Why You Can’t Succeed as a Creative Without a Team

As a creative—author, speaker, recording artist—you need a team. You can’t go it alone. The job is just too big. You may have to start small, but you have to enroll others to help you get to your destination.

A High Speed Train - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/hfng, Image #2294764

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/hfng

Several years ago, my friend Robert Smith, Andy Andrews’ manager, shared with me his concept of “The Train.” This represents all the people on your team who are helping you get your career down the track faster than you could do on your own.

For example, here are some of the teammates you may need to recruit as you build your platform.


Administrative help frees you to focus on what you do best: create. At some point, you may need to hire one or more of the following:

  • Assistant—Is it really a good use of your time to process email, make travel arrangements, and respond to meeting requests? This doesn’t have to be a full-time position. I hired a virtual assistant through Miles Advisory Group for 15 hours per week. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
  • Bookkeeper—Just because you can keep your own books doesn’t mean you should. Again, this is time away from creating. Also, like a virtual assistant, you can hire someone part-time. I have someone who does this a few hours a month. Like an assistant, it frees me up to do what only I can do.
  • Attorney—The more successful you become, the more you will need a good, reliable attorney. However, not all attorneys are created equal. You need one that specializes in intellectual property. You don’t want the burden of paying a real estate attorney, for example, to get an education in publishing or entertainment law.


“Management” is the term used to refer to the person or company who manages your overall career and helps develop your platform. There are basically two options:

  • Self Management—This is what almost all creatives do. They are, in essence, their own “general contractor.” They hire the subs and manage them. At some point, this starts diffusing your focus and eating into your creative time. But in the meantime, you must take responsibility for this. This is not the role of your literary agent, booking agent, or some other professional.
  • Personal Management—The most successful creatives hire a personal manager to oversee their career. The good news is that you typically pay a percentage of your income (or, better for you, gross profit), so the manager only makes more money if you make more money. The bad news is that it is difficult to find someone who has the necessary experience and is also competent and trustworthy.


Agents represent you to potential customers for your work. They are the linkage connecting you to the people you need to get the word out. In hiring an agent you need someone who will represent you well, since others will form their opinion of you based on their interactions with your agent(s).

  • Literary Agent–This is a must-have for authors. You generally can’t get in the publishing door without one. Why? Because traditional publishers use agents as filters to separate “the wheat from the chaff.” It also provides the clout you need in the contract negotiation process. Publishers aren’t “out to get you,” but they are naturally focused on their own interests. (I have a list of agents here.)
  • Booking Agent—This is also a must-have for speakers or other entertainers. A good booking agent can give you access to event planners that you wouldn’t have otherwise. He can generally get you a higher fee than you would on your own. (Most people aren’t good at negotiating for themselves.) He can also make sure your intellectual property rights are protected and that you have the production quality you need (e.g., sound, lights, etc.) to do your best.
  • Publicity Agent—regardless of whether you are an author, comedian, speaker, or some other kind of creative, you will likely need a publicist at some point. This is especially true when you are launching a new product. Unlike literary agents and booking agents, most publicists work on a fee basis rather than on a commission. However, you can usually hire them on a per-project basis.

Content Creation

  • Coaches—Wherever it is you want to go, someone has likely been there before. Some of these people have become skilled coaches as well. I have used them to help me get better in specific areas. For example, you might consider higher a writing coach, speech coach, or a voice coach. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it can be temporary. You might just need someone to get you to the next level.
  • Collaborators—these are people who help you get your content into marketable shape. This could be as simple as an editor but might include a ghost writer—or something in between. If you are producing audio or video, it might be a producer or video editor. The options are limitless. The point is that you don’t have to do it all yourself.


These are the individual or companies who help you get your product to market. The word publish means “to make known.” It might be a book publisher, a video distributor, or an online retailer. You might even do it yourself (e.g., self-publishing). Regardless, you have to consider publishers as part of your team.

To summarize, if you are serious about getting your work out, you need to begin building a support team. Why? Because a support team provides three benefits.

  1. It provides access to contacts you don’t have.
  2. It gives you leverage that maximizes your impact.
  3. It allows you to focus on what you do best.

You may have to start small (everyone does), but hopefully this will give you the big picture so you can build the team you need now to accomplish the results you want.

Question: Who did I miss? Who else should be part of the train? Who should be the next person you add? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Sherri

    I’m working on establishing a non-profit ministry which requires the development of a board of directors. One person we are going to need is an accountant/bookkeeper so that all financial transactions/records are accurate and appropriately maintained. We’re still looking for that person, and for the right lawyer to work with us. 

    It’s a huge relief to know that I don’t have to develop expertise in EVERY area to make this ministry a success. It really is a team effort. The biggest challenge is finding someone with the right skills who is also a good FIT with the rest of the team and shares our vision. So important!! 

  • http://modernservantleader.com/ Benjamin Lichtenwalner

    Family: I think this is step one and probably should go without saying. However, the first members of your creative team should almost always be your family. I only bring it up because you should make no mistake about it – they are being enlisted in your effort as well. This is especially true for those of us doing our creative work “on the side”. There is even less time available to the family. Furthermore, your spouse and family often become the first coaches, assistants, managers and so on.

    Another Tip on Virtual Assistants: The first support team member I recruited for my creative work was a virtual assistant. There are dozens of options out there and I encourage your readers to consider them all. However, mine came straight from eLance. It was quick, easy and very inexpensive. Feel free to contact me if you desire a recommendation.

    Which Order Do You Recommend? One follow up question, Mike: What do you believe is the best order for those starting out? I mentioned the virtual assistant was my first step. Now, I’m considering coaches and literary agents, but I’d be interested in your thought on what’s probably the biggest bang-for-the-buck.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great point on family, Ben. With regard to order, I think a virtual assistant would be my first move. After that, you probably need a literary agent or a booking agent—someone who can help you generate income, so you can pay for the others!

      • http://www.faithfulchoices.com Paula Whidden

        Michael, I’m familiar with a literary agent and what they do, but what is a booking agent?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Someone who books your speaking, concerts, etc.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I agree.  My wife is the numbber one person on my team.  I filter allmost everything I do through her first for her thoughts and ideas.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Benjamin, you’re right. Family should be one of the main members of your team. Without the support and knowledge they have, you could be in trouble.

  • Maxine Bigby Cunningham

    I would add coaches (e.g., a business coach, a book coach) and a mentor. This article was a good reminder to me that I do’t have to… well actually I can not… do it all myself.  I love your content rich blogs.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Maxine. Coaches have been a huge help to me.

      • http://www.faithfulchoices.com Paula Whidden

        didn’t you do a special deal with a coaching group for all your readers recently?  What’s that groups name and do you still offer the deall?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          The group is Building Champions. I don’t think I have offered a special deal with them. However, I highly recommend them.

  • http://toppup.com Russ Pond

    Good stuff, Michael. I run my own creative business, and I’ve been toying with the idea of a part time VA and bookkeeper. I think I need to overcome the fear of having someone else responsible for my financials.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The cool thing about a bookkeeper is they can do all the time-intensive work of entering bills, paying them, receiving income, invoicing, etc. You can then focus on the reports and ask the bigger questions about what it all means.

      • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

        Even if you hire a bookkeeper, though, you need to keep an eye on them.  I’ve heard horror stories of bookkeepers embezzling money from their employers.  This is probably a small percentage of bookkeepers, but you do need to review their work periodically.  After all, you are the person that will be held ultimately responsible for your money.

        Having said that, I agree with Michael… a bookkeeper can really free up your time as a business owner or creative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/caryn.rivadeneira Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira

    Great list. Thanks for this. I’d add “support group”–or simply “friends who understand.” While the writers group I co-founded–Redbud Writers Guild–is professional guild focused on helping one another develop as writers, I cannot ignore the benefit of simply hanging out with people who get the writing life. It’s essential that we creatives are around others who can not only help us take next steps and grow, but who speak our language, who understand our often crazy lives.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      A support group is huge. I should have included it!

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      Agreed!  I have a group of a few close friends that I keep close at all times!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Good addition Caryn. Having friends that know what you’re going through can be a big help. I know when I attempted self-employment, my friends did not understand and it made my attempt harder.

  • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

    Scrub ‘as a creative’ – the title could just have easily been ‘Why you can’t succeed without a team’. That’s because we’re all creatives in one form or another. We’re hard wired as human beings to create more value.

    I would add mentors, and ‘internal’ coaches. By that, I mean coaches who’s job it is to help you become the best and most authentic you – to help you connect with and express your unique and highest value/contribution – that’s internal work.

    Many people already have that internal clarity and focus which gives them a certainty about where they are going and why it is important – but without that, all other things are less effective..

    The clearer we become about what we are here to do – the clearer we become about what we’re not here to do – and those areas that we’re not here to do, are the ones which our team provides the best support in..

    Thanks for another great thought-provoking post Michael – I’m looking forward to the next six weeks!

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Paul, I agree.  Having a team around you is an important part of being successful in whatever area you are, not just being a creative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/diana.harkness Diana Harkness

    Thanks for the advice, but you make it sound like a lost cause if you don’t have much money or time.  In my own small IT business, I am the bookkeeper, Quickbooks is my accountant; I am the marketer:  website designer, blogger, media selector, copy editor.  When I write, I don’t have a budget to hire all these positions, nor the time to do it myself.  So my time budget is spent writing and proofing and my agent will need to handle the remainder: contracts, negotiations, publicity.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Diana. I handle all of those rolls too, as an independent author. No help here due to cost. I’m a stay-at-home mom to three small ones (4,2 & 8 months), have self-published three books and am a freelance columnist. I am hoping for some kind of help soon so I can just focus on my work. It’s not easy when you’re on a budget. :-/

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Part of growing your business can be hiring some of these types of people to help you do the things that are time-consuming for you.  If you run an IT business, perhaps if you hired a bookkeeper to do your books, you could spend more time doing IT calls, or getting more clients.  Or, if you contracted an independent salesperson to do sales calls for you, you could focus more on delivering the IT products or services (especially if you’re in the IT services business).

    • Joe Lalonde

      Diana, it’s not a lost cause. These are not things that you add all at once. As your business grows, add one of these at a time. Before you know it, you’ll have a great team helping push your business along!

  • http://twitter.com/NathanRouse Nathan Rouse

    Question: Could you post a bit further on how executives can more effectively use their administrative assistants? Thank you for consistantly sharing great content Michael.

    Nathan Rouse

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Great resource, Michael. I’m realizing if I want to move to the next level, I need to get the assistance of others. The real problem is finding helpful and competent people that are looking out for my best interests, not theirs. This is tough. I’ve been burnt before and I also have a thrifty (cheap) side that keeps saying I can do it myself and save money.

    One thing I learned going through the ProSpeak program with NSA, is the importance of a mastermind group. When you get like minded creatives together, all sorts of ideas and resources come to light. The secret is finding a group with compatible schedules that live in the local area (or go online).

    It’s also good to have a good financial counselor/tax planner to help you plan out the financial side of your business. This is especially true if you come from the world of salaries and health care, to one of entrepreneur and expenses.

    One of the best places to find good people is a local business group or Toastmasters club. With Toastmasters new focus on leadership, it seems like many clubs are drawing in local professionals from many different backgrounds. I’ve met a great number of people lately that have skills that will complement mine. It might be a great place to start the outsource process.

  • AnneGale Nester

    I would add an accountablity partner.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman


  • Anonymous


    …looking forward to meeting you at the DCW next month in Vail/Beaver Creek

    …(pardon the intentional overuse of the word “creative” in the next thought…a bit weird to do this with a good man like yourself, whose very life, in part, concerns words)

    …most often overlooked is a creative life mentor who creatively guides/encourages a person into looking at life and living out their life, creatively, in all 8 dimensions of life…as they creatively grow into and through the three 3rds of their life.  (OK…MUCH editing necessary…but first thoughts are being thrown down here…early on this morning where I’m visiting for the weekend with our daughter in Austin)

    …you are dead on!  This cannot be done alone.  To do it alone is not even close to creative.  :-)

    …helping men and women creatively live into our God’s unique design for their very lives…as you, too, know, what a sacred honor and privilege…when they grasp and live into that, the freedom to be fully alive, even in hard circumstances, releases them…and it is wonderful to behold.

    …thank you for these missives…one of several posts I read daily…very encouraging to my own journey as I’m fast chasing 70yo…and am sometimes wishing I was only half way done with my life…but………..

    …I’ll creatively make the most of the time left.  :-)  I’m asking for at least 9399 more days (God bless the Big Day app to help me figure that out) having lived 25300 today…that’s how many days are left until I reach 95.  :-)

  • http://daddybydefault.com Daddy by Default

    Another great post.  There are so many “do it yourself” books for industries where doing it yourself is rarely possible. For instance, writing for hollywood. As a literary agent for film and tv I saw a few newcomers break onto the scene, but 99.9% of the people who you could call working professionals found that work through agents and managers.  Even those writers whose previous working relationships helped to grease the wheels, there was always a push needed to get them over the hump.  There were a few writers I worked with who also had publicists (which was usually reserved for the acting talent).  They did amazingly well and always well regarded.

  • Jackie

    Add PRAYER TEAM to your list :) I could not have written the books I’ve written without a strong, supportive prayer team.

    Jackie M. Johnson
    “Power Prayers for Women”
    “When Love Ends”

  • Anonymous

    Prayer Team. 

    I know it will happen in time for me, but I am praying for all of the above that you mentioned are important. I really need an assistant. Thanks for sharing where you found your virtual assistant. I will have to check that out. One of my goals this year is to land a literary agent. It’s September and I’m still hopeful.

    Thanks for being such a great resource.

  • http://www.peaceforthejourney.com elaine @ peace for the journey

    Someone to pray for me… several someones.


  • http://www.facebook.com/ohhushmusic Oh, Hush!

    I’m a songwriter/producer and have a manager, publisher and other people on my team. Though I come from a business background and always find myself putting my nose into the business side of things. Part of me says I need to let that go so I can focus on what only *I* can do (as you mentioned). But I’ve also been in situations where I’ve successfully made something happen playing the role of publisher or manager, something that neither of my team members did. 

    I totally agree with the importance of surrounding yourself with a great team to accelerate the train down the track! But I also think that no one cares more about my career than me and it’s important to still have some level of involvement in the areas that get delegated out.

  • http://virtualassistantintl.wordpress.com/ Via Madison

    Accomplishment will be at minimum if we work alone. Tasks can be delegated by hiring people to help us finish bigger tasks. More work is done and more income follows.

  • http://www.faithfulchoices.com Paula Whidden

    Michael thank you so much for making this list.  I’ve been aware of the need to have a team, but that doesn’t mean I know what kind of team or what they can or should do.  This is a fabulous tool to wrap my brain around.  Now, I’m going to have to sit and pray over these areas and see if this is for the future or the present.  Thanks again.

  • Josh

    I think the other part of a team that sometimes gets overlooked are the people that are a part of your team that you may never mean such as the people who write business books that help you to understand marketing or who write photography books who help you to become a better photographer.
    Even those people who are a solo creative have people as a part of there team to do the behind the scenes work.
    Thanks for this post, Michael, this helps with where I am right now.

  • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

    This post is for those who have hit, or are about to hit the big time.   I think sometimes newbies read a post like this and put the cart before the horse.  Realistically many can’t afford a team. In that case, the best “team” you can have are some of the great ideas listed in the comments, a prayer team, critique group, supportive friend or accountability partner.  These folks will be there to help you for free, until your ship comes in. And will hopefully still love you and care for you even if it doesn’t.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is why I made the point that you have to start small. I find it helpful to see the whole context and then build toward that.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      My brother-in-law runs a one-man shop, and he hired a virtual assistant to do some of the prep-work that the really didn’t like doing–finding prospective clients to call.  He found that hiring a VA to help him do some of those things helped him to drastically increase his sales volume.

      Sometimes, you can’t afford a team.  Other times, hiring a team will pay for itself (over and over and over again).

    • Joe Lalonde

      Good point Kelly. Reading a post like this can be overwhelming to someone small and just starting out. However, it’s all about taking the baby steps. As your business gains steam, add a VA… Then maybe a bookkeeper or an accountant. Slowly but surely you can build an awesome team.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    What if you don’t quite have a train going yet? In fact, you’re still trying to find the track and hoping to find a handcar available. My current team consists of my in-house editor (and she happens to be darn good) and my agent. I know this fits under the “dream big” category but I look at your list and think “dream on.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You have to start small and add to it as your success permits. You can’t get the cart ahead of the horse. (I think I just missed my metaphors!)

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        And you might have mixed them too (although I don’t see it). :-)

    • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

      I said basically the same thing, TNeal.    To grow too fast by hiring all this help just adds debt.  My husband is a small business owner (about 100 employees), and you have to justify the positions to make sure they can pay for themselves.

      At the same time, for a $90 a hour position to be doing a $15 hour job is counter productive if it is taking time away from their $90 hour productivity.  

      It’s all accounting.  Hey – maybe the accountant should be the first position to be hired.  ;-)

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        You use money figures, apples ($90/hour) to smaller apples ($15/hour), here and your example is within the context of business, but in any endeavor we always have to measure the cost in terms of where we are and where we want to be. I use the analogy for my own life that I’m like a kite but my wife helps keep me connected with reality by holding the string (not pulling the strings, just holding the string). She would be the cautious accountant and I’d be the risk-taking creative. We do make a team, better together than apart, which agrees with Michael’s original premise of needing a team.

        Kelly, I would add, “Wow!” A hundred employees may seem small to you but that’s phenomenal to me. May your tribe increase.–Tom

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    I know that I’ve said this before, but this is the exact reason why I think traditional publishers will be around for a long time to come… they offer things that creatives don’t know how to do, or are unwilling to do.  As in any industry, you will have some that will go out of business, and other startups that will replace them, but the publisher is an essential part of a creative’s team.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree.

  • http://www.hope101.net Lori Boruff, Hope101.net

    Great list –  I totally get this. Seems like I’ve spent sooooo much time learning how to build a website, write a business plan and everything else to start from ground floor that writing content for the radio show has suffered.  BUT, it seems like it takes money to make money. Is that true?       I would add PRAYER TEAM…that is the one thing I do have.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it is true. That’s why you have to start small. Make the investment, as you can afford it. But don’t let your expenses outstrip your income.

  • Bill Simmons

    I found this timely and was challenged to rethink my approach as I develop my organization. Any suggestion on how to secure a personal manager?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s the toughest one. I would check with other creatives you know. If you live in Nashville, New York, or Los Angeles, you could Google it. There is a higher concentration of personal managers in those cities.

  • Jeff Johnson

    I might add some sort of LifeCoach, or whatever you want to call them… the person who takes a look at You, and then at this List and helps you figure out 1) Where you are now and 2) What your next step should be.  At least that is what I find myself needing as I read over this list.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good point. I was kind of thinking it should go under Coaches, but perhaps it should be broken out separately.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    I think a prayer partner and/or an accountability partner should be included.  But I see a lot of other people have already mentioned it…

  • Colleen Coble

    Great post, Mike! For a fiction author this team can also include other authors. I have a group of friends who brainstorm and provide all kinds of emotional support when I need it. And let’s not forget the spouses! Oh my goodness, I would be nowhere with my Dave. He has been a vital part of my team. He’s part assistant/part chauffeur/part publicity man. :) 

    You just touched on the publisher’s support. A good publishing team is magic. :) I shudder to think what I’d have to do without my team. From great editing to leadership to marketing/sales and cover design, they are really the engine that drives most everything for me.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Colleen. Really great input.

  • http://twitter.com/jerburroughs Jeremy Burroughs

    As a creative, I totally agree with you Michael. I appreciate this post and take it to heart. I need to surround myself with an incredible team in order to be successful. 

  • Joe Lalonde

    Interesting to read through and see all the different kinds of people that make up the team of a successful person. So many behind the scenes people that you never see!

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  • http://www.wonderyearsof2.blogspot.com jmeb

    The only person I see missing is someone to work on your website creation and upkeep.  This might include media marketing. I’m not sure if someone already on your list would cover those things, though.

  • http://www.wonderyearsof2.blogspot.com jmeb

    One more thing… I see a lot of comments regarding the affordability of hiring people.  An option I have pursued is utilizing the gifts and abilities of my close friends and family, and then agreeing to “trade” or barter services. For example, I ran a photography business for 6 years.  My writing coach and my marketing guy both give me free services in exchange for photo shoots. Sounds funny, but it works!  I have found that friends and family want to help, and are willing if we don’t just expect it to be for “free.”  See what else you might be able to offer them.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yep, I have done the same thing. Great suggestion.

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