Being a photographer is a lot of fun, but there are parts of it (like scheduling, job estimates, invoicing, etc.) that drive me crazy. Fortunately there are people in the world who actually enjoy doing those things. Instead of pinching every penny and trying to do everything myself I finally hired an admin assistant, and I’ve never been more successful and productive in my business. Here’s a look at my story and what I learned in the process.
The book ReWork talks about “hiring when it hurts.” When you feel as though the quality is slipping because you are struggling to stay on top of things, that’s the time to hire some help. I wallowed in that feeling for roughly two years before I hired an assistant. Unfortunately I made a few mistakes when I hired her; namely her job description was much too vague, and I agreed to pay her a set amount each month even though my income fluctuates. Long story short, she quit after two months and I was grateful I didn’t have to be the one to let her go even though I still needed help. Several months later I hired Laura, and now I’ve got the best admin coordinator you will find. As best as I can figure, here’s what made the difference this time around.
Define clear expectations and responsibilities. This topic is worth its own post. Without boundaries it’s easy to play the blame game. Be clear from the beginning about what you want, but realize that it will be a learning process for both of you.
Give it a trial run. It can be a little intimidating to commit to a job that is still being defined, and it’s hard to know how you will like working with someone when you’ve gotten used to working by yourself. Start with a 60 day commitment. That will give both of you a chance to feel it out. If it’s not working by then you’ve got a natural exit point.
Pay her a fixed percentage of what you earn, when you earn it. This was the biggest a-ha moment for me. I pay her when I get paid myself. This means there is no possibility of a negative cashflow situation. This also has the advantage of rewarding her for the months that are busiest. The more I earn, the more she earns too.
Give her access to history and resources. Control freaks beware: you’re better off letting go and handing the keys to your assistant. One of the biggest unexpected advantages of giving Laura the default, catch-all email account is that it contains years of history for her to see. If she gets an email from Mike@GaylordHotels then she can search the old emails and get an idea of the previous work history.
Give objectives, not instructions. If you’re anything like me then you probably stink at administrative tasks. Don’t try to make your assistant do things your way. The reason you hired someone is because you waste too much time doing those things. Encourage her to find better methods for getting the job done, and empower her to make decisions on your behalf.
Hire her as an independent contractor. There’s a 20 question test that is used to determine if someone is an employee or independent contractor. The key differences boil down to the following: Behavioral Control (i.e. the business can’t dictate how the work is to be performed), Financial Control (i.e. assistant needs to submit an invoice to be paid), and the Type of Relationship (i.e. who’s in charge?).
Hire an admin assistant, not another photographer. Your assistant doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of what you do. She needs to be good at communicating and staying organized. Taking pictures is my job; keeping things moving administratively is her job. It takes both of us to make our clients happy.
It’s also worth mentioning that Laura has another 9-5 job for her primary income. This is extremely helpful for relieving financial tension that can exist. Besides, she’s ridiculously efficient in her work, so you would never know she is working two jobs at the same time.
As for me I had over twice as much growth in the first year with her than I did in the three years preceding. Laura has made a huge difference in my business, and I’m confident that a good assistant can do the same for you. …well, probably not quite as good, but that’s just because Laura rocks!