The experience of most creative entrepreneurs is one of feast or famine. But have you ever had a season where you had several ups in a row—more feast than you could consume—more work than you could handle? Many creatives, in an extended feast cycle, decide that it might be time to hire help. But this big step can lead to a place you had no desire to go.
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We’ve begun a trek back through the five topics that were introduced in the first sixteen episodes, and that shape this podcast: Money, Minutes, Marketing, Management, and Motivation. And for the past few episodes we’ve been reviewing the topic of management. In this week’s episode I’ll discuss the biggest management question of them all. When you have more work than you can handle, should you hire help? If you decide to do that, simply in reaction to work volume, that step could lead to disaster.
The first question you need to ask yourself, before you hire help, is whether or not you want to be a creative who operates as an independent business, or whether you want to be a business owner, whose product happens to be a creative service. In other words, do you intend to keep doing creative work, or will you become a business owner, who runs a creative practice?
In my experience, creatives who decide to hire help, as a reaction to having success—that results in having more work than they can handle—do intend to continue doing creative work themselves. In fact, they think that hiring help will free themselves up to keep doing the creative work they love.
While this is a viable path, it’s also the hardest creative business model to pull off. It requires carefully structuring the roles in your firm, and how you position your practice. Typically though, the instinct of a busy creative solopreneur is to hire more designers first—to help with the backlog. Then, after a few months, they realise that managing these new employees, and the clients and projects that are keeping them all so busy, has them doing even less creative work than before. And so, the next instinctive reaction is to hire a project manager.
But now they have a new problem. With three or more mouths to feed, and more overhead, the new business function becomes urgent. What if this extended season of feasting slows down? Recognizing this vulnerability, they usually task the project manager to engage in sales and marketing—in addition to their client service duties. This rarely works out, and so yet another employee hire is contemplated, or a new partner is brought on, to fill this vital new business role.
Now with four or more employees, they find themselves still having to deal with more basic management issues than they ever expected—and that desire to do creative work continues to elude them.
There are ways to structure and model a firm so that you the owner can continue to operate as the chief creative officer—but not by following the default, instinctive, reactionary path.
Deciding what kind of company you want to establish, and what your primary role will be in this new company, is the first, and most important decision you need to make, before hiring help. But then there’s a second important issue to consider—your financial capacity to manage the inevitable step costs of those first critical hires.
Next week we’ll discuss step costs, and why that first hire is such a huge step to make: so until then, don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.