If you want to grow your small business, your concept must be scalable. In other words, you have to be able to produce your product or service over and over again without dependence on any one person. Yes –that even means you.
Last week I received this question from a very successful photographer, Mallika Malhotra of Mikifoto, and I wanted to share my answer with you all.
How can an artist systematize and delegate?
The question was “When it comes to creating a system for your biz, how does one delegate in an “art” oriented field? So for me, how can I hire someone to replace me and do the photography when my eye/vision/creativity is what is unique and what is being bought? How I can I replicate that? And what if I am not interested in creating a team of photographers under me?”
Before I answer Mallika’s question, I want to tell one of my favorite stories about systematizing a creative business and making it scalable. A few years ago I was in London with my husband, and we went on a tour of Hampton Court. As I was listening to the audio tour, I was amazed to hear the story of Peter Lely, a portrait artist who painted for the court of Charles II in the 1660’s. What was fascinating about Lely is that he found a way to systematize his portraits, and became the most prolific (and wealthy) English court painter ever.
When Lely was hired to paint a portrait, he started with the most important part – the subject’s face, which he painted himself. Once he was done with the face, he would have one of his apprentices paint the rest of the body in one of a series of numbered poses. In this way he did the piece that was his genius work, and delegated the rest.
I was so inspired by this story because if a 17th century artist could figure out how to systematize and scale his business, then anyone can!
Challenge your assumptions
Back to present day – how does an artistic business grow beyond its founder? First, let’s challenge some assumptions. Like Mallika, many entrepreneurs believe that their unique offering is about their own specific talent. And while that may be partially true, I would challenge them to look for another way to stand out in the eyes of their customers. If your customers are only buying you, then it’s true, you will never grow beyond what you can do yourself. And if that’s what you want, then it’s not an issue.
However, for businesses that do grow beyond the creative founder, their customers are buying that company’s brand promise, a promise that can be delivered by everyone who works in that business. Think about the empires that have been built around the vision of a single creative designer – Vera Bradley, Lilly Pulitzer, Ralph Lauren, etc. We all know that they have teams of designers working for them, and yet you can easily identify a look, a style, an image, as belonging to that brand.
What makes you unique is that thing that you do completely differently from your competitors, that matches what your best clients – your niche – really want and care about. It might be the quality of your work, but it might also be how convenient you make the process, or an added value that you give, or a unique pricing structure.
What is your vision?
Once you have figured out your unique offering and who your target market is, go to your vision. If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have the business and life of your dreams, what would it look like? What would you be doing every day? The systems, processes, and infrastructure you create will need to support that vision.
Start by taking a look at the things that need to get done in your business, that do not really have to be done by you. Investigate whether you can automate the task. There are tons of apps and business services that will take time consuming functions off of your hands.
Next, take a look at the things that get done over and over again in your business. Document the process, and look at how you can simplify, improve and automate it. For example, what is your on-boarding system for clients? Do you have a checklist, information forms, a standard welcome letter, instructions, etc. that can be handled through automation or by delegating? Cloud services such as Google Docs, Drop Box, Trello, Slack, Evernote and more make it easy to share documents and collaborate with others. Create systems for everything that does not need to be done by you (even if you are capable of doing them).
Now its time to take a look at what you actually deliver. What will your client experience when you deliver your product or service? What is your business known for? What is your brand?
When you can answer these questions, you will be able to hire people who fit in with your brand. For example, if your product is quirky and cutting edge, an employee who is traditional and conservative is probably not a good fit. But if you understand the result that your clients want, and can communicate that to your employees, then you can create the systems that enable them to deliver a result that is consistent with your brand and quality standards.
Get creative with your options
Let’s say, like Mallika, your vision is not about hiring a team of photographers (or other professionals). You still have a number of options for how you can create a scalable business. Ask yourself what part of your business you can leverage and replicate. Perhaps you have built a strong brand reputation, and you want to franchise or license your business by teaching others who are not in your geographic area how to build a business like yours in their own city. Or you can build a team around you who does everything in your business except the creative work that you want to do.
Another option: create additional products and services that leverage the revenues from each product you create or job that you do. For example, an artist might create an original painting, and then from that same painting, create limited edition lithographs, posters, post cards, placemats, etc. A photographer can do the same. What products and services might your clients want in addition to that portrait that hangs on your wall? Get creative here. What do your top clients want that nobody else is doing?
The bottom line, shift your mindset away from the idea that your business is all about you, and make it about what you deliver, and you can create the scalable systems that will enable you to grow exponentially.