I’m used to doing everything myself but I’m so busy that I’m thinking of hiring people to help. What are some of the pros and cons for hiring either employees or freelancers/contractors?
One of the things I still really prefer and really like is not having any employees. I want to be able to cut off the income stream and not have a worry in the world. I want to be able to say no to jobs that I want to say no to. So for me, it’s always project by project.
I’ve been hiring contractors really only for about a year and a half now. That decision was a huge leap — going from “this is just me” to using other people. Part of it was a weird ego thing that I think everybody has as a creative where it’s like, I built up this “successful business” and people are coming to me because they want me and the work that I create. Which in some ways is true. But more than anything I think it’s the way I present it, the way I deliver it, who I am as a person. They’re still interacting with me even if my subcontractors are working on it.
I think I’ve been able to remove myself from that a bit and accept that having people help me is enabling me to grow my business faster and larger. Getting outside help was a game changer in terms of how much work I was able to take on.
It varies project by project, but a lot of it is I’ll do a really rough sketch and get it approved by the client and then I’ll have my subcontractors refine that sketch, you know, bring it home. So that would be maybe 3 hours of sketching for me and 8 to 15 hours of refinement. It’s a lot of time bought back for me.
That was how it all started. At this point, it may be design concepting like exploring logo ideas for a particular client or sometimes it’s helping design murals.
The part-timer I recently hired, I’m still figuring out exactly how to implement her. I didn’t sit down and think through the entire process, I just knew I needed help. I was like, If I’m paying her that’s going to be enough incentive to start figuring out how to implement her so we’ll see how that goes.
I would say that over the years I’ve learned the most important aspect of filming is having a good team.
I know that I basically made it so I have my own company Sturge Film — you know, I’m the owner, operator and run the whole show here — but I’ve got a good crew of people that I trust and love hiring and working with on jobs. It’s kind of a family that we bring together whenever the Bat signal summons us.
It’s really nice and I think that’s been almost the most valuable lesson that filmmaking has taught me. Because I am kind of an insular guy, especially earlier in my career. I’ve always wanted to do everything — I’ve wanted to be the director, to film, to edit, to have complete control.
What I’ve learned throughout the years is that relinquishing some of that control and finding people you trust ultimately alleviates so much stress and allows you to really put your focus where you want to be putting it. It saves your sanity and it makes for a better product because you get different perspectives and collaboration. Collaboration is key.
It’s been a pretty awesome lesson and I’ve integrated that into my workflow. I’m really thankful for all the good friends I’ve made in the filmmaking world where it’s brought us all together.
The reality, for better and worse, of running your own company is that you are the person running that company. I have to make all the decisions and take on all the responsibilities of day-to-day operations, which ultimately eclipses the amount of time I can dedicate to being creative.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to bring on other people whose creative judgments I trust and vibe well with what I want to do and the way I see things. That’s been a tremendous help.
I treat our “employees” as friends and family, more so than a traditional boss-employee relationship. It’s a blessing and a curse, for sure, because I’m prioritizing, in a large part, the relationships I have with these people. And that’s super important to me, so that’s always been a key ingredient. Is that always the best thing for running a business? Not necessarily. But my approach is probably a lot different than most other people’s.
The number of people who work for Level 1 just depends on the time of the year. Pretty much everybody is an independent contractor, which allows them a little bit of freedom and a lack of commitment as far as their ability to pick their own hours, take part in other projects and do the things they want to do. And I’ve found that it works well for everybody.
Lindz: [It’s] just the two of us.
Jon: Yeah, and we’ll augment. When we need help it’s always there. People want to work with us. They answer my calls if I call them.
Lindz: Yeah, we will call upon other artists that we know are good at this or that, whether it’s help with the print business or a mural.