The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Daniel MacIvor and I are in some good company. November 13, 2008

It’s no secret that Daniel MacIvor is my favorite Canadian male playwright. If I had a buck for every time I’ve performed This Is A Play, I’d… well, I could buy a pizza, for sure.

Yep, he's the man...

Yep, he's the man.

The esteemed Mr. MacIvor is in town this weekend, he’s speaking a the annual GVPTA Making A Scene Conference. It happens this Friday, Saturday and Sunday down on Granville Island. In addition to MacIvor (you can see him twice on Saturday), other notables who will be speaking on panels or giving workshops include Jackson Davies (on a panel called The Business of Acting in Theatre and Film, how much do I love that??), Martin Kinch from The Playwright’s Theatre Centre (a short commute for him), Norman Armour, whose PuSH Festival is doing some amazing stuff in Vancouver’s theatre scene, and the always hysterical (in a very lovely way) Jackie Blackmore.

Oh, yeah, and me. Rebecca Bolwitt, Simon Ogden and I are going to be part of a panel discussion called The New Face of Marketing: Facebook, Text and the Blogger’s World. This is happening Friday, Nov 14, 1:30-3pm in the Arts Club Theatre’s upper lobby.

So, maybe I’ll see you there. I wonder if MacIvor will come to my panel?

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Future Finances Part II: What the heck is ‘bounce’? November 10, 2008

Filed under: Finances — Rebecca Coleman @ 9:15 pm
Tags: ,

This is the second in a series of posts that focus on your finances, specifically, money to support yourself and your business down the road.

I interviewed Shelley, who comes from a background of acting and arts administration, but who now works as a Consultant for Investor’s Group, a series of questions about managing our future finances as artists, and she gave me so much information, I had to stretch it over a series of blog posts! This post focuses on ‘bounce.’

TAoTB: Okay, first things first: what the heck is ‘bounce’?

S: Really simply, ‘bounce’ is an emergency fund. The fact is that, as self-employed people, we tend to have a variable income.  One month you could make $5,000, the next $500.  What happens if that latest contract you signed doesn’t pay on time and your rent/mortgage/utilities payments are due?  Everyone needs an emergency fund – whether we lose a job and need to wait 8 weeks for EI to come through (IF we’re eligible), or simply have a slow-down in work.

TAoTB: Right. That makes sense. How much of a bounce do you recommend we need, and what should I do with those funds?

S: Three months of expenses would be my minimum recommendation, with my preference being somewhere between 4 and 6 months.
That money would be used so that:

  • Our goals don’t suffer. For example, what if you can’t make our RSP contribution for 6 months because you need to eat instead – this can have an enormous impact on long-term goals.
  • You always have a positive cash-flow situation.  If that contract doesn’t pay on time, you’re not needing to borrow from friends to pay rent (‘cause we’ve ALL been there).
  • We can plan for the “what ifs”.   For example: “what if” I can’t work because I’ve injured myself and WCB/my Disability Insurance has a 120 day waiting period?

TAoTB: Where’s a good place to keep your bounce?

S: You have a few options. Obviously, a savings account–I like one that is not connected directly to my bank account so that it’s not really easy to access. ING Direct or many Credit Unions have good free- or low-fee options. There are also non-registered accounts available – you can put your monies into these accounts and have access to it within 2-3 days.  Money Market and No-Load funds would be the most sensible.  The goal is to have your money in a place where you can gain some interest on it, and have it be accessible, but not too accessible.

Another option will be available starting in January. The Government of Canada has announced an amazing new vehicle for non-registered savings called the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA).  Persons over the age of 18 can contribute up to $5,000 per year into this account and withdraw it at any time, without tax penalties.

What’s cool about this account is that it doesn’t have to be in a traditional Savings account.  You can invest in Stocks, Bonds, Mutual Funds, GICs – nearly ANY vehicle that would be eligible for RRSPs. This makes the potential for you making money off of your emergency fund while you are not using it much, much higher.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you invest $5,000 on January 2nd , and, with some crafty investing, and in a best-case scenario, these monies grow by an unbelievable amount – let’s say $25,000 by May 1. On May 1, you can withdraw $25,000 without any penalty, maintain your contribution room and NOT incur any taxes.


Next in the series: insurance!

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E-newsletters November 7, 2008

I probably don’t need to sell you on the idea of having a newsletter. I’m pretty sure you’re already aware of the relationship-building potential of having a newsletter for your theatre company or arts-based business. I don’t like the hard sell, so I like newsletters. My favorite one is published by the good people over at Biz Books. It’s not a hard sell–it’s just about putting the information out there in a really accessible, easy-to-read format. The free ticket giveaways are a bonus (everyone likes getting stuff for free).

imagesThe purpose of this post is give you some e-newsletter options. Not too many people are doing hard-copy newsletters these days. The price of layout, printing and stamps is formidable if your list is over 100, and there are lots of great programs out there that can do the online equivalent for just pennies per click.

So, why not just send out a formatted email? A couple of reasons. First off, your email might get tagged as spam, and then it never gets to your client’s inbox. Second, different email platforms view things differently, so your fonts, photos and links might come out all screwy (yes, that’s a technical term).

E-newsletter software circumvents all that. What you see in the program is what your clients will see in their inbox. Comforting to know when you’ve just spent 6 hours laying it out and writing the perfect copy, no?

Secondly, E-newsletter software handles all your database issues. If you have a database of email addresses, every time one bounces, you have to go in and remove it. Every time someone unsubscribes, you have to go in and remove it. The software takes care of all that for you, and more besides: it can also track your opening statistics (ie: it can tell you how many of your emails were opened, and how many were not).

Here’s a list of the top E-newsletter software out there right now, and their pros and cons.

Constant Contact is the industry leader. There’s a few reasons for that. First off, they offer a 60-day trial period, longer than any of the other softwares out there. Second, they have excellent customer service. The day after I signed up for my free trial, I got a call from some guy in Minneapolis (or some place like that) called James, asking if I had any questions. They worked for my business. Third, they offer a 30% discount for non-profits.

Constant Contact has good templates, and the interface is pretty easy to use. You can drag and drop boxes to add more, or just hit delete to make them go away. I have had some challenges changing nitty-gritty details, like background colours.

IContact: is also really big. If you have a small mailing list, like around 500, it’s a bit cheaper. Their trial is only 15 days. They also have a cool feature where you can archive your newsletter to your website (check out Biz Books). Even though they say they have more templates than Constant Contact, I found them to be harder to access. Overall, I think they create cleaner-looking newsletters than Constant Contact, and I really like that.

Mail Chimp: If you are just getting started, and you have a small mailing list, I’d start with Mail Chimp. It works more like a pay-as-you-go cel phone, whereas the others work on monthly fees. Mail Chimp does credits. You start with 600 for free, and every time you send an email, it costs you a credit. You can buy more as you go along, or you can go to a monthly fee. Overall, the templates and interface are very useable, and it has a sense of humour that I really appreciate.

if you are in the market, there are a few more: Blue Sky Factory, Member Clicks, and Vertical Response, which offers deep discounts to not-for-profits.

A couple of my clients have asked me about Canadian E-newsletter software, so that they don’t have to pay the exchange on the dollar. The only one I found, based out of Kelowna, E-Newsletter Software, charges in American dollars!

It’s a big world out there, with lots of choices. So, if you are considering going E- with your newsletter, sign yourself up for some free trials, and have some fun experimenting with the software.

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Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding set to close November 5, 2008

The rumors have been swirling… and they’re true. After fourteen years, and having the distinction of being the second longest running show in Canadian history (number one was The Mousetrap in Toronto), Hoarse Raven Theatre’s Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is set to close at the end of May. Part of the reason for the decision is that Hoarse Raven will be losing their venue, The Other Space (formerly the restaurant at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre) to the Olympics. But, according to co-directors, husband-and-wife team, Tanja Dixon-Warren, and Michael Fera, it is also time.

Closing the show was an extremely difficult decision to make – heart wrenching in fact – as it has been our work for  15 years and has helped launch the theatre career that we have been so  lucky to have.  It has also been a huge part of our families lives’ – our kids were raised in and around the show and have been influenced by  all the wonderful people we have worked with.  So –  in one moment we are bereft – but the next,  extremely excited and chomping at the bit to see what comes next for us.  We think it will be an invigorating time …and we so hope that we will go out with a bang – that the last few months of Tony n’ Tina’s will be full of the same enormous  celebration and excitement that has been so vital to its longevity… and of which we are so proud.


The original cast of TnT

Tony n’ Tina’s is a success story no matter how you read it. Michael and Tanja had just graduated from the Theatre program at UBC, got married, and were living on a shoestring in a cabin on Gabriola Island. They heard about Tony n’ Tina’s, the success it had already achieved in New York, and the crazy Italian wedding seemed like the perfect vehicle for Michael to direct. The couple cleaned out their savings to purchase the rights to produce the show, then began the task of mounting the sizable production.

Tanja and Michael organized a production co-operative, with everyone involved in the show holding an equal share in the profits. They raised three hundred dollars from a garage sale and negotiated a deal with St Andrews Wesley Church and Chardonnays, a downtown Italian restaurant. When Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding opened in July 1995, the co-operative consisted of cast, crew, Michael (who made all of the artistic choices in the show) and Tanja (who acted in the show, took care of their two young kids, over saw sales, marketing, box office, accounting and any trouble shooting). They planned a three week run, and are now finishing their fourteenth season.

The last fourteen years, more than 1,100 actors have gone through Tony n’ Tina’s, making it a kind of an institution for Vancouver actors. Even I spent five months as props/costumes way back in 2001.

When I asked Tanja to what she attributed the success of the show, her reply was simple:

The  success of  TNT can be attributed to a a number of things.  Luck, timing, the right script at the right time etc etc ….but most of all, I think we would not have been lucky enough to run for  14 years if it had not been for the  commitment, support, goodwill of the many many talent artists and crew  we have worked with.  They have been the core of the show with out a doubt.  Also – I think big kudos have to go out to all the thousands of audience members who have come to see the show week after week.  With out our audience – we simply would not have survived.  Michael and I  have much to thank many many people for.

The Vancouver production of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding closes at the end of May with a gala, red carpet performance. If you haven’t yet seen it, you only have seven months left. It runs Thursday through Saturday nights. Tickets and more information are available at

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Future Finances November 4, 2008

Filed under: Finances — Rebecca Coleman @ 11:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

One of my very first posts was on putting a value on your work, then, a couple months back, I did one on cash flow. For the next couple of posts, I want to turn my attention to our future finances as self-employed artists, and for this, I’ve employed the help of an expert.

I’ve known Shelley for many years–her company, Blue Peanut Productions, was one of the very first companies to hire me to do publicity many, many years ago. Shelley has a background as an actor and an arts administrator, but lately, she’s gone through a career change, and has become a financial ad visor with Investor’s Group. And she is also my personal financial advisor. Which makes me sound way more grown-up than I am….

In this first of a series, we talk about saving for retirement. Read on for more information and all the questions you’ve been too afraid to ask.

TAoTB: I’ve heard this rumor that by the time I get to retire, there may not be anything left in CPP. Is this true? Should I be saving for my retirement?

S: In Canada, nearly everyone will be eligible for the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – but that’s not enough. The Canadian government also offers Old Age Security (OAS).  This is a scaled benefit and is dependent on your income.  Not everyone will be eligible to receive this benefit either. As self-employed persons, we need to plan ahead by having both RSP (or Registered) savings AND non-registered savings (which can be defined as anything that is NOT included in an RSP or Registered Savings Plan).  We will not be receiving a pension, except for that which we create for ourselves. 

TAoTB: How can I get started saving for my financial future? What options are there? There’s so much information, it’s confusing.

You’re very right about that. It is confusing. There are as many products available out there as there are people who need them. That is why it’s important to create a financial plan with someone that you can trust, who has your best interests in mind and who has access to the best information to help you. This is what I (and my company, Investors Group) do.

TAotB: Do you have some ‘rules of thumb’ about how much money I should be saving?

S: One thing that I do is work things from Retirement backwards. How much money do you need to retire? What would you like your retirement to look like? What will your income needs be? Will you travel? Do you want to own your own home before you retire?

My rule of thumb is to save as much money as you can. Look at what you spend and where you can cut back: a simple exercise is to write down every purchase that you make for 1 week – and I do mean every purchase. How much did you spend on lattes? On eating out? How much are you willing to cut back to fund your dreams? What will that vacation cost? So many of my clients that have performed this exercise come to me at the end of the week absolutely gob-struck at what they’re spending money on – and where that money could have otherwise gone; whether it be those gorgeous new shoes, or a spur of the moment trip to Vegas. Just by cutting out your morning trip to Starbucks, you could save $25 a week, $100 a month… or $1,200 a year.

TAotB: Okay. I can see how cutting back on my morning lattes might help me save $25 per week, but that doesn’t seem like much. Is there a way to jumpstart my plan?

S: There are many options available. One of my personal favorites is the Leverage. It’s an Investment Loan that allows you to jump-start your savings/retirement fund while paying only a minimum each month. My personal loan is in the amount of $50,000 and my payments are only $208/month. I’m earning interest/dividends on $50,000 rather than $208/$416/$624, etc.

The biggest thing to remember, though, is that how much you save isn’t anywhere NEAR as important as simply saving. Create a plan and stay on top of it. With the help of your financial consultant, it’s easy to make modifications to a plan if your situation or circumstances warrant it.

Finally, I’d just like to remind you of the old saying about oak trees: The very best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. Don’t forget to water.

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