Two types of creative help – which is right for you?

A few years ago, my family and I paid movers $23 an hour to move all of the furniture from our little starter house to our new place.

Last summer, we paid a stager $250 an hour (that’s not a typo) to move the exact same furniture around in our living and dining room. We also had him suggest some art, lamps, and rugs that would make our space better.

How is it that one person can literally be worth TEN TIMES more than another person when a big part of their job — hauling furniture around — looks identical?

Here’s how: When we hired movers, we were just looking to get our stuff from point A to point B without getting broken. The college guys who’d had a few hours’ training were perfect.

When we hired a stager, we worked with a guy who had styled homes for local and regional magazines for decades. He instantly knew what to do with our weirdly shaped spaces. We trusted that he could create the plan we needed and execute on it flawlessly.

We wanted the brainpower he brought to a hard problem that we hadn’t figured out how to solve ourselves.

And he did solve our problem! Every hour we spend in our house is better because of his work.

By now, you probably see the difference between the movers and the stager we hired. The movers were order-takers: we bought their time and brute strength, and they followed our directions to a T.

The stager was an expert: he took the big problem we had and used the decades of experience he’d gained in the field to solve it. The solution wasn’t something we could have come up with on our own. It was better.

Hire the right kind of help to get the results you want.

If you hire creative folks to help you with your work — writers, illustrators, photographers, designers — you’ll have a huge range of people to choose from.

You can hire an order-taker: a student worker who will shoot some headshots for $10 or $15 an hour. Or you can hire Annie Leibovitz for a cool $250,000 per day.

You can hire a writer on Upwork for a few bucks an hour. You could hire me or my team for a couple bucks a word. (Or if you’ve got a lot of extra money sloshing around in your budget, Michael Lewis reportedly works for $10 a word.)

So when do you need an order-taker and when do you need a expert? Here are a few guidelines.

Here’s what an order-taker can do.

In general, order-takers are folks who can execute on the strong vision you already have for a story or a project.

This guy can deliver.

The great news is that you don’t need to have sky-high budgets to hire them!

Here are a few examples of projects that you should easily be able to assign out successfully, even to less experienced writers and creatives:

  • You already know the exact angle, word count, and packaging you want — you just need someone who can execute on the roadmap you’ve already created.
  • You already have examples of what you want, and they can just follow the template that already exists.
  • Your project has a relatively limited size and scope, such as front-of-the book pieces, straightforward profiles, and some simple feature stories.

Do your best to meet as many of these criteria as possible to give your writer every possible opportunity to succeed. (And a note here: I’ve used the example of writing, but of course similar constraints apply for other creative projects, including photography, illustration, design, and video.)

Here’s what an expert can do.

An expert can do any of the things outlined above. But that’s not the best way to use them.

With an expert, you can simply bring them the problem or challenge you’re facing, and they’ll help you come up with a solution for it. They often bring many years of experience and knowledge to the table, and they can give you insights that they’ve gleaned from clients with similar challenges.

Who wouldn’t want Hermione in their corner?

Thanks to their time in the field and the many clients they’ve worked with over years, experts can also often “see around corners” to predict potential pitfalls or see valuable opportunities that you might not otherwise.

Consider paying a premium to hire an expert if you find yourself in any of these situations.

  • You don’t know exactly how to solve the challenge you’re facing. Maybe you’ve got a list of VIP alumni and donors your administrators would love to see you cover, but you’re not sure how to tell meaningful stories about folks whose primary trait seems to be their generosity to your institution. See how we did this for Purdue.
  • You’ve got a high-stakes project. There’s a reason that schools tend to outsource big pieces of their campaign marketing to experienced outside firms: millions (and maybe billions!) of dollars are on the line. It may have been many years since an institution has taken on a similar campaign, and they want the most up-to-date tactics. Getting guidance and support from folks who make their living this way is a smart way to mitigate risk.Your high-stakes project might be a series of donor profiles, a feature on a new president, or a project linked to a new school initiative. You may be smart enough to figure it out on your own! But sometimes, adding in an expert can give you the boost you need to move forward confidently.
  • You’ve got a complicated, new-to-you project. Folks are often happy to hire out for university magazine redesigns. It may have been a decade or more since the last one, there are tons of decisions to make! Similarly, you may want to hire out if a new publication lands in your lap, such as a quartlery newsletter attached to your campaign or a publication linked to a milestone anniversary.
  • You want someone to create the blueprint — and complete the project. Sometimes, you don’t have time to take on everything on your to-do list, but you also can’t afford to have anything on that to-do list fall to the back burner. In cases like these, hiring an expert to help map out the right course for a specific project, manage its execution, and keep you in the loop is essential. This is what we do for Capstone Pitch Subscription clients including the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation.

How to best work with experts

Experts want you to make the most of their knowledge and experience!

The right experts will be happy to talk you through their strategies and approaches, and you should feel totally comfortable asking them questions if you’re not sure about something. Often, they can suggest entirely new ways to use their work to expand its reach and impact. 

For example, while we focus on magazine stories, we frequently include copy and even illustrations for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts to make sure all your potential readers see a given story we’ve worked on, even if they haven’t yet looked past the class notes in your magazine.

Similarly, a good expert who encounters a roadblock won’t just come back to you and put the problem back in your court. They’ll suggest a couple of paths forward.

In short, experts will want to help you take whatever project you’re working on together straight to the moon. It makes you look good and it makes them look good.

Now I turn it over to you: Have you ever hired an order-taker when you needed an expert? Or an expert when you needed an order-taker? What was the project, and what did you learn? Send me an email.