Before I started my own company and got serious about building my dream job as a full-time artist and writer, I had some very funny ideas about what that would entail. In particular, I always imagined that, once I was my own boss, I would only do the fun, artistic part of the job. The reality has been very different than my expectations.
In a previous Webcomic Alliance Workshop podcast, Drezz asked about the time we spent on different aspects of the comic, business and creative alike. While I knew I didn’t spend the bulk of my time on comic creation, I didn’t know the exact amount. This planted the seed for the exercise I’m about to share with you.
I set out to estimate, as closely as I could, exactly where my time goes.
I’ll share with you the results, the thinking that went into my estimate, and how I plan to apply my findings for decisions in the future. I encourage you all to take some time to do this for yourself. You might be surprised with what you discover.
I broke all my time into tasks, and then categorized each task. That way I could see both the individual activities I was doing and the purposes they served for the business itself. Here’s my results, in handy pie charts:
First I set a representative time frame. Since I left my engineering job in September of last year, that seemed as good a starting point as any. I looked at what I’d been doing for roughly the year since, trying to get a representative view of what I’d done, and might be likely to do in the future.
Here’s what I included:
I may not have the full-time engineering job, but in order to keep a roof over my head, I still need a part-time job to supplement the household income. In this I included both the commute and the job itself. Every moment spent away is a moment I’m not dedicating to the dream job.
CREATIVE CONTENT GENERATION
While the bulk of this is dedicated to work I do for LeyLines, I do have other projects and illustration work.
For LeyLines pages, storyboards and reference take roughly 1.5 hours to do per page. Same with pencils, and also inks. Colors, on the other hand, require an average of 4.5 hours to complete. So for every page, I’m taking roughly 9 hours start to finish. At two pages a week and 52 weeks in a year, that’s 936 hours. Add in about 12 hours for each script, and roughly 3 scripts a year, and the total comes to 972 hours.
SMALL BUSINESS INCOME
These are all the activities that generate cash that goes directly into the business account. Funds that, in turn, go to making books, paying my color flatters and accountant, or hosting fees and website redesigns. Hopefully, someday there will be enough funds left over for me to earn some income for myself, but that day is not yet upon us.
Conventions were by far the most difficult to estimate. There are lots of different things that go into each and every event.
I considered preparation work like restocking merchandise (5 hrs), boxing and shipping (1.5 hrs), creating signs and records (0.5 hrs), making table/travel/housing reservations (1.5 hrs), researching and completing tax forms (1.5 hrs), packing (0.5 hrs), and the mock set-up I often do at home to make sure I’ve got everything I need for the actual event (1.5 hrs). That’s a total of 12 hours per con for just prep work.
Next is traveling. Some conventions are local, and the travel time is negligible. Others require a plane trip, and that’s quite the investment of time. 2 hours to get through security, an average of 3 hours for the flight itself, and often another 2 hours to get baggage, lug everything through the airport, and find transportation to the hotel. Make it a round trip, and that’s another 14 hours per out of state convention.
Set up for me at the convention is about 2 hours to find the place, haul things in, register, and put everything up. Take down is about an hour. So for every event set up is 3 hours.
Then there’s the actual time spent at the convention. Typical cons that I’ve been to start at 9 or 10 in the morning, and I usually get there an hour in advance. They close somewhere between 6 and 8 at night in most cases, and I often stay afterwards to do a half take down of the table to secure things for the night. So I assumed a day lasting from 9 AM to 8 PM, with no lunch break. That makes for an 11 hour day, each day of the convention.
Finally, the larger conventions entail a lot more paperwork than the little ones. Denver Comic Con, for example, requires sales taxes to be filed and paid immediately after the event on the city and state levels. And if any problems or questions come up in the process (which happens pretty much every time) then there are phone calls (and hold calls) to wait through and websites to wade through. That can take up an entire day. I estimated 4 hours per big convention.
I went through each of the ten events I’d been to in the last year and looked at which factors applied. The grand total of hours spent was 465 hours a year.
Kickstarter is another task that has a lot of little pieces. Prep work includes making a video, images, setting up the page, collecting feedback, revising, and networking. Then there’s the actual promotion during the event, not to mention updates. All that came in at about 136 hours. Add to that the work I’ve done putting together the product for that project, preparing files and covers and extra materials, and the total climbs to 188 hours…so far. That’s just from getting things ready, but not from delivering the materials. Since I was only tallying work of this year, the time commitment here is actually understated pretty significantly. I’ll have to keep track of the hours when I’m preparing everything for shipping later in the year and revise my numbers then.
After School Classes and Patreon
Both of these require only moderate weekly time commitments. I included the classes because they had a significant financial impact, covering all my convention expenses for the year. I include Patreon, because Patrons are making it possible for me to maintain my current schedule. A little time spent a week for them actually saves me a lot of time as a whole, because I can keep paying my color flatters. I’m also hopeful the number of patrons will grow, and help me hire a colorist to supplement the work I do, so we can get back up to three times a week again.
This is the work I do for free because I want to share what I’ve learned with others. That includes the articles and podcasts I do for the Webcomic Alliance, as well as the storytelling podcast I’ve started called the Moko Expedition, which you can find here on iTunes if you’re so inclined. All of that came out to 268 hours.
I broke this into the time required for each update and social media interaction. For updates I included blogging, cross-posting, and promotion, about 156 hours a year. Social media covered not only interactions on places like Facebook and Twitter, but replying to comments on the website as well. That’s about 260 hours a year.
And finally, the section I suspect I’ve neglected in this estimation, the work that’s purely business. Accounting, legal, and planning are the aspects I’ve included here, but marketing and merchandising will likely become larger factors in future years. I just haven’t had much mental space to spare for those aspects in 2014.
THE GRAND TOTAL
By my tally, I spend 3673 hours a year working. Which is a 71 hour work week. I would like to point out that some of these hours are a little misleading, considering that I do a lot of multitasking. For example, whenever I’m recording a podcast I’m also coloring pages. Whenever I’m editing a podcast, I’m also inking pages. Some actives are double-counted in this tally. I also tried to estimate high, rather than low, figuring that my rather spotty memory was probably neglecting a lot of relevant work.
…That said, I do work on most weekends, so while the actual total might not be 71 hours, it certainly isn’t a normal 40 hour work week. I rarely see movies, my favorite hobby is stealing fifteen minutes of reading during breakfast, and don’t see friends unless I schedule them in a month in advance. Food for thought, if a career transition like mine appeals to you.
What did this exercise teach me? Beyond confirming my belief that I don’t spend the bulk of my time drawing, it also highlighted for me the time being spent growing my business. 20 percent of my time is creating 100 percent of my business income. It brings up some great questions.
- Is that a division that matches my goals?
- What activities are earning the most income for the least time investment?
- What tasks will yield the most additional income for the least additional time spent?
To answer these questions, I plan to go over my financial records and compare the distribution of income to the distribution of my time. This will be hugely beneficial information when setting goals for the coming year.
As creators, while we may think to look at our expenses in terms of money, we often forget to value our time as much as our cash. Both are important, and going through this exercise can help you determine how you’re spending yours.