Business Advice for Artists and Sensitive People - Christine Kane

One of the commenters on my previous post about emotions wrote that she gets discouraged in her business. It made me nod my head. Yes, indeed. Emotions and business are not good bedmates.

I’ve run the business side of my music for many years now. It didn’t actually become a functioning business until I got clear that I wanted to get more orderly and business-savvy. That’s when I hired someone to help me. On his second day, he sat in my office while I tried to figure out what he could do. It was complete chaos. I burst into tears and sobbed about what a mess I was, and how I had no idea how to begin. At first he looked like a deer in headlights. Then slowly he began to help his hysterical new boss find a starting point.

I’ve come a long way since then. A long way. And yet, the biggest obstacle I still face in having a business is the emotional side of me.

I’ve read countless blogs of writers, artists, self-employed women, and healers. Many of them rant about clients, or agents, or about how hard it all is, and on and on. This isn’t helping.

I would never encourage anyone (especially artists and healers) to lose their sensitive side because that side is what makes them fantastic at their work. But I do know that this side can wreak havoc on the business end of things. The good news is that there are opportunities aplenty for all kinds of people, and there are ways to work through that emotional side so that we can function well as business owners.

Here are Christine’s Fifteen pieces of business advice for artists and sensitive types alike. May we all prosper.

1 – Learn how to say no.

This is the first one because it’s the biggest one. If it’s not an absolute yes, it’s a no. So many people are fueled by the desire for money or the need to please everyone that they say yes to everything. If this is you, and you are tired, take the biggest risk you can ever take. Start saying no. Say no to clients who drain you. Say no to employees who drain you. Pay more for better service. Ask more for your services. Start saying no. Even when it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary!

2 – People don’t need to know how you feel about everything.

Lots of times, emotional types think that they have to let everyone around them know how they feel because otherwise they’re being inauthentic. “I’m insecure today.” “I’m frightened today.” “I’m nervous about this new employee.” This kind of stuff is fine for your best friend. But not for someone who’s working for you, redesigning your site, or hiring you. Stop talking about your emotional-self constantly.

3 – Most people assume you know what you’re doing. Let them.

Many young performers will get on stage and start apologizing for their mistakes or for their next song or for the fact that they messed up in the last song. Here’s a secret: The audience wants you to succeed, and they want you to be confident because they don’t want to feel sorry for you. That’s just plain uncomfortable. If you’re walking onto a stage, the audience assumes that you know what the hell you’re doing. Play along with them. I don’t care if your audience is a new client or if it’s the biggest gallery owner in the city. Go with it. The whole world doesn’t need to know that you feel like you’re out of your league. Fake it til you make it.

4 – Find your values and live by them.

A lot of people ask themselves what they want before they even get clear about what they value. This can compel people to do things they never really wanted to do. For instance, I value time, silence, and space. I absolutely must work that into my schedule. I used to perform about 200 dates a year. Then I became an unhappy person who, in spite of good shows and sales, wasn’t doing well emotionally. I kept pushing myself because “that’s what musicians are supposed to do.” Now, I’m doing what I love to do without being on the road constantly. This is a different approach than just letting my schedule get filled with travel. It can be a challenge to order your life by your own values, but it will lead you to a clearer picture of what you want, and what to say no to.

5 – Segment intend.

This technique is from Ask and It is Given. I’ve been practicing “segment intending” for months now, and I’m amazed at the results. If you’re an artist and you’re about to do your art, then intend that the next 3 hours (or whatever) is dedicated solely to that. And that it’s fun and creative and productive and you love it. Then, if you’re about to head to the office to deal with clients, get really clear about that next segment. In other words, don’t start any activity without intending how you want it to go and what you want to do during that time. This is a miracle process. I’ve worked through much dread of business just by doing this one thing.

6 – Bathe in Seth Godin. Then rinse. And repeat.

If you feel like “there’s no use” or “I’ll never be huge” or “Wal-Mart rules everything so why bother,” you need Seth Godin. If you ridicule yourself because your success is only tiny, and your sister-in-law has made millions as a consultant for BigExpensiveThings-R-Us, then you need Seth Godin. If you conjure up the same lame ideas over and over again, you need Seth Godin. I recommend that you listen to him because he’s a GREAT reader. And I recommend that you get over to PRONTO (see link below) and start listening to samples of his books. Get A Great Mobile Audio Player - FREE! Start with The Purple Cow. Then get them all. Take what applies to your work, and leave the rest. Something about his writing opens little doors in your brain so that you say, “Hey! I never thought of it that way! I can do this!”

7 – Create a business alter ego.

Make up a name. Then make up an identity for that name. (Pamela R. Stinson. MBA from Wharton. Valedictorian at Columbia, 1993. Great business mind, sexual preference undetermined, doesn’t take no for an answer.) Then, become that person when you’re working on the business side of your art or your product. You don’t have to use her name in your business dealings, but you might find that the energy of that person can shift your own body language when you’re in your office facing issues that scare sensitive-artist-you. Either way, it’s a fun game to play.

8 – Grok good customer service.

Go to Nordstrom. Buy something. Watch how you’re treated. Then, go to Macy’s. Do the same thing. Witness the difference. Apply that lesson in whatever way you can to your own customer service. It’s all service, no matter what you’re doing. Find a way to take the Nordstrom route. From now on, pay attention in all of your business transactions. Listen to language. Feel what inspires you, delights you, or makes you want to never go back to that establishment. And learn.

9 – Learn how to think.

Emotional people believe that their feelings are the facts. This will always get you in trouble. Learn how to think about your career. Take two hours every Sunday to drive and think. Or just to sit in the office and think. At first, you might feel totally stupid, but you’ll start to get it soon enough. Experiment, analyze and don’t go into massive drama when something doesn’t work. Just think again.

10 – Never send an email when you are emotional.

Email is a volatile communication form. I have received (and probably sent) some of the most damaging messages from people who had gotten my intentions all wrong, and then fired off a response filled with venom and vitriol. The danger (and the advantage) of email is that it’s immediate. If someone emails you something that triggers you, wait AT LEAST 24 HOURS before responding. Start using email etiquette. Use greetings, and acknowledge the human who’s reading the email prior to launching in to your business speak. And never ever send out an email when you are emotional. (Apply this to returning phone calls as well.)

11 – Never do ANYTHING when you are emotional.

See above. And say to yourself often, “I respond. I don’t react.”

12 – Be clear up front with anyone you hire.

Is this you?

“Oh my GOD! I met the COOLEST graphic designer and we’re going to do a trade! And we just totally clicked, and we laughed a lot, and we’re both Leo with Aries rising! I can just tell it’s a great match!”

Expectations, desired outcome, hourly wage, estimates — these are things that emotional people forget to be clear about right up front. They want to have that “cool connection!” And then it all falls apart because neither person expressed her true expectations.

This isn’t to say that cool connections can’t happen. They can. But boundaries are essential up front. And if some weirdness comes up after the project starts, stop and say, “I need to be clear here. I had thought you were going to include this service in the estimate – did I get that wrong?” Or whatever. Clarity scores big points, and for some reason, emotional people prefer to “hope it all works out” rather than review expectations and plans.

13 – Focus on what you want.

This may seem obvious. But I’m amazed at how easy it is for the sensitive artist types in the world to fall prey to the hardship stories. And there are lots of them going around. In my line of work, there are people out there begging for gigs. They’ll do anything. They’ll play for free. They say, “It’s so hard to be a musician.”

Here’s my advice:  “Step AWAY from the stories!” Focus on what you want. And stay with that. I’ve taken time off, I’ve had rotten reviews, I’ve had full schedules and light schedules – and I’ve never been dropped on my butt. Keep moving in the direction of your vision or your dream. Be vigilant about this.

14 – Get very very very clear before you do your finances

If finances are ever scary for you, here’s what to do before you log on to your on-line account, before you open your bills, before you open Quicken:

Pray over your checkbook. Know that you are abundant. See your dreams coming true. Make up an amount that’s in your account. Say thank you for all that is perfect and wonderful in your life. Say thank you for the tiniest progress you have made.

Then proceed with your finances.

Emotional people tend to get shame-y around money. Shift that energy. And really work at shifting that energy. If you get one thing from this post, let this be it.

15 – Only YOU get to decide if “You’ll Never Work in this Town Again!”

Everyone has an opinion about who’s through, who has had it, who’s washed up, etc. This kind of talk can run through your head and keep you in a constant state of anxiety about “the end of the line.” I had a dramatic experience when I broke up with someone who was also in the music business. The break up was not a good one. And in an apparent rage that lasted, oh, about eight months, this former partner of mine called clubs, bars, record labels, agents, and, from what I hear, did his best to encourage them never to book me or work with me. Whereas I’m sure some of them took his advice, and whereas I was really dumb and believed he could “ruin” me (this was even before I had gotten my office in order), I kept “minding my own business.” And guess what? I wasn’t ruined. My end did not come. You know why? Because I didn’t agree that it could or would. You have the power. Yes, the obstacles may seem insurmountable at times. But only you get to decide when to call it quits. Your emotions may scream at you that you’re ruined. But that’s just your emotions.

And if it weren’t for all of those emotions, you wouldn’t have to be reading this post in the first place!

  • Barry Howard Studio

    Hi Christina…i am a new fan of both your business counseling and your music…(ref. by Fine Art Views) and i’m very pleased that you are an artist as well as an entrepreneur… I am amazed that you can actually personally respond to all your comments…you must get a bazillion emails and comments…i think we artists are challenged by trying to figure out how we provide a solution to anyone’s needs…nearly all of the artwork i have sold was an impulse buy…they saw it, they decided they needed it…it all seems a bit intangible to track. I’ve really enjoyed your videos so far…you have an engaging style.

  • Adreana

    Thank you very much for this. I’m a songwriter and web designer and this post WAS NEEDED! I have clients and people running over me all of the time and I really needed this. I’m a very sensitive and passive person. I read your article on “teaching people how to treat you” and it was so helpful.

    I never comment on blogs but, I really enjoy your posts. You’re an amazing person. Thank you!

  • Leigh

    I made the shift to being self-employed 6 months ago. Now I’m trying to grow my blog and figure out what the next steps in my art and life are. This post was really helpful. Thank you, especially for #14. Shame is a hard foe to conquer.

  • Christine Kane

    mimi – of COURSE – do art when you’re emotional. i meant that to apply to interactions with people. thanks for pointing it out! i didn’t realize it could be translated that way.

  • Mindful Mimi

    “Never do ANYTHING when you are emotional.”
    I agree on the not sending an email when emotional. But what about creating, painting, writing a song when you’re emotional? It might not be the best ‘art’ out there, but it’s personal and gets you over the emotional state. No?
    Hope you had a good time at the retreat weekend. I have received details about the online one and am still dithering… 🙂

  • Peggy

    I am so glad I found this blog. I was reading “You teach people how to treat you” along with Dr. Phil’s book on similar issues. I have recently been disappointed in a family member who is taking from me creatively and am learning how to stand up for myself by saying NO. Thanks. I’ll be reading your thoughts frequently.

  • Eirit

    Dear Christine
    I’m so glad I found you. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful insights.

  • Bigron/R’Mozart/D’Wolfman

    Hi reading your blog about emotions/performing in front of 5000 people makes since of course, I just want to say something but what that something is I really dont know I have been performing most of my life and I have not done well at all however I still feel crazy enough to want to do this so Im not giving up everyday I say Im through but I come out of my depression and start trying again music has always been a force in my life and I feel great when things go half way right I just don’t have any roadmap to follow as to what to do to succeed so I stumble along my way, trying to find which way to go, I was reading my email and Bobs message today was about the monday show you are going to be on so I followed a few links and read some of your blogs, you seem to be doing well with your career and Im glad for you
    If somehow the information I recieve from you helps me I would like to thank you in advance and say please continue to incourage the musicians out there like myself who dont feel so good about the way things are going but hope somehow someday a change will come music is a tough field and Ill be the first to say I never imagined that I would feel as discouraged as I do these days but everytime I get a little boost from someone like yourself I think maby something will happen after all. From your new friend and maby fan BRL/D’Wolfman Just Howlin at ya from Hollywood Owooooooooo.Much Luv!

  • Lorese

    thanks for all the insight – I am in the process of redesigning my art career and appreciate your writings. I am also a huge fan of Abe and love segment intending; especially when I get in the car to go somewhere – I remember to segment intend. (possibly because I listen to Abe in the car so much)! It has really helped with my 15 year old in drivers training to segment intend – I see things so differently when I do this before we take off!
    I am looking forward to hearing more from you – Thanks!
    Lorese Harper

  • andrea

    Christine — thanks. I will be back to read this again. I also mentioned this particular post on my blog.

  • Angela Rockett


  • Julie Thompson

    Thank you for posting this article, Christine. This is wonderful, helpful advice!

  • Karen Lynch

    This post is really wonderful. As I was reading I was struck by how often I saw myself–an emotional train-wreck with flashes of brilliance. Somehow you know me!

  • Ginger Bush

    Hello Christine,

    Your post is wonderful, helpful and full of positive advice for artists who aren’t business people. Wonderful advice. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    Best of everything,


  • sham

    Hi Christine,
    A lovely post. Very relavent and appropriate. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.


  • christine

    Hi Jenn… It’s actually a double-book on It’s called “Free Prize Inside and The Purple Cow.” It’s two books in one. Try that and see if you can’t find it! (The Big Moo is my second choice. and Permission Marketing. And Small is the New Big.) Enjoy!

  • yogajenn

    Hi Christine,

    I signed up with but The Purple Cow isn’t available – could you recommend a different one by Seth Godin?

    Thanks very much

  • christine

    Hi Dave, Thanks for the links! (If you click on Seth’s name, you’ll see that all of those links go to his blog.)

    Hi Tammy! I just happen to like science fiction and also, grok is just one of those words everyone knows. I’m glad you’re coming to the retreat! Can’t wait to meet you!

    Robyn (or shall I call you Ironman? :-)) Yes, it’s amazing what changes you can see in yourself when you work at this stuff. I am sometimes grateful JUST for the fact that I ever tried in the first place, no matter what happened or happens!

    Hi Steve, Thanks for the note! Are you a performer? Or just a well-tuned in audience member?

    Caren… what you wrote describes it perfectly. When I hire people, it’s always the ones who say, “Yes!” and “Absolutely!” Even if they don’t know the business (actually…not knowing the music business is a huge plus because it means you’re not jaded!) I have hired people based on their willingness and their yes-ness. So, kudos to you for figuring that one out!

    Well, Starbucker… your alter-ego just happens to conjure up space-suits and galaxies inside of me! So, it’s a good one! I think that no matter how “emotionless” someone’s job has been, emotions do come up at some point in their lives. Lucky for me…I’ve been working with them all along, so I’ll be thoroughly prepared for the future! Thanks for writing!

  • Terry Starbucker

    Bravo Christine – This is all wonderful (and quite actionable) advice. It’s interesting from my perspective because in a strange way I’ve needed to literally reclaim my emotional side over the course of my career. I started out in accounting and auditing – an emotionless craft if there ever was one. Debits and credits, profit or loss – pretty darn black and white. I did get good at pulling emotion out of things – too good. I felt that something was missing for me – what I needed was to be in more of a leadership role, where emotion could be channeled into passion and enthusiasm. Luckily, this has happened. Your advice is certainly needed in my current situation – especially in those times where the emotion is “unchanneled” and brought raw to the surface (you are so right – no e-mails at that point). One last thing – I’m very with you on that alter-ego thing – being Terry Starbucker has really helped my blogging (and made for a nice separation with my professional life). Thanks and all the best.

  • Caren

    #3 can apply, too, to non-performing things. I used to be a secretary (before I realized that M- F, 9 – 5, indoors, in hose was sucking my soul dry) for a temp agency. I always picked up new word processing or spreadsheet software VERY quickly, so if someone asked if I could do something, I usually said, “Yes!” then looked up how to do it. I remember once getting a job ’cause I said I knew what Lotus 1-2-3 Wysiwyg was. I had never even heard of it, but knew if it was Lotus, I’d get it. The temp agency said, “No one else will take this job because it uses that software. No one else knows it!” So I got a nice long-term job… and wysiwyg only meant “what you see is what you get” a new feature of Lotus where what you saw on the screen was actually how it would look when you printed. (showing my age, here, huh? lol) Kind of fake it ’til you make it, I guess… probably wouldn’t work for things like major surgery or auto mechanics….

  • Steve Johnson

    Those are such good points!

    #3 is great–and one thing performers can take to heart is that, especially in music, 99% of the audience will not even notice a tiny goof or missed note here and there. They’re there to feel good, and believe me–one note will not make a difference in that.

    #7, the business alter-ego: fantastic!

  • Caren

    Stranger in a Strange Land is timeless. ; )

  • Robyn McMaster

    Christine, your list is truly helpful…I’m interested in trying your idea of developing a business alter ego.

    Funny thing, I tool a long quiz at Drew McClellan’s blog connected to developing a brand persona related to superheroes. Results showed “Ironman,” or inventive and “businessman.” At one point I was truly scared to converse with men in authority, but I’ve overcome all that!

    I’ve come a long way in learning to use many of the great tips you provide here and you challenged me with a couple of new points to work on.

  • tammy vitale

    Grok? how old are you? Or is Stranger in a Strange Land coming back? or just the language – am I out of touch?

    Great list. Must sign up for your retreat – happy bday to me: Aries, fiery, emotional….friends say even when I don’t talk they can hear me. =]

    I think you have something I need.

  • Dblwyo

    You have a real gift for putting difficult, tough ideas and liferules clearly and simply. And base them on experience. Thank you.

    You may be interested in Seth’s blog: which is always good in my experience for thoughtful comment on creating value.

    An even more interesting one is gapingvoid ( ) who is an artist and who does some of the most interesting ‘business card’ art with zenlike thoughts. The entries on being an entrapanuer and how to be creative work very well and even better with your stuff.

    A very nice, perhaps perfect, Yin and Yang synergy perhaps ?

  • christine

    hi thodarumm, Thanks for the thoughts! I’m glad you found what you needed. Sensitive is good! 🙂

  • thodarumm

    Oh, btw, I am not in business, but I am sensitive. 🙂

  • thodarumm

    Thank you. After blog-hopping from place to place, I found what I wanted from you. Never send e-mail when you are emotional. I did not. I know it, but I still feel like I have been shown the correct path when I read it here. Thanks!

  • christine

    Hi Ron, I love Van Morrison. And I completely understand why someone (even someone as powerful and amazing as he is) could get really thrown off by bad reviews. Makes sense! Lucky for us, he found his way…

  • Ron

    Van Morrison is easily my favorite singer / songwriter. In one period he had taken some serious hits from the critics and his album hadn’t sold well. He quit releasing CDs after that for quite some time (three years? seven? I don’t remember.) Now he’s like Dylan, regularly making music regardless of critical or commercial success.

    He has one quote that seemed to sum it all up. “Music is spiritual. The music business is not.”

  • christine

    Hi Joy! Thanks for the kind words. And yes, mostly it is about self-employed people and all the lessons we learn. (because at some point, we can all be emotional, no?) I’m glad to hear you do the segment intending thing. It’s taken a little while for me to get how powerful that is, but wow, it works…

  • Joy Langtry

    Christine, this is a *wonderful* list! And it applies to self-employed people who aren’t necessarily (self-proclaimed) sensitive types or artists, either. I can relate completely to every item, and I’m a mobile notary, which I think is in a dictionary somewhere as the polar opposite of an artist….
    I love seeing Segment Intending mentioned in your blog… it’s so effective and such a practical introduction to Abe!
    Thanks for your wisdom.