The HeART of Design Business is a five part series that addresses the tensions artists feel when they face the creativity sapping realities of running a business. Part one dealt with matters of money and finances, part two with measuring time, part three with marketing. In part four we’ll talk about managing growth and the tensions that come from hiring and firing employees.
Many of the pains we feel in running a design practice can be traced back to the lack of profitability. The first three parts of this series dealt with the problems and pressures that result from unprofitability.
But what happens when you turn things around and start to grow? Business growth can lead to a whole new set of problems and anxieties. And if the tensions of money, time, and marketing were not enough, adding more employees into the mix might just stomp out whatever creative life you had left.
The decision to hire is a crossroads every successful design practice will face. But if you’re not prepared for the changes that inevitably follow such a decision, you’ll be in for some serious heartache.
How Did You Get Here?
Starting out as a freelancer, you have to wear a lot of hats. You have to find the work, do the work, bill the work, and maintain the business as a whole. It’s a careful balancing act between all your roles and responsibilities. As things start to take off, the non-design aspects of your job will start to eat into the time you have for design itself. You’ll may find yourself on the phone more often, sending more emails, and going to more meetings. The creative work tends to get pushed off to nights and weekends. That’s not a sustainable life. Burning the candle at both ends will quickly sap your creative energy.
It’s normal then to contemplate hiring help—so you can recapture your focus on design. Maybe your first thought is to form a partnership with a friend or colleague. Safety alert: think twice, or three times, or as many times as necessary until you conclude that you should not enter into a 50-50 LLC or partnership. They never work!
Alternatively you may decide to just hire more designers. That’s much safer than the partnership path, but it also has serious ramifications. If you’re not careful, you may end up adding even more business related work—and have far less time for design. But once you’ve hired, and then find that your goal to get back to design continues to elude you, you’ll have an even bigger problem because changing directions after hiring affects the livelihoods of your employees. Talk about stress!
What’s the alternative?
Ideally you should address your motives and goals before you start down the road to hiring. There are ways to approach hiring that can allow you as the design firm owner to keep your hand in the creative part of your business. But if you don’t approach hiring with that goal firmly in mind, the default path will lead to you becoming more and more a business person, and it will push design further and further away.
Protecting the HeART of Your Design Practice in the Face of Growth
If you’re already in a difficult growth position—if you’ve already hired without a plan—fixing things is beyond the scope of this article. (You should call me so I can help you fix it.) But if you’re just now in the process of making growth and hiring decisions, here are some heart questions you should consider before you act on your plan.
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RISD Alumni Relations Presents:
The HeART of Design Business Webinar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
6:30 pm – 8:00 pm EST
Fees: $12 RISD Alumni, CE Students + Public, Free for RISD Students