The Happy Studio – Find Your Natural Size

When we started our company, we thought we would grow huge. That was the goal. To make a big important company that had impressive signage, expensive chairs, and lots of interns to order around. Today, we’re about as small in staff as when we first started. In fact, we’ve shrunk a bit from our largest size. We didn’t shrink because of lack of work, or an economic downturn. We purposefully chose to do less. We chose to work only with the best staff we could find, and only for the best clients. Through some carefully thought out “shrinkage” we have less clients, less staff, and more revenue than ever before. We’ve fallen in love with being small.

Hire the best you can get
No company can afford a bad employee. They’re a drain on morale, quality, and the checkbook. Fire a client before you hire an employee that you “need.” Hire employees because they’re great, nice, smart, and a good fit. Not because you have too much work. Work will find a great company. If you hire people just to support a big client list, you’re making an ouroboros. The proverbial monster that eats its own tail. You’ll never win that fight.

We spend thousands of dollars every year dodging bullets. For quite some time, we’ve given potential employees paid test projects. There’s no better way to see how you’ll like working with someone than to actually try it out. Actually collaborating on a fake project let’s us see how the candidate communicates, and how they organize. Even better, you get to see end-product. It’s shocking how many people don’t live up to their great portfolio once you put them to the test, and it’s less exhausting and cheaper to find out up front.

We probably miss out on some great employees screening this way. Maybe the pressure is a factor, or working in a bubble. Maybe they would turn into amazing employees once they got their feet under them. We run a pretty tight little ship, and we would rather be sure.

Bad Eggs
It’s unavoidable. You will get a few bad employees. Even with our test projects, we’ve still gotten some duds. Our strong aversion to being the bad guy usually sucks us into keeping someone around much longer than we should. It’s the worst thing we can do. There are so many ways to be a bad employee, and each of them is more deadly to your company than you can realize. Once you cut loose the baggage, you’ll realize how draining it’s been. There’s no better time than yesterday to do what needs done, and get rid of them. We regret the great employees we might have missed out on, but not as much as the ones we slowly realized didn’t fit.

Figure Out a Team
When you’re small, hire the person, not the position.

Firing Clients
You don’t have to hire a new employee… You’re thinking about it because you have too much work, and you want to “grow.” But think about shrinking your client list instead. You’ll be shocked at what happens. Now you can concentrate even more on the clients that make you the happiest, and the most money. Hiring an employee means that you have an extra 40-50 hours of work a week. It’s tough to get to that spot. You can have an extra 20 hours of work a week spread across your staff, and feel stressed. If you hire a new employee when you only have an extra 20 hours of work a week, that means you have to find another 20 hours for them. You created a problem rather than a solution. It’s much easier to fire 20 hours a week worth of client than it is to find 20 hours of new work.

Having too much work is a warm blanket. It’s a pat on the back. It’s an opportunity. Look at your client list, and cut some of the dead weight. Relax a bit, and catch your breath. Congratulations for doing something counterintuitive, but smart. We fired about 10 clients last year, and we made more money than the year before. We just matched our growth rate to our attrition. Workflow is at your mercy, not vice versa. If you don’t have people lining up to work with you, you’ve got other problems.

Too Much, Too Many
For us, having less staff, and less clients is a good fit. It won’t work for everyone, but we think it lets us concentrate on what we “want to do” more often than what we “have to do.” For us, growth is about increasing happiness, and profit, not staff, or square footage. We want to make a business that we’re proud of. Running ragged, and doing too much is the quickest way to do too little of what we’re proud of.

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