As creatives begin to build up a client base, and demand for their work starts to grow, we inevitably face the question of what to do when we’ve tapped out our own personal time resources. Do we simply say “no” to new clients, or do we expand our capacity by hiring help? This is a pivotal decision. Creatives who get on the growth path often get wrapped up in the excitement as they begin entertaining visions of better clients, more creative opportunities, and more money. If you ask creatives on a growth path what their biggest problem is, you’ll probably hear about their struggles with marketing and new business, or maybe project management—but the growth itself is not often considered a problem. But without intentionality, and careful planning, growth can quickly turn from the fulfillment of all your dreams, to your worst nightmare.
We all encounter problems and struggles in business, but rarely do we foresee them. We end up learning in real time, and repairing things after they’ve broken down. How much easier would it be if we could see problems coming, and be ready for them. Not all problems are avoidable, but many are. And those associated with growth are predictable—and yet so many creatives walk right into them, and end up being cursed by the problem of growth.
Over the next few episodes I’ll be describing some of the struggles that accompany growth, but before we get to those specifics, the best place to start on this topic, is to ask ourselves why we want to grow in the first place, and to consider alternatives to simply expanding headcount.
So many creatives end up growing their firm simply because the work arrived. They experienced increased demand for their services, and needed help to get it all done. Growth happens to them organically as opportunities increase. Maybe you’ve been there, or long for such a “problem” to happen to you. But what if unplanned, organic growth required you to become much less of a creative, and much more of a business owner. Rather than spending time in Photoshop, you end up spending all your time networking, marketing, managing money and HR issues? Would you be as excited about the prospect of growth then?
For a creative to grow a business in such a way that they retain their creative focus is extremely difficult. It requires a highly structured approach, and a well-designed hiring plan. By default, without a careful plan, we’ll be forced to surrender creative production to others. Are you sure that’s what you want?
And what if, in addition to decreasing your creative activity, your expectations of greater profits were to also come up short? Growing a business always requires careful navigation of high step costs, increasing overhead, new managerial issues, and increased demand on new business. And most creatives don’t even see these plan challenges until they hit them and bottom out. Growing a business requires careful budgeting of financial resources, and building profit margins capable of bearing the inefficiencies and revenue lag time that always comes with growth.
So with so much guaranteed difficulty it’s pretty important to ask yourself why you want to get on the growth path in the first place? And to contemple alternative options.
So why would you choose growth? Well, there are many reasons you might want to build a growing firm. Larger firms do tend to attract higher profile clients. And those clients can provide better creative opportunities. Larger clients also tend to expect higher rates and fees.
Another reason you might want to build a growing firm is that you long to work collaboratively with a team. Being a solo-preneur can be lonely and isolating, and so an appetite for comradery might also drive this decision.
All of these may be perfectly proper motives, but getting clear about your goals should be the first step in considering growth. Only after you get a firm grip on your goals can you begin to chart a path that fits your intentions and interests.
Growing your creative practice can be tremendously fun and exciting. But don’t let enthusiasm blind you to the real challenges ahead. Be sober minded about this, think things through, and then set a plan that will lead your growth, rather than having growth lead you.
Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.