Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How big are you?

In the past few weeks I’ve been asked 3 times how many people I employ. It’s a funny question really, a bit like asking how many pens I have. I guess prospects want to know if I have sufficient ‘resources’ to service their business.

If I were running a mill in the eighteenth century, numbers of worker bees would matter. But the digital revolution has changed all that. Brain-power has replaced man-power.

Choosing a creative supplier has never been easy. One way of judging a company’s success was to count heads. The bigger the better. Right? Wrong.

Take a little company I know of. Last time I heard, it had 5 full time staff and no plans to expand that number. If you met the founder, Jimmy, at a party you might think that he was a slightly nerdy guy who did things to do with computers or the internet. You’d be right.

Jimmy Wales runs Wikipedia, with only 5 full time staff. That's right. Mighty Wikipedia runs on only 5 full time staff! Sure they have thousands of eager helpers. And that's just the point. A modern company can run very well with a few full timers supported by contractors as and when needed.

Wikipedia is probably the best example of the power of outsourcing. But there are many others.

When a friend wanted a full orchestral sound and real opera singers to launch a brand of pasta sauce, did he go hunting for a building that contained just such a group of talented individuals? Of course not.

I went to Raphael May, who has a staff of one (himself) and works from a home studio. Raf hired the best opera singers and classical musicians that Australia had to offer. My mate watched in awe as a small group of musicians laid down it’s tracks and left his studio to be replaced by the next group and the next layer of sound.

Soon they had an outstanding soundtrack that was the core of a very successful TV campaign and launch.

How many staff did Raff have? One. How many did he hire for the task? Twenty or so. Were they the best professional musicians available? You bet!

A third example is Omo detergent. I ran the creative advertising business for about 18 months. We produced 4 TV campaigns and 5 print campaigns. I was alone … but I wasn’t alone. I had a line up of professionals helping me every step of the way with this multi-million dollar account. My client got very effective work for a fraction of the cost.

So when it comes to creative suppliers, maybe the question should not be the quantity of staff we have, but the quality of contacts we have.

Jimmy has thousands of contributors filing entries in Wikipedia. Rafael knows Australia’s best mussos. And I have a little black book bulging with golden phone numbers.

We all create outstanding results ... even if Friday night staff drinks are a little quiet.


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