Two blog posts by two particularly awesome ladies have really sung to me recently.....
Zero Investment, Zero Awesomeness by the magnificent Lisa of Sassyology - an online Goddess I am extremely to privileged to know in the actual real world, too!
and a blog post by Leonie Dawson (my new guru girl on all things businessy!) explaining why she'd doubled her rates, stating that she was no longer willing to work with women who were unwilling to invest in themselves. Wowsers!
Like SO many passionate dreamer-hippy-types, I've had a dodgy relationship with money since the word go. I bought into a common idea - a person could either be poor, happy and principled; or rich, miserable and a big fat sellout.
I've carried this with me my whole life and I'd carried this into the business I'd co-founded. We are nonprofit, right? So we live hand to mouth, on the edge, wobbling along a tightrope between whether we can pay the rent this quarter, or not. Because that's the right thing to do. Because financial success is BAD.
Here at The Art House we had always priced things way below the going rate - particularly our workshops and events. We did this because we genuinely, wholeheartedly wanted everyone to be able to join in. We'd all been in that place where there was something you really wanted to do, but the cost was just out of reach. So, almost everything we did was by 'Magic Hat' and we've always made way, way less than we would if we just charged for things, like normal places do. But that was OK, because not making money was OK too.
But a few months ago, something happened.
I'd just run a drumming session with my lovely Djembabes drumming group. Turnout had been smaller than usual and, although the session had been fun, I ended up feeling really drained by the end of it.
I don't get paid any extra to run the group, and had always run it 'by donation' of a suggested £3.50 per person, with the money going to The Art House. The going rate around here for a drum circle is usually around £8.
That night, I'd had five people come to the session. When I looked down at the money in my hand, it totalled just under £9.
For this sum, I'd given up my evening, run an hour and a half session, shared the drumming skills I'd built up over years, used the venue it costs us £450 per day to maintain and the drums we bought for the group. Because of the noise of a drum circle, we'd been unable to book any other groups in that night. From 7pm to 9.30pm, our venue took just that amount. Under nine quid. If I totalled up the rent, bills and rates for those two and a half hours, and my already rather little wages, the donations would not have covered them - not even close.
I realised that, instead of making the session accessible, I was enabling people to shrug off their side of the energy exchange. I was undervaluing what I was doing and cheating The Art House out of much-needed revenue. Most of all, I was being unfair to the people who HAD paid their £3.50 every session.
So, us Directors had a brainstorm. We decided that we were going to start charging what things were worth, whilst putting into place some ways to keep things accessible for those genuinely in need. These ideas included free or discounted workshops for our volunteers, and Friends of The Art House card holders. Those people who, in their way, had invested in us. We would also, once we were actually making a surplus, look at a bursary fund for those in need. But first, we had to get there!
So, how is it going so far?
I can only say WOW. The last Djembabes session was filled with so much energy and passion, it blew me away. Saying that there was a set charge focussed me - I planned the session properly, I sent publicity out, I was totally up for it. I didn't want to let paying people down.
Firstly, there were SO MANY new people! Most of the group turned up on time (lateness had been a real issue before) and they paid attention as well as money, the chatting that had marred the sessions before diminished. They sounded amazing. We rocked.
In the break, everyone lined up and paid their money without complaint. At the same time, quite a few bought a drink and some even had cake. There was a proper break, so people had a chance to enjoy a drink and a chat, before we drummed some more.
The total at the end of the night was more than TEN TIMES the paltry £9 in donations. We'd all had a great night, nobody had been excluded and The Art House had met it's target for the evening.
That's called a win-win situation, folks!
So, when I read Leonie's blog and Lisa's, I realised what had happened. People had invested in The Art House, and in doing so, they'd invested in THEMSELVES - and this had made all the difference.