No one can tell you how to succeed in a business based on your creative product. No one. Just as your approach to your creative outlet and product are uniquely yours, each small business is unique. No one can tell you how to succeed, how to measure, or make your way toward success. So what’s a person to do? While no one can tell you what you must do to succeed, there are things you might do or not do that will slow or wipe out any chance of success. This series of articles discusses the top 10 traps to avoid when measuring your success:
- No clear picture of what success is.
- No objective or unrealistic objectives.
- No strategy.
- Projects are too big or too small.
- Tasks don’t align with the strategy or project.
- An Unmanaged calendar.
- No system to track your progress.
- No feedback.
- No projects completed.
- And no plan for failure.
Each of those traps could be a separate blog post. Instead, this series of blog posts will introduce a few at a time. The first post in this series discusses the first three traps. Today’s post takes on the next four.
Summary of Part One
In part one, you learned you need to understand your core values and make your business goals align with those values. Once you figure out your goals, you need one or more strategies. A strategy is a set of high-level principles that help you decide on what projects to pursue and with which resources. But choosing which project(s) to pursue is fraught with more traps that will interfere with your success or could defeat you.
Running a business involves more than simply producing a product. According to the US Small Business Administration, there are at least ten steps to starting a business. You need to conduct market research, write your business plan, and fund your business. Also, you need to decide where you’ll conduct your business, choose a legal business structure, and choose your business name. In some locations, you’ll need to register your business. In the US, you will need federal and state tax IDs, licenses and permits. And finally, you’ll need to open a business account. Each of these steps can be a project. Check with your state and country for the legal requirements you must follow.
Projects are Too Big or Too Small
In your business, you will use specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people. This process is called “Project Management.” Project Management is a process to manage all the parts of a project so you can deliver it on time and within budget. We creatives who are solopreneurs don’t need to know everything about project management. However, it is helpful to have a basic understanding, especially if you are the type of person whose list of things to do never seems to lead to Done.
The larger the business, the more employees, the more you will hear the term project management. In many creative businesses, one person does all the things. The problem is that most of us creatives are…creative, and didn’t go to business school. Call it what you like. Project management is an important business concept for all sizes of business. Without project management, you are likely to be very busy, but getting very little done.
Definition of Project
A project is a set of tasks that must be completed to get a certain outcome. Projects require resources such as labor, materials and equipment and they take a certain amount of time. All projects go through five phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure.
Do you think your product is one project? You may be guilty of making your projects too big or too small.
How do you measure the size of a project?
There are many ways to measure the size of a project in project management. Not all of them apply to all creatives with small businesses.
You can measure the size of your project by time, or you can measure it by how much the resources needed to create it cost. Or you use the number of steps it takes to create the end product as a measure.
A project is too small when doing it provides no benefit for your business. When assessing the benefit of a project, be certain to consider all angles. Is there a financial benefit? Will it help you get a larger product done faster? Will it serve your customers?
Too Many Projects
When you have too many projects, you might splinter your time amongst the projects and not get any of them done in a timely manner. Sometimes you end up focusing on one project that isn’t the most important one to finish first. Unfortunately, many businesses try to do so much they bankrupt themselves or get a serious case of burnout and cannot finish.
Tasks Don’t Align with the Strategy
What are tasks? Tasks are the equivalent of a to-do list. They are the things you must do in order to complete the project.
How can a task not align with strategy?
Tasks don’t align with strategy when they don’t build toward completion of a project. The task is also unaligned when the benefit of completing the task isn’t clear or is unrelated to the strategy.
Maybe you’re so annoyed that your partner hasn’t taken out the trash that you take it out during the time you’ve scheduled to do your business plan. That task (taking out the trash) doesn’t align with your strategy of delegating household tasks so you can focus on your business. It also is out of alignment with your strategy of creating a business plan so you can sell your product online. You are so annoyed that you had to take out the trash that when you return to your in-home office, you are mentally rehearsing an argument with your partner about the trash instead of focusing on your business plan.
Sometimes the reasons tasks don’t align with the strategy are because there was no strategy. The reason isn’t malicious. Creatives often aren’t terribly strategic. Instead of looking at a strategy, you started a list of all the things you want or need to do. You prioritize what to do based on the day of the week or your mood or your muse. This method, often called bottom-up alignment, can lead to being very busy and very, very ineffective.
Make tasks align
To be effective, tasks need to contribute toward accomplishing your strategic goals. It needs to be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
If you have a strategy, it is your North Star. It defines what your long-term goals are. The project is the middle step, working toward that goal. Tasks are the day-to-day or operational things that move you toward completion of a project.
Every time you’re tempted to take on a new task, stop and evaluate the task. How does it relate to your strategy? If the new idea does not line up with your strategic goal(s) decide: do you need to re-think your idea of success or do you need to put that new idea aside?
Inaccurate Recognition of Limitations
All humans have limitations in many forms: physical, emotional, educational, financial, and time. Many creatives overwork themselves. Some work in physically harmful environments. Some creative get into great financial distress, or ignore the emotional toll of what they are doing. Not respecting your limitations can turn potential success into failure.
Basketball players wish for long, muscular legs and arms. Ballet dancers need long lean limbs. For a lot of creators our creative endeavors cause physical challenges. Sitting for long periods without moving can cause poor posture and poor circulation. Repetitive movements such as typing or drawing can cause joint problems. Vibrations from power tools or impact from dance or other physical expressions of creativity can cause injuries to organs, muscles, bones, and joint. Chronic conditions causes limitations for many people who are creative.
Respect your physical limitations. Do your best to avoid further physical challenges. Seek to give yourself the best possible working environment.
A physical condition, or a particular event, a family or personal issue, or even the season, can affect our emotional resilience. Not recognizing those limitations can rob of our goals in a way that causes long-term harm.
Limitation of Over-confidence
Both over confidence and lack of confidence are emotional limitations. The over-confident take on too much and ends up in burn out or unable to complete projects because of the lack of respect for other limitations that exist.
The over-confident creator needs to reassess. Sometimes reassessment comes when you hear and accept a kindly critique of your abilities. Sometimes it comes after a crushing defeat. Question your abilities as honestly as you are able. Listen to what others say about your abilities. But the most helpful way to keep over-confidence at bay is to always be open. Learn and try out new, helpful techniques or information. Keep that “I know better” voice quiet until you’ve tried it and actually know.
Limitation of Lack of Confidence
Those who lack of confidence experience limitations often related to fear. Fear of failure or fear of not being good enough may stop the creator before she’s begun. It slows the entire process of creation and affects that creative’s success. Try building your confidence with affirmations. Find a mentor or peer who is trustworthy and supportive. It may be helpful to get more education to bolster your confidence. Or you might benefit from meditation, self-improvement books and classes, or professional counseling.
Unfortunately, educational limitations happen when we are young, our most critical time of learning. Society, economics, environment, and learning styles all influence your educational limitations. You don’t have to accept these. The internet can be a resource, but don’t fall victim to inaccurate information. Vet the source of any information you get on the internet.
Public libraries are a terrific resource. You may not even need to be physically near or able to transport to and from yours. Many public libraries in the US have ebooks they allow you to check out. If you are not in the US, please share in the comments, any free resources you have in your country.
The Limitations of Time
We are all familiar with the idea that each of us has 24 hours in a day. Some of us ignore that and attempt to do more than is good for us. Most of us have responsibilities beyond our creative ones. We have jobs, homes, families, friends, pets or other interests. All of those take time.
This list has likely overlooked some limitations. Don’t you be guilty of overlooking the limitations that affect you and your business. You will be far more successful if you pay attention to your limitations. Find resources and techniques or way to work with those limitations instead of against them.
An Unmanaged Calendar
Related to the limitations of time is the unmanaged calendar.
You say you don’t have enough time to get everything done. Your calendar is packed with commitments related to your kids and your spouse and your job and extended family and friends and home and vehicle. You go through your days in a flurry of activity and never get around to doing the things that you truly value.
How can you fit it all in? You can’t fit it all in. You have to say no. A lot. Make a list of your priorities. Decide which activities must you absolutely do yourself. Are there activities you can skip, which ones can you delegate, and which ones simply do not interest you?
How do you manage an unmanageable calendar?
Set boundaries. Talk with your family and be firm. Ask them for help. Plug in the MUST Do’s on your calendar first. On the must do list are your business deadlines, medical appointments, work (for an employer), high priority family commitments, and days of rest. Next plug in when you will get the work done to meet your deadlines. Schedule extra work time before the deadline to give yourself room for sick days and days when everything goes wrong. Remember, days of rest are critical to your mental and physical well-being. Do not use rest days for working. Nothing will be manageable if you try to be an Energizer Bunny. Finally, if there is time left, you can plug in lower priority commitments.
The key to managing your calendar is to set priorities and boundaries. Will it be perfect? Of course not. You’ll get better and better at managing your time. And if you always build some wiggle room in your schedule, you will do everything that’s important to you.
How to Avoid These Traps
When planning what projects to take on, there are questions you should ask yourself.
- How does this project align with my core values, my business goals, and my strategies?
- Will doing this project will help my business?
- Will it hurt my business to not do this project?
- Is the size of the project and the size of benefit worth? If the benefit is greater than the size of the project, you may have a winner. If the benefit is smaller than the size of the project, even if the project is tiny, set that project aside or avoid it.
- Does this project over-step any limitations I or my business have?
- Will this project fit in my calendar?
Watch for part three in this series two weeks from today.
Are any of these traps familiar to you?
How do you (or will you) avoid them?
Last image: Public Domain courtesy Animated Heaven on Flickr