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Budgeting Part I – Expenses

| January 17, 2011 | 3 Comments

In the comics you make, the worlds you can create are limitless, the characters unrestrained.  Unfortunately, your comics business is subject to far more constraints. One way you can assert some control over your business to achieve your goals is by budgeting.

Budgeting is making a plan for your money, before your money makes a plan for you.  Here’s a link to a spreadsheet that I use for my budgeting.  This spreadsheet allows me to both plan and monitor my spending over the year, and also track all my income.  I’m no master accountant, so I’m sure there are better ways to organize information than this google doc, but if you’re just getting started with budgeting, or it’s a real weak spot for you, you may want to check out my form, and use it as a baseline for your own comics business.

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

Budgeting is the practice of spending your money on paper, on purpose, BEFORE you actually have to spend it for real.  It involves business planning, evaluation of past performance, and forecasting into the future.  Budgeting is not an exact science, and no budget is ever perfect.  Still, it’s a useful process.
We talked about the importance of setting goals earlier this year, and I’m betting there are steps along the path to reaching those goals that are going to require some funding.  So another step added to the path is to take a serious assessment of your financial needs and make a plan to fund them.  That’s where budgeting comes in.

But what if comics is just a hobby for you?  You should still have a budget!  A budget is key to staying on track with your financial goals in life.  As a hobby, comics should get a line item in your personal budget (along with food, auto, living expenses, etc.)

If, however, you’re treating comics as a business (even a small one) you NEED a budget.  That means tracking your spending, planning your year in advance, making a realistic assessment of what you need to spend, what you might earn this year, and making some tough decisions about priorities.

There are two sides to every budget:  expenses and income. This week, I’m going to focus on expenses.

Expenses

Expenses are easier to predict than income, and therefore easier to budget.  After all, YOU have almost complete control over them.  YOU decide how much you can afford to pay a collaborator.  YOU decide how many books you want to produce.  YOU decide how many cons you want to go to, and so on.

If you’ve budgeted in the past, one of the best things to do is to pull out last year’s numbers and use that as a starting point/baseline for your budget.  If you’ve never budgeted before, however, you might have a more difficult time.  To help, let’s talk about ALL the many types of things you might potentially spend money on in your comics business.

Here’s a look at the expenses of my comics business in 2010, by percentages.  Some of these categories might not apply to your comics business, and likewise you may have some expenses I don’t.

My Expenses Categories

Art Supplies – Paper, inks, markers, rulers, printer cartridges, etc.

Commissioned Work – Usually in the form of page rates paid to artist collaborators, or commissioned sketches.

Shipping – Primarily through the U.S. Postal Service, a cost associated with selling merchandise online.

Printing – Includes cost of printing comics, prints and other merchandise for sale.

Marketing – Online advertising, physical promotional material, etc.

Conventions – Primarily convention fees, and other costs associated with conventions.

Travel Expenses – Gas, fuel, tolls, hotel, for appearances.

Web Hosting/Registering – Cost of website hosting, domain registration, etc.

Books/Resources – Subscriptions to magazines and online resources, reference books, comics, etc.

Business Harware/Software – Computer hardware, and other business.

Misc/Other – Everything else!  I try to limit what’s in this category, because if there’s significant cash spent here, it probably needs a line item.

Budgeting Tips for 2011

  • Focus on what you DO know. You might find yourself looking at the above list and not having any idea where to start when it comes to estimating expenses in those categories.  That’s okay.  Focus on what you do know, and build from there.
  • Budget quarterly. My comics income and expenses are far too irregular on a month to month basis for me to come close to accurate predictions.  However, on a quarterly basis, things are a little more predictable, as the bulk of my expenses corresponds with the heart of con season.
  • What cons are you going to? Take some time over at ConventionScene.com and make a ballpark estimate of the number of cons you’re going to.  Convention expenses (table fees, travel, lodging) and creating product to sell at them are major expense points.  However, most of that expense information can be reasonably guestimated well in advance.
  • What projects are you committed to this year? Commissioned art is a major line item in my budget.  I can estimate how many pages of each of my books I’ll produce this year, and figure out what that’s going to cost me fairly easily.
  • What books or products are you going to make? Think about the big products you have on tap this year?  What are they?  Are you going to be finally printing that graphic novel?  Doing a new sketchbook this year?  Doing a short run first issue of a new series?  Take a few minutes and jot down the 2-5 key physical products you’re going to create this year, and then figure out how much those are going to cost.  If you’re doing POD, use the Ka-Blam or Createspace cost calculators to get a ballpark on expenses.  If you’re doing an off-set print run with Transcontinental for example, now might be a good time to get a quote.  Add these to your budget.
  • Add in your yearly recurring expenses, and existing commitments.  These you know.  Things like:
    • Internet hosting/domain registration fees.
    • Memberships/Subscriptions (ex. Webcomics.com, Sketch Magazine)
    • Contracts with collaborators on projects.
  • Best guess the rest. Art supplies, marketing, books, etc. are relatively easy to ballpark.

One thing to remember is that a budget is a working, living, document.  Things will change.  You’ll be way off in some categories, and you may need to create new categories for things you haven’t thought of yet.  All of that is okay.  Just like creating comics, you’ll get better at budgeting the more you do it.  Creating the perfect budget isn’t the goal.  Instead, it’s becoming strongly attuned to where your money is going and how you’re making it work for you.

Have any budgeting tips?  Please share!

Next: Budgeting Part II- Income

***

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA.  He is the writer and co-creator of EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy.  His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.

Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.

Contact Tyler via email ([email protected]), visit his website TylerJamesComics.com, follow him on Twitter, or check him out on Facebook.

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About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at [email protected]

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  1. Budgeting Part II – Income | ComixTribe | January 27, 2011
  1. John Lees says:

    I need to keep a better track of my expenses. I’ve got the overall total worked out and written down, but I’ve not effectively itemised it. I’ve got over a year’s worth of Paypal receipts and the like saved in my inbox, and I’ve meant to go down and take note of the when/how much of each individual payment I’ve made and keep it all noted on a spreadsheet. But the longer you don’t do it, the bigger and more intimidating a job it becomes. But it’s something I need to do, particularly with me also needing to work out how much I paid in pounds with each transaction, with the exchange rate into dollars ever shifting.

    • Tyler James says:

      Ah, but here’s the beauty of the New Year! Forget about everything before 1-1-11, John. (If you want to go back later, you can always do so.) Just start fresh with expenses and income from January 1 of this year. (Surely you haven’t spent THAT much yet this year.) Habits take time to develop, but just get yourself in the habit of tracking your spending as it happens. That’s one of the reasons I like Google Docs…my budget tracking sheet is available any time I’m connected to a computer.

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