Is your venture a business or a startup?
Are you a manager or an entrepreneur?
Think it’s all semantics? It might be. But it also might be the source of a lot of tension in your day-to-day operations.
- Do you make time for creating & investigating new ideas? Yes or No
- Would you prefer to spend most of your business time working for your clients/customers? Yes or No
- Does evolving & changing your business excite & energize you? Yes or No
- Do you prefer getting it right & sticking with it? Yes or No
If you answered “yes” to questions 1 & 3, you’re the entrepreneur-type. If you answered “yes” to question 2 & 4, you’re the manager-type.
Entrepreneurs & Startups
A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.
— Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup
Entrepreneurs thrive in environments of uncertainty. Change is a constant – and welcome – companion for these business adventurers. They are on a quest to discover and rediscover a product that creates value, innovation that disrupts a market, and a business that “works.”
Entrepreneurs create & run startups. Startups are businesses driven by the hunt for an unknown prey. Startups must be built for agility. One or 10 wrong moves won’t kill a startup but moving too slowly will. A startup is focused on implementing then learning and then implementing and learning again.
If you’re an entrepreneur running a startup, you probably thrive on short-term projects, experimentation, and learning new techniques.
To do: Make time in your schedule every week for thinking on, designing for, and playing at something new. Don’t succumb to guilt because you’re not spending time hustling for new clients or working on the things that pay the bills. Yes, that’s important but, if you don’t indulge your creative/innovative side, you’ll lose interest in your venture.
Also, be prepared to bring others onto your team quickly, you’ll need support in administration & management to grow the business beyond its initial stages.
Watch out for: Boredom. Recognize that many businesses aren’t meant to remain startups forever. It’s possible for you to get to a point where your desire to create & innovate in your current venture withers away. If you sense this is a possibility, be sure to be building your business so that you can step away from it, either by putting management in place or by selling it.
Also, be mindful of shiny things. Shiny things are projects or ideas that take you away from your true purpose. Novelty is important to you and should be considered carefully but not at the expense of the learning cycle you’re in.
Managers & Businesses
…you switch from riding the rocket to playing the long patient game. You’ve reached a level of business expertise and positioning such that the only way you’re going to get better is to focus on the long game of expertise and market share.
— Charlie Gilkey, Productive Flourishing
Charlie’s series on the stages of business is helpful for both manager-types & entrepreneur-types but especially so for managers.
Managers are focused on greatness. They prefer getting things right the first time and then slowly optimizing from there. They bank on the long tail. They thrive in long-term relationships with customers & clients. Their businesses are powerhouses of word-of-mouth sales. They learn and then implement.
Managers run & maintain businesses. A business is an enterprise with a proven model. It runs like a top. As long as it’s spinning, it’s generating profit.
If you’re a manager, you probably live for doing the work you created your business to do in systems that help you do that work better.
To do: Indulge two of your strengths and create a system for gathering referrals. Incorporate it into your client emails or create marketing geared at existing customers. Make sure your team knows referrals are a priority for you.
Also, reach out to 3rd party perspectives on a regular basis. A business coach, copywriter, or PR specialist might help you see opportunities that would have otherwise been missed.
Watch out for: Getting comfortable. It’s easy to get comfortable cruising along when you’re a seasoned manager and your business is working. But surprises do come. Make a habit of considering different scenarios (both positive & negative) to train or brain to embrace the unknown.
Also, look for opportunities to leverage your (or your team’s) time. When you love the work that you do and create a business for that express purpose, it’s very easy to get comfortable doing that work on a pay-for-play basis. You get paid when you work. It’s difficult to create freedom in a business like this so make time to work out ways to leverage what you do to generate profit.
What does it all mean?
Ventures that succeed over the long haul need both types of people — or more specifically both skill sets. This isn’t a judgement call; there is no better or worse. Understanding what energizes & strengthens you helps you understand how you can serve your own business best.
To begin, grow, or change direction, you’ll need to call on your entrepreneurial skill set. If this is where you thrive, you’re pretty well set. If this is what causes you some pain, get help. To maintain a low-stress business, you’ll need to call on your managerial skill set. If this is where you thrive, again, you’re pretty well set. If this is what causes you some pain, get help.
Running a business is not a solo act. Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or the focal point of a team, it’s important to realize that there are multiple roles required for keeping your business running smoothly. Neglect a role and you’ll suffer for it.
So tell me – what are you: an entrepreneur or a manager? Answer in the comments and/or click here to tweet it!
I have often felt like a creative freak. I am not left-brained (metaphorical not physiological) enough to create detailed plans for ideation & exectuion. I am not right-brained enough to feel artsy fartsy and anything-goes-about creativity.
When it comes to my business, I am comfortable figuring out how things work, what you need from me, and when my strengths truly shine over time instead of all at once.
I am a Virgo but I’m not a traditional perfectionist.
I am analytical but not obsessive.
I am innovative but not overly imaginative.
Frankly, I’ve felt like I was doing everything wrong even when I was having great success.
Shhhhhh. Don’t tell. They’ll find out.
Which is why I’ve been stoked to find books on this very subject dropping in my lap over & over again recently. If you’ve been hiding a similar style because you thought it was “wrong” or it just didn’t fit with the paradigms on display, you’re in luck.
There are more of us than we thought, for sure!
I believe we all have a lot to learn from each others creative styles. But I also believe that this blend of art & analysis is an asset in the fast-paced, conceptual age we are currently navigating (and continuously designing).
Settling on (or worse, waiting for) your “big” idea is a waste. Not even the venerable Mr. Jobs waited for his big idea. The big idea is a process – not an epiphany.
Which means that you need to get comfortable with “not knowing” more often than not. This is not about a lazy, post-modern denial of Truth. It’s about profound possibility. When you acknowledge that you don’t have the answers you’re more open to all the opportunities available to you.
Jonathan Fields just released the definitive book on this subject, aptly titled, Uncertainty:
The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.
I recently shared with an interviewer that everything I do is a mistake. On purpose. Positively.
When you realize that every service you offer, every product you create is likely to have something that you will learn & grow from, you start to become comfortable with putting great value into the world in the form of mistakes. You can do it better next time and still be happy with the “great” you are creating today.
When you’re focused on perfection instead of value, you lose sight of what is important to the recipient of your product or service. You lose sight of what’s truly important to you.
And “failure” is becomes discouraging if not paralyzing.
When you’re focused on value, on understanding what constitutes money well spent or energy best transferred, failure is a bridge to greatness.
Eric Ries discusses this at length in The Lean Startup as it applies to business:
Even when experiments produce a negative result, those failures prove instructive and can influence the strategy.
Place your bets.
At each part of your creative process, you’re testing assumptions and [dis]proving hypotheses. You do this for yourself constantly. Yet, you probably try to avoid this when bringing ideas to market, presenting them to your audience.
But it’s placing your bets – publicly – that will truly tell you what to do next.
It’s not enough to make a thousand private mistakes. You need to put your ideas to the test with others: a list, a network, a mastermind, a focus group.
Keep your larger goals – the higher stakes – in mind and smaller mistakes will remain in context.
In Little Bets, Peter Sims dissects this strategy:
Experimental innovators must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goals.
Or if betting on the product of your creativity is a little too Vegas for you, think of them as proposals.
Proposals are new, sometimes radical, most often completely unproven. Roberto Verganti outlines this in his book Design-Driven Innovation:
These companies are instead making proposals, putting forward a vision. That is why I call this strategy design-driven: like radical innovation of technologies, it is a push strategy.
These proposals, however, are not dreams without a foundation. They end up being what people were waiting for, once they see them. They often love them much more than products that companies have developed by scrutinizing users’ needs. These proposals are wellsprings for the creation of sustainable profit.
When I think about agility, the image that comes immediately to mind is jumping back & forth over mid-line of a basketball court. Back & forth, back & forth.
Strength. Quickness. Reaction. Response.
Muscle movement happens fast & furious. But not without a thousand tiny course corrections happening even faster. Lest you fall over.
Agility is one of the most important physical skills of an athlete. It’s the rigorous combination of physical and mental performance.
Agility in business is the same. It’s shifting priorities. It’s responding to true urgency and not reacting to perceived urgency.
Agility is empathizing with customers and analyzing your numbers – then doing something about it.
You can achieve an environment of agility when you get cozy with uncertainty, embrace failure, and place bets.
That’s an environment for not only financial & entrepreneurial success but creative success. It’s self-fulfilling.
How are you creating an environment of agility in your business right now?
I do business much like I cook.
I was reminded of that this weekend at The Creative Connection Event in St. Paul, Minnesota. I took a cooking class with Terry Walters, author of Clean Start. At the beginning of the class, she reminded everyone that, while measurements appear in her books, she never cooks by measuring. We shouldn’t either.
Oh, and the ingredients are just a guide. Don’t have something? Substitute something else.
Really, the whole recipe is just a template for your own creations. Get creative. Try new flavors. Mix it up.
Too many people are looking for a recipe for business success. They want to know exactly how much of this and exactly how much of that it takes to create a 3 course meal of profitability, sustainability, and life fulfillment.
I’m a business coach – not a consultant – because I know that’s not how it works.
Business is about using what you’ve got, trying new things, and seeing how it comes out at the end. That’s not to say that you don’t consult the recipe binder or make a trip to the farmer’s market. But you don’t let small hang-ups or unexpected events ruin your dinner.
You learn a framework that allows you to create success for yourself with as many different ingredients and in as many different environments as possible.
The three pillars of my business framework – my recipe – are passion, profit, and productivity.
Passion you get. That’s why you’re here. Even if you haven’t discovered what moves you to work at 3am or to forget about the passage of time, at all, you sense that “great work” is out there. That your heart is calling to you.
Profit you get, too. She may not be your best friend yet but you’re certainly her Facebook friend. You understand that being in business means making money above and beyond your output.
Productivity is often the missing link.
Productivity in cooking is making breakfast, lunch, and dinner 365 days per year. Maybe you don’t cook all of those meals – but you cook day in & day out. You feed yourself daily. You know what to do when you’re hungry.
My idea of productivity is not that kind that comes on a micro level. I believe the missing link between passion & profit is actually producing the things that you put on the shelf to sell.
Literally, the manner in which you make products.
Productivity in business is not about answering 5 hours worth of email in only 3 hours. Productivity in business is about producing – innovating – creating without end. It’s not once & done. There is no finish line to cross. It’s continuous and constant.
All too often, I hear about passionate people who long to become passionate entrepreneurs but they are too busy struggling with the hows and whats of producing a final product that they never produce anything at all. They wait for the illusive “great idea,” they pine away for the perfect process, they linger at each stage of development to make sure it’s “just right.”
But the final product isn’t an ending point. The final product is the jumping off point.
Once you’ve got a final product – something you can bring to market – created, it’s your job to discover what it’s missing, what is unnecessary, and what can be improved. Then you create the next final product, and the next, and the next.
You can’t get to the awesome thing until you produce the great thing and you can’t produce the great thing until you produce the good thing.
Productivity is not just making more stuff, but systematically figuring out the right things to build.
– Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
When you believe there’s a right way or a wrong way to make the dish, you get stuck in the recipe. You measure out the right ingredients and you ignore the opportunities to get creative or try something new. You fixate on making everything come out just so.
Just as in cooking there is no perfect dish, in business there is not perfect product or service. Stop waiting until you think you have all the ingredients necessary and start working on the recipe right now. Pay attention to opportunity, chance, and possibility. Allow them to inform your work.
Your great work is not an epiphany, it’s a process.
You didn’t go to business school. You don’t have an MBA. You don’t run a tech startup. The only “C” in front of your title stands for “cook” or “cleaner.”
You’re an artist. You may not use paint or stone or metal. You may not sing or dance or write. But your work is an art and your passion changes people. And you, my friend, have taken this art and turned it into a business.
What could your business – one that’s based on soul stirring, passion inducing work – learn from the science of creating corporations? Turns out, a whole helluva lot.
Your business is here to prove something.
- that great writing changes lives & leads to more sales.
- that elegant jewelry boosts your self-confidence and takes the pain out of the morning routine.
- that quality materials & craftsmanship really are worth the big bucks.
- that creative expression saves lives.
- that great design tells a story that words & pictures alone cannot.
- that a well-decorated home keeps a marriage happy & healthy.
- that a New Economy can be built around artist-business owners.
Yes, indeed. Your passion comes from your undying determination that part of your worldview is a Truth for many others. Your productivity comes from the resolve to share that with as many people as possible.
But, like any hypothesis, it’s not simply enough to state it. To deem it so.
Your business hypothesis must stand up to scrutiny, experimentation, analysis, and… dun dun dun… customer feedback.
Your hypothesis isn’t an excuse to put on your dreamer hat and sit in the corner while the MBAs play at profit. Your hypothesis is what gets you into the trenches and compels you to do business.
People don’t by WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.
— Simon Sinek, Start With Why
In starting businesses, we are most often concerned with what product we’re going to sell or what service we’re going to offer. It’s easier to understand the transaction when you know what’s changing hands. But it’s not the particular service or product that creates crowds of loyal fans. It’s not the product or service that spurs us to innovation & creative thinking.
It’s stepping outside the this-for-that exchange and stepping into something bigger & more powerful: our vision for the world.
Startups also have a true north, a destination in mind: creating a thriving and world-changing business. I call that a startup’s vision.
— Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
Business starts with a vision. The vision inspires a strategy. The strategy ends with the product or service being sold.
You can’t know what you’re selling until you know what you’re trying to prove.
To prove your hypothesis, you must experiment with a plan. Build, measure, learn.
Eric Ries, author of the brand-new book The Lean Startup, explains this process in depth. It’s a constant cycle of innovation & iteration that has at its goal creating a product/service that works to prove your hypothesis and achieve your vision while serving your customers.
This is true startup productivity: not just making more stuff, but systematically figuring out the right things to build.
— Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
How do you test the hypothesis? How do you figure out the right things to build?
Eric suggests the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. That’s a fancy (or not so!) way of saying: do it, discover what happens, and figure out what it means.
Sadly, the first step is where so many get stuck. Without a clear hypothesis, it’s hard to know what to build. Of course, “knowing what to build” is truly overrated.
The first few times through this loop, it’s not your job to know what to build. It’s your job to learn what to build. So we start somewhere.
Back when I started growing my business in earnest, the first product I created was 52 Weeks of Blogging Your Passion. It’s an ebook with 52 blogging prompts. Not fancy. Not overly sophisticated. Just a response to what I perceived as a need.
I didn’t stress about making the most comprehensive product or making the snazziest design. I built a product it and I shipped it. That’s when the real work started.
While you’re “building” consider:
- Am I wasting time on details that don’t enhance the benefits of the final product?
- Am I wasting energy on making the product more comprehensive than is necessary to test my hypothesis?
- Am I wasting attention on tangential pain points that are unrelated to the product I’m currently building?
In the tech startup world where The Lean Startup was first developed, there are loads of customized metrics and formal experiments that can be run with the data from the first (and subsequent) product builds.
I would argue these sophisticated methods of measure are a distraction to the microbusiness owner.
Forget the percentages, click thrus, and dollars, and focus on what your customers actually tell you about the product. Consider not only the specific feedback but the tone of their words, the setting of their usage, and the community of users.
After releasing my 52 Weeks of Blogging, I got customer feedback. It was good. But it’s not enough to just revel in good feedback. Ask WHY? I probed deeper to find out how people were actually using the book and what questions remained for them. That process then lead to several other books and a course.
Measure the effectiveness of your product by considering:
- How is the customer using my product?
- What results is she achieving?
- Is she closer to believing in my greater hypothesis?
- What themes are emerging about the product I’ve built?
Learning is all about figuring out what you’ll do differently next time. If you thought building your product was the end of the production phase and the beginning of the promotion & PR phase, boy, were you wrong!
Production is constant. Learning helps you know what to produce next. What tweak to focus on. What features to improve. What about-face to make.
Each time I build a new product, I learn so much about the people who purchase it. I learn things from the metrics, of course, but I also learn from their reviews. Their frustrations. And their questions. I build those questions & frustrations into subsequent products, blog posts, and emails.
I engage buyers via social media and create conversation around these areas. I build a bigger & bigger picture from my learning so that I can act & produce based on what I’ve learned.
Learn about your product or service by taking the feedback you’ve gathered & measured, comparing it to your initial hypothesis. Contrast your actual customers’ reaction with the way you thought they would react. Compare their concerns with what you feel to be true.
And then build again.
While in the learning phase, consider:
- What assumptions did I make that proved false?
- What surprised me about the customer feedback?
- What could be eliminated from the initial product?
- What needs to be added to the product?
Just as scientific experimentation is informed by theory, startup experimentation is guided by the startup’s vision. The goal of every startup experiment is to discover how to build a sustainable business around that vision.
— Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
Bottom line: to effectively change and grow, your business needs to be plugged in to your vision for the world and the hypotheses you hold true.
Forget discovering what to sell and who to sell it to until you’ve got those details ironed out.