Creativity is a wonderful gift, and it’s one that each and every one of us has been bestowed with, whether we’re aware of it or not. When we are children, creativity is the means through which we make sense of our world. We all spend our childhood cultivating an innate ability to process the information that the world gives us through creativity. We draw pictures of our Mommy and Daddy, our family, our friends and the complex worlds of our imagination. We use our toys to act out theatrical melodramas packed with dramatic twists and turns. Our playground activities invariably use at least some elements of role-play and many of us are so imaginative that we even have imaginary friends.
Yet as we transition through adolescence and adulthood, in many of us something is lost in translation. As we get older, learn new skills and develop different modes of thought, our creativity gets put in a box and stuffed into a far corner of our psyche. If we don’t make the effort to dust off the cobwebs, open up that box and use those skills, they can easily atrophy. But the great news is that even those of us who think they left that box in the dusty back corner of the psychological closet years ago demonstrate creativity in even the most quotidian aspects of their day to day jobs.
For the modern entrepreneur, there’s simply no better way to marry the whimsy of creativity with the logical rigidity of the business world. It really offers the best of both and empowers people from all sorts of backgrounds to make their own mark on the business landscape on their own terms. But in an age where 90% of startups eventually fail, you’ll need to temper your creativity with some serious self reflection if you’re to remain in that top 10% and see your business grow from strength to strength. Fortunately, the creative mind is in a constant state of self assessment and on a constant quest to improve, learn, get up, dust itself off and try again. If you have worked hard to establish yourself on the business map yet feel that your enterprise isn’t getting the traction it could be, it may be worth asking yourself if you’re guilty of any of the following.
You’re Operating in a Vacuum
A good entrepreneur keeps a close eye on their output and vigilantly guards against a decline in quality or productivity. But while introspection is important, it’s important not to treat your business as though it operates within a vacuum. To fail to keep an eye on the lie of the land and monitor other businesses (both competitive and non competitive) is a folly. Competitor analysis is vital for your survival in a competitive and cutthroat market. It can help you to find out what they’re doing poorly and how you can capitalize on it but perhaps more importantly it can show you what they’re doing well. When you know this you can reverse engineer it into something similar… but better for your business.
As well as keeping a close eye on your competitors you should also keep tabs on businesses with whom you can collaborate or create co-branding opportunities. You never know when the chance might arise to ally your brand with another brand to create a product that exposes your brand to a whole new audience. You should also look for opportunities to share your unique experiences and insights with new audiences and thus help to cultivate a sense of trust and legitimacy in your brand. Writing guests posts on respected blogs, guest speaking at events and establishing a presence at community events are all great ways of building your brand while strengthening your ties to your community and the business landscape as a whole.
You’re Not Thinking Big Enough
In an age of unparalleled connectivity and international communication, every business has the potential to do what they do on the world stage. Indeed, it’s always worth considering that the best markets in which to do business may not necessarily be your own. Just take a look at the success of these Australian Businesses in Latin America. Depending on the nature of your business it may be both advantageous and cost effective to consider expanding your reach outside of your domestic market. Get into the habit of thinking big and you’ll be surprised at how quickly growth occurs.
You’re Afraid to Develop Your Employees
You are the driving force behind your business. It’s your ideas, insights and spark of inspiration that enabled your business to rise up out of nothing and become a force to be reckoned with… But while you are the one your workforce looks to for leadership, inspiration and guidance, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can’t expect them to inspire you. After all, you took great pains to ensure that your business attracted only the highest quality candidates for your recruitment drive and it took a great deal of time, effort and expense to ensure that your business is staffed by the best.
But the best will not remain the best if you’re afraid to develop them. We all know how harmful bad employees can become for business but fewer of us consider that like a ripe fruit, even an apparently perfect candidate can become a lackluster employee if not properly supported. Even sterling skills can atrophy if not pushed to their limits and even the most diligent workers can become apathetic and sluggish without the proper motivation. Although your employees were likely well trained at the point of induction, it’s a mistake to think of training as a “one and done” exercise. In order for your employees to be truly effective so that they can take your business to the next level they need to be trained continually and offered an individualized course of continuous professional development.
This may mean that you pay for them to undergo educational or vocational training courses. It may mean that you invest in an outsourced training provider. But while this may represent an overhead cost, it will pay dividends as you empower your employees and they reward you with years of hard work and loyalty. Too many entrepreneurs are afraid to develop their employees because they’re worried that too much empowerment will make them a flight risk. But if you fail to show an investment in their career, how can you be expected to maintain their loyalty?
Your Fear Around Capital Investments is Stunting Your Productivity
Lots of nascent entrepreneurs get skittish when it comes to capital investments. They understand the importance of thrift and assume that if they continue to be rigorous in keeping their overhead costs manageable they’ll somehow cut their way to growth. Moreover, when your monthly cash flow shows that you’re actually turning a profit, the thought of compromising that hard won profit margin can be scary. But that healthy bottom line can lull you into a false sense of security and if you continue to fear investing in your own growth, that bottom line won’t stay healthy for long.
Don’t be afraid to invest in new tools or software which will aid employee productivity, a heavily discounted batch of inventory or even moving to a better located premises which will afford you more foot traffic. Sure, it may mean that your margin takes a hit in the short term but if you’re able to manage your cash flow properly these capital investments can lead to an era of continued growth for your business and your brand.
You’re Working Too Hard and Burning Yourself Out
Dedication and hard work are admirable traits. Indeed, you probably wouldn’t have been able to get where you are today without them. But be sure to remember that even entrepreneurs can work too hard. You can (and should) have some semblance of work / life balance while running a healthy and successful business. Entrepreneurial burnout can not only have a detrimental effect on your personal life, it can be extremely damaging to your business.
It can derail your productivity, make you moody and unapproachable, it can impair your judgment and decision making or leave you exhausted and unable to make even the simplest decisions for the good of your enterprise. If you’ve properly invested in your employees they should be able to hold the fort while you take some much needed time to rest.
You Expect Yourself to be an Ideas Factory
Sure, it’s your inspiration that built your business, but your business (like you) should be in a constant state of evolution, always seeking new inspiration and always evolving to meet the needs of a changing market. And while you may have lots of ideas for this, even the most fecund creative well can run dry. Don’t be afraid to accept inspiration from your employees and ensure that they have an open forum to communicate their ideas whether it’s through a dedicated slot in your weekly strategy meeting, a dedicated space on your intranet or simply a suggestion box.
Nobody likes to admit when they’re doing something wrong, but recognizing where you could be holding your business back is the surest step towards growth and success.