Why artists don’t do their own taxes

One of the benefits of getting older is that you get to know yourself. What you like, what you don’t. What you are good at and what you aren’t.

I am an idea person, not a operations person. I am very good at coming up with design concepts, big picture strategies and pulling back to the overall goal. I love starting things. I can look at a design concept and know if its good or bad instantly. “Its too masculine, too energetic, or too serious” are words I would use. I know what scale patterns and fabric textures go together by how I feel when I place samples next to each other. I can look through a handful of seemingly identical paint chips and select the perfect color. My clients are usually amazed. How did you do that? The truth is, it comes naturally for me.


Photo Credit: Emily Henderson

Keeping track of timelines and schedules and subs, however, is very hard. It does not come easily to me. Neither does invoicing or working on spreadsheets. Its not because I don’t try or because I’m not smart; Lord help me that is not it. I actually have a bachelor’s degree in business. Its because my brain works differently. No matter how many time management books I read, courses I take or timers I use, I will always be running behind. Its not because I don’t know better, or that I’m not smart enough to read a clock, its because my brain has about 973 ideas going on at one time and I always want to squeeze in one more thing, one last change to make the design better.

My brain is focused on the bigger idea. Put simply, I am not a linear thinker. There are many people out there who are good at operations, at executing. At turning other people’s ideas into reality. They are practical, on time, linear thinkers who actually love spreadsheets and billing (I swear, I’ve met them). They are neat and tidy, perfectionists in every way. They are essential to my business’s success and I am very thankful for their help. Forcing myself to operate in a world that is always logical, organized and structured is stressful; it takes all the effort I can muster. It also kills my spirit bit by bit and limits my creativity. The more time I spend on my bookkeeping, the less I have for creative development and my designs suffer.


Photo Credit: Shutterstock

I imagine the creative brains out there reading this can relate. We didn’t become designers to create budgets, schedules or spreadsheets. Can we do that? Sure. Will it take twice as long as someone who actually likes that stuff? Probably. Some could see that as a weakness, an “opportunity” you need to develop to use corporate SWOT analysis talk. Something to apologize for. If you aren’t naturally good at something, all it takes is hard work, dedication and perseverance, right? While there is certainly some truth in that, and I am no stranger to hard work that’s for sure, I believe something very different.

We aren’t all supposed to be good at the same things. We aren’t generalists; humans beings are specialists. Can your bookkeeper come up with a gorgeous living room concept, clever space plan or pick the perfect shade of gray wall paint. I can promise you she cannot.  I for one am glad the artists of our world aren’t accountants or vice versa. I have rarely found someone who is great at both. If we all leaned further into our specialness and away from being more like other people, I think we would have a more interesting world. I believe it’s not only OK to not be good at everything, its brave and strong to admit it.

Cecily brown artist

Photo: Cecily Brown. Photo Credit: FREDERIKE HELWIG

As a small business owner the reality is most designers have no choice but to do their own billing, bookkeeping and project management. Which is an incredibly important experience. You still need to be the boss of your books and know where your business finances stand at all times. But when you are able to give the day to day management of those tasks to someone you trust, I encourage you to do it as soon as possible. To hire other people to do the parts of your job you don’t like, struggle to understand or which are innately difficult for you is smart. Its not weakness. Its not taking the easy way out, its delegating. It means you are a good leader and a good business owner. And it will free you up to do what you were called to do.  Be an inspirational, big idea, intuitive, creative designer. The world needs you to be you, whatever that is. What a sad place it would be if we all edited our natural gifts away in an effort towards the generic, nothing special, middle ground.


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