Let It Go: Delegating Responsibility

The biggest lesson from a former 3-day event that I used to lead: Let go of control.

After several discussions with my guests, it was clear that few people were willing to bring others into their art businesses.

When someone asked me if I ever slept, I happily responded that I got 8 hours sleep the night before I went on stage.

I was able to do so because I hired people that I trust to stuff the goodie bags, get the name badges together, staff the registration table, select the music, order the food, and put out fires.

Delegate Responsibility

I learned a long time ago that if I was going to build my business to be more profitable, I was going to have to trust others.

I have read plenty of books over the years about how to build a successful business. In the early days, one thing stood out that I knew was a struggle for me: Get reliable help.
Who me? I don’t need help! I can do this!

That was my initial response because I’m a recovering control freak and come from a family of DIYers. I also didn’t have extra money in the early days to spend on hiring employees or contract helpers.

I still don’t have extra money. Most people don’t.

Instead, I’ve made a decision to invest in my business by hiring help with bookkeeping, web design, newsletter creation, graphic design, and the daily minutiae of providing excellent customer service for our clients and students.

I also invest in event planning, photography, videography, and, above all, excellent coaching.

Tara Pappas mixed media
©Tara Pappas, The Release. Mixed media, 12 x 6 inches.

Believe in Yourself

Investing in help for your business demonstrates that you believe in yourself and your dreams. It also means that you are able to work on the most important tasks that bring income into your business.

These include making art and being the face of your marketing (networking, speaking, connecting online, and more).

©2006 Patricia Vener, Autumn Goddess. Bead weaving. Used with permission.
©2006 Patricia Vener, Autumn Goddess. Bead weaving.

Let Go

You will never grow by trying to do it all yourself.

I take that back. You’ll grow a little before you burn out and watch your business results hit a plateau.

Letting go and turning over responsibility for certain aspects of your art business doesn’t come easily to most people. It’s a practice.

No one will perform your tasks in the same manner that you do.

You’ll be surprised that sometimes they do a better job than you would have done. You’ll learn from their insights, habits, and ways of looking at the world, which will result in a more sustainable business.

Let it go.

What was the first thing you learned to delegate in your business?

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37 thoughts on “Let It Go: Delegating Responsibility”

  1. Baby steps:) I asked family members to help out with things like baking cookies for my open studio and hired out the spring yard work so I could paint a series for an upcoming show. I keep asking myself, how and where is my time best spent for the results I want.
    And you are right…there never is “extra’ money!

  2. It was really tough, but the first thing I hired someone to do for me, was to clean my house every 2 weeks. I was amazed how much energy and brain space that freed up for me! After the guilt subsided, I of course, wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner. Now I hire out some of the studio tasks like canvas prep as well.

  3. I hired a bookkeeper. Oh, and I’ve always had a web designer. @JudySchafers, I’ve been debating on hiring a housekeeper for the last year….Maybe the time is now. Thanks Alyson for the timely advice!! I’m going to share it.

  4. I have all the equipment I need to frame my own paintings but a few years ago I decided to hire a framer. It saves me time, frustration, backache, and studio space. And she gives me a good price – I’m grateful for her help.
    I often say (somewhat jokingly) that everyone makes money off of my art “business” but me. But when I think about those people they are already running (or working for) a successful business: shippers, framers, coaches, galleries, printers, art supply houses, and last but not least, the contractor and the workers who converted my carport into a studio. I believe in hiring people to do what they are experts at doing if I can find the money to do it.
    When people tell me that they are hunting for the best rates on a flight I tell them to call my travel agent. When a friend tells me he is aching from having painted the living room I give him the name of my painter, and my massage therapist. When people ask “who does your framing” I give them the name of my framer.
    As an aside, I know a prolific artist who has her husband frame all of her work and deliver it. She doesn’t ship anything via a shipping company. He drives her work all over the country, driving thousands of miles to deliver and pick up paintings. I on the other hand will ship a painting if it more than a two hour drive away. Go figure.

  5. This speaks to me, also. I’m barely getting any work done lately. But, as always, the issue is money. I think a housecleaner is a great place to start – I haven’t found someone who does a good job and does it efficiently. And office work, although I need to figure out exactly what I need there. I just know how much time I spend here.
    I also want to let you know how amazing your newsletters have been… beyond my expectations! I hope to participate in the next art biz workshop/makeover. So many ideas and so much encouraging insight!

  6. So, I guess the biggest question is this: If you didn’t have the extra money to pay them, what did you pay them with? This has been a mystery to me for the past two years – how to hire help without being able to pay them. I see advice like yours all the time: “Hire help whether you can afford it or not.” But, never in that advice is the nitty gritty, behind-the-scenes action that took place to be able to pay help.
    Anyone can tell people to hire help. “Hire help!” There, I said it. But the bigger question is, “HOW?” I’m pretty sure you don’t want to answer me because I haven’t paid for your services, but I just wanted to point out how frustrating it’s starting to get for me to hear/read/be told over and over to hire help, without ever hearing any suggestions on how to do so. Did you get a small business loan? An inheritance? A loan from a family member? Did you sell something valuable? Are you married to a wealthy man who forked over the money? Did you wait tables at night?
    What I would LOVE to learn from various artists is HOW they were able to hire help. Their personal stories. I completely understand that it’s necessary and understand the value of assistance, believe me. I used to have all kinds of assistance at my fund-raising/event planning job at a university and valued it greatly. I get it. I just can’t figure out where to come up with the money for it, and would absolutely love to hear others’ stories. I am drawing a blank and would love to get some possible inspiration/ideas from others.
    And if one more person says the word “intern” to me . . . . 😉

    1. Robin – thanks for writing that direct question that so many of us must have been thinking — HOW to do this ? I wanted to share my experience with you – but first I want to say I am not THE artist, I work for/with the artist. She is a friend of mine who wanted to grow her business but wasn’t at a point where she could hire help. I’ve got a lot of business experience combined with many other skills that I thought could be useful so I volunteered to help her. I’m on the edge of retirement and had time on my hands, skills I did not want to rust out and the desire to assist my old buddy even though we live many states away from each other [web work !] We’ve tried to set this up like a “paid business relationship” with objectives, priorities, time lines, even telephone business “meetings” with agendas! My ideas to help us stay organized and on the same page met with some success. My advice if you can find someone like me who can provide the help you are looking for is: be specific with your “help” about what you want and when you want it, give positive feedback, try to give up some control to your assistant – it won’t really help you if you still want to micro-manage things. We’ve been doing this now for almost 3 years and are still friends. but I want to say as a non-artist it is VERY challenging to work with one ! And my friend even warned me : ) Good luck !
      ps: I would also suggest in addition to seeking a “volunteer” or pro bono person — what about bartering for what you need or trading “art” [time or talent] for what you need — just a thought

    2. Thank you for your input, Chris Wachsmuth! Will you dump your friend and start volunteering for me, instead? Haha! Kidding!
      I’ve actually said to myself a zillion times, “I wish I knew someone who cared about my business and its success and would just volunteer to help.” The only retired people I know are some of my elder relatives and my parents, and none of them seem to want to help or have the skills.
      You’ve got me wondering if there isn’t some organization out there of retired people who might just be bored and might want to help out a small business owner?
      Now I’m day dreaming about what it must be like for your friend to have you to help them at no charge. I seriously can’t imagine the pure luxury! She is a lucky person!

    3. Oh, and I can’t barter. Period. I only have time to keep up with commissions. As soon as I finish a painting, I ship it to the customer and start the next one. So, bartering is out, sadly.

    4. Well, I have raised my prices about every four months or so since starting my business two and a half years ago. My average sell price is almost five times higher now that it was when I started. Problem is that with higher prices, sales are slower because I can’t find as much time as I need to market towards those who can afford to pay more. Therefore, my income is pretty much the same.
      Right now, I have around 40 paid commissions, waiting to be painted, and inquiries coming in daily. 90% of those who inquire decline the commission because of my raised prices, but I still have to take the administrative time away from painting to do the back and forth emails and phone calls and texts with the customers who end up saying “No thanks”.
      If I raise my prices too much higher, without marketing properly in advance and during the price hike, sales stop completely. I have no other income besides my art, so I need to be careful how high I raise prices so that I’m not shooting myself in the foot.
      And then, of course, I’m running/designing/maintaining my website, Facebook, Instagram, CafePress store and Pinterest. I’m also doing all the shipping and packaging, accounting/taxes, supply orders, etc. I work seven days per week for 10 – 12 hours per day and have kept that pace for almost three years.
      I wish I could afford office help so that I could concentrate on painting, but I just can’t seem to get that extra income. I just can’t. I see others on here so easily saying, “I hired an accountant,” or “I hired a house cleaner,” and I’m just wondering “How?” I just want to know where the money comes from. I mean, I guess it’s none of my business, but I really am curious.

    5. Robin: To be honest, I kind of resent this: “I’m pretty sure you don’t want to answer me because I haven’t paid for your services” but I’m hoping it’s just because you’re new here and don’t know me.
      I hired someone for a few hours at a time. It came out of what I made. I didn’t sit down and say, “Okay, now I have the budget for this.” I decided that I would invest in a virtual assistant for 5 hours a month (around $200-250).
      Yes, you must be making a little money first. It doesn’t make sense to hire before you have something coming in and the prospect of more. At the same time, you should get help – even if a little bit – before you think you can afford it.
      You will always find a reason to hang on to any money you earn. I encourage you to look at the big picture – especially if you can’t keep up with demand.
      ** If you have NO money coming in and no prospects, you’re going to have to DIY for awhile longer.

    6. Oh, whoops! I didn’t mean to cause friction. I wrote that about you not wanting to answer unless I’m paying for your services based on our email exchange from a while back when I asked for your insight about being an artist and living in Colorado (because my daughter wants me to move there). You replied with, “Come to Art Biz Makeover and experience Colorado for yourself!”
      I just thought you didn’t like to talk to us too much unless we were customers. Yikes! Didn’t mean to offend.

  7. I am with Robin on this one. I have no extra money. What “disposable income” I do have is being saved for relocation in two and one-half years. I cannot afford to skimp on my savings. I am already selling off most of my possessions and will sell my house to pay for the relocation.
    I have only one family member (my college student daughter) and no friends who have the time nor experience to help me. So, how do I hire help?
    Thanking you in advance…

    1. I hope Alyson continues this article to tell us how she paid help, even though she didn’t have the extra money. I’d love to know!

    2. What about that college daughter? We have found that college daughters (both of ours are now out of college) work cheap, are very tech-savvy, and are eager to help!

  8. You are so right about hiring help. I like the idea of a personal assistant and loved the idea for asking for help with badges, cookies etc. I know people who would appreciate pay in exchange for helping with small business chores. Breaking down the chore and figuring out adequate compensation seems like a good place to start. I need to start planning now. Great article. Thank you.

  9. Hiring help sounds wonderful! But, I too can not figure out how I would pay for it. And then there is the thing about being a control freak…….
    I feel incredible fortunate to have some help from my daughter, she designs and prints my brochures and Business cards. Other than that I do it all like so many women: household with all that goes with it, gardening, Exhibit preparations, promoting my work, book keeping, and working in the Studio, most of the time eight hour days.
    But those eight hour days charge my battery so I can do all the other stuff.

  10. Hi Alyson,
    The DIY approach to being an active art business is fine providing you have the time…I did it was retirement.
    It was educational to develop my own accountancy package…produce all the documentation in house…learn about & implement packing and international shipping etc.
    But for things I could not do to the highest standard I employed the professionals..framers..couriers etc.
    DIY is about accepting the outcome as being able to live with.
    Professional input is about paying for and only accepting the best.

  11. My most recent goal was to hire a housekeeper so that I could have more time to paint and market my work. The most helpful thing I did to actually increase my income so that I could afford it, was to take a mini-workshop with Alyson. She encouraged us to look at our income from the past year (something I hate doing since it always seems so paltry.)
    Then we set goals for income for this year. I set a higher goal so that I could afford the housekeeping twice per month. So far, I have far exceeded my goal for 7 out of the past 11 months. I’m almost $10,000 over my goal for those eleven months! I can truly say that the online workshop I took and the information I gleaned has helped me! I now enjoy the money to hire a housekeeper. If you haven’t found one you like, ask around… then set a goal! Thank you Alyson 🙂

  12. I think a newsletter is For the client, & a blog is For the artist…
    Furthermore, I agree that this is the best blogpost ever in the history of womankind…
    Lastly, the first or last thing I delegate, is commenting…I tend to let others speak for me, both first & last…It saves money & time…Plus I like to get a consensus before starting a job or getting paid…
    Thank you for asking, ArtBizCoach.com !

  13. Thanks for the article Alyson, (btw, is it still you who answers to the comments or is it help?) Yes, it is hard to hire help! I am at the point where I need to (way past it really but only now can sort of afford it) but the transition is hard to make. I think the biggest challenge is in my mind. Luise Christensen-Howell, you mentioned control-freak and after a lifetime of doing it myself it is painful to think about letting go in some areas! As an artist I am; used to working alone, being creative in how I get stuff done, want someone who can do many different things like myself. I think it is a little different for artists to hire help than other businesses simply because of how we work and think in a very right brained fashion. As for the cost, sometimes we just have to get better at getting stuff done ourselves until we can afford to get help. I’m sure it is different for each individual and their specific circumstances.

  14. Pingback: Art Exhibition Checklist and Timeline to Customize - Art Biz Success

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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