When I was 19 years old, I started my first creative company.
It was a video production company and I teamed up with a business partner to combine our strengths and build a successful company.
And by all means, it was successful.
We worked with A-list touring artists, Fortune 500 clients and did some absolutely incredible work.
We had a team of roughly 7 employees, a nice office in downtown Nashville and a slew of awards.
To the outside world, we appeared successful.
To my naive self, I felt successful.
Yet the truth of the matter was that there was so much wrong.
The company started with just me and my partner.
Every month, we would have to make enough sales to pay both of our salaries plus some for expenses and new equipment.
At first, this wasn’t too hard to do. But we kept desiring more, we kept desiring to get bigger.
I poured through business book after business book where they measure the success of companies by employee size.
These books look at success as the ability of the owner to ‘work on your business and not in your business’.
I was naive and measured my own success on these terms.
We hired one employee, then a second, then a third and so on.
Soon we had a jam packed office with seven full time employees and a slew of contractors.
We were by business book standards 'successful'.
But all was not well.
While we had big clients, a team of talented individuals and all the signs of a successful company, I was absolutely miserable.
We all worked around the clock, and when I wasn’t working I was stressing and felt that I should be working more.
We had such a large team, and such large overhead which meant that we needed to consistently land large sales just to break even.
When you have a team of 7 people in a project based creative business, here is what happens.
You have work lined up for six months, all is well.
Then on the seventh month you hit a down point between large projects.
With no income coming in, you hemorrhage a significant amount of your cash reserve just to pay employee and overhead expenses.
One month without work and your ok, two months and it could mean the end of the company.
This constant level of stress weighed on me.
I was absolutely miserable and never felt comfortable.
We kept seeking ways to pivot and change direction, but ultimately once you have such a large team, so many assets and such large overhead, it is hard to change directions.
The bigger you get, the less flexible you become.
I grew tired of it.
I became exhausted.
And eventually I left.
Why I will never hire employees for my creative busness again
Two years later, I am working as a solo web designer.
I have no employees, just a few contractors who are on call when needed.
I run my entire business from a laptop.
I no longer lie awake at night stressed about making the next sale.
My life is stress free, and I love it that way.
When I tell people about my successful web design business, I often get the same response.
“Why don’t you hire employees so you don’t have to do as much of the work?”
The question makes me laugh every time.
This is what business books tell us we should do.
They tell us that we should hire people and learn how to ‘delegate’.
But for the creative, that is absolutely terrible advice.
When I get asked this question, or I see people contemplating their first hire, I tell them one simple thing.
Don’t hire anyone, just raise your rates
When you hire someone, you inherently add a whole new element of complication to your business.
You have the tax complications, the bookkeeping hassles and worst of all the delegation and communication issues.
Suddenly a large chunk of your time every week is not spent doing creative work, but instead communicating with your employees.
With each employee you add, the time you spend managing and dealing with employees continues to grow.
Soon, a team of employees will eat up half of your work week.
That means less time doing your creative work, less time perfecting your craft and more time dealing with things you don't enjoy.
For the creative, the artist and the doer this is not a good use of your time.
On the flip side, when you raise your rates, you don’t add any complication to your business.
Instead, you just make more money in less time.
That means you can either grow your income if you would like, or just work less and make the same amount of money.
This method of raising rates and not hiring anyone has completely revolutionized my life.
My income has nearly tripled, and I work half as much as when I had a company.
I have the flexibility to travel and work from wherever and I spend zero time each week with unnecessary employee communication.
I am far less stressed, and my overall quality of life is significantly better.
25 years of experience doesn't lie
One of my mentors taught me this mentality.
His name is George Flanigen and he co-owns Deaton Flanigen Productions which has been around for over 25 years.
For a creative business to survive that duration of time is an incredible feat.
When I asked George about how he did it, he has one piece of advice.
Don’t hire anyone. Stay small and lean
George and his partner operate out of a small office in Nashville. They have only one employee who acts as administration and support to George and his partner.
When they get large projects, they outsource to partners and contractors that they have formed relationships over the years.
When the project ends, those contractors are done being paid.
This gives them flexibility and keeps them lean.
That flexibility means that if George and his partner want to take an extended vacation, they can.
If they want to be extremely selective about the projects they take on, then they can.
This mentality has helped their business survive 25 years and build a portfolio of some of the biggest names in show business.
25 years doesn’t lie. George is doing something right.
The bottom line
Time and time again, I get this question about hiring team members.
Time and time again, I give the same response.
Don't hire anyone, just raise your rates
My hopes are that this article can serve as a warning sign to creatives who are considering hiring employees.
My hopes are that it can make you think twice before building a team and you can avoid the pitfalls that I fell into.
My hopes are that this article will change your mindset and change your creative life.
Don’t hire anyone, just raise your rates