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Apr 29

Working with Creative People

Posted by: Steve Marr

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At times I need to use creative people. I have learned some helpful ways to manage them. First, I avoid putting them on salary if possible.  I prefer to pay by the job or project, even at a higher rate per hour than if they were on payroll. If they don’t work out, I don’t have to use them again.

Creative people do not like deadlines and hate business plans. They feel too confined. They want a steady salary that allows them to do their creative work month after month and year after year. An art studio like Disney has little choice; they need to put these people on salary. Most of us don’t.


At the beginning of a project I develop in my mind what I want, when I want it, and at what cost. I put this vision down on paper. If I am not clear, how can I expect anyone else to follow-through?  I meet with the person I have selected for the project, agree on a scope, budget and delivery time. Then, they start the work. A larger project may generate a draw as they complete benchmarks.  Smaller jobs may require a deposit with payment due at the end.

I have learned to follow up often to validate progress. Creative people don’t like to be pushed.  They tend to complain when pressed. Generally, they want to get paid doing what they like to do, when they want to do it.

An exception is marine artist Jim Cleary from Marine City, Michigan. I have known him for 40 years. He has an art gallery.  He comes in when he feels like it, paints what he wants when he wants to.  His original paintings now sell for $25,000 and up, and he sells his prints quickly. He is one of the few creative people who can do this. If you want him to do a commission work, he will do it when he gets to it. You will love the work, but don’t get impatient.

Other creative people need to be disciplined by withholding work or payment until the work is done. Scripture reminds us that “all the work on the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, was completed. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Exodus 39:32, NIV) The work required a lot of effort by different artisans while Moses managed multiple projects.

Learn what it takes to manage creative people.  Only strong management will get you the creative work you need, when you need it.

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