I don’t plan on teaching traditionally beyond this year. When I say that, I often receive questions like, “What are you going to do?” or “How will you sustain financially?” These are fair questions, all of which I’ve asked myself. This week, I called on two artists to speak on the sustainability of entrepreneurship.
Meet K. P.
Christopher K. P. Brown is the co-founder of Two Pens and Lent LLC, a chapbook publishing company for poets. K.P. and his partner (Henry Duncan) started their business back in 2008 to build national structure and business opportunities within the poetry community.
J. R. is the founder of three businesses. He is known for ENCORE Entertainment, an organization that creatively educates and inspires people through art and fashion, but he recently launched a 501 (c) (3) non-profit called the ECO Foundation which prioritizes his educational endeavors.
Many people think that being a creative means being a starving artist, but what practices and habits do you have in place to avoid living out this narrative? How do you navigate/plan for the not so lucrative months?
KP: From the beginning my mindset was “treat it like a business.” We always asked ourselves, “What’s the next step?” In college I learned I could make money selling CD’s, so then it became, “How can we make this official?” That’s how we started the company.
One of the biggest things was keeping a time sheet. Keeping track of your hours is something we’ve done since 2009. We put in anywhere from 20-60 hours a week and had 14 rules governing what counted as an hour. The rules included no facebook or eating at work. And if you didn’t have a goal for the hour, it didn’t count.
The truth is, there will be times where you don’t get features, or don’t feel like practicing poems, but if you have hours to put in every week, you’re always working, so there’s always something to be done and opportunities are going to come for what you’re working on.
JR: I just discovered a solution this year-- three years in -- after being broke every summer. Being in schools, many of my contracts are September to June. I realized I never planned for the summer. So, you learn to manage your finances better and your tools get sharper. As you sharpen your tools you’re better able to handle what life throws. I learned to have huge quarterly events to cover the bulk of my expenses.
Also seek grants or sponsorships. Set up google alerts for whatever you’re looking for, Philadelphia grants, art grants, etc. Look at organizations that fund who you want to work with. I found out that the Knight Foundation usually funds the venue we used often and by reaching out to them, I was able to fund my summer camp and pay salaries.
Most entrepreneurs end up putting in 90 + hour weeks, how do you create space for self-care and preserve yourself for longevity?
KP: Our business plan worked in the whole person with a focus on mind, body, and soul. We asked each other, “Are you eating well, taking care of your mental, physical, and emotional health; what’s up with your spirituality?” It was in our business plan to check on these things.
One of the biggest things as far as sustainability is that we were not about to work around the clock. I wanted to enjoy my life when I wasn’t working. Because we treated it like a job, as much as possible, we would work our hours, then go out and have fun. We believed you do your work, then take a break and get away from it. You can’t have it impact every part of your life if you want to live a full live.
JR: I don’t. I just need to get it done. I’m learning to pass on what I learn immediately to other people because we cannot plan to be here long. I know that’s contradictory to the advice I give others about taking care of self, and I know that’s important; I’m just not doing it. From the moment I get up until I go to sleep, I’m doing something for my business or my brand. It just doesn’t feel like work.
I’m just grinding. I don’t have children, so I grind so that whenever I have a child, I don’t have to work then. Self-care to me is remembering what I’m doing this for. If I’m kicking it with my little sister or chillin with my grandmom, those are the things I look at and remember, "This is who I’m doing it for." The reality is if I get 2-3 hours to play video games or watch Netflix, I’m good.
What challenges have you faced on your entrepreneurial journey?
KP: 1. Understanding that I knew nothing about business. I grew up around entrepreneurs. My grandfather had his own business, but I had no official education in it.
2. Trying to find the money to get started. I sat on my ideas for years. I had them for at least 5 years before the money came along from friends and my own money.
3. Doing business in an industry where people shun doing business. In the poetry community, it’s supposed to be all for the love. When we first created poetry247.com, we essentially had to force people to let us promote for them. We had to go get flyers, images, and find the times for the events. No one emailed us with their info we had to find all that and it took a year working for free every day and paying for a website. We just did it. It’s a year before people realized, “This is a service.”
As a new entrepreneur, you have to understand that everything you see online doesn’t tell you the whole story. There are a lot of sacrifices that come and you really have to change your lifestyle for a certain period of time.
JR: 1. Time and energy management. Time management is how many things you schedule or add to your calendar. Everything on your calendar may not take from your energy. I can go to five events in a day and leave charged up. Other times, I may be in one place for five hours and be completely drained. I learned I had to manage my energy better by not signing up for draining activities or events.
2. Patience. It’s important to know that just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean you have to do it now. If you want to do it with integrity and do it well to keep your brand strong, it’s better to be patient than to just put it out. I used to just put out designs as soon as I thought of them, but because I didn’t take the time to test the market, it didn’t sell.
On average how much time is spent on creating versus performing or doing immediately lucrative tasks?
KP: Right now, I spend about 10 percent of my time creating poetry; if you add in flyers maybe 25 percent of the time. I spent seven years primarily working on Two Pens and Lent, and the majority of my time was spent doing chapbooks. There’s a point where I was working on 20 chapbooks at a time, so 90 percent of my time was chapbooks. I’d say for the past 10 years, the majority of my time has been spent doing something that will bring in income.
Here’s the thing, you have the ability at any time to create your schedule and say, “For these three months, I’m going to not work on chapbooks, so I can write.” You have to structure that out for the year at the beginning. You learn that you have to evaluate each year to see what worked well and what didn’t, and work out your time accordingly.
JR: I don’t create as much as I used to. I created so much content -designs, poetry, stories, event ideas, or workshop for schools- and I’ve just been sitting on them. It’s like vibranium. It’s valuable beyond measure, but it means nothing if I don’t put it to good use. If I’m writing all the time, but not taking the time to copyright my materials –which only costs $50-55 dollars- I’m not protecting or maintaining the integrity of my work. I create only about 10-12 hours a week which is usually reevaluating, sharpening skills and clipping edges.
As far as lucrative tasks, I don’t have any of those. :laughs: I would say vending. In the summer, I have to do that 2-3 times a week, whereas during the school year I may only have to do that once a week because I can depend on my online store. Having to be places for 2-6 hours at a time is important because that’s how you network and get to be in the community while also making money.
What do you have going on, how can we keep in touch, and any final advice?
KP: On instagram and facebook, I’m KPultra. I’ve been in the the same place every Tuesday for the past five years at 7 pm. Pecola Breedlove open mic is every Tuesday [4032 Girard Ave]. I’m releasing a project October 10.
FINAL ADVICE: Get into biographies and documentaries. I’ve been watching documentaries on how people become successful. A lot of influences came from outside of my industry. If anyone is successful any type of way, even if you don’t agree with their morals, it’s good to know what steps they’ve taken to get to where they are. It’s going to be encouraging to know how they worked through struggles when you are faced with yours.
JR: I’m @hostjrmorris on instagram. I use that the most. Encoreentertainment.org is where you can find out everything I have going on; you can subscribe or take a look at the calendar to see events that are not just mine. You can also call this really easy number 267.999.9901, (shoutout to Sideline App that gives you a second number for business).
On August 22 from 5-7p.m. we are having the Royal Recap to show everything we did this summer with the Royal By Nature summer camp. We will air the student’s videos, artwork and testimonials. It’ll be at Bartram’ Gardens with free food. October 14 is my quarterly event, Sounds of Upcoming Legends. It’s a free event at Bartram’s Gardens .
FINAL ADVICE: Know your worth. Set clear prices and clear boundaries with friends, family, and everyone else. It’s okay to say no. Take care of yourself, love yourself, and keep your crown up.