It’s not the same for everyone, but there is a pattern we see in the birth of new creative agencies. First comes the idea, where one brave soul or a group of friends laments their circumstances and decides to do something bold, daring and scary. No more steady, but no more boring. Maybe benefits aren’t there, but they’re doing what they love. It’s like watching them take their first fledgling steps.

First, they get the best consumer system available, meaning the kind of thing one might get for their home computer, but with expanded memory and any other off-the-shelf upgrades they can get. It’s slow for some things, but it works, and they aren’t asking it to work with 40 users. The work is such that they work within the limits, not because they are limited but because that’s what they need.

Generally, it’s a push-pull environment, and not so much shared as it is passed like a baton. At that point, it makes sense to invest in a handful of external drives to hold each project so they can be literally passed around.

That works for a while, but it only takes once.

Almost as a rite of passage, there is a time, or a near-miss, when an entire project is at risk of disappearing. The one and only drive is missing or won’t mount, and all of a sudden the half-open eyes of a Tuesday morning become big-as-saucers panic-orbs that may never sleep again.

Up to this point, things have been very casual, and the team communicates informally, so when this happens it’s a big problem that can start major waves. Temper tantrums have been had. In the end, an official process is created, and that process involves some kind of back-up drive.

Now things run smoothly for a while, and everyone is glad that the new process is working. No more lost work.

Then someone opens the wrong version of a file and starts to edit it. It takes a little while to realize it, but somewhere along the way someone’s work was written over. It all depends on when it is caught as to who has to do their part over again, but that person isn’t happy regardless.

Once there are a number of projects and teammates in play, it’s time to step it up to an official shared storage system. Like the first step into adulthood. It starts out small, but scalable, and from there is a matter of fine tuning and maturing as you go.

Unlike humans, who can’t stop growing even if they want to, not all agencies grow up. Some stay very happy in the early stages of a small team, and they work together to avoid the common issues of mistreated or misplaced drives. Others grow so fast they seem to skip steps along the way.

Wherever you are in the growth chart, and wherever you plan to be down the road, your content is important and you need to be able to access and protect it in a way that works with your workflow and budget. Most growth-spurts come with growing pains—the accidents that finally lead to the decision to upgrade—but they don’t have to. Don’t wait until there’s a problem.

When you notice your team is outgrowing their sneakers, it’s time. If you wait until you wear through the sole, you’ll end up with wet feet and you’ll never know where those feet would have taken you. So pay attention to the needs of your team, because they grow up so fast.