How I Went From Starving Artist to Making $10K Per Month
I was born to music-loving parents who put a guitar in my hands before I could walk, sat me down at a piano at age 7 and raised me in a little town called Visalia in Central California.
While it wasn’t the star-studded, beachfront California most people envision, it came complete with a thriving Theatre community which I fell in love with almost immediately after my 7th grade choir teacher suggested I audition for a Musical Theatre workshop going on that summer.
The acting bug bit me HARD.
I traded in my days in the sun at softball practice for nights locked away inside of a theatre with a group of equally talented, obsessed and eccentric performers.
I knew I had found the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Fast forward to a year after graduation…
I packed up my life and headed for Hollywood to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. The time I spent immersed in this beautiful and crazy art form at AMDA were some of the best days of my life. But like all good things, it came to an end and life spat me out into the grind that is auditioning and working the standard-issue actor “survival jobs” in catering, food service, retail and the like.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to do it for too long…
About 2 months out of school, I was fortunate enough to book my very first professional gig as a production singer on board a cruise ship where I was bitten by yet another infectious bug;
Since that first contract I have worked in Vegas, China, Japan and visited over 60 additional countries whilst performing on board ships.
It’s seriously been a dream… but it has come with it’s own unique brand of challenges.
The thing about this gigging lifestyle is the gig always comes to an end…
And so does the paycheck.
There was one time in particular, I’d come to the end of a string of shows I’d done at a regional theatre in Northern California. I had my next gig booked, (a 13 month contract at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan where I ended up getting to play my favorite role thus far, Elphie in Wicked…
Still can’t believe that one happened...)
But I had a bit of a dilemma…
I had 2 months before my next job started…
And only one month’s worth of money to cover expenses in my bank account.
With so little time before I left the country for over a year, I was reluctant to apply for any kind of job I would have to leave so quickly…
So I started looking into other options.
I ran into brick wall after brick wall.
I tried everything I could think of;
Selling my car, baby-sitting, (which I hate), temp agencies….
Everything I saw as a window of opportunity quickly transformed into a door that slammed firmly shut in my face.
One night I was having a tearful and frustrated conversation with my mom about my financial concerns. She listened, nodded along empathetically and told me she had a friend who had mentioned an “opportunity” to her and suggested we check it out together.
It turned out this friend was involved in a network marketing company.
My mom and I sat through his pitch, saw value and a real opportunity to generate some cash flow in it and decided to get started.
As luck would have it, the company was having their annual convention in Vegas the weekend before I was scheduled to leave the country for a year.
Coincidence? I think not.
Mom and I packed a bag and drove our way through the desert to a weekend that we didn’t yet know would profoundly change the trajectory of our lives.
Sidenote: Don’t worry… This isn’t the part where I try to pitch you a network marketing business, (unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case, you can learn more about that HERE.) This is simply an integral part of the story of how I went from entrepreneurially clueless to where I am today.
As I was saying…
The company had lined up a bunch of stellar entrepreneurs and trainers to teach and inspire us that weekend. One of which, my mom and I both ended up hiring as a coach to help us along in our new business venture.
One week later, I packed up my life (yet again) and boarded a plane to Japan.
Over the next few weeks, I descended into the black hole that is rehearsals.
That place where you become completely immersed in learning your material and getting to know you new castmates. I wasn’t completely anti-social by any means, but while my cohorts spent their evenings drinking at the local bar and laying the social foundation for what proved to be an unforgettable year together, I chose to spend a good deal of my free time on strategy calls with my coach, diving into personal development books and consuming every bit of information I could on the Network Marketing business model.
Sidenote #2: I didn’t end up staying with that first company I joined. The more I learned about the business model of Network Marketing and my belief in it grew, the more I saw that I needed to find a company with products that aligned with my values and that I could really get excited about. For me, that meant a company with a killer culture and a line of superior health and wellness products.
But I digress…
I was faced with a unique challenge…
I was growing a business that didn’t operate in the country I was currently residing in.
And I was 17 hours ahead of the country it DID operate in.
As I scratched my head searching for a solution, I stumbled into the world of online marketing.
A world where you could make money regardless of your geographic location.
It felt like I had found the financial Holy Grail for myself and every gigging gypsy I had ever worked with.
The next several years consisted of me drinking from the firehose that was listening to podcasts, reading books, articles, purchasing independent study courses on email, content and social media marketing, paid traffic, sales funnels….
Anything and everything I could find.
And eventually it paid off…
Fast-foward to last summer…
The cruise line I’d been working for almost 5 years let me know 10 days before the end of my current contract that they had no upcoming contracts to offer me.
After a very small panic attack, I decided to make the most of the situation and move to a city I’d been flirting with for several years that called to another side of my creative sensibilities; Nashville, TN.
Now, the Nashville songwriting scene is very similar to the NY/LA actor scenes… Most of the songwriters work part time survival gigs in restaurants and retail in order to keep their schedules as flexible as possible for cowrites.
I was eager to avoid the soul-suck that is the standard issue survival job, so I began driving for a company like Uber Eats… but it wasn’t quite covering my expenses.
Now, at this point, I had been a partner with my mom in a real estate investing startup for a while. I was in charge of our marketing, both on and offline, and one day, I got onto a support call with the owner of the software company we ran our business on with a question about setting up a webinar sales funnel.
He listened as I outlined my strategy and surprised me by saying,
“Man, if you were in St. Louis, I would put you on the payroll tomorrow. We’re looking for somebody just like you.”
Rather than let the moment go as a nothing more than a fleeting compliment, I heard myself respond with,
“Well, Nashville’s not THAT far from St. Louis. Let’s talk…”
I ended up driving out to meet him and the rest of the team in person and by the end of the day, I was on board as a consultant with their marketing department.
I worked remotely from Nashville with the person running their department in St. Louis on a project by project basis. As long as I hit my deadlines, I was able to work whenever I wanted which kept my schedule flexible enough to write and make some inroads as the new kid in town in the Nashville music scene.
A couple months into my time with the company, the owner let me know he was going to be doing some restructuring…
The person they had running the marketing department wasn’t working out anymore and rather than have them put my contract on hold until they found somebody to run the department, I stepped in as the interim marketing director for this $10 million/year software company.
About a month later, the owner extended an offer to me to come to St. Louis to run the department full time with competitive salary, shares of the company and full benefits.
Mind you… I never went to school for this stuff.
Everything I knew was the result of self-education.
I don’t say this to brag…
I say it because if I could land this kind of opportunity as a performer who used her free time to learn a valuable skillset,
so can you.
I ended up turning down the offer.
It wasn’t what I was passionate about after all, and I couldn’t see myself giving up my gypsy lifestyle to man a desk 40 hours a week.
What’s funny though, is I ended up helping in the hiring process for the guy who did come in to run the department.
I helped to HIRE the guy I was going to be working for directly.
Then, about a month after he came on board, I got an email with an offer from the cruise line to come out on an emergency replacement contract for one of their singers.
I packed my life up once again, and 10 days later, I was back to performing for packed houses and island hopping in the Caribbean.
But since I was already working remotely, I continued to work for the software company while I was performing full time at sea.
During this time, I was making just shy of $10K per month.
Little “starving artist” me was bringing in some serious cash.
It made me realize there was TREMENDOUS value for performers in cultivating a skillset in online business.
If we’re willing to hone our digital marketing chops the same way we’ve dedicated ourselves to honing our craft…
We will NEVER have to be starving artists again.
And that’s why I created this site.
I want this to be an educational resource for my fellow performers on the world of online marketing and the incredible way it can support your pursuit of your greatest passion.
Are you excited yet?
I know I am.
- Leigh Cara