Monetization · · 4 min read

Platinum Handcuffs

Creators want control – control over their time, work, and who they work with. Having complete control over what you do, when you do it, or if you even do anything at all is the ultimate luxury.

That's the promise of being a professional creator, and even more broadly, that's the promise of entrepreneurship. Without pre-existing generational wealth, owning a business is how wealth is achieved.

But "wealth" isn't just financial. True wealth for a creator also includes a wealth of time. The feeling of having an excess of time.

You've likely heard of "golden handcuffs" – compensation so good that quitting a job is difficult (even if you hate the work you're being compensated for).

You might think that creators have avoided that trap – but you'd be wrong.

The problem

Creators develop more awareness of themselves than the average person. That means you quickly develop uncommon demand for your time. This supply-and-demand imbalance means that you can command a pretty high hourly rate to access your time – and that's where the challenge starts.

You'll identify this opportunity quickly, and you'll probably tap into it. Whether you sell access to your time via client services, high-ticket programs, or hourly consulting, the money adds up quickly.

Suddenly, SELLING your time feels more financially beneficial than USING your time to create.

The money starts flowing! More money than you've seen before – and it feels really good.

So you sell more of your time.

And more.

And more.

Suddenly, you feel cash-rich but time-poor. Or worse, you actually feel cash-poor and time-poor. You're spending less time creating than ever because you've created a well-paid job of your own making.

You're stuck wearing platinum handcuffs.

The challenge

As the name suggests, platinum handcuffs are even harder to break out of than golden handcuffs. It's a first-world problem, but a problem I hear about nonetheless.

When you've had a taste of the ultimate freedom being a creator can offer, feeling totally controlled by the time you've sold can be frustrating. That frustration reminds you of your original goal: a life where you've decoupled the time you spend from the money you earn.

We live in a consumer culture. Our biology is still optimized for gathering resources, status, and comfort. When we have the opportunity to acquire more resources, we tend to take it. When we have the opportunity to show our status by buying things that reflect our resources, we tend to take it. When we have the opportunity to make ourselves more comfortable by spending our resources, we tend to take it.

This is the origin of lifestyle creep. The more we earn, the more we spend.

The problem is the same whether you have golden or platinum handcuffs – in order to break free, you either need to a.) avoid lifestyle creep in the first place or b.) be willing to make changes to reduce your lifestyle costs.

But those options conflict with your desire for status or comfort. And if your expenses are geared towards essentials – things like a mortgage or expensive schooling – it's even harder.

The solution

Like any problem, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The more quickly you see the threat of platinum handcuffs, the easier it will be to avoid them entirely.

Acquiring resources is great – but stockpiling them is even better. When you live below your means, you create optionality – a contribution to your wealth of time.

But if you find yourself in platinum handcuffs, moving month-to-month despite high revenue, you need to start buying back your time. How quickly you buy back your time depends on how drastically you're willing to alter your lifestyle.

Path 1: Slow shift

If you're nervous about a drop in revenue, the game is clawing back more time for yourself to invest in creating generative, leveraged assets. That may mean moving from individual consulting to one-to-many programs, creating digital products, or building an audience that opens the doors for sponsorship.

A lot of creators with platinum handcuffs find themselves publishing less and less – and that's a trend you have to reverse.

The slow shift comes from either:

  • Finding new time (taking time away from somewhere else e.g. sleep, family, friends, hobbies, etc.)
  • Being more efficient with your time (getting more out of the time you have)
  • Changing your allocation of time (likely eliminating some number of clients or paid programs)

These are all straightforward, but none of them are easy. The more complex your life is, the harder it is to find new time. Being more efficient with your time isn't a one-time proposition either – you need to be more efficient consistently. For most creators in platinum handcuffs, the best path forward is to change your allocation of time – and that is usually at the expense of near-term revenue.

The more nervous that makes you, the smaller changes you should make. Instead of firing all of your clients, fire one. The smaller the change, the longer the overall shift – but a small course correction may be more wise than a total 180. You may even find that by making your available time more scarce, you can increase your prices and cover the loss while also decreasing your time commitment.

Path 2: Hard shift

If you want to make a change as quickly as possible, the answer is funneling as much time as possible into your own projects. The path forward is creating content, building leveraged products, and forming relationships. The more efficient and effective you are, the faster you'll get to your ideal outcome.

But you can only compress these activities so much – a human being can't have a one-month pregnancy, no matter how hard you try.

So, even if you ARE willing to burn the boats, recognize that a healthy creator business means building trust with an individual (many times over). Building trust in an audience of individuals takes time. Don't put yourself into a bind by assuming clearing ALL of your time will solve your problem in an impossibly short window.

Conclusion

Selling your time is a perfectly reasonable way to earn a living. Whether you're selling it to an employer or to an audience of your own making, it's the fastest path to revenue.

But if your goal is to decouple how you spend your time from how you earn your money, then look at your time as the financial engine funding the creation of your own products. Be your own biggest client and be stingy with your time – maintain control over as much of it as you can.

The best way out of platinum handcuffs is to avoid them entirely. Remember that your time is a more scarce resource than cash, and you should value it accordingly.

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