Monday, 8 October 2007

Thinking about Benoit Philippe Art Studio Limited?

Artists of the past, since medieval time, employed assistants and apprentices in their studio (Rubens counted many, included the gifted van Dyck who made a name for himself). Some contemporary established artists still have assistants who take in charge part of the execution of the work and deal with anciliary activities.

Most of us work and create alone, so why should you think of yourself as a business employing a skilled workforce?

In the book
E-myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber promotes the idea of creating an organisation chart of your business with the different functions. He explains how the exercise is valuable, even if you are a one-person business. It forces you to work “on your business” rather than “in your business”.

In Mark Forster’s book Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, he gives an additional reason to do that from a productivity standpoint: “Employing yourself gives you a degree of detachment from your work”. He gives some compelling examples of how we do things easily for friends that we struggle to do the same task for ourselves. There is a French saying that reads “Les cordonniers sont les plus mal chaussés.” (Cobblers wear the worst shoes).

Mark Forster's blog has an excellent article titled “Employ yourself” on this topic. He explains that if you dread doing your accounts, you should appoint yourself accountant for a day per month. During this time, this is your job for your artist company. So, it becomes harder to evade. You also know that at a precise point, the accountant will leave and the artist will be able to create without bookkeeping worries at the back of his mind.

Taking my own practice, I found five areas:

  • Operation (which includes the actual artistic creation)
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Sales
  • Support (Information technology, legal, etc.)

What is the point of spending time dreaming of your large organisation if you are a one-person only practice? There are multiple benefits to this exercise:

  • It forces you to look beyond the creative side of your artist practice: It is easy to neglect the business aspect of being an artist. When you have completed the organisation chart, you realise that painting is only one strand of your trade.

  • You can identify gaps in your business practice. Once you identified the different roles, you can write the job descriptions with the activities and tasks assigned to the different members of your organisation. If one person has a job that you are not currently doing, you know this is a gap you must fill in. Below is an example for what the Marketing function could cover.

  • You can allocate your time more effectively: How many hours do you need to dedicate to the business side of your practice? How many hours per month you need to accomplish the projects allocated to your different functions?

  • You can train yourself more efficiently. Once you know what activities you are covering, work on a training plan in the same way you would do for a business. Do you know about accounting? How good are you at PR activities? etc. This way, you have a chance to escape the “Jack of all trades, master of none” syndrome.

  • Clarify your goals and action plan. By writing down who’s doing what in your organisation, you can better define priorities in a balanced way.

  • Make your goals achievable by breaking them down: Aspirations and visions are great to lead you where you want, but you must translate them into projects and then define the next action to get each project moving. Each member of your organisation should have at least one project with one defined next action. Big aspirations (e.g. “I want to make a leaving from my art”) can look daunting until you bring them down to earth and anchor them into reality with a next immediate action you can take to move in the right direction.

  • Keeps you focussed: This comes back to a comment already made. By separating roles, you can concentrate on the task at hand for a given role. You avoid the situation where the artist is in charge of the accounts and the sales person manages the finance.

  • You can write procedure manuals: This idea is also at the centre of the “E-myth Revisited” which recommends applying to any small or medium business the turn key concept used in franchising. In a nutshell, you need to structure your business in a way that would enable anyone to step in and run it. How do you do that? By documenting every aspect of your business into procedure manuals that, when followed step by step, will give a predictable, consistent and high standard of service. You may think that painting is such a personal skill that this is not relevant to an artist. But what about your marketing manager, your account, your supply manager?… To give you an example, you can write a checklist on how to create and upload a new page onto your website.

It’s time to put the idea into practice. Take an A3 sheet of paper and put your name in a box at the top of the page. Underneath, write “Artist, CEO”. Then create your organisation and start working on your business.

Worth reading

E-myth Revisited

Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play

Mark Forster's blog : highly recommended.


Alyson B. Stanfield said...

Very nice post. This book, which I've certainly heard of before, was recommended to me by someone else this past weekend. I think it's a sign that I must get it and read it.

Benoit Philippe said...

Thank you Alyson. This comment means a lot to me. I look forward to reading your book "I’d Rather Be in the Studio!" when it is released.