When Do Companies Stop Being Creative?

9 creativity killers for small business owners. Failure of creativity follows shifts in the attitudes of the owner and other key people

(From my response on joyofhumancapital.com.)

A. As I look around at the small business owners I’ve worked with (including myself) here’s what I see:

1. Creativity comes in all kinds and sizes of business, and so does failure of creativity.

2. Failure of creativity follows shifts in the attitudes of the owner and other key people

CREATIVITY KILLERS FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS

• Owners get dragged out of creativity by the demands of running the business day to day. This has a lot to do with your own management style. “ I can’t find good people that I can trust.” “I got into this business to do what I love; now I spend all my time as a damn manager.” Thus you are continually pulled back down into lower-level tasks, and can’t focus on creativity, vision, strategy.

• Lack of support. Nobody is pushing you to take the creative leap, nor problem solving how to overcome the hurdles. No-one following behind, handling the details, executing the vision.

• Lack of systems; seat-of-pants management. Thus your “franticness quotient” increases exponentially with growth.

• Ill-fitting systems. E.g., accounting or project management or sales tracking systems that don’t give needed performance information to the owner.

• Constraining systems. Too much “by the book” or “bean counter mentality.” Of course the owner has put these into place, but then starts believing in them.

• Failure of vision. A creative owner gets beaten down, burned out. You have one good idea, but stick with it long after the window of opportunity has slammed shut. Or you fear taking the needed next step. “Tried that, got beaten down, it didn’t work, now I’m gun shy.”

• You get out of touch. You drift into an eddy out of the current of new ideas and technologies. This can be related to age, but there are many creative codgers out there.

• You get too comfortable. The balance between work and life tips toward Maui.

• Physical/mental impairment. Alas, this eventually catches up with us. If you’re smart, you’ll go out at the top, handing the creative reins over to the young whippersnapper you’ve groomed—and whose ideas you probably hate.

What’s the answer? First, see if you spot yourself in the above list, and own up to it. Then you can tackle the problem.
— My book can help you tackle this challenge: How to Grow Your Business without Driving Yourself Crazy.
— If you were a member of one of our business owner groups, this would be a perfect challenge to bring up to your group of peers. This is valuable because it’s often hard for us to see and acknowledge our part in this process.

— Call or email me. I’d be glad to talk with you a bit about this at no charge.

Who Is the Carrier of Your Company’s Culture?

Q. If I have a virtual company, how can I have the kind of company culture I want?
(question on LinkedIn)

A. Who is the carrier of your company’s culture? You, of course, plus the people who work for your company. (And to an extent, customers and others who influence it with their expectations.)

The less continuity in your workforce, the harder it is to sustain a desired culture. If it’s just you plus a bunch of subs and virtual assistants, there will be a culture, but it may not be the one you want. You’ll have to work harder to maintain a culture of shared mission and commitment and productivity among people who work with you only some of the time and have little invested in your success.

I have many small business clients that have key players who work remotely, even on different continents. The owners sustain the desired culture among the far-flung folks by:
— Paying attention to it. Knowing what culture they want and continually pulling people and operations toward that.
— Selecting the right people. It takes a special person to be able to support your desired mode of interaction when they are half a world away
— Having regular face-to-face team interaction. This usually means getting people together for special events, but video conferencing can work also—at least for some of the interactions. And cost decreases make this increasingly feasible for even small companies.
— Rewarding those who act in congruence with the desired culture, and eliminating those who won’t.

Even a tight-knit group working physically together will pull against you, and test the limits of the cultural norms. This is even more prevalent with remote team members. You as owner are the ultimate keeper and enforcer of the culture.

I have a downloadable piece titled “Build a Culture of Growth” that goes into this more.

Or call or email me with your challenge. I’ll be glad to talk with you – at no charge.

mvh

Women vs. Men Business Owners

I found that men business owners worked much longer hours than women owners, not because they had to, but because they thought it was required

Q: How are women business owners and execs different from their male counterparts? What do they do right? What mistakes do they make? Lee B.

A: Two observations from my many years of working with men and women small business owners:

1. The similarities are much greater than the differences. Some of the claimed differences I hear about aren’t true in my experience.

2. But here’s one difference: In general, women owners are more intent on preserving their balance between work and the rest of life. A while back, I surveyed a number of our Business Group members during meetings. I asked, “How many hours a week do you work?” The men complained/bragged about the number of hours they put in: 50, 65, 80, more! One guy said, “I have to wear a nametag so my kids will recognize me.”

Then it was the women’s turn: “I work 35 hours, then I go ride my horse.” “I’ve set it up so I never work Fridays.” “I want to be an absentee owner. If my GM can’t handle things, he’s fired.” “I want to spend as much time running my non-profit as I do my business.”

The women ran equally large and profitable companies — ranging from 5 to 50 employees. And they weren’t brilliant managers. It’s just that they insisted on maintaining their work/life boundary and ran their business to maintain it. The men looked at working long hours as a badge of honor.

I must say, this exercise had a huge impact on the men. They started changing their attitudes about this. And it has paid off: the guy who made the “nametag” comment is now finishing a four-month sabbatical from his business, during which his Operations Manager handled things just fine.

Lessons:

1. The difference in hours worked was entirely due to the attitudes and beliefs one held.

2. People could change when confronted with the possibility of doing things differently.

******

Want to reduce the hours you work without hurting your business performance? I get into this more in two of my e-books:

— Recapture Your Time

— The Inner Game of Growth

How Much Time for Admin?

If an admin asst. frees you up a few hours a week, you can use that time to build your revenue much more than your admin costs you.

Q: From Matthew on LinkedIn. “How much time does a “single shingle” professional spend on admin?”

A: One person suggested 30% of time for admin. If this is on target, this is why solopreneurs never get to take a vacation.

Suppose as a professional, your time is worth $100 per hour, and that you can find work at this rate if you have time to market. Suppose you work a 50-hour week, so 30% of your time is 15 hours per week. Suppose you can hire a really good admin assistant for $20/hr, or $300 for a 15-hr week. (You’ll hire somebody AT LEAST as fast as you are.)

So if your admin person freed up 15 hours of your time each week, and you used that time to get even 3 more hours of paid work, you’d break even. But surely you’d be able to generate more than 3 extra hours, so you’d definitely be ahead financially.

You’d also be focusing on activities where you brought more value to your business, and that were more exciting for you. And you might even be able to take more time off.

With more time and energy for marketing, you might get more selective with your client selection, and thus be able to raise your prices. You may have time to brainstorm and create a new way of structuring your business that sets you apart, so you could charge even more. More money, less effort. I like it!

So stop thinking “single shingle” and get the help you need.

Do I Have to Work All the Time?

A solopreneur who gets stuck in the 24/7 habit virtually guarantees he or she will remain a tiny operation.

“For the Self-Employed, It’s an Endless Workweek. Recession Takes Away Vacations, Weekends as the Consequences of Missing a Business Opportunity Mount”
Sarah Needleman, WSJ Small Business. 8.4.9

In this article, solopreneurs tell us why they can never take any time off. Here’s my response.

I think the folks described in this article have fallen into a bad “24/7” habit. It’s unnecessary, and damaging to their business prospects.

Back in boom times, people said, “There’s so much work, I’ve got to be available 24/7 to handle it all!” Now they’re saying, “There’s not much work, so I’ve got to be available 24/7 so I don’t lose out.” I see many people like this who wear it as a badge of honor that they are on call all the time.

A solopreneur who gets stuck in this vicious circle virtually guarantees he or she will remain a tiny operation. Why? If you work all the time, when do you do the strategic thinking and planning? Develop strategic alliances and new ways of doing business? Train or groom skilled associates who can take part of your load? When do you recharge your batteries, and leave time for creative insights?

That’s the job description of a successful entrepreneur who is intent on growing the business, putting more money in their pocket, and not having to work so dang hard. The 24/7 worker bee never gets to this place.

I use this parable with my small business owner clients:

The Zen master says,
“Every day I meditate an hour,
no matter how busy I am.
Except on those days when the crush of work is overwhelming.
Then I meditate two hours.”

The “hour” is figurative: you set aside the time you need—even during the toughest of times.

Some simple rules:

— Don’t stay a solopreneur. Have a collaborator so you can energize and back up each other. Can be a colleague, a “partner,” or an employee.

— Tell your clients when you are available and when you are not. Mostly, they just want to know ahead of time. I do not believe your clients disrespect you for taking time off.

— Think you always have to be available to Client A even if you have something personal scheduled? Try this simple test: Suppose you have a meeting Tuesday with Client B. Then Client A calls and says, “I want to get together with you Tuesday.” Do you break your Client B meeting? No, of course not. You tell A, “I’m booked for Tuesday; what about Wednesday?” Treat your own appointments with equal weight.

— Feel you absolutely must stay in touch during vacation? Then do so, but limit it. My wife and I  (both consultants) take weeks in Hawaii. We tell our clients when we’ll be gone, and say we’re available only for brief urgent contact. Our insight: we’d rather spend an hour during the morning fielding emails via laptop while sitting by the beach than not go at all. And there’s a subtle joy from billing for $175 while sitting under a palm tree in your swimsuit!

*      *      *

If you’ve read this far, and you’re shaking your head and thinking, “No, no, this doesn’t pertain to me. I really do have to work all the time,” then respond and tell me why. If I can’t give you a way out of your vicious circle, I’ll send you a free copy of my “Recapture Your Time” book. But of course you wouldn’t have time to read it . . .

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Has Your Company Stopped Being Creative?

I see small companies launch in a burst of creativity, then slowly lose their creative edge over time. Why?

This post was catalyzed by “At what size do companies stop being creative?” on www.joyofhumancapital.com

I see small companies launch in a burst of creativity, then slowly lose their creative edge over time. How about you? Tell me about you and your company’s creativity.

My clients are small business owners – from a handful to a hundred employees. Run by the owner, who is often the founder as well. As I look around at the people I’ve worked with (including myself) here’s what I see.

First, two observations:

1. Creativity comes in many flavors. Not just the “creative industry” like ad agencies. Also creative business concepts, product dev, designs; creative marketing campaigns, merchandizing, or product selection; creative distribution or service packaging or customer service; creative team building or organization structure; creative pricing or financing.

2. Creativity comes in all sizes, and so does failure of creativity.

CREATIVITY KILLERS FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS

• Lack of support. Nobody is pushing her/him to take the creative leap, or problem solving how to overcome the hurdles . . . No-one following behind, handling the details, executing the vision.

• They get dragged out of creativity by the demands of running the business day to day. This has a lot to do with their own management style. “ I can’t find good people that I can trust.” “I got into this business to do what I love; now I spend all my time as a damn manager.”

• Lack of help. Owner continually pulled back down into lower-level tasks, can’t focus on creativity, vision, strategy.

• Lack of systems, relying on seat-of-pants management. Thus their franticness quotient increases exponentially with growth.

• Ill-fitting systems. E.g., accounting systems that don’t give needed performance information to the owner.

• Constraining systems. Too much “by the book” or “bean counter mentality.” Of course the owner has put these into place, but then starts believing in them.

• Failure of vision. Creative owner gets beaten down, burned out . . .  Has one good idea, and sticks with it long after the window of opportunity has slammed shut . . .  Fear of taking the needed next step. “Tried that, got beaten down, it didn’t work, now I’m gun shy.”

• Gets out of touch. Drifts into an eddy out of the current of new ideas and technologies. This can be related to age, but there are many creative codgers out there.

• Gets too comfortable. The balance between work and life tips toward Maui.

• Physical/mental impairment. Alas, this eventually catches up with us. If you’re smart, you’ll go out at the top, handing the creative reins over to the young whippersnapper you’ve groomed.

Can you add to this list? And how did you overcome this hurdle?