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Creative Entrepreneurs as Office Managers

We have to wear so many hats when running a small business, it’s a little wonder we feel overwhelmed for a good portion of the time.  One of the most important jobs we have to coordinate is that of office manager.  Think about the places you’ve worked in the past.  There is a whole separate job description, a full-time employee, who plays the role of office manager.  Guess who it is in our art business… that’s right, it’s me.

I looked up a job description for an office manager, and laughed out loud when I realized just how much of the job I was already doing.  Here’s a little checklist for you to consider for your own business.

Office managers have to coordinate all the administration, procedures, and safety concerns around the office.  They manage acquisitions, inventory, personnel, maintenance, shipping, supplies, bills, scheduling, IT, invoices, contracts, secretarial duties, filing, records management, equipment, reporting, networking, budgeting, event planning, communications, correspondence, and morale.  How does that sound?  I read over a sample job descriptions online, and was amazed that anyone could require all of these tasks from one individual.  Yet, I do all of these things and more.  I expect that you do too.

How are we supposed to do all of this, as well as the marketing, planning, oh yes, and create the art?  The only possible answer is to break things into smaller, more manageable bites.  That way you can still prioritize the most important activities, while filling in some of the busy work as time permits.  There’s two of us in our business, and no employees.  I tend to batch all of the bill paying and receipt management to once a week.  Most of my bills are paid automatically, so it’s mostly just recording and filing expenses anyway.  I take that opportunity to do any mileage reporting, placing supply orders, and budgeting.  We sit down for a meeting once a week, sometimes more, and I actually take minutes for the files.  That keeps us legal if we’re ever questioned.  Once a month I balance the bank and credit card statements, and I take advantage of that time to review any budget concerns, and planning for the following month.  I create two monthly newsletters, one for me, and one for Bogdan, and I usually spend some time then to schedule any automatic social media drops for the month.  I save most of the more strategic planning, goal tracking, and market research for quarterly attention.    Of course, that all changes when there are fires to be put out, but I can usually keep myself organized if I break things down into categories that make sense.  Some things I must do today, others can wait a week, a month, or a quarter.  

I should stress here that I’m only talking about administrative types of tasks.  I keep up with my daily social media content, networking, and art creation as my first priority, and move the rest to the back burner.  Around the first of the month, and around tax season, those duties take on a bit more importance.  

So then what are some of the strategies we must incorporate in our day to day art businesses to make us better office managers?  The first thing that comes to mind is organization.  If you’re like me, the fact that I don’t do the office management tasks all day, every day, it can get a bit disorganized.  For example, I was just going through a stack of receipts, and I just found a tiny check that I’ve not deposited for two months. The best way to deal with those sorts of issues is to become very organized.  When you find something that has slipped through the cracks, take a moment to devise a system that will keep that from happening again.  Organize your desk space and files, set up double checking systems in your spreadsheets, create checklists for repeated processes.  The check was some random refund on overpayment of insurance.  I was not expecting it, and it was for a total of 7 dollars, so it just fell through.  I now have a separate inbox for deposits.  Hopefully that will help.  

That reminds me.  Make sure you have a large inbox, and use it.  Everything goes into that box before you act on it.  That way, you’re less likely to discover an unpaid bill under your desk, or on the night stand at home.

Create your to-do lists each day.  If there is so much on your list that it scares you, take a post it note and write down the top 5 things you absolutely must do today, and check the longer list when those 5 are completed.  The stress and pressure of a huge list not only make you more likely to make mistakes, it can ruin your creativity and joy.  Remember, you actually like your job.  I think we’ve all seen that exercise where someone tries to put big rocks and pebbles into a jar.  The point is that if you start with all of the pebbles, the large stones won’t fit.  But if you place the large stones in the jar first, the small ones fill in around the gaps and everything fits nicely.  

Another thing that has helped me a lot is having most of my files electronically stored on Google Drive.  That way I have access to my information wherever I am.  Good Drive is great, but you have to be detailed enough to manage a lot of folders to keep from getting overwhelmed there too.  

Which brings me back to knowing and being honest with yourself.  Are you able to recognize when you are getting overwhelmed?  This needn’t be restricted to office work, it could expand to your creative work as well.  We all tend to retreat to certain patterns and activities that comfort us when we are stressed.  Do you know what those signals are in your own life?  Figure them out.  I know that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I spend a lot of time drawing pictures.  Of course, as an artist, that’s generally not a problem, but it can be when I have a deadline looming near.  Be kind to yourself, and learn to recognize when your body and mind are screaming at you to relax a bit.  Remember that there was no training program when we took on this office manager role.  We are not supposed to know everything, and we all have to learn the job as we are doing it.

Be sure to use the calendar on your phone to schedule important due dates, and reminders for things you often forget.  If you know your Sales Taxes are due every quarter on the 20th, book an ongoing reminder on your phone for a few days prior, so that you get a reminder in time to meet your deadline.  If you’ve already completed the task when the reminder comes, just pat yourself on the back and move forward.

My experience of office management is that it is largely reactive.  I spend my day reacting to emails, phone calls, coworkers and the like.  At the end of the day, I can have accomplished a huge number of tasks, and still not progressed much.  It goes back to those small pebbles I mentioned.  Schedule time to work on the strategic parts of the job as well.  Prioritize your workflow to allow yourself to look forward, not only to the crisis at hand.  Let’s imagine that you have a new project you want to launch.  There’s still plenty of time ahead of you, but spending a few minutes each day on planning can help prevent last minute stress.  We decided that we wanted to branch out into providing social media content on an aggressive schedule.  That meant we had to commit to the time and effort that would entail.  That also meant that we had to ensure that we had access to the platforms to make this content available.  Come to find out that my desktop computer was so old, it was incompatible with some of the newer applications.  That meant that we had to fork out a huge amount of money on a new computer for me before we could even attempt this new project.  So we had to dredge up the money for an unexpected upgrade in technology.  It worked out because we started planning early.  Be sure to schedule time to think about the big rocks in your business, and that you apply the project management tools needed to orchestrate which tasks must happen, and in what order, to achieve the success of the project.  Break things into small tasks, and be consistent.

When I lived in the woods, I would walk the fenceline of my property daily to make sure I knew what was going on.  Do the same thing in your business.  Walk around the building, are there any maintenance issues appearing?  If you have employees, check in with them daily just to see if they have the tools they need, or concerns that you can help with.  Check the storage room, the supply closet, the coffee maker.  Add any tasks to your list early in the day, so that you can prioritize what needs doing, and what can wait.  Then assess the impact those things will have on the budget, the calendar, supplies needed, and outsourcing required.  Finally, be realistic and honest about what you can and can’t do with your time, money, technology, and tools at hand.  

But most importantly, don’t ever lose the joy of it all.  Yes there’s a lot of work, yes it’s probably you who will have to do it all.  But never forget that you’re following your bliss here, and if you’re like me, you’ll walk through fire to keep your creative business thriving… and just so you know, you’re not in this alone.  There are loads of us out there who are willing and delighted to help.  

Have a great week, and I’ll see you next week.  

Season 3: Episode 14

John Bishop Fine Art's "Conversations for Freelance Creatives" is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. His work can be seen online, or at his studio at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, Studio 108, in Houston.

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