On the first hires
‘When I was working solo I went through a confused period where I was sharing a space with a number of other designers, and we tried to work as individuals while working as a collective. That way of doing things just didn’t do it for me – I was bringing in commercial work that some people just didn’t want to do, and also, the same time, I’m quite dominant in my design personality. Eventually I realised that I can just employ people – and right away there’s a transparency in that relationship. Once I discovered the value of that I hired my first full-time designer.’
On financial planning
‘I was mostly working as an illustrator, getting one or two very large payments every couple of months rather than regular clients. So although I didn’t budget for a hire, I knew I could afford it. I got my financials, accounts and all my paperwork in a really good place from the start. The work that Ollie, my first employee, was doing was not necessarily paying his salary – I used my freelance practice to pay for my design practice. We’d work on any job that came in. Even if it was a terrible budget, like £500 for a logo, we would do it just to learn and practice. We started experimenting.’
On the process
‘There’s been many times where I’ve not followed through on hiring because I haven’t found the right person. I think a lot of people feel under pressure to complete the job because you started it. So much of employing and hiring is about finding some talent and then bringing work in that they can work on – not necessarily finding someone to fill a hole. With creative roles, you don’t even know what someone’s potential is most of the time – I’ll find people have a huge range of skills I didn’t even know they had simply because they were never asked to use them in the past.’
On what’s important in a new hire
‘I’ve always trusted my instincts in terms of people. But when you’re in a small team, you want to hire people who you get along with. In hindsight, I’ve realised that trust and professionalism is incredibly important. And although you sit around the table with people, you can always find common ground with friendships. Trust is the key part of any employment interaction – do I essentially feel comfortable sharing my entire life, and the lives of my colleagues, with this person?’
On transitioning from creative to leader
‘I’m a good leader in the sense that I’ve always had the confidence to lead. But for the first five years I thought everything should be non-hierarchical – until my staff told me they wanted hierarchies. I’ve learned to completely remove assumption from the process and ask people what they want. I really enjoy running a team; it’s more challenging than any of the work that we do, which is formulaic in a sense. Managing people and resources is on another level.’
The Real Creative Leadership podcast features three episodes that specifically focus on how to scale a creative business.
Cap Watkins, ex-VP of Design at Buzzfeed, is now a leadership coach and organisational consultant, who has written enlightening blogs on transitioning from creative to leader over on medium.com/@cap.