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When an Entrepreneur, a Manager, and a Technician Collide - and Why Creatives Spend Too Much Time in

Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth, talks about the importance of working on your business rather than working in your business.

The title means entrepreneurial myth: 1) The myth that most people who start small businesses are entrepreneurs. 2) The fatal assumption that an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business by doing that technical work. Gerber explains that this technical expertise can actually get in the way of running a successful business.

Being a master at your craft doesn’t mean you’re also a master at running a small business. The two are entirely different animals.

In the early chapters, Gerber sets up a fictional narrative about a woman named Sara who makes the best pies in town. As a young girl, she spent a lot of time helping her grandmother make pies in the kitchen. As an adult, Sara opened a store to sell her pies. The problem Sara has is not that she can’t sell pies, in fact, she sells every pie she makes every week. The raving customers indicate that she does indeed have the best pies in town. Her problem, as she discovers at the end of the month when she balances her books, is that her pie business is barely breaking even!

But artists don’t make pies

In Sara’s story, she hires an advisor to come in and audit her pie business. He explains to her it takes 3 roles to operate any small business: an entrepreneur, a manager, and a technician. Sara is doing all three but spends most of her time as the technician. He tells her to transform herself from an artisan to a business person; she has to stop working in her business and start working on her business. Sara was spending her time trying to do it all, only to wind up exhausted and wondering why she got into business in the first place.

Gerber’s remedy is to shift your mindset to systemize your work flow and allow other skilled people to help you do what you do. Many artists will think, “Only I can do what I do.” This is true to an extent, but if you really study the actual process and break it down into small actionable chunks, you may be surprised how much can be done by assistants.

Take Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish Baroque painter. A proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasized movement, colour, and sensuality, Rubens is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. He ran a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe.

Rubens was famous for creating paintings that were in the neighborhood of 20 feet tall. He hired students and understudies who would sometimes do more than 75% of the ‘grunt’ work. He developed a system where he only needed to come in and paint the hands, faces and finishing touches on his paintings. He had assistants do the bulk of the work, yet he still contributed the most important elements.

He was in total creative control of his work- the composition, concept, model selection, lighting, mood and everything else that makes his paintings "Rubenesque." This allowed him to take on a much greater volume of commissions when he was only doing a quarter or less of the ‘important’ labor.

Artists, you can find a way to systemize your creative work, it just takes a thorough audit of your work flow.

How I made the poster: You'll see in this video how drastically the design changed and evolved on the canvas. The design was trying to tell me it was

getting too busy and to just simplify!

Thanks for reading!

Each week my newsletter shows the methods I use for distilling text based stories, articles and ideas into bold imagery. If you don’t have time to create images yourself, you’ll learn some valuable tips that may be useful when assigning a project to an illustrator or designer. Sign up at the top of the page!

Tom LaBaff

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