My Why audio version of this blog available here.
Ok, so today I’m going to broach a topic almost as feared in conversation as grief. Money. Cold hard cash, British Pounds, dollars, yen, euros, bank transfers, small change, dosh, dough, lolly, shekels, moola, and good old quids. Seemingly, we have endless words for something we don't like to talk about.
When I first started telling people, rather nervously, that I wanted to write a novel, and that I started a podcast, one of the first responses I had from a lot of people was - ‘Can you make money through that?’
The answer is usually ‘Yes and no’, or maybe ‘Yes, but not much’ or ‘Not easily’. Yes it’s possible, and no, it’s not easy. Most of the options were things I didn't know how to do yet and giving them a go felt like a complete shot in the dark at a target I couldn’t visualise.
Options to fund a self-employed, creative pursuit include selling physical products you've made, selling online courses you've created, selling e-books you’ve written, joining with advertisers or affiliates where you earn money by letting them advertise on your platform (website, podcast, YouTube channel etc), using something like Patreon or Buy Me A Coffee so people can donate financially to support your work (either with or without rewards), plus, a whole bunch of other language I’d never heard before and ways people a lot more creative than me had come up with.
I'll be honest with you, one thing I really had to try and get my head around was - why would anyone want to pay for me to do something I’ve just decided to do? Feeling like I was going to have to ask people for money was so hard.
I was first made aware of creators doing this about six years ago when a friend told me there were people online appealing for others to pay them to write a book, so they could take time out of their job and the donations would support them financially while they wrote. This blew my mind. Why would anyone give someone else money to sit at home and write a book?! And these weren’t famous people with amazing book ideas, or particular skill sets that people wanted to see in book form. They were, however, very skilled people who knew what they wanted and found a way to sell it to others. Looking back, as I was trying to write a novel while working and battling health issues, I was probably jealous of the idea even existing, and sheepishly knowing I’d never have the courage to do such a thing.
So, when I was out of work before and after my surgery, and then Covid-19 arrived just as I was looking to get back into work, I found myself doing a podcast and writing fiction because I could, and then continuing to do it even when I could have gone back to work. I’ll pause here to say that I’m very aware how fortunate I am to have a husband that works full time and enjoys his job and is happy for me to explore these creative pursuits without pay. I know some don’t have that luxury, but we’ve also always been careful to position ourselves so we’re never dependent on two wages, to allow that freedom if needed. And it’s weird but for some reason I always feel the need to justify that, even though if I was at home with kids and not earning, people wouldn’t probably feel the need to ask me about how I contribute financially to the household as much. Anyway, it’s not ideal and I definitely do want to earn money again. I miss it, and I’m aware of things we have to forego again because I’ve taken this chance to try something different, but as I was saying here I am doing two creative things that don’t naturally pay me. So I was forced to reassess my viewpoint on creators being paid to do what they love, and I had a lightbulb moment. I had got it back-to-front. It wasn’t me getting paid to do something I love (even though it sort of was), it was people paying me to provide something THEY love.
So I wanted to help those of you new to this culture of online giving, like I was, to understand it a bit more. And it's never easy when money's involved.
As with everything in life, there are extremes, and people getting very rich through this sort of area does make it look bad to others at times. For example, there’s a 10 year old boy called Ryan on YouTube who started out reviewing toys and has now earned over $20 million, wait for it, every year since 2018! He’s one of the highest paid YouTube stars with a net worth of around $100 million. My Grandma would remark on this by saying the world has ‘more money than sense.’ And yes we do live in a society where the rich get richer and the famous get the book deals and large podcasts (not bitter at all there), and a lot of money is unwisely spent on needless stuff that doesn’t help anyone, but that’s partly why money is such a touchy subject!
Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one. Benjamin Franklin
Money is strange, and what we do with it is so individual it’s almost impossible to understand from one human from the next. How we view it and where we place it is largely determined by our upbringing and what we had, what we didn’t have, and how we saw others behave with it. Some people will grow up with not much and understand the value of money even if they become super rich, some people will grow up with not much and forget all of that experience as they become rich, turning selfish and greedy, some people will grow up wanting for nothing and feel grateful every day, some people will grow up wanting for nothing and be spoilt and full of high expectations life will never fulfil.
Try to save something while your salary is small; it’s impossible to save after you begin to earn more. Jack Benny
One thing that I think we’d all agree on though - you can tell a lot about someone by how they give it away. I heard someone say once; ‘If you want to see where your priorities are, just look at your bank statement.’ A challenging thought.
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Winston Churchill
And we all enjoy it in different ways too. If I gave you £10 with instructions that you had to selfishly spend on something you enjoy, we’d all spend it in very different ways and not really have a lot of understanding of those who spent it elsewhere. Some people wouldn’t choose to follow my lead as I dash for the marzipan, just as I wouldn’t follow my husband to the craft beer shop. Some would gamble it away, some would buy a nice big joint of meat, some would buy makeup, some would buy writing paper, some would go out for a drink, some would buy toys, some would buy drugs, some would debate why they had to spend it at all and then trying to look selfless and put it in a charity collection box - annoying everyone else that had just spent theirs in the way I’d asked. There’s always one of them. In every family.
We’re all different, money is a tricky subject, and the world has changed massively in how and where we can place it. So I do understand when people look at podcasts, which in themselves are new to many, and ask; ‘How can it earn money?’ And I mentioned a few ways before, but specifically for podcasts this can involve special episodes that are put behind a paywall so people pay monthly or per episode to get extra content, or it involves partnering up with sponsors and affiliate marketing, or you can put adverts for products, services or other podcasts in your podcast (these can either go at the beginning, at the end or as they say, midroll - in the middle), these can be inserted or read by the host and they can be relevant to the content or completely irrelevant. You can sell merchandise linked to the podcast, you can offer rewards for signing up to support it financially, you can do lots of things but they all take time, effort and a lot of planning and marketing.
Anyway, back to where I started, I know a few of you will still be where I was at the beginning of this journey, with the mindset - but why would people give their hard earned money to someone doing a podcast, even if they love it, why do I need to pay them to do it? And it is harder to get your head around when there isn’t a physical reward at the end of your payment, even when you pay Netflix and it gives you films you would otherwise have to buy, but for this you’re not buying a product and you don’t receive a service as such.
I have built an analogy that I think might help you.
Let’s imagine a man sets up a pick n mix sweet shop. I’m sure we’ve all seen an amazing sweet shop at some point. I don’t mean the selection of sweets at the end of the aisle in the supermarket, I mean a proper, old fashioned sweet shop. I have a feeling this analogy is actually perfect, because the generation that don’t understand this money-giving concept will be the ones that remember sweet shops perfectly. So, a man sets up a sweet shop. A sweet man, in both senses of the word, so we’ll call him Mr Sweetman. When you enter the shop a bell jangles above your head and you’re met with the childhood smell of sweets that never make you think of calories, big hips or diabetes. The shop is beautiful, it’s full of giant glass jars of confectionery of every colour imaginable, they’re all sat on rustic oak shelves, there’s an old till behind the counter that makes that great noise as the drawer springs out and a small ding when he shuts it again. It’s a beautiful, amazing place and experience that is never ruined by anyone. All that greets you inside is joy and a smile, no children ever go around touching all the sweets and no dogs are allowed in so it’s safe from floating hair and drool. Everyone is kind, friendly and most importantly clean. You feel nothing but happy and relaxed in this shop. Let’s say you’ve popped in on a sunny Saturday morning, or a break from work on your lunch. As you enter the shop you take a paper bag from by the door, one of those cute paper ones with white and purple stripes down it, and then you pick out your own special sweet spoon and you stand and survey the sweet scene in front of you.
Surrounding you on all sides is a smorgasbord of sweets and treats, neatly arranged in jars with the lids open, just waiting for you to choose your selection. And none of them are running low or empty. You move around with your special sweet spoon and select what you want. A milk bottle, a shrimp, a foam banana, a rhubarb and custard, a strawberry lace, a few chocolate raisins, a chocolate covered hazelnut, a humbug, some fruit jellies, black jacks, sugar mice, pink shrimps, dolly mixture some toffees and some jazzles (one of my personal favourites - Google it) and a jelly worm. And of course, what you take will be very different to what I take. I might go for one of each, you might only get four types but get several of each. One person might come in and just fill their bag with gobstoppers, another might come in and only select ten normal cola bottles, and five fizzy ones. One person will buy £2 worth of sweets, another will buy £25 worth of sweets. What we take will be very different to the person next to you now, to our partner, to our children, to our parents, to our friends, to our dog (were he allowed in the shop, which he is not). As is with most things in life, we all have very different tastes, wants and needs.
This is a bit like the podcast, or creative world. It’s a pick n mix for the ears. Some people consume over ten hours of podcasts a week when ironing, commuting, driving etc, some people listen to an hour of podcasts a week but it’s six different 10 minute podcasts, some listen to one podcast that’s an hour long, some listen to one three hour podcast once a month. Some people watch online courses and videos to learn how to do things, some listen to music produced by new, unknown artists, some listen to poets, some listen to fiction. We all choose what we want, what we enjoy, and what we love. And the people providing those are all Mr Sweetman’s in their own way.
Now, going back into the shop, I want you to imagine that everything in Mr Sweetman’s shop is free of charge. He never expects a single penny for any sweet that’s taken. Now, we all know it’s costing him to provide that experience, in overheads, in sweet supplies, in choice, in atmosphere, but he’s happy to provide it all for free.
Now, at this point something will be happening inside you. If you really love sweets or there’s nostalgia attached to the idea of a sweet shop you will have a different reaction to someone who really doesn’t give two hoots about sweets and probably switched off this episode halfway through the analogy screaming ‘I don’t like sweets!’ Let me explain.
If you’re not fussed about sweets you will have one of a few reactions to this news:
You instantly feel uncomfortable and guilty about taking any sweets at all, even though that’s what the shop is there for
You instantly feel you have to help in some way as payment for what you took and enjoyed
You instantly started assuming there was a catch or ulterior motive and Mr Sweetman is clearly a conman
You instantly thought less of Mr Sweetman for such a weak business plan.
But, if you love sweets and appreciate what Mr Sweetman is doing, you will feel differently.
Or taking it in another direction, imagine the shop is providing something you love. The perfect marzipan shop, the perfect craft beer selection shop, the perfect wool shop, the perfect haberdashery, the perfect hardware store, the perfect pen and writing shop, the perfect stationery shop, the perfect cat or dog shop, the perfect cushion shop, the perfect houseplant shop, the perfect gardening shop, the perfect fruit shop, fishing shop, book shop, golf shop, beauty shop, perfume shop, sausage shop, potato shop, pot shop (ceramics, not marijuana), marijuana shop… I don’t know, whatever it is that you love. Imagine all I said above, but stocked with whatever it is that makes your heart and face sing.
Now, let’s go back and remember this place is an amazing experience for you, it’s your dream of a shop to walk into, it’s near your house AND it’s all free of charge. I’m thinking your response to this and Mr Sweetman has changed? You’re probably feeling one of these reactions instead:
You instantly feel grateful. That someone has set this up, that this experience is in your life, that you have access to all these beautiful things
You instantly worry it might go away or close down. You feel a kinship and a need to help this thing survive
You instantly want to help or support it. You’re not even thinking about avoiding this free stuff because it’s awkward, you want to be in that shop at least once a week and you can’t wait to try new things, experiment, meet other like-minded people and make this shop a huge part of your life.
You instantly assume Mr Sweetman is a genius.
So what’s the one thing you can do if you can’t give your time and skills to helping this? You can donate money to ensure others can keep it going. And not just for that reason, but because it brings something of value to your life, it blesses you, it encourages you, it motivates you.
You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you. Maya Angelou
And that’s why people give money to podcasters, youtubers, writers and creators - because they bring something of value to their lives and they don’t want it to end.
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Pablo Picasso
So the goal of creators is not to ‘get money from people to keep going’, it’s to create something of value, and of use, and to find the people that can’t do without it, that love it, who it blesses and adds value to.
If you don’t value your time, neither will others. Stop giving away your time and talents. Value what you know and start charging for it. Kim Garst
There’s a phrase in the podcasting world - ‘value for value’ - it means bring value to someone and they will see it’s value and repay that back again. And there are all sorts of apps and processes being put in place so that people can do things like listen to a podcast episode and then instantly tip that podcast through crypto-currency and other fancy new tech stuff that I won’t bore you with here.
If you provide something people love, then when you find your community and connect with them, it’s just a natural next step for them to want to support it.
And if you’re still dubious about the whole thing, then think about all the times you’ve done it already:
Tipping someone. That’s just offering money for appreciating the way people do something, even though mostly they’re just doing their job.
Donating to charity. You appreciate the work they’re doing in a particular area and you want to support it in some way.
Donating to buskers or street performers. They provided something you enjoyed as you did your shopping, so you repaid them for it.
Fundraising. Someone is doing something for a good cause and you want to encourage them, or the organisation they’re raising money for.
So, if you see a creator promoting ways you can support them, they’re only after the community that wants to get involved and pay towards what they offer. It’s not a blanket pleading for anyone and everyone to give, and if it’s not something you want to give to, that’s fine, you’re probably not their target market.
The tricky thing of course is finding your community and your niche of people for what you offer, but that’s a work in progress for all of us, even super-rich 10 year old YouTuber Ryan. Although technically, with the right financial investment, he could probably just retire now!
Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Whether you’re a creator like me, finding your way in this world of monetization, whether you hear people asking for money and you’re not sure what you make of it, whether you’re wondering why I’m setting things up to receive money and hear them mentioned on the podcast, I hope this helps you understand a bit more about this culture, because I understand for some it’s very new and a bit confusing.
I’m really learning every week more about how The Silent Why can be a valuable resource for those who work with or know people going through loss. I want to help it spread far and wide to help people understand how to help those going through loss, including (but not exclusive to) emergency workers, chaplains, therapists, counsellors, customer service workers, HR departments, managers, leaders, employers, teachers - well, basically anyone that works with humans. And I’m hoping along that journey I’ll find people that want to support that and enable that to keep happening. I also hope to produce books that run alongside these themes to provide another source of income in the future.
We have enough downloads to qualify for adverts from our host, which would pay me a little bit of money each month, but I’ve chosen to turn that down because it doesn’t feel right for an advert to pop up in the middle of the vulnerable stories we tell. That wasn’t an easy decision but I’d rather a few people keen about what I’m doing supported my work with a £2 a month donation - than sell myself out for the finances. If I find the right sponsor for the podcast one day, I might do that, but for now it doesn’t feel like the way to go and I want to make sure I’m true to my audience.
Why is asking for money so hard? Because it’s tied into what we think we’re worth, and some people have no trouble seeing the value of what they offer, but others a bit like me, will always battle with doubts over whether what I have to offer is worth anything - which doesn’t exactly sell what I have to offer to others. I’m working on it. I like this quote by
If you want to improve your self-worth, stop giving other people the calculator. Tim Fargo
So thank you so much to those of you that have bought me a fancy tea over at www.buymeacoffee.com/thesilentwhy and for my faithful members, you know who you both are, that regularly help me towards the cost of producing and hosting the podcast and website each week - every episode costs money to produce and currently I don’t cover those costs, let alone think about any of my time, so thank you for that support. And that’s where all dreams start - small, but hopeful.
I’ll finish with a quote I find very inspiring, which pushes me to be more, do more, find more. It’s often misattributed to Steve Jobs because I think it was used in a film about him, but it’s actually by the American novelist Jack Kerouac, who was alive from 1922-1969 (way before the internet opened up monetization).
Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them; disagree with them; glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them, because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. Jack Kerouac