Do-It-Yourself or Hire: When Should Artists Bring in the Pros?
It’s not unusual for an artist to take on a lot of roles in the creative process. You can be a multi-hyphenate director/choreographer/performer, a writer/editor, a producer/host, and much more. In addition to wearing multiple creative hats, artists are often your own project manager, grant writer, fundraiser, PR person, finance department, and social media manager.
We believe at Fractured Atlas that you have the capacity to do this work yourself. We believe that if you have the right tools, the right mindset, and some best practices, you can do amazing things on your own. But we also know that sometimes it’s best to bring in the professionals. Hiring an expert to be a part of your team can take some tasks off your plate and can add someone else’s expertise and vision to your project.
Artists bring in professionals to help with the process when hiring producers, videographers, grant writers, studio assistants, and plenty of other positions. But it can be hard to know if it’s worth it to pay for outside assistance or when you would be better off learning how to do something new and managing it yourself.
We’re covering the pros and cons of DIY as well as the benefits and pitfalls of bringing in a professional to help you bring your work to life.
Benefits of Doing It Yourself
When debating whether to go DIY or hire outside help, one of the biggest factors is undoubtedly financial. If you go DIY, you will save on whatever the rate that an outside professional would charge. For artists who are working on a tight budget, bringing in a professional for anything that you could reasonably do yourself might be too much of a financial stretch.
If, for example, you take the time to learn how to be your own PR person, you can spend what you saved on a PR professional on paying your performers more, booking a bigger venue, or simply avoid dipping too far into your own personal savings account.
Another benefit of going the do-it-yourself route is that you can learn new skills. If you are forced to become your own art handler, social media manager, or whatever it is, you will build your own skill set and list of competencies. Sure, you could probably learn these things without the pressure, but having a specific deadline and a vision will absolutely encourage you to pick up that new skill in a more dedicated way. While the first few times you do something new might be rocky, eventually with practice you’ll feel more confident and be able to add it to your repertoire that you bring to your art practice.
Finally, DIY lets you have more control over the process and over the vision. When you bring in outside help, you have to make sure that whoever it is that you’re bringing in is a good fit for what you want to do and how you want to work. In most cases, you’ll have to tell an outside professional exactly what your goal is and how you want to get there. You might run into challenges bringing people on board to execute your vision if those people don’t seem to get what it is you’re doing or if they want to provide more input that you are looking for from them.
If you have a very particular vision and a very particular way of working, it might be best for you to go it alone. Collaborating is always a challenge, and if you would rather control all aspects of your work yourself, honor that!
Challenges of DIY
Doing it all yourself can be tough, though.
Wrangling all sides of a creative project can be a serious drain on your time. It takes a lot of time to do your own email marketing, social media outreach, photoshoots and editing, in addition to the creative work. There are only so many hours in a day and if you have to do it all yourself you might find yourself burnt out and exhausted.
Your time is valuable. Without the space to rest and slow down, you might not have the energy for the long haul or the freedom to think proactively and creatively. If you’re strapped for time, you might start making decisions in a reactive way, based on whatever feels the most pressing or solves the most obvious problem the quickest.
If you decide to go DIY instead of hiring a professional, you might have a harder time getting successful results from your efforts. If you elect to design and fabricate (or purchase) all of the costumes for your play instead of hiring a costumer, you might end up with less successful costuming than if you had gone with a pro. If you hire a professional, you’ll get someone who likely knows the field better than you do and has more experience executing what you need done.
Everything in the creative field has a learning curve associated and if you do it all yourself, you’ll be learning new skills in real time. This might mean that you make a rookie PR mistake in pitch about your debut musical whereas a PR professional might have made that mistake years ago and in a less impactful way.
Further, it can be frustrating to take on responsibilities and tasks that you just don’t want to do. If you decide to handle all aspects of bringing your creative vision to fruition, you could find yourself annoyed at your project. If you truly can’t stand keeping track of receipts, managing invoices, or wrangling together a big team and making sure that everyone has the right props and costumes, doing it all yourself is probably not the best plan. It’s bad for you personally to slog through things you hate in the name of something that’s supposed to be enjoyable. And it’s not great for the final product. We don’t want artists to get so fed up with doing some aspects of your project that you end up shelving the whole thing!
Benefits of Hiring a Professional
If you decide that it’s time to bring in the pros, there are a number of upsides.
A major benefit is time. If someone can work off your plate that you don’t want to do, you now have more time to devote to the work that you actually want to be doing. If you bring in a producer for your play, you can spend more of your time directing it and tweaking the script. You can pay someone to do the things you don’t want to do so you can spend more time doing the things you do want to do. It sounds simple, but it’s worth saying explicitly!
Paying a professional can give you peace of mind, knowing that you’ve got an expert in whatever it is that you’re paying them to do. Instead of waking up in the middle of the night wondering if you’ve set your kiln to the right temperature, you can rest easier by hiring a kiln technician. Your pitch emails will likely stand a better chance of standing out in a crowded inbox with a trained PR professional writing them and your social media will probably reach a wider audience and foster better engagement if you’ve got a pro managing the accounts.
Bringing in more people to your team can help you distribute responsibility and stress. It can mean that you’re not carrying it all on your shoulders alone. In addition to the practical benefits of sharing responsibility more broadly, it can help you feel less alone. We know that artists can sometimes feel overwhelmed by your vision and all the work that’s needed to bring it to life. Working with a team can help you feel like the project is more manageable.
A professional opinion can also provide a fresh set of eyes on your work and your community. If you like, you can ask whoever it is that you hire what they think about your work. If you’re hiring someone to assist with the creative capacity, you can ask them as a collaborator and fellow artist. If you’re hiring someone in a more administrative capacity, you might ask them to be a test audience for your work. While you can certainly benefit from a fresh set of eyes, be mindful about boundaries! You don’t want to hire someone for one specific task and then force them to be your full-time collaborator if that’s not what they signed up for or what you’re compensating them for.
Challenges of Hiring a Professional
Hiring a professional to help you with your creative work has some drawbacks to be aware of as well.
In the same way that one of the biggest benefits to hiring a pro is that it saves you time, the most obvious challenge is that it costs money. You don’t want to underpay people or avoid paying people what they are worth (and definitely should never offer someone work in exchange for “exposure”). Nevertheless, artists are often working on tight budgets. Hiring outside help can be expensive, especially if you don’t have a lot of money to spare. You might need to receive grants or set a larger crowdfunding campaign goal if you have to budget in outside help. Or you might have to dig deeper into your own savings account.
It’s also challenging to find the right person to do the work. Hiring a team and getting them up to speed is a whole job in organizations and companies. If you do decide to bring in help, you should factor in the time and energy it takes to find the right fit for your project. The right person will be within your budget, have the skills you need, and the time to devote to your project.
But perhaps most importantly, they’ll have to “get” your work. If someone doesn’t understand what it is that you’re going for or what is important about your project, they won't be successful as they help you execute that project. If you’re hiring a creative partner, you’ll need to be aligned about your vision. If you’re hiring someone to assist with marketing and promotion, they’ll need to be able to explain your work and advocate for it to outsiders.
Plus, of course, you need to be able to work together well! People have different working styles and different communication styles. Successful partnerships require that you as an artist have self-awareness about how you work. It also requires open conversations with whoever it is you’re hiring. Some people prefer explicit instructions and others prefer a more vague set of needs and wants. People like to receive feedback in different ways and communicate in different channels. A successful partnership will be one in which you have complementary working styles.
It’s also worth noting that bringing someone in to help you execute your vision adds management to your workload. You’ll need to be on top of giving your team the tools they need to do their jobs, communicating with them enough to work successfully, and managing the paperwork of having a team, including prompt payments.
Money is Valuable, But so is Time
We’ve seen artists doing everything themselves because they wonder why you would pay for something that you can do for free. But even if there isn’t a financial cost, your time and energy are valuable resources. Just because something is free, it doesn’t mean that there’s no cost. The risks of taking on too much without bringing in outside help are burnout, lower success rates at what you’re trying to do, and frustration when you are stuck doing work you don’t want to be doing.
When deciding if and when to bring in a team or a professional to pinch hit, you need to determine what is going to set you up to have the best project possible and the best possible relationship to it. You want to figure out a way to set your best foot forward, learn the new skills you want to learn, see your vision come to life in the way that you want it to, and all without burning out or resenting the work.
If you do decide to bring in outside help, we’ve shared some best practices for staffing an artistic project.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.