For three years, hairdressers Alan Gaulin and Michael Fontana made good money, cutting and styling hair at the chic Pierre Michel salon in Manhattan's Trump Tower.
But about two years ago, they realized that no matter how fast they worked or how much they increased their prices, they had reached a professional and financial plateau. They knew it was time to open their own salon. They had a loyal clients and talent, but limited capital and no business experience.
When a spacious salon in midtown Manhattan became available, they knew they had to act. To raise the money to open Mike & Me, they mortgaged their homes. But before they signed a 15-year lease, they made sure Holli Schilling was willing to serve as their full-time business manager.
"We wouldn't have done it without her," admits Gaulin, who wooed Schilling away from the Pierre Michel salon. "If Michael and I had tried to do too much ourselves, we would have done it all halfway."
Too many creative entrepreneurs fail because they try to run the business and serve their clients at the same time. Movie stars and athletes traditionally turn all their business matters over to others, but too few entrepreneurs who sell their particular talents follow suit.
"So many creative people find it hard to delegate," Schilling said. "To make a business like ours work, you have to sit back and let the other guy do what he's really good at."
A hairdresser in a popular San Fernando Valley salon in California said he watches the owner juggle a full schedule of clients while trying to manage the business. "He keeps working with his clients while keeping the tradespeople waiting," the hairdresser
said. "It's not a very good way to run a business."
Michael Arthur, founder of a Santa Monica, Calif., business consulting firm bearing his name, said creative entrepreneurs need to work with "someone who understands the basics of business."
"Even if you have a great concept or are very creative, if your lease is wrong or your location is bad, you are heading for disaster," Arthur said.
Arthur believes that many creative entrepreneurs thwart their success by letting their ego get in the way of building the right business team.
"They don't realize that their business could go a lot further if they added the right infrastructure and people," Arthur said.
But a fear of hiring the wrong people often prevents creative entrepreneurs from bringing in the right kind of help. Arthur's solution: Hire someone on a interim basis and have an "engagement before the marriage."
Right now, there are so many talented people looking for work, many are willing to help you solve your business problems on a temporary or project-by-project basis.
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, Schilling oversees every business aspect of Mike & Me, from interviewing prospective staff members to keeping track of the payroll. Her responsibility for the business side of the salon frees Fontana to create new hair styles for fashion models and his other clients. An enthusiastic basketball fan, Fontana is also developing a "look" for the dancers of the New York Knicks professional basketball team.
Gaulin, too, concentrates on making his clients look good, but he also brainstorms a bit with Schilling to improve operations at the busy, spacious salon.
"My thing is organization," Schilling said. "I help things run smoothly. And we all respect each other for what we do best."