Creative business owners: join me to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:
- Increase efficiency and focus,
- Enjoy your work more,
- Reach your goals,
- Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Find Time by Cutting Back on Reactive Work
Shift Into CEO Mode and Get Help With the Rest
Kill Your To-Do List and Focus on ONE Thing
What Happens When We Resist Delegating Business Tasks
Do you feel like there is not enough time in the day? Are you worried that you’re falling behind in an area of your business? This post will be important for you. Today we’re talking about hiring help for small businesses.
I think there’s something in particular about creative businesses that makes us think we can do absolutely everything ourselves. Creatives are often used to tackling their own problems. Creatives aren’t thinking of it as “business” until it indubitably is. Creatives feel like they’re the only person who can understand how to do it right.
Delegating work is a big deal, and is something I regularly come back to and work to get better at. For most of the history of Aeolidia’s decade of existence, I did everything. I found clients, designed, developed, invoiced, managed projects. As I added more designers to the team, this got harder. I had to take on less client work so I could manage my team’s projects.
Then I had my first baby, and wasn’t able to find enough solid blocks of time to do client work at all. I shifted to being the business owner and project manager, and left the client work to my team. We grew enough that I couldn’t do it all anymore, and, though being a boss was daunting, I hired a project manager.
Sam, our project manager, makes it so I can consider the big picture while the day to day stuff is smoothly managed. With Sam on the job, I can go on vacation, unplug, and assume everything will be fine when I return. With help, a sick day is no big deal. I don’t feel like I’m a hamster running on a wheel like crazy but not getting anywhere.
There are many things I’ve successfully delegated, and many I’m working to delegate right now. Guess what? Just because you always have done every task doesn’t mean you have to continue doing things that way. Taking some time to train someone to help you will free up so much time for you that you won’t believe you hadn’t done it sooner.
If you feel reluctant about delegating your work, I urge you to first read our Q&A with Kym Ventola. She and I worked to “debunk” the reasons people might feel like they’re not ready to get some help.
Feeling more like this is achievable now? Let’s talk about how exactly to do this.
When is it time to get some help?
There is going to be a period of time for nearly every small business where the business owner does have to do absolutely everything. Unless you have an outside funding source, you’re not likely to be able to budget for help in the beginning.
I bet when you started your business, you were imagining more free time, not less. You wanted more flexibility to be with your family, and were expecting a freedom you didn’t get from your previous job. Wondering why that hasn’t come true? I’m going to venture that you’re preventing yourself from achieving this by overworking yourself. And that this is something in your power to stop doing.
If you are getting enough sales that you’re struggling to keep up, that is a sign that it’s time to get some help! Your work is in demand, and you should be able to invest in help. Hiring help should be an investment: with help, you should be able to do more work, and make back the money you spent on the help. You plus your help should make more profit than you made on your own.
You may not feel like you’re making enough money now to to pay for ongoing help. If you’re able to swing the first few months of help, the idea is that you’ll be able to sell more, earn more, and be at a new level where you can afford the help.
You’ll notice I’m saying “help,” not “an employee.” I have mentioned earlier in the series of blog posts that getting help comes in many forms. Here are the types of help you could get, from the lowest risk to the highest.
1) Work more efficiently
This is not going to be a huge help to most businesses, because there’s only so much time in a day. The comparison I heard was from Peter Shallard, who says:
“There is a hard limit on how much you can get done. No matter how much coffee you drink, there will never be more than twenty four hours in a day.
Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Bill Gates didn’t get where they are today by figuring out some arcane formula that enabled them to work THAT MUCH more efficiently than you. When we blow the idea out to its ideological extreme like that, we see it for what it is: Absurd.
Bill Gates isn’t eight hundred thousand times more efficient than you are. He hasn’t figured out how to run his meat machine that much better. Actually, chances are he spends MORE time relaxing per day than you do.”
That said, if you’re doing something in a way that is remarkably inefficient, you can improve. If you waste half of your day chatting on the internet or playing games on your phone, take this advice from Tim Ferriss:
“Most “superheroes” are nothing of the sort. They’re weird, neurotic creatures who do big things DESPITE lots of self-defeating habits and self-talk.
Personally, I suck at efficiency (doing things quickly). Here’s my coping mechanism and 8-step process for maximizing efficacy (doing the right things):”
2) Let software do your work for you
I am a huge proponent of this method! Some people hesitate to buy software. I purchase software at the drop of a hat, if it is going to save me time. If the app costs you $20/month, but it saves you four hours a month, that is a no brainer. You’re not going to be able to hire a human to do that work for you for $5/hr.
What kind of software am I talking about? For me, it’s customer service software, project management software, blog and social media scheduling software, etc. For product-based businesses, these are things like:
- Shopify ecommerce (instead of the free but painful WooCommerce)
- ShipStation (instead of managing shipping labels and postage manually)
- WPEngine (to keep WordPress upgraded and hacker-free)
- MailChimp (instead of trying to manage a mailing list from your inbox)
- Quickbooks or other accounting software (instead of your awkward spreadsheet)
- StitchLabs to manage inventory
I use IFTTT to automate many little things that I had been doing manually. It’s a nice service that makes your various software “talk” to each other. For instance, I used to save my completed blog posts as notes in Evernote. Now IFTTT does that for me, by using the RSS feed to get new posts and format them as Evernote notes.
Next time you’re doing a monotonous task, ask yourself, “could a robot do this?” and spend some time finding out!
Wendy Bryan of I Heart Guts used our website redesign as an opportunity to begin using apps and tools that vastly reduce the amount of clicks she needs to do to process orders.
Here are some posts from our blog about software that I use and that our clients like:
- Ecommerce Apps Recommended by Small Biz Owners
- A Quick Guide to Storing Files in the Cloud
- Software & Apps That Save My Bacon
3) Outsource tasks
Maybe a robot couldn’t do your task, and you need a human. Good news! There are people in business to do just about anything you need help with.
Your task may be a one time task, such as creating your new ecommerce website. It may be a yearly task, such as filing your taxes. It may be something that happens quarterly or monthly, such as a review of your books. Or perhaps you need help more often, such as having one step of your product production process taken care of.
Alicia Paulson of Posie, for example, outsources fabric cutting and embroidery-floss-pulling to a small indie sewing factory down the street from her house.
Val Bromann of Choosing Figs conquered her control-freak tendencies to hire Aeolidia to design her website.
4) Hire a virtual assistant
A step in between hiring your own personal employee and outsourcing a task to a third party business is to hire a virtual assistant. This person will not be working solely for you, but will be skilled in the kind of tasks you need help with. He or she will work one-on-one with you on your assigned tasks.
I don’t have a ton of experience with this. You can Google “virtual assistant” to learn more.
5) Hire employees
This is a fun one! I know it seems like a huge change to a one-person business. Once you’ve hired the right people, you won’t be able to imagine how you ran your business without them.
When hiring, Kym’s tip is to not hire anyone who wants to do your job. She is a wedding photographer. When she hired her studio manager, she made sure not to hire a photographer. A photographer would be looking to learn skills from her and start their own business. Someone who is interested in being an office manager is going to stick around longer, saving you time on training people.
My tip is to spend more time than you feel you need to on the hiring process. Get a lot of applicants, narrow it down and talk to the top few on the phone or in person. Give them a test or request an example of their applicable work, so you can see what they can do. Start on a trial basis, so you can both cancel after a month or three if you see that it’s not a great fit. Your business means the world to you, and you need to be sure that you hire someone who will make it shine.
Rebecca Pearcy of Queen Bee Creations has a staff of 7 worker bees who do a whole range of things including sewing and non-sewing production work, helping customers online and in the shop, bookkeeping, screen printing the textiles line, ordering and managing inventory and running the wholesale business.
At one point, Christina Platt of Bamboletta had 51 people working with her. Some worked in the studio but most were mothers working from home. Christina says:
“If you had asked me a few years ago what was too big I would have said where I currently am is – but as I’ve grown I’ve been able to branch off so that I don’t have to organize and take care of everyone. I’ve done a lot of thinking around what would feel too big and I think that if it ever came to a situation where I wasn’t sewing that would be too big. I don’t ever want to spend all my days in front of a screen running my business that way.”
Beth Lawrence of Freshie & Zero ran with our marketing advice and hired a marketing assistant to implement all the strategies she needed to propel her brand further. Beth says:
“Now that I have that fabulous assistant on our team, we have worked together on pitching to the media, figuring out social media, and making advertising decisions. It’s fun to have help to bounce new ideas off with regards to our marketing.”
Amy from June and January has a full staff, and her business has blown up since we redesigned her site. Her advice brings this all home. Amy says,
“Customer service is what makes your customers RETURN customers — and we have a massive repeat buyer count. The short answer — hire someone else to do it. When it’s your own business, you become so defensive about every complaint, every return, every late package. Even if you get 30 emails a day praising you and your product, the one email where the customer isn’t happy will stick with you. You’ll wake up in the morning dreading your inbox and eventually it gets out of control. So. Hire. Someone. Else.
Same goes for shipping! Hire someone! It’s costly to add extra people to your staff, but when the brains of the company can spend their time actually being the brains (or the creative, or the director, or the mogul) instead of packing orders and answering emails, then that translates into a better brand that can make more money.”
Where to find workers
Whether you have a single task to do, could use a part time virtual assistant, or want to hire a full time employee, it can be tricky to know where to find these people. I am a big fan of the “friend of a friend” recommendation, and I’ve had great success specifically asking people who I think would know someone, as well as using social media to get the word out about a job listing. The great thing about social media is that instead of asking a bunch of random people (like if you used Craigslist), you’re talking directly to people who already understand your niche.
How to hire correctly
Kiffanie Stahle comes to the rescue again, and shares with us “How to Hire Your First Employee Without Pulling Your Hair Out.” This has all the legal, official, and business paperwork type information you need to know to be sure you’re doing it correctly, and don’t later get in trouble with the IRS or your state’s labor department.
- Take the info you’ve gathered from our earlier posts about your role and responsibilities and the tasks that shouldn’t be yours any longer, and make notes about who or what could take them over.
- Figure out the ONE hire, outsourced task, or purchase that you could make now that would make everything else easier or unnecessary.
- Plan the steps you need to take to make the change a reality.
- Timeblock and schedule the tasks you will need to do to get the help you need.
Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group for creative business owners!