First thing in the morning you receive an article in your inbox claiming that a live chat feature on your website can increase sales. You research, download, unzip, and upload the plugin… and the installation fails. Three times. By now you’ve burned through the entire morning you had set aside for marketing, and you feel like if you DON’T get this plugin running then your day will have been a waste.
After a little more research, you realize that the culprit is your website theme. You’re committed now, so you hunt for a compatible theme.. By the time you’ve got the new theme up and running, you’ve also wasted most of the afternoon. But you are ultimately victorious! After 7 hours of research and frustrating guesswork, you manage to install the plugin. It feels a little anticlimactic, and it’s a little glitchy. But NOW your website will sell more art… right?
Now to get back to that inbox full of emails you ignored all day.
Are you spending too much time on your website?
How much time did you spend fiddling with your website this month? If this story feels a little too familiar, you’re in good company among artists trying to conduct their business on a tight budget. Web designers and IT support cost money, so why not just spend a few (dozen) hours doing it yourself? But now be completely honest: could you have spent those hours in a more productive way? Unless you have significant experience or training in web design and technology, the answer is probably yes.
There are a few reasons artists can get caught in the trap of spending too many hours messing with inconsequential website details:
- Website design is a time suck, especially if you’re not a pro.
- You’re procrastinating!
- You haven’t identified which of your tasks produce the most value for your business, and so you get easily distracted.
The case for hiring help
Even considering hiring a contractor or agency can feel off-limits to small business owners and entrepreneurs. You’re already pinching pennies, why would you pay hundreds of dollars for someone else to do all the stuff that you can probably figure out, given enough time and perhaps a few tears?
Ultimately, the problem of artists and other creative business owners spending countless hours DIY-ing every aspect of their business is a mindset problem. Do you consider yourself a true professional? Do you expect your business to pay for itself, or do you feel sheepish and apologetic about spending the money to hire a pro? A dentist or a lawyer is very unlikely to try to spend hours and hours making their own website, because they know their time is much more valuable if spent in areas where they excel. The same goes for you, artist.
If you find yourself stuck in a frugal all-or-nothing mindset, consider the rule of displacement. (By the way, there’s nothing inherently wrong with frugality. But remember that money isn’t the only resource that requires mindful management- you must also consider the value of your time.)
Strengths, weaknesses, and the rule of displacement
If you’re a creative professional selling your work either part- or full-time, then you already know that creating art is at the top of your list of strengths. You cannot outsource creating your paintings, your sculptures, or whatever it is you excel at creating. But just about everything else is up for discussion.
Charlie Gilkey, productivity expert and founder of Productive Flourishing, explains the rule of displacement like this: whatever you spend your time doing is displacing something else that you could be doing. So you must consider what you are displacing in order to do the task before you. In our example of spending an entire day fiddling with a website for a minor upgrade, essential tasks were displaced during those hours.
In order for your business to run successfully, you will need to spend at least half of your time on business and marketing. But within that range of time, there are tasks that you and you alone should be doing, such as meeting with potential collectors and responding to emails and phone calls. Anything else you do during your dedicated marketing time, like the website design in our example, is displacing those tasks.
In order to determine which tasks are worth outsourcing, try following a flowchart of questions like this:
Does it absolutely have to be ME who does this?
If the answer is yes, do the thing! If the answer is no, ask yourself: is this a task that I excel at? If it’s not, hire someone. If the answer is yes, ask yourself: does this displace essential tasks that I must do myself? If the answer is yes, hire someone! If the answer is no, do the thing!
Another strategy is to relegate those non-essential tasks to the end of your list, but this introduces a snag: sometimes a task really does need doing, and putting it off indefinitely at the bottom of your list won’t be good for business. This is why hiring a website designer, a virtual assistant, or a studio assistant can make a huge difference for the growth of your business.
Some tasks that you may want to consider hiring help for include:
- Website design and updates (web designer)
- Shipping and receiving (studio assistant)
- Processing orders and responding to customer service inquiries (virtual assistant)
What does your website really need?
Our example was a common problem for artists: spending too much time fiddling with ultimately inconsequential aspects of your website instead of focusing on the tasks that really need your attention. In order to identify whether that plugin or upgrade you want to enact is necessary for your site to sell art, take a look at the list below. These are the fundamental features of a good artist website. If your site already has all these features, congrats! You’ve got a pretty effective website. And if it doesn’t, you’ve got a nice list to present to your web designer.
- A custom domain, probably your first and last name
- An about page with your artist bio and brief CV
- A functioning Shop page
- A way to add visitors to your mailing list
- Lots and lots of beautiful images
- A clear explanation of what your work is and what it’s about
The Bottom Line
The key to better productivity for your business is in identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and developing a clear and unflinchingly honest perspective on which tasks require that YOU be the one to do them. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to outsource other tasks; rather, view them as a way to help you laser focus on growing your business. And when you have a frustrating and unproductive way, be willing to step back and take a look at how your current to-do list shapes up according to the rule of displacement. Ultimately you’ll see an increase in productivity, happiness, and better sales for your art business.