147: Staying Creative and Paying Your Bills

Creativity, Money & Business, Podcast

“The game of money making and staying creative has always been the challenge of the artist’s journey.”

Hey guys, welcome back to ONKEN RADIO (formerly NION Radio), the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey!

I’ve got an insightful episode for all you Creative Alchemists out there. Today, I’m discussing an essential part of being a creative entrepreneur: staying creative and sustaining your business at the same time. Striking a balance between your business and creative sides is essential for both your career and your inner self. Making money and making time for your creative vision is always a challenge in an artist’s journey, regardless of how long you’ve been in your creative industry. I still struggle with this at times even though I’ve been a creative entrepreneur for 15years. Mastering the art of striking a balance between money and creativity takes time, and a lot of ups and downs can occur throughout your creative career, which can affect your balance. 

Fear and uncertainty also affect your balance between creativity and business and can be detrimental to your success. I’ve interviewed many successful creatives on my show, and dealing with their inner fears and uncertainty is the biggest thing that they had to overcome to become successful and balanced. 

Today, I’m sharing five tips for staying creative while also sustaining your business. I’m going to talk about becoming scrappy, getting creative in your business, working on your inner self, finding things that inspire you to create, and creating for the sake of creation. 

Even if you’re already successful in your creative field, these tips can still help you create a healthy balance between your business and art. You may even be aware of some or all these tips already, but let them serve as a reminder for you. There’s a quote that I love that says, “A novice says, ‘I already knew that,’ while a master says, ‘Thank you for the reminder.'” No matter what stage of your creative career you might be in, you can still benefit from the lessons I’m discussing today, so let’s dive in! 

#1. Get Scrappy or Get Back to It

The first tip is becoming scrappy to start your creative career or maintain it. This was so important to me when I was first getting started with my photography business in New York City. I had to be scrappy and really hustle through a ton of work and many late nights. I was building a creative career in an incredibly competitive city, so I had to work diligently to make connections and get my work out to the public. 

There will always be ups and downs in your creative career, so you need always be prepared to hustle and grind. It takes a great deal of effort to get your work out to people, regardless of how many years you’ve been working. It’s especially difficult to be a creative entrepreneur in the digital age because there’s so much content to compete with. Now more than ever, you need to become scrappy to succeed in your creative business. 

Do whatever it takes to distinguish yourself creatively and get your work out to the public. Maybe you need to learn a new skill within your creative medium to distinguish you from other artists, or maybe you need to get out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there to make more contacts. I had a great interview with Jordan Harbinger about building professional relationships with people to advance your creative career, so you should definitely check that out once you finish reading this post. Never stop meeting people, building your network, and hustling when you need to. 

#2. Get Creative in Business

The next one is getting creative in your business, and this transcends any medium that you might be working in. A huge part of succeeding in your field is developing creative approaches for marketing your business. 

There are a lot of resources online to help you build your business and creatively market your work. My friend Lewis Howes taught me a lot about growing my business, and we even discussed some tactics on ONKEN RADIO. Lewis is an immensely successful entrepreneur and he helps others develop their businesses online. 50% of your creative entrepreneurship is business, so work hard and be creative in finding new ways to expand your brand.  

Also, if you’re just starting with a creative business, find a job that makes you more money with less time. That way, you’ll have more time to learn about your Creative Alchemy and grow your business. Back when I first began my photography business, I also worked as a freelance graphic designer. It gave me a lot of flexibility so that I was able to practice photography and expand my business at the same time. Maybe you need to wait tables or do some contract work so that you have time to expand your creative business. Having a flexible job rather than a nine-to-five will give you extra time to develop your craft and grow your business. 

#3. Keep Your Inner Game Strong

The third tip is to work on yourself internally. This is crucial because developing a strong inner game is the most important thing you need to be healthy and grow in your creativity. I can tell you from the 140 interviews that I’ve had with successful creatives that overcoming fear and uncertainty are probably the two most important things that you can do to strengthen your inner self and grow as a Creative Alchemist. 

Developing a routine will help you strengthen yourself internally and overcome fear. I’ve recently been engaging in an awesome morning routine that involves meditation and breathwork to overcome my fear and uncertainty, and I’ve also been reading a ton of books to develop myself internally. What routine do you need to develop to improve your inner self? Maybe you need to adopt a yoga routine or start journaling what you’re grateful for to become more positive and strengthen your inner self. 

The more you develop your inner world, the more you’ll thrive in the creative world. You’ll also be much happier if you focus on your internal self rather than attach your happiness to external validation. Artists often fall into the trap of attaching their self-worth to creative success and external validation. This can be detrimental to our sense of well-being because professional setbacks are an inevitable part of our artistic journeys. True happiness doesn’t come from validation from others but validation from yourself. If you let your external success determine your happiness, it can easily be taken away from you if your business declines. 

Focus on working on your inner self and internal validation so that you can be content with your life, regardless of your external situation. If you get your inner game strong, you’ll be way happier than if you just have happiness based on external success. 

#4. Find Things That Inspire You

Tip number four is to find things that inspire you to keep creating, whether that be the creative work of others, your own creative work, or something not even related to creativity. You can find inspiration in others’ art, even if it’s not the same medium you’re working in. For example, maybe you’re a painter but you feel inspired to paint when you listen to music. Find those personal projects that inspire you to keep creating, and remember that those projects don’t even need to be in your primary creative medium. For example, sometimes I get inspiration for my photography by painting! 

You can also draw inspiration from things not necessarily related to art. Travel is a huge inspiration for my photography. I feel so inspired when I travel, and recently, I got to explore Santa Fe and Aspen. I went into the wild and saw wonderful new places. I got to interact with new environments, and it was so inspiring for me. Exploring different parts of the world and encountering different cultures heavily impact my art, and you can expect to see my recent travels influence my next phase of work. Find what inspires you, and never stop creating! 

#5. Keep Creating for the Sake of Creation

The final tip is to keep making art for the sake of creation. The trick to staying creative is to keep working on the art that you love, regardless of whether or not you can make money from it. Do projects for yourself that you know won’t be commercially viable. The project you want to do may not even involve your primary creative medium. Maybe you’re a painter, but you’re interested in pursuing a creative project that involves photography or filmmaking. Pursue it even though you’re never going to make a cent from it. It’s vital to have personal projects as a creative entrepreneur because commercial work is often not creatively fulfilling. Creative fulfillment is so essential for your inner well-being, and doing personal projects will also get you into a creative mode to work on your profitable Creative Alchemy. 

I’m also telling you this to remind myself as well. I love having personal projects that probably will never make any money, like painting or personal photography projects. Working on projects that I love help me stay creative in my photography business. Find the personal project that creatively fulfills you, whether it be photography, painting, music, or anything else!

Pursue Your Creative Alchemy

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens of which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes.

Thank you so much for checking out another episode of ONKEN RADIO. I hope that my tips today help you balance your business and your Creative Alchemy and inspire you to keep creating! Remember to be scrappy, get creative in business, keep your inner game strong, find things that inspire you, and create for the sake of creation. Your craft will greatly benefit if you apply these tips, regardless of how long you’ve been a creative entrepreneur.   

If this podcast inspired you to create, tag me on Instagram, @nickonken, and share your favorite tip from the episode! Also, if this podcast helps you pursue your inner Creative Alchemist, be sure to leave me a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. That way, we can share the content with even more listeners! 

Until next time,

Nick Onken

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And please leave me a Rating and Review!


“Overcoming fear and uncertainty are two of the biggest things [in staying creative].”

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • Why making a living with your art is not something for the weary [2:50]
  • The artist practice of “hustle and flow” [4:05]
  • The importance of getting scrappy [4:40]
  • Why getting a regular job can be a great creativity boost [7:45]
  • The most overlooked component of staying creative [8:30]
  • What you gain from just finding things that inspire you to keep making [9:50]
  • The necessity of making things for yourself and nobody else [10:40]

Links mentioned:

A FREE email series to create a personal visual brand authentic to who you are.

  • Accelerate your personal brand growth through the Identity Alchemy Method
  • Discover the authentic stories you want to share with your audience
  • Build your personal brand vision and crystallize it with a photoshoot
  • Learn how to ideate and create storytelling visual assets to enhance and up-level your personal brand
  • .. PLUS! You’ll get access my brand building book recs and favorite resources

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.