Chika Jones Is Building A Sustainable Career In The Arts

Hi Chika, can we get to know you better?

My name is Chika Jones. I live in South East England currently — I moved here two years ago, but before then, I lived in Nigeria all my life. I work in a couple of different spaces. I work in tech and in the creative industry as a poet. I’m also starting a career as a playwright. 

You must have quite the resume. What did you want to be growing up?

Like most kids growing up in Nigeria, I wanted to be a doctor. But when I took JAMB, Nigeria happened to me, and I ended up studying mechanical engineering. After I graduated, I kind of fell into writing for a newspaper. I’ve never had a defined career path, but I did know that I wanted to be a writer after I graduated from university. 

Writing is a precarious choice. Most people who write for a living are motivated by passion, but some have managed to make a career out of it. What was your plan going in, money-wise?

I have never had any delusions that writing was a profitable career path, especially in Nigeria. I have always worked; I started working at a very young age. After graduation, I came to see writing as the career I wanted to commit my time and attention to. My nine-to-fives have always been a backup, so I had the creative freedom to write. That’s kind of how I balance things. 

Is this how you got into tech?

Not really.  I have never been someone who has actively pursued a career path outside of writing. Working in tech, Meta specifically, was something that happened. A friend randomly sent me a message that they were looking for someone with my particular skill set, so I applied and got it. My first job after university working at Next Newspapers happened that way, and that was how I pivoted from newspapers to working at X3M Media, the marketing agency. 

Curious, can you give us some more insight into your roles at these organisations?

My first job was as a newspaper reporter. My longest stint was as a marketing manager at X3M Media before I moved to tech. When I say I work in tech, I mean I work at a technology company. My work at Meta is actually language-based, involving understanding market context, language context, and data analysis in the safety and integrity department. 

Meta is my first real corporate job with a big organisation. My previous roles were in small startups where the stakes are higher, but this is my first role where my obligations are clear, my output is not directly linked to profit, and there is a lot of space to experiment and find what appeals to you. The pay is also very good. 

Interesting. You didn’t come into writing for the money, but you are at a point in your creative career where you are making money for your writing. How did you get to that point?

The first time I thought of writing as a viable career was in 2013 when I was invited to share my poetry on radio, Rhythm FM Port Harcourt. The feedback was really good, so I pushed a little further and applied for the War Of Words Poetry Slam. I won the competition and got paid $500, which was a lot of money. That was when I first got paid for my work. 

After 2013, I fell into a pattern where I would get invited to events or offered paid opportunities because people discovered my work through poetry slams or performances, and get paid for my work. It helped that the poetry space was quite small, and people were quick to recommend. I graduated to creating poetry ads for companies. 

In 2018, I realised the importance of having an editor refine my work, so I started submitting to poetry journals, and when my poems were accepted and published, I got paid. I also started taking performance poetry seriously and organised my first poetry play in collaboration with the British Council. I sold out two shows. That inspired me to pivot away from submitting to creating my own work and creating my own space to get paid for the work. In 2023, I did a one-man show as part of a larger show in England, and in April 2024, I did my first one-man performance show.

Do you think moving abroad has helped with this transition to creating your own work and getting paid?

Partly, the kind of professional work I do now means I’m not under a lot of pressure to put food on the table, so I’m able to expand the way I think of work. But there is also the structure here that is a real game changer.

When I was in Nigeria, I lived in Bariga, and before that, I lived in Isheri-Osun. These are places where getting access to support and facilities like a director and performance spaces is a huge hassle. Moving to England and finding work as an associate artist for a theatre company has provided me with the structure to create work the way I want to and get paid for it. 

How has having two separate sources of income from your day job and your creative career affected your understanding of your finances?

My main source of income is my day job, and it’s fairly regular, so I know what is coming each month and what I want to save from it. The interesting thing is that since I moved to England, I now have to start doing taxes on the income I earn outside of my day job. In doing my taxes, I’m able to see how much is coming in. 

Much of my income comes from my work with the theatre company I work for. They pay for my writing, my rehearsals and other tasks. I also make some income from my one-man shows. It’s been trickles, but I have to think of it in a more structured way because I have to separate my expenses, like phone calls and transportation, from my income and then pay taxes on it. I have learned to think of my expenses as separate from my income. 

People in Nigeria don’t think of creative work as a legitimate business. What was the most surprising thing about having to think of your creative career as a business?

I finally realised why artists have agents. I have never had an agent, but recently, I have seriously considered hiring one. Agents handle a lot of administrative tasks, like chasing invoices and negotiating contracts, which can overwhelm you and limit your ability to create. To address this in my career, I recently set up a limited liability company called Sustainable Arts Collective to structure my work.

The eventual goal for Sustainable Arts is to hire agents working for that company who manage artists, help them handle the business and administrative side of their careers, and free up time for them to create.

How has working in a structured creative environment changed your outlook on creative work?

When I was in Nigeria, payments were very informal, usually a word of mouth of assurance. Now that I have introduced formal invoicing, I am able to set the terms and conditions of the contract and accurately determine when money is coming in, which has given me a lot more peace of mind. 

What is your preferred method of saving?

I set up a target for the year typically, break it down into months and when income comes in, remove the amount that will help me meet that target and put it in a separate account. When I was in Nigeria and using PiggyVest, I went with autosave. That was really helpful because when my wife and I wanted to move to England, our PiggyVest savings kind of facilitated the move. I haven’t set up a direct debit since I moved here. I do the books manually. 

How to save automatically using PiggyVest — step 1
How to save automatically using PiggyVest — Tap PiggyBank and enable AutoSave
How to save automatically using PiggyVest — Step 2
How to save automatically using PiggyVest — Select “AutoSave Settings”

Creative work requires a lot of resources, and in a new country, there is some getting used to how things work. How do you approach planning and budgeting to ensure you never overextend yourself?

Typically, if I have a show or a performance, I look at what I will need to make it work. I live outside of London, but most of the shows I put on happen in London, so I know how to budget for transportation. I also think of costuming because costumes help to bring a performance to life. Those things and welfare are what I tend to prioritise. 

If someone is paying me for a performance, I also have to consider how long it will take before the invoice is paid. I incorporate that into my budgeting so I don’t overextend myself and then fall short when I need money. 

Are there any financial decisions you have made over the course of your creative career that you are really proud of?

I’ve always been conscientious about separating the income from my creative efforts from the money from my nine-to-five. The bulk of my income comes from my nine-to-five, but the money from my creative work has been key to solving some of my issues. This is why I have created my company, SAC, to really separate it and invest it in my creative career. My eventual goal is to be able to fund my future work with my income from my creative career. 

Do you have a long-term savings or investment strategy to stay financially secure throughout your career?

Not right now, but it is in the works. I do have a savings account where I save my creative income, but I also have plans for a long-term investment structure that will give me passive income. I’m working to raise the capital to start it. Once I do, I’ll let you know. 

Are there any lessons you have learned from working as a creative artist that you have applied to your personal finances?

I think the major lesson is to insist on clarity in your transactions. When I work with organisations or individuals, I try to be very clear on all the terms of engagement, expectations and outcomes. I am trying to apply this to my personal finances, including specifying savings and investment targets and holding myself accountable to the targets I set for myself. 

What financial tips would you like to share with other creative artists looking to build a financially secure career?

When I think of financial tips, I always think of the fact that if you don’t have money, no amount of financial tips will fix anything. So I really push for sustainability. Think of your creative career as a practice, just like a doctor or lawyer would think of their work. Even when you are earning from your work, if you don’t think of it sustainably, one day, the music stops. 

Think of creating work that can be easily replicated in different mediums. Create once and earn forever. Work that can be repurposed; you can earn royalties from it and loan it if you need to. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *