After reading your helpful column on attending trade shows, I am considering attending High Point for the first time this spring after eight years running my own business. My small firm is currently quite busy, but I see the value in taking a long weekend to attend. My question is whether to also pay for my assistant to attend, including her airfare and hotel. She works 12 hours per week, but she is valuable to my business and we will increase her hours in the fall if business continues to grow. I do not have extra resources at the moment but will try to make this work anyway. My assistant is actually in a better position financially than I am (her husband has some success). What do you think?
Potential Plus One
Dear Potential Plus One,
I have written before about how to make a trade show like High Point Market an active and entrepreneurial experience for staff members of all levels. However, in your case, I do not think you should take your assistant.
First, you have never been to High Point yourself and need to be able to absorb all that will be on offer on your own terms and in your own time. You simply cannot be responsible for your assistant’s experience. Having her as your shadow during this process is not a worthwhile endeavor.
Next, and far more important, is that this investment is entirely premature. Yes, she is your employee, but in name and W-2 only. You note that your business cannot currently afford to take her with you, and that you only expect to grow her role if the business grows to support her increased hours. While I am all for education, in this instance, I have to ask: To what end? It is not as if she is going to bring in more revenue, and the work you currently have does not warrant paying her half-time, let alone full-time. Nothing she will learn at High Point will change these facts. High Point is not going anywhere, and when the time is right—when she is full-time, and the business can fully support her going—she should go with you. Until then, give yourself permission to experience High Point as you will and let it be enough.
Now I am going to turn to larger questions that you are not asking, but ones that are implicit in your request for advice. I simply cannot square these three statements: “My business is currently quite busy,” “I do not have extra resources [right now],” and “My assistant is in a better position financially than I.” Clearly, being busy is not translating to appropriate revenue for your firm, and you are convincing yourself that your assistant is doing you a favor since she does not need the money you are paying her.
I am so happy that you are choosing to attend High Point, and to invest in yourself to see and learn what it will take to break you from your thoughts. After eight years, and especially after the past three years, you need to aim higher than mere survival and seek out structure that will enable you to build your business to allow you to live as you wish. Remember, your business exists to serve you, not the other way around. Eking out a living is the antithesis of a creative business and serves no one, least of all you.
Let High Point teach you what it means to dig deeper holes, to discover a way of doing business that is anything but a la carte. You are not a delicatessen. From there, you will create the value that will require you to be properly paid so that you can take on the next project with integrity, and each one after that. Then you will actually have the business you were always meant to have. Subsistence is not a business, and the joy of your gift is not in fact to give it to clients—it is for clients to seek to give it to themselves.
Save your and your business’s money for yourself for now, as it is you who most needs what High Point can offer. Your assistant will more than reap the rewards when you do.
Homepage image: ©iana_kolesnikova/Adobe Stock
Sean Low is the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.