CREATING CONTENT – ROI “Return On Investment”

Shark Tank’s Kevin Leary AKA “Mr. Wonderful”

If you are Kevin Leary from the Shark Tank, the only Return On Investment is “CASH FLOW”. I talk “ROI” with most artists and they just stare at me. They know LOL, LMAO, ROTFL, but the most important acronym in business is ROI and sorry to remind you, THIS is a business.

However ROI is not just about cash. There are a few things you can invest beside money and there is a lot more benefit than cash.

Are you getting positive ROI?

If you are not getting a financial return can you justify the investment in other means?

What do you do in your life that is a total waste of money and time w/o any return?


The first most obvious measurable investment is money. It is the one that IRS and investors care most about. How much does it cost to make something happen. Salary (Performers, Designers, Management), Rehearsal / Performance Space, Marketing, Props, Costumes, Sets and office (computers, phones etc) are just some of then numerous costs that arise when producing in the arts. As a theater company we have to watch money in and out very closely. Even as an individual artist, if you want to be commercially successful money in and money out (MIMO) is very important.


Perhaps even more important TIME invested is often taken for granted. You will hear THE SHARKS on ABC’s Shark Tank say to a hopeful entrepreneur, I could write you the check but you need my time that do not have to give. Those looking for an investment are too disorganized or otherwise unprepared. They miss a chance at working with a SHARK and getting their cash because the SHARK does not value the time investment. $50K is pennies to a billionaire, but Mark Cuban only has so many minutes in a day.

In our Improv show SALARY is our biggest expense. With less over head than traditional companies we can invest in great talent as well as charge clients less for the same or better service.

I have a friend that is struggling to find a job. He is taking small low paying work to get by. He and his wife recently moved for her career. All this time they have a house in another state that continues to drain a lot of money every month. By not investing the time to get the house ready for sale, they are losing. Last month he made $900 in odd jobs but still had to pay $1200 to maintain the old house. He finally took a week to back to the old house and get it ready for sale. If they get rid of that $1200/month burden, her job can actually support them. They would actually save money thanks to a time investment. If they do not invest the time now, that old house can become a money pit.

Artists do this all the time. They spend hours making OK money at a bar or restaurant. But then do not have the time or energy to develop their talents. Are you making enough money to justify THAT much time? Remember it is not what you make but what you spend and save. Our parents sacrificed and scraped by in order to provide the great childhood and comforts we are used to. Unless you have parents willing to support you – which sounds great but does nothing for your maturity – you need to take a step back. Save money on THINGS so you can invest TIME on you.


Going back to the TANK, Daymond John often gets great deal – bigger piece of the pie – because he has his own production, marketing and other in house resources. He can take double what you may be offering but he will also take over the job of building the product.

In our theater company, when I bring in new artists to our circle talent is always most important. I need my shows to be great and maintain quality expectations of my regulars – many around for 8-10 years now. But if I have performing talent that can do social media, graphic arts, build props & costumes, stage manage, hang lights, run sound, house manage, etc I can avoid hiring outside talent. I also look for artists that have a car and drive to gigs. I have other artists that have great video cameras that can also edit.


How much time, money and resource do you invest in your career or project. Shortly I am going to talk about the RETURNS / BENEFITS side of ROI. But so many artists waste too much time and money because they think that is how it is done. And there is an entire industry in LA and NYC getting rich off your hopes and dreams. In this day and age spending a fortune on Headshots, Demos, Rehearsal/Theater Space and many teachers are not worth the cost. $1000 headshots are no guarantee of employment. Especially when I know those with $100-200 headshots work ALL the time. For every great private coach there are 10 teachers/coaches charging more that suck. How many of us have WASTED time on horrible unpaid showcases with the hope of getting discovered (“GET SEEN BY INDUSTRY”).

Even if you have money, the key to making money is pretend you have NONE – i know easier for some. WAY too many us waste money. No one loses more playing KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES than wannabe artists.


Take inventory of your time, resources and money. If you have money great. I am assuming as a young artist you don’t. There are so many resources out there that are totally FREE. Internet is an amazing research tool. You can find auditions, host pics and videos, and market yourself via social media ALL FOR FREE.

If you want to be successful make every dollar, minute and resource count. Most of the things you pay someone else to do, you could probably do yourself.

And don’t waste to much time at a day job that sucks away the hours. TIME IS MONEY too!!! You need cash to pay rent, but I bet you could find a cheaper place to live until your real career can afford better. You may need that bartending gig to live in that loft, but you could probably get by renting a room.


Money is not everything as investment or return. Take inventory of your time, money and resource investments. Track your returns – money and other benefits…


So from now on, every time you invest time, money or resource, consider the benefit. Are you getting a return or are you in the RED – financially or otherwise.


Again CASH FLOW is the easiest to track. Are you getting your money back? A basic financial investment looks for a return over time. You may not necessarily get money now. In business I am just now getting a financial return on investments I made 5-10 years ago.

I remember the day I wrote a check to take my SAG card. $2000+ was a lot of money at the time. I was getting some audition and even booked a SAG commercial. I had also booked some Letterman Episodes and they had to cut me off because I did not take my card the previous summer. But all that time I was booking non-union commercials and I have a manager that wanted me to stay out of SAG. But even though I was getting jobs and making money, I was also investing a lot of time at non-union auditions. I had to take of work (getting paid to do Improv shows) and non-union producers are notorious for wasting your time. You may show up for a 11am appointment and still be there 3 hours later. THE LAST STRAW I did a commercial for VH1. It actually turned into TWO spots. The shoot lasted 10 hours. The conditions were crap – using shaved Styrofoam for fake snow I was inhaling toxic materials. THEN it took me EIGHT months to get paid $500 (NO BUY OUT). My manager gave me the number at VH1 to track it down (WHAT amd I paying you 15% for?).

Since then I have worked less BUT every audition is quick. If I have a 11am audition, I am usually out by 10:55am. Seriously, no exaggeration. I arrive early – AKA ON TIME in professional world. Most actors are late so I get seen ahead of scheduled time. Less talent is called in for UNION commercials. There is more of a process. So I have also converted more auditions into bookings. In past 3 years I have booked 1 gigs out of 5 auditions. When I go to a union shoot in NYC, I am usually on set for about an hour. They have all the tech worked out before I get there. I show up extra early for the food. But last 3 NYC shoots I was home by lunch time. For two gigs last year I was paid great money to travel or Puerto Rico and Norway for TV shows. Per diems alone matched a usual non-union gig.

ROI for all my non-union work about $5/hour
ROI for all my UNION WORK $100+/hour

AGAIN these are solid numbers. If you take into both the higher pay and time invested. Another secret, I have spent $300 on headshots since 2002. I used to be the guy that carried headshots everywhere. Now when a CD asks for one I am surprised. Most have it online/on file. They film/slate you and know who you are. I also don’t waste time at open calls anymore.

As a young actor you have more time than money.
Invest your time wisely but don’t be cheap!!!

WARNING: Don’t go run out and get your union card based on this info. Because every years 100s do and never work again because they were not ready. I had a resume of NON-UNION Theater and Commercial work. Before taking may card I had been on WE Network as a Reality show life coach, MTV2’s STANKERVISION as a fat guy being chased by cowboys, Letterman 9 times – riding bike across stage as Lance Armstrong, Walking Horse across stage as Jockey, Heckler, FAT GUY trying to cool off at legendary cold Ed Sullivan Theater etc OK 5 times I was paid to be there and bit was cut because of time. Still got my cash and lots of free coffee and cookies. Sometimes I even beat the sound guy to the bananas. But that was experience working with directors in rehearsal and getting to chat with Paul, Biff and the rest of the gang. I had also done some non-union tours and got a few EMC points (Actor’s Equity) doing summer stock at Gateway Playhouse – just enough to get ahead of the line at union auditions.

But before investing your TIME into unpaid activities consider the non-financial benefits…


We often spend time and money and resources looking for ways to bring ourselves happiness. THE BIG SECRET TO HAPPY LIFE? Find ways to make money from things that bring you joy. If you are having fun, who am I to say stop. Growing up is so overrated.

Doing some showcases are fun. There are some amazing shows. I can honestly say the best work I have done has been in unpaid or stipend projects. And there is nothing more fun than doing Improv Comedy. The fact i pay my bills onstage full time is a blessing I appreciate daily!


As a young artist you need to learn your craft. You need to take classes. You need to do shows that do not pay. You and/or your parents need to invest in your education.

Beyond college and studio classes, many unpaid gigs on stage and screen are valuable educational experiences. No class truly prepares you for that first time acting for a camera. Nothing develops an artist’s talent better than life experiences on and of stage/set.

EVERY EXPERIENCE is a chance to learn. Don’t waste it. If your so-called failures have educational ROI. Keep a Journal and track what you learn. track the good, bad and ugly.


There are many gigs that do not pay but look great on the resume. Especially if your only credits are college, high school and/or community theater. There are great unpaid and low paying stage and screen gigs that one by one replace your other credits. By the time you are 21 no one cares that you did Shakespeare in high school or one a state a talent competition. The second I had Letterman on me resume I started making more as a comic actor. Every new resume item is a step up that ladder.

Every time you work at a recognizable theater in New York, you can remove a non-NYC credit. I knew an amazing young actress that came to NYC with her AEA card. She did professional theater in Chicago. But in NYC very few knew her credits. She had to start from scratch doing showcases and readings. After a few NEW WORKS readings with a particular Casting Director she started to get some work.

I have some random credits in otherwise unknown shows on my resume, BUT they were performed at major Off-Broadway theaters via the NYC Fringe Festival. I also got some great press form one of those. Even though the stipend (“Thank you pay”) did not even cover travel to rehearsal and shows, I can honestly say those resume credits have made me money over time.

Sometimes investing in a class delivers a new teacher for your resume. At some point these items mean little to casting directors but I will admit, in my own casting of projects, those teachers mean more than the resume list of high school and college credits. 

ALSO doing some shows will add to your skills list down below. I am assuming here you all know how to format a great NYC or LA resume. But I learned Tap Dance doing a few shows. Mime, Stage Combat, and More. AT some point I went and took classes to develop those skills farther. But many of my skills come directly from some interesting unpaid projects.


As much as I have cursed some unpaid showcases over the years, I can honestly say that the worst of them delivered a new friend or industry connection that paid off later.

Think about it. I assume that if you moved to LA or NYC you have talent. So the fact you were a star in High School is meaningless. WE ALL WERE. Or more often, it was not the stars that make it here, because they do not come to NYC feeling entitled. And many of those high school stars are the ones kidding themselves. The things that make you a star in high school often have nothing to do with what Casting Directors are looking for…

So talent is not enough. Training is not enough. This is a business. WHO you know matters. But you did not have to be a producer’s kid to know people. Get out there. Be someone people want to work with and you will make friends on every gig. Be someone directors want to hire and they will. Don’t kiss ass.

REMEMBER – BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME mean BEING THERE. If you are NEVER there there will NEVER be a right time. If you are ALWAYS there…

My first TV job came because we did Monday Night shows at the NYC Improv. The club manager got a call from MTV. “We need a fat guy with a hairy back at 9am TOMORROW”. Before going to bed I was on phone with costume. I had a great reputation at the club for delivering great shows and filling seats – making the club money. I was at the club when they got the call. The following weekend I was a comic that has appeared on MTV. My second TV Job was Letterman. I was sleeping-in when they called at 11am. “Want to be on Letterman. I need you here in an hour!” I went stinky into a cab got there in 30-minutes. By 4:30 I was walking a horse across stage. 11:30pm that night i was on TV.

This business is painfully slow at first. BUT when things happen they happen fast. Especially in TV. It may take years to sell a project, but when they get the green light the ball starts rolling and picks up momentum quickly.

BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME means being ready to rock all the time.


While everyone in town says “Do my show for free and get INDUSTRY EXPOSURE” most project get ZERO. But we do need to get scene. So many amazing artists suck at auditions. Sadly many bad artists SHINE in audition studios. But there is nothing better than a producer or director or agent seeing you at your best.

These days brand is everything. Every time you perform you potentially are getting new fans.

The only thing I really do that is unpaid these days are Social Media videos (Yourtube, Vine etc). As a comedian it is a way to entertain my fans 24/7.

It takes a lot work to fill an audience for a live performance showcase. Some of the best cabaret in NYC averages 5 guests. Being a little better at marketing my NYC showcases average 20-30. BUT Every time I make a Youtube video, 1000s see my work. I have 1000s of followers on Facebook and Twitter. It took time. But less time than producing a live show.


Everything you do promotes everything else you do.


When we perform we tell folks about our classes and videos. I invite students to watch SHOW and VIDEOS. We ask all to follow us on Twitter where we promote our live shows and videos. It all adds up to creating a brand.


Find ways to decrease costs / investment and increase return!!! Take stock in all you do. Eliminate waster. Thank of yourself and/or your projects as a business. Organize your time. Manage your finances. Build your resources.

I tell all my actor friends…

You went to school to be an artist, but you moved to NYC to be an waiter?

Set a goal to QUIT your day job. reduce your expenses. Find ways to make money with your talents or in support of our industry that leads to exposure and networking and educational experiences.

This entry was posted in Learn to Improvise and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.