My studio was established organically when I began photographing a few weddings each year for friends. In those days, I was shooting film, so after the wedding I’d drop the rolls of film in a bag, drive them to the lab, pick them up a few days later and deliver the proofs to the client in a nice little box. Done. As I made the transition to digital a few years later, I found my workload dramatically increased. However, I continued to control all aspects of my post production. This approach was sustainable as my small studio grew steadily through the years, until finally I had grown so busy I had no choice but to find help.
Initially, I was paralyzed by the unknowns: Can I find someone who will share my vision? Can I afford it? Where do I find qualified people? How do you pay someone to do what I’m looking for? Where will I physically put him or her? These fears, although reasonable considerations, proved to be just excuses. When I finally made the jump and hired someone, I kicked myself for waiting so long.
The first step was to come to grips with the fact that I couldn’t do everything (this was particularly hard considering I’m a picky control-freak). I had convinced myself that my clients had come to expect and demand my attention to detail. To a certain extent this was true. What I didn’t understand was that it was possible to find someone who could share my vision, or at least could be trained to help carry it out. In fact, by looking for someone who specialized in one area (for example, album design), I was able to find someone more effective than me.
I launched my exhaustive search (one interview) by mentioning to a friend that I was looking for some help. She happened to teach at a local college’s photography program and dropped me a note the next day that she had someone fantastic for me. One cup of coffee and a few hours of conversation and I had my first official employee.
Benefits of hiring an employee
Prevent burnout: After three years of editing 20-30 weddings, I started to feel like I was losing the joy in my job. Passing along some of these tasks has allowed me to focus on the ones that I enjoy. Gone is the drudgery of carrying all of the burden on my shoulders alone.
Better sense of perspective: I’d often find myself paralyzed when designing albums because I couldn’t make the tough decisions about editing my own work. I was too emotionally attached to the images. Having an employee I trust has allowed me to step away from the process and gain a better perspective (thus saving time).
Camaraderie: Working from home can be a lonely pursuit. Employees make you feel a bit more human.
Work is Consistent with your Vision: I opted to hire help (rather than outsourcing) because I was confident that I could teach someone to work within my creative vision, thus guarantee more consistent output. The ability to provide immediate feedback and collaborate on projects makes the employee far more valuable than any outsourced company.
Make More Money: This seems counter-intuitive, but hiring an employee allowed me to take on more jobs and get out from behind the computer.
Hourly vs. Project Based Pay: When considering how to compensate, I knew I’d want an employee who could be an assistant as much as a designer. As a result, I opted for an hourly rate that allowed me to manage her time in a variety of ways.
Hidden Costs: Unless you’ve got extra computers lying around, you’ll need to factor the hardware and software costs required to set up a second workstation as well as networking in your office. In addition, depending on your business structure, you may be required to pay additional taxes, such as unemployment.
Personality Match: I (of course) wanted to hire someone who was proficient in the tools I commonly use, but I was more concerned about finding someone who was bright, thoughtful and would be easy to work with. By focusing on someone who was clearly bright, I knew I could teach her anything that she didn’t already know.
Space: If you want a happy employee, you’ll need to carve out a comfortable space.
Time: It’s going to take a bit of dedicated time to train your new employee. Don’t expect them to hit the ground running without your guidance. My employee’s primary task is album design. We designed two full albums together before I sent her off on her own. At the end of each album we regroup and review the design and I make any edits necessary. After a few weeks, we had a pattern down and she began cranking out work. Another helpful strategy was for me to brainstorm on Sunday night any tasks or projects that I wanted to accomplish that week and figure out which I could have my employee do (I often include her in these discussions to get her feedback).
Communication: Grumpy in the morning? Now you’re someone’s boss so you’ve got to pull it together. Keep the lines of communication open. Fortunately for me, my employee was very comfortable asking for help. But you’ve also got to be very open about what you like and don’t like. That’s the only way that someone can learn. By quietly fuming when something isn’t right, you ensure that the work will continue to be unsatisfactory and eventually your employee will leave.