Endure and Enjoy! Surviving Small Biz – and the School Holidays

Working mother

What do small business ownership, parenthood and crowdfunding for finance have in common?

Well, many of us will do each of them over the course of our adult life. They all feel like endurance sports at times, requiring Olympian levels of vitality, versatility and inventiveness, grit and determination. And they’re all hugely enjoyable.

And what do you need when faced with vertical learning curves and constant juggling, when you’re looking over the rim of a glass of lunchtime Sauvignon and thinking back fondly to your corporate career? Survival strategies!

BE FAST AND CHOOSY

It’s a maxim that comes in handy when looking for husband or wife material in our twenties and it can still serve us well in working life. There’s not a lot of time to waste if you’re fitting your workload into the short hours while small people are at school. That’s a 30 hour working week and every minute has to count. If you’re driving and growing a small business, and if you’re a parent to boot, you are at the coal face when it comes to understanding the value of doing things fast. Doing them well, but crunching the important details, with no time for sweating the small stuff.

Work every day with a priorities list. Choose the things you really want to get done, which have an hourly rate or a fee attached to them, which push forward a useful connection, or drive a campaign. That way, the minute the school bus hits the gravel at the end of the driveway, you can take satisfaction in having achieved what you needed to from the day – and the rest of that day is all about the people you’re doing it for.

GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE – AND LIKE IT!

You learn to put your collywobbles aside when you’re in small business. It’s all about putting yourself and your ideas out there. The secret is simple: just take one small step at a time away from your comfort zone. Don’t let yourself get overcome by the ultimate goal. Break things down into small achievable chunks, and focus on one at a time. Make one phone call. Write one email to an angel investor. You never know what is going to reap rewards, so just keep going. Before you know it, your comfort zone has expanded to twice its original size without you even realising!

"It always seems impossible until it's done." - Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid leader

BE A JACK OF ALL TRADES – BUT AIM TO OUTSOURCE

You’ve got to wear all the hats as an entrepreneur. Have your idea, grow your idea, realise it, market it, get it funded. You’ve got to know finance, marketing, the digital age and how to get on with people in real life and the virtual space. If you’re already transitioning daily between being a red hot innovator at work and a hot mummy or daddy at home, you’re used to switching roles and maybe you love it. But when there’s capacity and finances, outsource.

Whatever you’re a non-starter at in your business, bring the expertise in from elsewhere, whether it’s the accounts, marketing or business development. Form a partnership, do a small business exchange. Get a cleaner to keep your surfaces clear and your feng shui flowing at home. And if you’re crowdfunding or financing a product, look for help with the marketing strategy you’ll need for when you’re fully funded. Because 100% funded is where it all begins!

TAKE IT EASY!

Seriously. Don’t be hard on yourself. If you’re driving any sort of business, campaign or project forwards plus keeping house and home together as well, be sure to program in downtime. The human brain wasn’t manufactured in a Ferrari factory and it’s not designed to be driven at constant high speed. Take time out!

Need some reassurance that it’s not time wasted? Ever woken up with a great idea for that product you’re developing / recruit you’re making / newsletter you’re writing? That’s because your subconscious has been working on things while you were sleeping. Downtime and rest are not time wasted – they’re essential in looking after your mental health.

“Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive.” - Tim Ferris, author of ‘The Four Hour Work Week’

KEEP GOING!

The biggest and best philosophy of all? Don’t give up. Success comes in incremental steps – those same small steps you began taking out of your comfort zone earlier in the piece.

"Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." - F. Scott Fitzgeral, American author


#HR editor, writer and small business owner Fiona Stocker runs a small farm, food and agri-tourism business with her husband, and is crowdfunding her first book Apple Island Wife: Escape to Tasmania with major international crowdfunding publisher Unbound, based in the UK. Read more and pledge your support on the Unbound campaign page.

 

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Lightbulb Moments and Why We Should Act on Them

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‘When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember this - you haven’t.’ Fine words from Thomas A. Edison, father of the light bulb and one of the world’s most prolific inventors.

Edison was a busy man, creating devices that influenced life around the world, including the phonograph and the motion picture camera. He did it with very limited resources, and often in seemingly simple ways. He wasn’t guided by forums or comment sections, from impressive analytic software or world-wide searches for specialised talent. He invented deftly and creatively - and made lots of mistakes, using his failures to achieve greater understanding and bring him closer to his eventual success.

For us, perhaps it’s not so simple. We’re in information overload, deluged with an abundance of knowhow and opinion. Information is at our finger tips – an endless supply of tools, tips, tricks, and hacks we can access in our pursuit of knowledge and results.

The possibility that we can exhaust every avenue of enquiry is just not feasible. Edison himself would be baffled by the scope of the Internet. So the greatest challenge for us lies in finding the sweet spot – the exact moment when we should stop searching - and start doing. Often it’s much earlier than we think.

Too much choice makes any process exhausting. It leads to uncertainty and a kind of decision-making paralysis. And when you’re in business or leading a team, grinding to a halt is dangerous.

 

IT’S IN THE JAM

Researcher Barry Schwartz says, “As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase.” We presume, Schwartz says, that if some choice is a good thing, then more choice will be better. He calls this the ‘paradox of choice’ and cites one particular study that makes it all clear.

In a corner store one Thursday, six types of jam were placed on sale in an attractive display. On Friday, the numbers were increased to twenty-four different flavours. How’s a person to choose? Well might you ask!

Researchers found that Friday’s jam-fest attracted more customers than the modest display on Thursday, but when it came time to buy, shoppers who had seen Friday’s multitude of flavours were one-tenth as likely to buy as those who had seen the more manageable display on Thursday!

 

LESS IS MORE

Too much choice, then, or the endless pursuit for more choice, is not necessarily a good thing, and that goes for our business practices as well.

It certainly makes sense to shop around in the quest for reduced stationary costs or when purchasing specialist safety equipment. But when making decisions involving people or productivity, trying to exhaust all possibilities can end up putting limits on the final decision – or thwarting it altogether.

Making the best choice should be less about algorithmic equations and star ratings, and more about using our creative thinking and intuition.

Allowing ourselves fewer options to choose from and get confused by can also help steer us away from making conventional choices, and encourage us to delve into the world of more creative possibilities.

 

STICK TO YOUR SIX PACK

Recruitment is a prime example of where we often feel obliged to amass an overwhelming level of information before making choices or appointing candidates. Seeking the ideal becomes all about nailing a specific skillset to the ‘nth’ degree, when it should be the hunt for a diverse thinker and a creative mind.

If you’re in an interview and getting the feeling that the best candidate is sitting there right in front of you, trust your instinct. And be careful. Are you conducting a thorough interview – or making them jump through pointless hoops? An excessive checklist of questions can quickly turn a good candidate’s interest into utter disinterest. And for the would-be employer, wanting to exhaust all possibilities in the recruitment and interview process can lose you the best candidate – maybe one who could bring greatness to the team.

When Edison thought he’d try ‘just one more thing’, he wasn’t confronted with a list of multiple thousand search results. The world is different today and it’s important to know when to stop. We all know when we’re having a light bulb moment. Connect with your instincts and act on it!

 

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5 Traits of an Impossible Leader

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Leaders want and sometimes expect to be liked, listened to and respected. So when you hear through the grapevine that your leadership style is on the nose and perhaps you’re not as cool as you thought, it can be pretty devastating.

But count yourself lucky.

Nobody wants to work for someone who is ineffective or even impossible to work with. But very few employees will give feedback when it’s happening. It’s not unusual to find yourself the last man or woman standing – and then find out it’s because nobody liked your style. That’s painful.

Most employees avoid giving feedback upwards and simply find greener pastures. So, if you’re savvy enough to sense that things are turning sour before they completely unravel, take advantage. Get to work on your leadership style.

That means digging deep and doing some self-analysis. A great place to start is with these top five ‘impossible leader’ behaviours. How does your style compare?


1. EXPECTING THEM TO READ YOUR MIND


As a species we’re not able to read minds and yet some managers appear to expect their team to have psychic powers. Whatever it is you’re communicating – direction, praise, information, or a thumbs up emoji – it needs to be made explicit. Say things out loud, send a detailed email, deliver a project brief. If your team isn’t crystal clear about what you expect of them, when they’re on the right track, or when you want a change of direction or focus, confusion, mistakes and frustration will be the result. The reason? The key specifics, deliverables and expectations were not delivered - by you. Big mistake!


2. TUNING OUT, NOT IN


Employees want to be able to talk to their leaders. More importantly, they want to be heard. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a question about new software, project feedback, or job frustrations. Tuning out? Well you potentially leave them high and dry with little opportunity for moving forward. When an employee gets stuck, a small situation can become an insurmountable one – without your guidance. An open door policy needs to mean just that. Open your door, and your ears – and really listen.


3. PURVEYOR OF EMPTY PROMISES


Promises, promises. If you don’t follow through on them, it’s #yawn. Employees are like children in that they remember what you’ve committed to, and what you’ve followed through with. When your list of follow-through deliverables is too long and it becomes clear you have no real interest in closing it off, you’re sending a clear message to the workforce – that you can’t be trusted, and nor can your word.


4. ALWAYS RIGHT


There’s no polite way of saying this. People who insist on being right are impossible to deal with in any situation. They’re particularly damaging in the workplace. If this is your style as a manager, it promises to squash any prospect of those around you feeling empowered in your presence. Are you the type who looks something up on Google mid-conversation to prove your point? Classic. Time to step back, humble up and get your team around you for more of a mutual exchange.


5. CHANGE RESISTANT

Without change, innovation is impossible, and yet leaders can find themselves resisting it. Change brings risk, and responsibility. But if your team or employee presents you with an idea and you reject it out of hand, even if it promises real growth, then there’s a problem. It’s normal to harbor some fear and trepidation, but when this translates to anxiety or worse, if your negative outlook starts to catastrophise things, moving forward becomes impossible - and extremely frustrating for those around you. Find a way of managing change - and even embracing it.


TIME TO WANT IT!


Marshall Goldsmith is an expert of epic proportions on the subject of leadership. He’s been rated #1 Leadership Thinker and one of the Top Ten Most Influential Business Thinkers in the World, a top-ranked Executive Coach at the 2013 biennial Thinkers50 ceremony, and twice a New York Times best-seller.

Goldsmith famously says the clients he spends the least time with are the ones who improve the most, and those he spends the most time with often improve the least. Great leadership emerges in a person not when they are told they have the potential to be better, but when they realise it for themselves – and want it. This gives you the drive and self-awareness to create change in yourself.

Self-awareness and an ability to dig deep are at the centre of our ability to learn and lead. It’s all down to us, because it’s rare that someone whose salary you authorise will be courageous enough to tell you what they really think. So, if you scored marks on this list of impossible behaviours - it’s time to challenge your leadership style.

We’ll give Goldsmith the final say. ’The less we focus on ourselves the more we benefit. It’s an interesting equation: Less me. More them. Equals success. Try it.’

 

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Let Your Characters Speak of Character – Elegant Communication in a Digital World

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In 1905 Mark Twain, American writer, humorist and entrepreneur, received a small package and handwritten letter from a gentleman claiming to be a medical doctor. The package contained a snake oil — a cure-all called ‘The Elixir of Life’ — which purported to ‘cure all ailments of the human, animal, and fowl.’ 

Twain was in ill health at the time. His wife had died suddenly the previous year. Moreover meningitis and diphtheria, which the elixir proudly claimed to cure, had taken the lives of both his daughter and 19-month-old son. With these memories still very fresh, Twain communicated his deep dissatisfaction to Mr. J.H Todd - the ‘doctor’ who sent him the package. 


 

Dear Sir,

Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain


 

In the eloquent and elegant language of his time, and with an initial lightness of touch followed by but a devastating directness that goes straight to the heart of the matter, Twain elucidates his feelings with precision and purpose. 

But how might he have expressed his same dissatisfaction in contemporary times? Would one of our modern, digital methods of appraisal have conveyed his disdain so ably? 

Perhaps he may have reviewed J.H Todd with a zero-star rating or possibly a 120-character tweet with a few choice acronyms thrown in. Would he have agonized over an emoji? Or chosen to go grammatically correct and emoji-free, rising above the hoy polloi in unadulterated prose? And would he have blocked, reported and unfriended Mr Todd, if they were ever ‘friends’ at all?

Joking aside, the strength of Twain’s letter isn’t his clever use of language but the absolute clarity with which he expresses himself. There’s no misunderstanding his message.  

In these progressive times when communicating with others, including your employees, is something to be ‘optimised’ and abbreviated, it’s vital to remain mindful that good communication practices are still at the heart of every successful business, and every business relationship – internal, external, with employees and suppliers, including snake oil vendors.

Communication has the ability to build, and destroy, a relationship very quickly. As a business owners, you can set yourself apart by developing the right communication style for your workplace.  

Thinking the small things through can be particularly helpful. How would you like social media comments to be handled? When to pick up the phone and have a real-time in-person discussion – rather than yet another email. How to hit the right note in email communication – not too formal, but not too personal either. When it’s okay to send a text message, and when a hand written thank-you card is called for – rather than virtual flowers.  

The communication methods you choose to implement now will set the tone for future business.  It’s free marketing, speaks of your own style and your business, and can leave a lasting impression. 

So choose your words carefully. Few of us will achieve the literary prowess of Mark Twain, but adopting a business style that’s meaningful, authentic and perhaps even a little elegant is generally best practice and will be remembered. Would Twain’s letter still be circulating a century later if he had replied with a ‘middle finger’ emoji?  We think not!

 

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How Safe Is Your Decision Making?

How Safe Is Your Decision Making

They say artificial intelligence is coming but it can never replace some of our smarts. Key amongst them is that of process-driven decision making, the art of taking operational issues, applying logic, and achieving workable solutions. You might use a flash of intuition and you’ll definitely apply judgement, but the whole has to be grounded in rock solid structured thinking.

As a leader you’ve got to be across decision-making of every nature. Whether it’s choosing between two compelling options, or assessing a range of possibilities and carefully determining which is best; picking through the day-to-day choices and knowing when to make a quick choice and move on, or when to research more deeply.

Some decisions require elevated wisdom and experience, they’re game changers in our business that will impact our people. They require a calm, collected and concentrated mind, which invests carefully in considering the risk for all involved. In the day-to-day, they may be more random and sudden with unknown variables, quick decisions we make and then adapt on the go.

Smarts and emotional intelligence are required at pretty much every turn.

The Australian Government’s Department of Defence is a place where, not to put it lightly, the decisions made and the minds making them must obviously be of the highest caliber. Their 2015 brief, Good Decision-Making in Defence: a guide for decision-makers and those who brief them is, unsurprisingly, a seminal document when it comes to strategies for decisions making. It outlines five governing principles.

How well could these be adapted into your business?

 

BE FLEXIBLE AND CREATIVE

‘One size fits all’ is not an approach that has a place in smart decision making. Smart decisions are made with flexibility and an openness to the different processes and discussions which might bring about a solution which is truly unique and creative.

Future challenges are not necessarily answered in the same way as past ones – so it makes no sense to rely on the same formulas. Establish a pattern which looks for new solutions, embraces flexibility and new thinking, and avoids replicating past mistakes.

 

MANAGE RISK, DON’T JUST AVOID IT

It is not possible to avoid risk completely. So think about how risks might be mitigated: what controls are needed, what counter measures can be taken. Implement those, and you manage and mitigate. To avoid risk entirely is impossible and it suffocates creativity. Invest your efforts in finding the right balance.

 

TIME AND RESOURCES IN PROPORTION

Decision makers are the people with the most demands on their time, and the most complex demands on their resources. And so true consideration for the decisions they make is necessarily a weightier process.

As a rule, the more serious the possible consequences of a leadership decision - career consequences, financial consequences - the more time and resources should be invested. Consider the relevant information thoroughly and the determine the true criteria upon which the decision should be made. Decisions must occasionally be defended. Time and resources are the tools that enable you reach ones you can stand by – as well as good judgement and common sense.

 

THE BALANCE OF CERTAINTY - MAKE DECISIONS IN REASONABLE TIME

Time, and resources, cannot assure us of the right decision on every occasion. And decision-makers should not postpone making a decision just because there are unknown facts or further possibilities to be explored.

Even in cases where the circumstances do not require urgency, delays can be detrimental and stressful to those waiting for a decision. Lengthy delays may also cause changes of circumstance which affect the matters under decision.

A time-frame is important. Exercise judgement to get the balance right, taking accuracy and timeliness both into account.

 

BALANCE INDIVIDUAL AND ORGANISATIONAL REQUIREMENTS


On occasion, the interests of the individual and those of the organisation may differ. For example, an individual may wish to delay a decision to seek further advice, while the leadership may want to resolve the issue quickly to resume optimal workplace function.

In these cases, the decision-maker must assess and balance the competing interests as part of their process. Professional judgement must be applied once again – in making the decision and safe-guarding the final outcome.

Make decisions you can stand by and which your teams can back – and let the governing principles you model at leadership level filter down through your business. That’s what makes good business great.

 

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