022: Outsourcing for CreativesMar 28, 2023
022: Outsourcing for Creatives
One of the most common pieces of advice that business coaches give entrepreneurs is to outsource. A lot of discussion in the world of entrepreneurial coaching deals with how to build a team around you, how to delegate tasks to employees or contractors, how to work as a leader within that team. This is all excellent advice for entrepreneurs in more traditional fields, but what about artists? What about creative entrepreneurs, like you and me? If the product my business is selling is my creative energy, which by its very nature cannot be passed off to someone else, does outsourcing have a place? Can building a team help me to grow my artistic business? Today, we’re going to endeavor to figure that out together. We’re going to look at the role of outsourcing within your creative business.
Hello, thriving artists, and welcome to episode 22 of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I’m Jennifer Jill Araya, your host for this discussion of what it means to be a creative entrepreneur, and I’m so excited to be here with you today.
Today’s episode is all about how to think about outsourcing as a creative entrepreneur, but before we dig into that discussion, I want to let you know that as of when this episode is originally airing, March 28, 2023, registration is now open for the next session of my group workshop! I’m midway through my current group workshop program right now, and it’s been an incredible time of learning and growth for all of the artists in the workshop. If you have been wanting to work with me, or if you’re searching for answers as to how you can truly build a creative business that works, one that supports you holistically, in all the ways you need your business to support you, then this workshop is perfect for you. Throughout the three months of the workshop, we cover everything from your mindset around your creative work, to the practical strategies and actions that will get you where you want to go with that work. This next group workshop session will start July 19, 2023, and will run through the end of September. All of the details are available on my website, www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com. Group workshop participation is limited, so be sure to check it out.
And if you’re listening to this way in the future, long after this episode originally airs, then I still encourage you to visit my website and see what events or workshops or seminars I have coming up. You never know – the exact event you’ve been waiting for, one that’s perfect for your needs, might be coming up! And my website will also always have information about how you can work with me individually, through one-on-one coaching. So even if you’re not able to sign up for my Summer 2023 group workshop, my website still might have information that will give you what you need. www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com.
Now that I’ve given you that fun piece of news, let’s turn to the topic of today’s discussion: Outsourcing for Creatives. And I want to start this episode with a bit of a caveat: in today’s episode, possibly more than any other podcast episode so far, I am not just speaking to you, the listener. I am speaking to myself. I am working to expand my creative team right now, as I am working on this episode, and it is a struggle! I’m finding that I have a lot of mindset blocks to overcome as I think about sharing the load within my business, and so every single point that I make during this episode is something that I need to learn and internalize as well. Yes, I’m hoping that today’s episode will help you grow and learn and thrive within your creative business, but today’s episode is also for me.
I also want to acknowledge that outsourcing isn’t right for all creatives and all points in their businesses. If you’re just getting started on your creative entrepreneurship journey, you’re probably going to need to spend some time doing everything in your business – no outsourcing yet. And that’s ok. But if you’ve gotten your business established and you’ve done the groundwork of building a foundation of the components necessary for a thriving creative business (listen back to Episode 16 if you don’t know what that means), then thinking about outsourcing some of your tasks is a logical next step.
As I mentioned during the intro to this episode, if you pay attention to the concepts presented by the many business coaches out there today, just about every single one of them will mention the importance of outsourcing at some point in their teaching. The advice that you get from traditional business coaches will always include “outsourcing” as one of the key steps in growing your business. Automating, systematizing, and outsourcing are typically the three biggies you’ll hear when you listen to advice about how to scale a traditional business, and they all three play an important role in the building of a successful creative business.
Automating is the use of technology to make processes easier or automatic, freeing you up to spend time on higher level tasks. Putting your bills on autopay is an example of automation within your business. Other examples include automated customer emails like auto-responders, or automated marketing reach outs – think email funnels. Many artists aren’t able to automate much, if any, of their creative process, but I’m sure that you can find lots of ways to incorporate automation within the administrative side of running your creative business. And anything that you automate frees that time up for you to work on other tasks.
Systematizing is setting up routines and processes for yourself within your work. Having a plan in place to complete a task, and making that plan as smooth and easy as possible, makes it more likely that the task will get done. I’ve mentioned before that I dedicate Friday afternoons to my admin work. I don’t record during that time. Instead, I spend that time working on my non-creative administrative tasks. And because I have a system for how and when those tasks will get done, then they do get done, rather than being pushed aside in favor of my creative activities, which are more fun for me. In Episode 16 of this podcast, The Six Components of a Thriving Creative Business, I discuss why a systematized process for marketing and networking is important to your creative business. Systematizing your non-creative tasks can be a huge time-saver and energy saver within your business. Anytime you don’t have to worry about how a task will get completed, or spend time figuring out your strategy for getting something done, you’re saving your energy and time to focus on the creative tasks that you do best.
Automating and systematizing are obviously processes that will be helpful to a creative entrepreneur, but sometimes it’s a little harder to see how outsourcing can benefit the artist business owner. Outsourcing is when a business hires a third party to perform tasks, handle operations, or provide services for the business. But for a creative business, because the product being sold is the creative energy and time of the artist behind that business, at first glance it seems like outsourcing is impossible. When an orchestra hires me to play in the cello section for an upcoming concert, they are expecting me to show up for the rehearsals and the concert. If I’ve been hired, I can’t outsource that work to another cellist. I can’t even outsource my at-home practice time! In order to be prepared for the downbeat of that first rehearsal, I have to spend time at home practicing and preparing my part. Again, I can’t pass that task off to someone else. It’s vital that I, myself, spend that time in the practice room. If a publisher hires me to narrate an audiobook, the files that I turn in need be of my voice reading that audiobook, meaning I have to be the one sitting in my booth in front of my microphone for the hours it takes to make those recordings. I can’t outsource my creative work.
In short, outsourcing does not have quite the same advantages for creative entrepreneurs as it does for traditional entrepreneurs, since part of being a creative means that you are selling your time. Not your assistant’s time or your employee’s time, but your time. If you are a creative entrepreneur, a big chunk of your business simply is not outsource-able.
With that in mind, how does outsourcing fit into a creative business? How can a creative entrepreneur incorporate outsourcing into their business model?
Here’s the answer: Creative entrepreneurs will benefit from outsourcing when they assign to others their non-creative tasks.
“But I’m a creative, an artist!” you say. “Everything I do is creative!”
I’ll bet that, if you think about it, you’ll be able to come up with a huge list of tasks that you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis that are not creative at their core. These are tasks that do not require your creative energy to complete. Yes, they are important to the functioning of your business, but it’s not important that you be the one getting them done.
A few weeks ago, in Episode 19, I talked about SMART goals for creatives, and I went through what each letter of the SMART acronym stands for. Most often, when you hear people talking about the SMART acronym, they will say that A stands for “attainable.” But if you hear someone talk about SMART goals within a business context, you’ll also frequently hear business coaches talk about the A in SMART standing for “assignable.” If a task is assignable, it is something that you can assign to someone else. It is something you can outsource.
In your personal life, assignable might apply to house work, if you have a housekeeper. Perhaps it applies to cooking or meal prep, if you use a meal delivery service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. In your business life, assignable applies to any tasks that you are ready to pass off to other people. In other words, tasks that you can or want to outsource.
As an audiobook narrator, I have outsourced the proofing, editing, and mastering of my audiobook projects since the very beginning of my audiobook career. During my entire career as a self-employed creative entrepreneur, while working in industries as varied as the freelance classical music scene and the art show circuit, I have always outsourced my tax preparation work to a certified accountant. I’ve been working with a social media manager for the past six months to coordinate portions of my business-related social media presence, and I’m currently in the process of hiring an executive assistant who will help me with some of the business-focused administrative tasks of my business.
None of these people can help me with the bulk of my work, which involves spending time in the creative process day-in and day-out. But this team of amazing people can help make sure that I have all the non-creative stuff taken care of, allowing me to focus on the creative work that I love so much.
Building a team to support you and outsourcing your work is not the obvious solution for creatives that it is for entrepreneurs in more traditional industries, but it can help immensely.
So how do you figure out what tasks you can outsource? How do you know if something is “assignable” within your business?
The specific tasks that are assignable for you will vary widely depending on your specific creative industry, but typically they will fall into three main categories: preparation tasks, quality control tasks, and administrative tasks.
Let’s look at that last category first, since it’s the easiest to understand. Administrative tasks have to do with the nitpicky, logistical details of running your business. These are communication tasks like scheduling and emails, some social media tasks like scheduling posts and replying to comments, financial tasks like reconciling your business bank account or balancing your budget, anything that has to do with the organization side of your business. Very few of these tasks require your unique creative and artistic energy. Rather, they’re more concerned with the “business” side of your business. And because they don’t require you to be completed well, almost all of these things can be easily outsourced! These are the kinds of tasks that administrative assistants handle every single day.
Perhaps it sounds daunting to you to pass these administrative tasks off to someone else – and believe me, if this is you, I understand! I struggle to pass off these basic administrative tasks. But the good news is that you don’t need to jump into this wholesale. You can take this piece by piece. Pick one category of administrative tasks and start by finding someone to manage just that piece for you.
Think about the types of administrative tasks I’ve mentioned. What additional kinds of administrative tasks do you have to take care of within your work? With that large list of tasks in mind, think about each one in turn. Which one fills you with the most dread? Which types of tasks do you find most difficult, or most energy-draining, or most boring? Once you determine which specific type of administrative task is hardest for you, you have your answer: that’s where you begin your outsourcing journey.
This is exactly what I did when I hired a social media manager last fall. I had some events in my personal life that led me to draw back almost completely from social media for nearly a year, and I had some major mindset blocks when it came to my business social media accounts. At the same time, I knew that having a friendly and enjoyable social media presence would be a big help to my business. So I asked around to some of my colleagues and got a recommendation of a social media manager who could help me with my work. I’ve been working with her for over six months now, and she has helped me completely turn around the way I think about my social media presence! I now get to do the parts of social media I enjoy – tasks like coming up with creative content that fits who I am as an artist – without dealing with the tedious tasks I don’t like – things like scheduling posts or modifying content to suit the various platforms.
Social media tasks were the administrative tasks that felt hardest to me, but perhaps your hardest tasks are totally different. Maybe you struggle managing your financial books, or scheduling gives you fits, or managing your emails and customer correspondence makes you shudder. Identify the type of administrative task you struggle with the most, and begin there when you think about outsourcing.
The next category of assignable tasks within your business is preparation tasks. Again, exactly what preparation tasks your business requires will vary widely depending on exactly what creative industry you work within, but let me give you some examples from my varied creative work, and hopefully that will give you some ideas of what preparation tasks you might be able to outsource.
In my work as an audiobook narrator, preparation tasks include the pre-recording research needed to get a book manuscript ready for recording. I have to know how to pronounce all the names in a book. If Houston Street in New York City is mentioned, I need to know to say it HOW-ston, not HUE-ston. If the book has any unusual jargon or uncommon vocabulary, all those words need to be looked up before I begin recording. This can all be outsourced, and any time I don’t spend doing the pre-recording research is time I can spend recording instead.
When I was working as a quilter and seamstress, I could outsource the pre-sewing task of cutting the fabric. Then I could focus on the more complicated task of assembling the pattern.
When I was a young, brand-new strings teacher, serving as an assistant to the primary strings teacher, that primary teacher outsourced the tuning of the students’ instruments to me, so this is an example of when I was assigned the outsourced task, rather than when I did the assigning. But the concept is the same: the primary teacher didn’t have enough time in the lesson to tune all of the students’ instruments, so he had me tune the instruments before the students arrived at class so that he could spend every precious minute of the class teaching the kids, with no time wasted due to out-of-tune instruments.
Think about the tasks you have to do at the start of each project. Are there some tasks in your preparation process that are assignable within your business? Are there tasks that don’t truly require you to do them? As I’ve already mentioned, being a creative entrepreneur means that you are selling your creative time, so there are parts of your process that do truly require your creative energy. But anything in your process that doesn’t require you is an assignable task that you can outsource.
The last category of assignable, or “outsourceable,” tasks is quality control tasks. Not every creative industry has quality control tasks that can be outsourced, but many do. And for those creatives that do have quality control tasks as part of their process, these are perhaps the hardest tasks to outsource, because they do require giving up a measure of control within your creative process. But when you are willing to give them up and allow a trusted contractor or employee to help you in this area, your finished product will almost invariably be better.
The most obvious example of an assignable quality control task comes from the world of audiobooks. As I mentioned earlier, I have outsourced the post-production – the proofing, editing, and engineering – of my audiobooks almost since the beginning of my audiobook career. Sometimes that is an automatic thing – if I’m working with a publisher, the publisher has a process for those post-production tasks and doesn’t want me to do any of that work. But when I’m working with an independent author, those post-production tasks are my responsibility, meaning I could do them myself if I chose to. Or, I can choose to outsource them instead.
For audiobook narrators, outsourcing proofing is especially important. Proofing is the process of listening to an audiobook with the manuscript in hand, making sure that the spoken words match the manuscript exactly. When I listen back to my own audio, my brain knows what I meant to say. I meant to say what was on the page! So I will miss mistakes and misspeaks that someone else would have caught. In addition, you don’t know what you don’t know. If a narrator has been mispronouncing "epitome" or "ethereal" (or any other words that do not look like they sound) their entire life, they won't catch that pronunciation mistake when listening back to their own audio. For audiobook narrators, outsourcing the post-production tasks will result in a better finished product.
If you’re an author, outsourcing your editing will likewise result in a better finished product. If you’re a musician recording an album, outsourcing the sound engineering to someone else will improve the quality of your final recordings. If you’re a musician preparing for a live performance, having someone at the final dress rehearsal who can walk around the performance space and provide a sound check for you is absolutely necessary! For a graphic designer, having someone look over your final proofs before you send them off to the client will catch errors you would have missed on your own. If you’re a photographer, having a colleague look over your final prints prior to sending them off to the client can add a valuable new perspective that will help you make sure the photos you’re sending off are truly the best they can be.
And it’s hard giving up that little bit of control over your final product. It can feel disingenuous to not do all of this work yourself. I’ve had authors and audiobook narrators tell me that “I made the mistake, so it’s up to me to find it and fix it!” But you won’t do those tasks as well as someone else would. Inviting someone else into the final phase of your creative process means that your creative product will be the absolute best it can be.
I’ve been talking this whole episode so far about what outsourcing is and what kinds of tasks you can outsource, but what I haven’t touched on yet is why. Why does outsourcing matter? Sure, maybe you buy my argument that if you outsource some of your quality control tasks, it will help make the finished product a bit better, but what about the administrative tasks or the preparation tasks? Why would you want to outsource those things? If you, as a creative solopreneur, can do everything within your business, why wouldn’t you?
The first and easiest answer is that you can make more money if you outsource. I know this might sound counter-intuitive, but bear with me. The tasks that you are able to outsource within your business are almost entirely lower-value tasks that you can hire someone else to complete for you at a rate that is lower than your hourly rate for completing your creative work. As a young string teacher’s assistant, my work allowed the primary teacher to teach more classes. I made less money than the primary teacher, so even though he had to pay me for my work, my work allowed him to make more money. He made more from the extra classes he could teach than he lost by paying me my wages.
When I hire a book prepper to research names and terms in a book I’m going to be recording, instead of spending my time doing that research myself, I can instead record, a task that makes me more money than I spend paying the book prepper.
Any time you hire someone to do a lower value task and free up your time to complete a higher value task, you are able to make more money, not less.
But I also want to acknowledge that even though finances are the most obvious reason to outsource, finances are also what stop many creative entrepreneurs from considering outsourcing. If you’re deep within the feast or famine cycle in your business, perhaps experiencing more “famine” than “feast”; or if your mindset is mired in scarcity and you cannot even begin to comprehend abundance for yourself, it is really hard to think about not keeping all of the money you do have for yourself. It is hard to trust that if you free up your time by outsourcing tasks, you’ll have other projects to fill that time.
And when you first start outsourcing, you probably won’t have projects to fill that extra time. But you will have marketing and networking tasks that you can do that will help you fill that time. You will have tasks for your ongoing creative growth that will help you fill that time, tasks that will improve your skills as an artist and creative and so make you more hirable by the people you want to hire you. If you don’t leave space in your schedule, you won’t ever be able to accept those additional projects.
I was recently working with a creative who is at the point in her artistic career where she is ready to start outsourcing, but she was scared. She is still at the stage where she doesn’t always have a next project lined up when she finishes the last one. She usually does, but not always. And to this point, she’s always done it all. Thinking about paying someone else to do work that she can do is a big mindset shift for her.
We talked it through. We discussed all the things she can do with that extra time, even if she doesn’t have another project waiting in the wings. She can work on marketing tasks, sending personal reach outs to the hiring authorities in her industry with whom she already has a relationship. She can research the hiring authorities she doesn’t already know personally and figure out the best way to start building relationships with them. She can do the work to submit herself for consideration for other jobs. She can spend time in ongoing growth activities so she improves her skills and gives herself the tools to do a better job when the next project does come her way. If she thinks about the money she spends outsourcing as an investment to give herself more time, and then uses that time on activities that will bring new work her way, then she is coming out ahead financially, even if she’s not actually using that time to work on additional paying projects.
Regardless of how you look at it, outsourcing can be a sound financial investment.
But finances are far from the only reason that outsourcing can benefit you. Outsourcing isn’t just a way to free up your time so you can work more. Outsourcing is a way to free up your time in general. If you’re feeling burnt out by too much work, or feeling like you don’t have time to take care of yourself and your relationships the way you want or need to, then outsourcing can give you some of that time back. It can give you the time to care for yourself so you are able to keep your wells of creative energy full to overflowing.
This was my primary impetus when hiring my social media manager last fall. I didn’t want to add more time into my work schedule; I wanted to take tasks off my plate so I could work less. I wanted more time to care for myself and to nurture the relationships with the people who are important to me, and I knew that by lifting the stress of my social media tasks off my shoulder, I would be able to get that time. And I was right.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, outsourcing is valuable for your creative business because it allows you to build a team of supportive personnel around you and your work. Working as a solopreneur is not actually a solo activity. Just as no man is an island, no solo business owner is an island. Your work is made better when you invite others into it.
When you add new creative perspectives and fresh artistic viewpoints to your work, your work gets better. I know my audiobooks are the very best they can be when my proofer has done his job and my engineer has done his work. They both do their jobs better than I could ever hope for, and the listening audience is the beneficiary of our combined creative effort. Outsourcing some of the tasks within your creative business could be the very best business decision you ever make because it allows you to create a team of people who are all continuously working and growing together to make your creative product the very best it can possibly be. And isn’t that pursuit of excellence and innovation the driving force behind your creative pursuits in the first place? Outsourcing can help you do that.
Thank you so much for joining me for today’s discussion of outsourcing within your creative business. It’s a topic that can be hard for many creative entrepreneurs to wrap their heads around, so I hope this discussion helped you understand how outsourcing can work for you, and more than that, how it can help you in your creative work.
If you have any questions for me about this, or any of my podcast episodes, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach out to me via my website, www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com. And as always, I would so appreciate any ratings and reviews you feel like leaving for me, as ratings and reviews help new listeners find me. If you have a colleague or friend who you think would benefit from the concepts discussed in this, or any, episode, please pass it along to them. Sharing is caring! And of course, don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast yourself so that you’re notified every time a new episode is available. A huge thank you to my husband and audio engineer, Arturo Araya, who produces every episode of this podcast. And thank you for joining me in this creative entrepreneurship community. I can’t wait to see what you create.
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