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Designer, speaker and educator Meg Lewis is our resident advice columnist for our Ask a Designer series, where we aim to get real, get deep, and get practical with your most burning questions about life and career in the creative industries. Today, Meg answers a question all entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-to-be can relate to: should you try to do it all yourself?
My partner and I started our own company almost a year ago. We’re focused on making video content for fashion brands but we also create written content for their printed catalogues. We do branding and general graphic design as well, it’s just not our main focus. Right now, we do every single thing ourselves, so my question is related to setting up teams.
We’ve combined our knowledge to cover all steps of the services we offer at the moment and we’re looking into new stuff we want to learn and improve, such as UX/UI design and web development. But how do we recognize it’s time to let someone else do it? How can we better evaluate when it’s an opportunity to learn something new and when it’s time to get our company some extra hands?
At the Fork
Dear At the Fork,
Hot dang, this is a good one! I think every entrepreneur encounters this problem at some point throughout their business career and it’s one that the majority of us put off for probably too long. We all know that the scariest things are usually what holds us back the most. Making your first hire is scary. I’m sure it often feels like you’re not Scrooge McDucking in money on your own so how the heck can you expect to pay a whole other person? Let alone foster a beautiful, encouraging, fulfilling work environment for them as well. I get it! I’ve struggled with this ordeal for most of my career. As a person who is succeeding to my own satisfaction; I often struggle with the notion of hiring additional help or creating a team. I’ve done it before, many times. Sometimes it’s too much, sometimes it’s exceptionally helpful and helps propel my business. Here’s what I’ve learned from hiring, firing, and collaborating with dozens.
Please don’t stop seeking help after you’ve read this article from your good buddy Meg. I’m not the only source of advice you should seek. Heck, no one is! When gathering advice, it’s always best to talk to as many people with varied backgrounds as you darn well can. Listen, nod, take it in, and ultimately do what feels right to you. There have been many times throughout my career where 95% of people told me to do the same thing, so I did it. And guess what? It wasn’t right for me and I ended up stuck in a situation that works for 95% of people but doesn’t work for me and my dry skin (lotion, I’m talking about lotion). Seriously y’all my skin is DRY. When you recommend a lotion to me, it’s probably not going to work.
Know yourself well enough to check your gut and know what’s right for you. But don’t let that stop you from learning from others’ successes and gathering information. Go out there and talk to a butt ton of entrepreneurs until you feel satisfyingly informed.
Egos are a huge part of business and it really bums me out! It’s easy to think of your business size as an indicator of your success. It sounds fun to say that you own a company that employs a dozen people or, let me try this without crying, 200 people? 2,000 people? A MILLION PEOPLE?
Try and not let the classic human need to compete and appear shiny and great to get in your way. Be realistic on your own fulfillment needs to know when to stop hiring and what’s right for you.
Maybe you don’t want to manage that many employees. Maybe just one or two is enough for how you want your lifestyle to be? Maybe, just maybe, you don’t want a Tesla. It’s easy to fall in the competitive trap of advice columnists (trolling myself much?) by listening to their Get Rich Buy Stuff Be Happy sermons. Listen to what you and your business partner want to be fulfilled and let it grow organically if your wants change.
I’m guilty of giving all my interns the best work while I go and grab coffee for everyone. I do it every dang time and I know it’s not the best for my business. You gotta step back and take a look at your skills and what makes your brain magical. If your incredible brain is best served only providing a niche part of the business services—do that! It sounds like your business does a lot. Do you personally need to be making video content, writing, designing, providing UI/UX, and all that? Yowza! Delegate, collaborate, and hire-out for whatever isn’t best done by you. Don’t waste your time doing tasks that anyone else can! Identify where your talents are best served and stick to that. It’s the best for your business’s success and allows you to feel more fulfilled. And hey good news, it allows you to work with people who are the best of the best. Everyone wins!
It can be real scary to hire your first employee. Payroll? Workers comp? Ack! I’m a huge fan of expanding businesses in a safe way to see if I like it. Try collaborating with contractors rather than hiring employees. It’s totally legal to hire contractors full-time for long-term contracts (just don’t give them a computer and have them come into your office). It allows you to see if having someone else is working for your business and what kind of qualities you like in a coworker before making a huge commitment.
As always, don’t let your fear of doing something prevent you from doing the dang thing at all. It’s holding your business back from flourishing and it’s probably keeping you from making a lot of delicious cash that you could be spending on me! Gather advice, maximize your own time and talent, don’t let your ego get in the way, and do things in a way that’s right for you.
Meg Lewis is a designer making experiences for happy companies and a speaker and educator creating more fulfilling lives for humans of all kinds. Meg empowers individuals to discover their unique selves through books, video series, workshops, and talks titled Full Time You. She also founded Ghostly Ferns, an international collective of designers and commercial artists.