The Second Step to Getting an Assistant

You think you can do everything yourself. You maintain this mindset because you either can’t imagine what tasks you’d be willing to turn over to someone else, or you don’t want to spend the money on hiring someone.

You might need an assistant if any of the following apply:

  • You don’t feel like you can leave the office or studio for vacation.
  • You can’t make enough work to keep up with the demand.
  • You’re avoiding the work you don’t like to do.
  • You make a good deal more money per hour than you’d pay an assistant.
  • You’re spending more than 50% of your time doing tasks other than making art.
Andrea Hupke de Palacio, Eiffel Tower, View from Trocadero on a Misty Day. Watercolor

In honor of the start of the Tour de France . . . Andrea Hupke de Palacio, Eiffel Tower, View from Trocadero on a Misty Day. Watercolor. ©The Artist

The first step to getting an assistant is to admit you need help to run your art business.

The second step to getting an assistant is to identify what tasks need attention.

Start a List

I ask my clients to keep a list of EVERYTHING they do that someone else could be doing. These should be tasks that you’d be willing to delegate.

For example, if you would never trust anyone with mixing your glazes, don’t put it on your list.

On the other hand, you might be willing to turn over the responsibility for photography, packing, mailings, and database entry. Whatever the task is—whether it takes place in the office or studio—add it to your list.

After you’ve make a complete inventory of the tasks you’re willing to delegate, it will be easier to ask for help—even if you’re not ready to hire someone right away. Being aware of what “help” might look like will allow you to recognize it when it comes your way.

FINAL WORD: If you want to grow a profitable business, you can’t do everything yourself. The key to finding the perfect team to help you out is identifying which tasks could be managed by someone else. Hiring an assistant will bring you peace of mind that will allow you to focus on your art.

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21 comments to The Second Step to Getting an Assistant

  • Dear Alyson,

    Thanks so much for featuring my art on your blog today – that is an honour for me – and for your interesting post. We artists always tend to think we cannot give things into other hands:) …

    • It just seemed appropriate since it’s the start of the Tour de France. Of course, we won’t see that beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower until the last day of the Tour. Thanks for sharing it with us, Andrea.

  • I could not maintain my work and business if I didn’t have an assistant. I have had one for about 5 years now. Several people have filled the 2 day/week position and previous ones left due to family matters or taking a full time job. I was really upset when the first (and excellent) on left. I thought I’d never find another person so great at it! But I have and she is totally vital to my life and business.
    This is a job of many elements. None are of great depth or complexity, but all of the activities are vital to me keeping things on track and not getting behind.

  • I wanted to add that the way I have created a good job description is to keep my instruction notes which I write for my assistant each time she comes. There is the regular stuff she does each time, but there are always new projects or things to be done. When I look over those instruction write-ups, it has given me a very real idea of what I need such a person to do. From that, I fashioned my questions to ask of anyone new I was hiring.

  • Thanks for the topic, Alyson–very timely for me. A close and very capable friend has just offered to be my assistant. I know that I need help and I am very happy about this, but I have a lot of questions. How much to pay, tax issues,what to delegate to her etc. Ideally it seems to me that an assistant should pay for him/herself in helping to promote more sales and income. That’s the goal anyway. I will be eager to read what others have to say about this experience.

    • Rebecca: I know a lot of artists who pay their assistants $10/hour. What will your assistant do for you? I think a virtual assistant who knows more about online/techy stuff will be $35-50/hour.

      • Alyson, she will do some computer work but not high-tech, just data entry for my website and inventory. She will also take on some special projects that I don’t seem to find time for, such as researching galleries and museums, and updating the blog on which I sell my older work. I haven’t made out a list yet, but I can think of a lot of stuff off the top of my head.

        I’m glad to know I was in the right range when I came up with $10/hr. I think that if she arranges for any direct sales of my work she should also get a commission.

  • It’s also worth considering assistance, if not assistants. Things I’ve done that take away large time burdens: a shipper than will collect and *pack* the artwork, mail order supplies (particularly large canvases) delivered direct to the studio saving me shopping and schlepping time, a website service even though I’m a website designer. An assistant doesn’t make sense for me right now, but relinquishing some tasks through services does.

    • Yes! I pay extra for FedEx to come pick up at my house because the $10-12 is worth the 35 min roundtrip it would take me to make. You have to cost this stuff out.

  • VERY timely indeed! I’ve found a great young lady to help and am in the process of trying to make up a job description. I am also working on figuring out how many hours I can offer her according to how much I can afford – I know that the more she is here working, the more I will be able to produce and be able to offer more hours to her.

    I am interested to read other artist’s experiences… would also be great to hear the assistant’s perspective as well! I came across an interesting article this morning on just that:

    http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/02/artseen/a-portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-assistant

    which maybe others are interested in reading as well!

    Thanks again Alyson.

  • I have thought about this subject off and on. there have been crunch times when i have thought its crazy to try and do it myself. i have also thought about how much effort it would be to figure out how to use an assistant, find the right person, train them and supervise them.

    there is a middle ground that i have figured out: i am a painter and i have someone who builds beautiful stretchers for me. i don’t have the skills or the tools to build my own. this person will also stretch the canvas and will prime it too..

    so my first step was to have them stretch the canvas for me. this is somthing i CAN do myself, but i find its a task i procrastinate doing. so i started having the canvas stretched when i order new stretchers.

    the next step was to go ahead and have the first few coats of primer applied by my stretcher maker. that is something i can easily do–but its also something someone else can do for me so i can free up a little more time.

    so i don’t think i am ready for an assistant yet, but i like the suggestion of identifying what tasks someone else could do as well or better than me. and then maybe finding someone who can help on an as-needed basis.

    thanks for the subject alyson

  • I’m going to make that list! I’ll start with everything I do. Then I’ll see which tasks could be delegated (now or in the future). I’ve made a list of marketing actions (daily, weekly, monthly), and this bigger list could be organized in a similar way. It could also help me when I feel like there is so much to do that I don’t want to start, because I could look at the list and tell myself to choose a few tasks that seem less daunting at that moment.
    Just as a few other artists have commented, I also have asked for help with some tasks related to building panels and stretchers. Packing and shipping is also something I could easily pass on. This year I asked for help in making phone calls about collecting money owed me. I needed someone who could be direct and coolheaded when talking to a particular gallery. I felt indignant about my work having sold and me not getting paid, and I realized my attitude wasn’t going to help me get paid any faster.

  • How funny to find this in my inbox, as it is a subject I have been thinking about lately. I’d even started identifying tasks I’d be willing, eager even, to hand over to an assistant, and those I would not. I considered liasing with a local school to provide on-the-job-training as a way of both helping a younger artist and getting some help for free or at low cost, but maybe you get what you pay for…and I’d rather hand the work over to someone in whom I have full confidence (who is motivated by a decent paycheck!) Was there a Part One to this?

  • Hiring your first employee can be a challenging step. Fortunetly there is a great book to help you from Nolo Press.Here is a link to find this book:
    http://tinyurl.com/23muh99

    My Blog ASK Harriete has several posts about hiring your first employee. http://askharriete.typepad.com
    This post review the book “Hiring Your First Employee”.
    http://askharriete.typepad.com/ask_harriete/2010/03/hiring-your-first-employee-a-book-review-.html

    I recommend buying the book, but you could also check to see if you library has a copy.

  • Some further thoughts, though I’ve commented twice! I have used a high school student from time to time in addition to my ‘main’ asst. The first one was a former student of mine who had completed all my courses. He knew quite a bit about how I worked already. When he went to college, he found me a replacement. Then I used the local h.s. art teacher for referrals. I paid min. wage. And someone earlier in these comments said, you get what you pay for….plus experience at life and working. Doing a half-baked job for me meant I had to do it again myself and that is no help. I had them do the most basic of things for me and my ‘main’ assistant did the rest.

  • There are quite a few tasks I’d love to be able to delegate. Can I think of them off the top of my head? No, so I am going to start writing them down. That said, there is one task I’d rather pay to have done if I could afford it: house cleaning! Nonetheless, most of what I’d probably need done are tasks better suited to an office assistant or a Virtual Assistant – and I can’t afford one yet. I don’t have enough sales yet to hire someone to help with packing (and shipping) but I look forward to the day when I do. :)

    I better get to that list!

    Patricia C Vener
    redesigning http://vener-art.com/beadblog/

  • [...] The Second Step to Getting an Assistant – Feeling overwhelmed and finally decided you need help? Alyson Stanfield helps you figure out what to delegate. [...]

  • Marie Solon Coerver

    So many colleges are requiring students to do internships – an idea. Photographing my art is a problem – I’m not very good at it. I’m debating investing in better equipment (and maybe some lessons) or pay a photography student to do it. I don’t pack & ship myself – there’s a place nearby that does that. I agree that a housekeeper would be the biggest help of all – maybe when my sales are more consistent.

  • I am able to accomplish so much more now that I am asking for/hiring help. The concept of hiring help for business related tasks seemed like such a reach for all the reasons you mention. After several years of working as a full time artist I recently starting hiring help and receiving some volunteer assistance.

    One of my goals for 2011 was to join constant contact and start sending a monthly e-newsletter to my contacts. The task seemed daunting, primarily due to the data entry required to set up. This task ended up being a chore I hired someone to do for me! Whoa – how wonderful! Because I hired help I was set up before the close of 2010 – well ahead of my set goal.

    My second recent experience is related to the Elder Art Workshops I facilitate. In 2009 I designed a program which serves elders in nursing homes. The Elder Art Initiative has now grown to serve 7 nursing homes in my area. I rely heavily on volunteer and paid assistance to provide this service. The help with the material preparation allows me a strike a balance between my fine art studio time and the Elder Art Initiative Program. To see a video documentation of the program visit YouTube and search “Elder Art Initiative.”