They’re getting sexy again. And, that’s where I’m wanting to orient people’s gaze like, “Hey guys, maybe do this steady thing that you can rely on and count on. And let that be the thing that funds your creative projects.”

Scott:
There’ll always be a lot of people who want Scooby-Doo. What was the other one you came up with? Full credit to Mindy for that one.

Mindy:
That’s an actual company Carl and I dabbled in. We considered doing this and we were going to call our company the Rocky Mountain Turd Wranglers.

Scott:
Nice. Yeah, I love that advice, and I think we’ve talked to Cody Sanchez here on the BiggerPockets Money podcast. I know Alex Hormoze has been on the BiggerPockets podcast. And that’s just such a great place to go exploring if you are interested in building wealth at this point in time and you are willing and able to put in those hours to free up the time for these creative outlets. And that brings me to a question I have for you is you started off our discussion by talking about how you’re innately lazy and that’s your goal. What would you be doing if you didn’t need to work at all? You’ve mentioned a band several… What is the goal for you? How would you love to spend your day if you become financially free?

Paco:
Honestly, it would look a lot like how I spend it already, and I feel very grateful and very lucky that I have been working on this business for nearly 10 years, and it’s grown, and it’s freed up my time, and I have opportunities to work on projects that I find interesting. I do have a running joke with my partner, and it’s always like, “Yeah, I just can’t wait until I don’t have to work anymore.” This is a very LA thing. “I’ll go DJ a yoga class or something silly like that.” I’m not really going to DJ a yoga class. But, I think what I would do is I would just make weirder and weirder art with my friends, because I wouldn’t have to be concerned about the market constraints. So, I’d probably make a lot more music. And, probably, I don’t know, make a cartoon. I’d probably dabble in various art forms with my friends. That’s what I’d do.

Scott:
I love it. So your thesis is, start a services based business, because there’s lots of good opportunity there, and then use that to fund your creative outlets in weirder and weirder art, and you drink your own Kool-Aid, and do exactly that with your day-to-day and love it.

Paco:
Exactly. You’ll get to DJ every yoga class and it’ll be great.

Scott:
All right. So, you mentioned yoga. I know you have a closely related meditation practice that you work on. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and if there’s any linkage to your money story?

Paco:
Yeah, I’ve been meditating for a decade now. I have a pretty regular practice. I fall off when I go on vacation every time. I just don’t meditate on vacation. But whenever I get home, I always begin again. And, the thing that meditation has given me is it’s allowed me to work on my attachment to things, which I think is really important when you’re running a business. And I think that’s really important when you do public facing things, because we’re all at the hands of what the market is doing, and what the market will do, and what the audience wants, and what the algorithm wants. And, I think the more that you can exercise letting go of outcomes and just falling deeply and profoundly in love with the everyday process of showing up and doing the thing, whatever it is, then you’ll feel freer, one. And two, I think that is what is required for success ultimately.
So, in a weird way, I do feel like meditation has played a gigantic role in any of the success I’ve seen. But, a huge part of that is ultimately letting go of it. And, I think once you let go of it, the pressure is gone, you just love showing up every day. There’s a Buddhist phrase that’s like, before enlightenment, you have to chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, you have to chop wood and carry water. Which basically means, your life is going to be the same and you’re just going to just fall in love with the process because that’s all we ever have, this moment right now.

Mindy:
I like that a lot. That’s so true. Once you do something, you’re still going to have… I think that applies to financial independence too, Scott. Before you reach financial independence, you’re still going to have to chop wood and carry water. After you reach financial independence, you’re still going to have to chop wood and carry water. Paco, I love this. I love you. I have had such a good time with you today. Can you please share with our listeners where they can find you?

Paco:
Yeah. If you want to listen to my podcast, it’s called Weird Finance, and it is available wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Also, you should sign up for my weekly email newsletter called The Nerd Letter, and that’s the best way that we can stay in touch and I’ll send you an email every week. You just go to thehellyeahgroup.com, and you sign on up, and I’ll see you in your inbox.

Scott:
Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful breadth of thoughts today, and really giving us an insight into the world of creatives and finance. Really appreciate it and your perspective was really unique and powerful for us.

Paco:
Thank you guys for having me on and just letting me be my full weird self. I appreciate it.

Mindy:
This was so much fun, Paco. Thank you so much, and we will talk to you soon.

Paco:
Take care.

Mindy:
Scott, that was Paco de Leon and that was a fantastic episode. What did you think?

Scott:
I thought she was fantastic. I am really walking away with new perspective that in the creative community there is likely a significant amount of the population that’s averse to the concept of building wealth and perhaps even capitalism from a moral standpoint, because I just take it for granted that that’s the system we live in and that we’re here to help people build wealth. I haven’t empathized with that enough, and I think that Paco is so perfectly equipped to understand those challenges and that mindset in that community, and I think she’s doing really good work in there. So, there’s a two-part problem. It’s one, alignment with the concept of building wealth and getting over or past that roadblock for a lot of creatives. And then, two, the playbook that they need in order to build wealth, which is going to be different and need to have different tools at their disposal than the folks that are pursuing financial freedom through a traditional W2 corporate ladder path.

Mindy:
You’re right, Scott, they’re going to have to get, pardon my pun, creative with their financial freedom and their financial mindset, because they don’t typically have the tools that are available to a W2 employee, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t build wealth and provide for their future. Again, I feel like you, Scott, they need to get creative. All right, Scott, should we get out of here?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
That wraps up this episode of the BiggerPockets Money podcast. He is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying, see you later, excavator. Shout out to listener Scott for that one.

Scott:
If you enjoyed today’s episode, please give us a five star review on Spotify or Apple. And if you’re looking for even more money content, feel free to visit our YouTube channel at youtube.com/biggerpocketsmoney.

Mindy:
BiggerPockets Money was created by Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench, produced by Kaylin Bennett, editing by Exodus Media, copywriting by Nate Weintraub. Lastly, a big thank you to the BiggerPockets team for making this show possible.

Watch the Episode Here

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In This Episode We Cover

  • Common money problems for creatives and how to build wealth without selling out
  • The two ways you’ll get rich and how you can “create” your own financial independence 
  • Why your good “idea” isn’t enough, and what you MUST do to make money off of it
  • Living in an imperfect world and the “dark side” of capitalism many people ignore
  • Why making money and making art are NOT mutually exclusive (and how to do both!)
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Connect with Paco

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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