Sign of Success: More Overhead – Part 2 of the Overhead Monster

Adding Manpower

You can find part 1 of the Overhead Monster here.

I wish to thank all artists that have contributed to this chapter. You should talk to a successful ceramic business about hiring employees, then add your own experience. That approach makes a lot of sense. Your ceramic business, whether it is a small pottery or a busy teaching studio, is no different from any other business in this respect.

It is natural to resist hiring extra help. After all, it adds to the operating expenses of your business and many proud business owners believe that somehow quality will be sacrificed if a part of the operation is entrusted to an outsider.  But, after all free help from family members or others have been exhausted, there may be no choice but to go ahead. At this point, it is important to think that decision through and do it right.

When to hire help

The need sort of “creeps up on you” a studio owner told me. “You have been doing everything yourself for a long time, and you get used to doing things your way. And then, one day, you realize that there are not enough hours in the day to do everything as well as it should be done.”

At that moment you have a choice. You could stop growing and keep managing everything yourself, or you go ahead, bite the bullet, and employ a person or two to unload your work load. In most cases, you should choose the latter solution because, apart from easing your burden, you also need to:

  • take time off for vacation, sickness, training, shows and a variety of other things
  • concentrate on developing the business in the area you feel the most competent; for instance sculpting, deciding on new designs, decorating, teaching and so on, depending on which area of ceramics you are in.
  • and, perhaps most importantly, expand your customer base, or simply get new customers to fill the void after losing some. Customers are not for life, unfortunately, so advertising/marketing/ searching for new customers is a must to stay in business.

What will my new-hire do?

This is a very individual decision. Generally speaking, I find that the studio owner makes that decision based on his/her personal preference. What you, as the owner, like to do the best – and know what only you can do well (see above) – you should keep doing, but now with more focus and intensity. Other chores can be delegated to a new-hire. You keep overseeing your operation, controlling the finances and the purchases, and perform those main marketing and selling functions

The Golden Rule here, from a strictly economic viewpoint, is this: You employ people so that you can concentrate on the most important income-generating parts of your business. The result of adding an employee should be an increase in the profitability of your studio.

How do I do it?

First Step. In every society there are rules/laws for employing people – rules that deal with social issues, taxes and other governmental regulations and legislation. Those regulations vary from state to state and country to country. It would go too far here to try to cover the details. Suffice it to say that the first step is for you to get all the information from your accountant and then adhere to those rules. In most states you can also go on the web and search for information and answers to your questions (your FAQ).  I live in New York State and I would go to www.labor.ny.gov. Try to get hold of a government employee in person (sometimes not so easy) and have your questions written down when you get hold of him/her.

Second Step. The second step is to define the job. Take time off, make yourself a cup of coffee, find a tranquil corner and write down on a sheet of paper an approximate job description of what you have in mind. This job description will dictate what kind of person you will look for, and, after the person is hired, will serve to guide that person to perform and understand his/her job better. Always define the job in writing. See further below.

Third Step. You are about to make a very important decision. You are about to add to your overhead. So take your time, zero out your mind to neutral – just so that your feelings won’t interfere in the process of evaluating the candidate.

Start looking. Avoid the temptation to hire a friend or someone you know solely on the basis of friendship. The rule is to develop in your mind a profile of an individual that matches the profile of the job and then select the person with the best fit.

Here is a great tool to help you make the right decision. On a pad, you write one line each for four distinct traits you want the applicant to possess, in your judgment. You can now construct what is called the hiree profile. Give each trait a letter, such as – B for Background, E for Energetic, C for Compatible and P for Pleasant. You can change the words as you see fit – the idea is to list the four main traits you are looking for.

This is how you use it. Draw a straight line, write the four letters in a row an inch above it. Leave an inch or more of space in between each letter. The line represents average. Now, if you need a person with experience in your field, put a cross above the line. If none, then put the cross on the line. The distance from the line indicates the weight you give to that trait. You get the idea. After thinking through all four traits, draw a line between the crosses and you have the graph of the personality you are looking for.

Then, during or after the interview repeat this graph for the person you have just interviewed. If the profile of the interviewee matches the profile of your graph for your imagined ideal employee, you probably have a good fit between the person and the job.

Tips and Hints from people with experience

Discuss what you are attempting to do with other ceramicists. Always network when you can – it helps you and one day you will help them. Your “colleagues” will almost always come up with something you have not thought about, thereby not only helping you but maybe saving you from making a grave mistake. You never know.

One of the ceramic businesses I interviewed – a casting studio – had found that the best employee was someone who not only had experience in ceramics, but might even have experience in casting, if you are lucky. Such a person comes with lots of good “baggage” such as he/she might know the thickness of a casting and how to measure it, might know about firing and many other things that would come in handy in your studio.

If you have a teaching studio, the person might be able to help students when you are busy and provide the “right” help. He/she might be experienced – or would more easily learn – to check merchandise and price it. Also to take a phone call and give the right answer or – at least – know when to ask you for advice. And, when trained, what better person to manage the studio while you are away to attend a show?

Plus, of course, if such a person has the right profile, you may have a real winner.


It costs money and time to train someone.
You are making an investment in this person. You want this investment to throw off a yield both short and long term.

Hiring help is a very important step – one that you should approach carefully. And never lose track of the main idea – the person you hire should make your business more profitable.

It takes time to learn how to hire right – it’s a cross between knowing facts and get a feel for it. Well, swallow hard and start or keep learning.

How much should I pay?

The correct answer is: Adequately. The compensation depends on what you expect. The degree of responsibility you are willing to give the person and of course, the employees qualifications. Adequately means not too much (you can’t afford it) and not too little (in the long run you cannot afford that either because you simply will not get the performance you need).

The rule is to be generous. That way, you have a happier and more loyal employee: one that stays longer with you, is more eager to learn and generally, will add to that positive atmosphere in your studio, which is very important to you – and to the business.

A poorly compensated employee hurts your business and works against all your good intentions. And, the rule is, if you can hire, you can fire. If you have to fire, you are losing all the money it cost you to hire the individual, the money and time it took to train him/her and the emotional stress the employee has caused you. But there might be a plus for your business to sever relations with someone who is not carrying his/her weight.

You can have a low starting salary, to be adjusted after three months “apprenticeship”, giving you time to evaluate the person. Chances are the interviewee will accept and understand that, as it simply makes sense.

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© 2011 by Rolf E. Ericson, Oneonta, New York, publisher. All rights reserved. Photocopying, reproduction , copying, or redistribution of any kind in printed or electronic form is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.