Talking Numbers

Courtney Zerizef-1.jpg

Day Two, Act One: Courtney Zerizef

2018 Real Life Conference Speaker Summary

“The sexy side of finance”

Not gonna lie, I don’t speak math. It’s my least favourite part of running a business. And I know I’m not alone. We’re creatives, not accountants. Courtney Zerizef made business finance (the math of it all) feel completely palatable, and, gasp, even exciting. The exciting parts: Planning for the future, gear budget (!!!), strategizing growth, making money. Did I say gear budget?

Zerizef is a photographer who straddles the left and right hemispheres of her brain with ease. She parlayed this unique bilingualism into her business, Homeroom, where she helps creatives and other small businesses navigate the left brain mathy stuff, setting up foundational backbones that make it easier for us to focus on the right brain creative stuff. 

“Big business language gets intimidating. And it’s not super sexy. And I get how it sometimes gets so overwhelming and frustrating that the only thing you have left to do is stare blankly into your computer and sigh ‘oh, fuck.’ My goal however, is to turn all of your ‘oh fucks,’ into ‘fuck yeahs!’” said Zerizef during her Real Life talk last November, Getting Down and Dirty – the Sexy Side of Finance. “While even the term ‘finance’ itself can feel intimidating, simply put, business finance is the how — how you’re going to use the money that your business makes. It’s the strategy of how to sustain and grow your business.”

“When we don’t take the time to understand our finances, we communicate to our potential clients that we’re not worth that much money. We need to change that. If we don’t, we’re continuing to show the whole world that our entire industry is not valuable.”

Everyone in attendance scribbled copious amounts of notes. But, the magic of Zerizef’s foundational business training is best understood within her hands-on workshops and one-on-one consulting. I’ve put together three major takeaways from her talk that will help you to move in the direction of building the foundation you need to succeed as a creative entrepreneur. 

Talk Tip One:

What’s Your Goal?

Simon Sinek talks about finding your ‘why?’ Once you know your ‘why,’ the next step is identifying your goal. How much money do you actually need? Do you want to prioritize flexibility? Where do you want to be in one year, 5 years, 10 years? If you could curate time, what does that time look like?” Zerizef asked. 

By getting crystal clear on a goal, her aim is to provide you with a solid foundation. We all need somewhere to start. 

“The whole point of outlining your business finances is to help you reach your goal. And it’s okay if your goal changes. It will likely change, but knowing your goal will help motivate you along the way. It will take the tedium out of the day-to-day tasks. With each step, you’ll know you’re heading in the direction you want to be,” she explained.

 Talk Tip Two:

Numbers Don’t Lie

“But they can be manipulated,” Zerizef said. “They can be altered. Just like 4+4 = 8, and 1+1+1+5 = 8, and 9-1 = 8. There are many ways to get to 8. You can get there more than 20 different ways. No business is the same. Everyone will need their own road map to get to the end point, even if your end point is the same as another business’. Once you know your goal, we need to build a road map to help you get there.”

“If photography is your hobby, how do you pay for it? If you have a business, you have to make money. Hobbies cost money. Businesses make money. Are you running an elaborate hobby or a viable business?” she asked. 

“Finance tells you the strategy of how you can grow your business. Once you do the work to lay your road map, it becomes really cool -— because it gives you so much power in making decisions for your business. It changes all those daunting ‘oh, fuck’ moments into ‘ fuck, yeah, I know how to make this happen!’ moments.”


Talk Tip Three:

Carve Your Own Path

“Whatever works for somebody else, might not work for you. And that’s OK. There is no shame in having a full-time gig and doing this part-time,” said Zerizef.

Funding your creative side-hustle might mean having the stability of a day-job. Lots of people get tripped up by this. There is no one magic bullet to success in any business. But, having a foundation is the single most important thing you can do to start your business on successful trajectory.

“If you don’t have a foundation, you’re gonna spend years guessing. It seems like it’s not fun at times, but it’s going to save you so much money, time, and energy,” she explained. 

What Zerizef’s talk taught me is that having a basic understanding of finance and knowing my numbers will help me track my own Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). It’s not that I can’t buy all the gear, it just means that if I want to buy it all, I need to lay out a road map that will help me get there. The new shiny [insert anything YouTube influencers are raving about this week] is already in my online cart, just waiting for me to come to my senses. Knowing I can add it to the budget if I truly need it (not only want it) actually stops me from a lot of my impulse buys (not all, but I digress…). I hear Zerizef’s words in my head, “If you’re not doing 20 weddings a year, why the hell would you buy it?” 

And the best way to know if you truly need a lens or lighting gear to up your game is to rent it, she explained. “I hear this all of the time, ‘Are you really a professional if you have to rent gear?’ Fuck yeah you are! You can rent the 70-200mm lens 67 times before you buy it. This is why it’s so important to do this work, because it starts to give you empowerment on how you are spending your money — plus you get a clean lens each and every time you use it.”

“Do the work so you can start feeling empowered with how your numbers translated into jobs,” Zerizef said. And then she hit us with some pretty staggering stats about gender inequity in the photography industry, ”Do the work so that you can be as confident as men act. Do the work so you can call their bullshit. Know where you lie in your business, and do the work so that you know what success looks like for you and how to get there.”

Courtney Zerizef is a photographer, and business and finance development wizard. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son.  

Homeroom is a place for creative entrepreneurs. It empowers us to build our businesses and find our worth in the industry.

Zoë Gemelli