Everyone knows that business owners are innovative, adaptable and fearless. Entrepreneurs are the new knights of commerce: passionate crusaders whose courage and creativity dominate today's fast-changing markets.
But if all that's true, why are so many business owners such sticks-in-the-mud?
I'm talking about entrepreneurs who don't understand search-engine marketing or pay-per-click advertising—today's two must-have marketing tools. Printers whose own promos look like a kindergarten art show because they don't have a designer on staff. Business owners who come up with bold strategies, then put them on hold, month after month. The startup entrepreneur who throws away his To-Do list because he's always just putting out fires.
As a business reporter (which I've been for many years), you rarely get much closer than the front door of the businesses you're writing about. In my consulting work with business owners, I now get invited into the parlour. But the view isn't as reassuring as I thought. Many of the owners I meet who want to champion change somehow become hostage to routine. They don't have the time or energy to execute changes and make them stick.
If any of this sounds familiar, don't worry—there is hope. What you need is a creative renewal and a time-management makeover.
There are many kwik & E-Z things you can do to escape the creative doldrums. Take a different route to work each day. Invite members of your staff to lunch and ask what they'd do if they ran the company. Take a night course in marketing, design, art history, German, creative writing or the Renaissance. Read Seth Godin's blog (sethgodin.typepad.com) for a crash course in the changing worlds of strategy and marketing, complete with purple cows, big red fezzes and ideaviruses. Buy an iPod and ask friends to share their music with you. Embrace quiet. Take more showers.
Learn to see and listen with heightened senses. Say "Tell me more" more often. And take time to ask two questions: "Why?" and "Why not?"
Extend that freedom to those around you. Did you know Google's engineering staff are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on projects they feel passionate about? That philosophy is credited with generating such services as Google News, Google Suggest (try it!), AdSense for Content (online ads triggered by the content on the page) and Orkut, a powerful social-networking site. Give your employees more time to think, and you'll get better ideas.
But creativity is useless without execution. Ideally, your new creative passion will motivate you to evangelize new ideas and ensure that the best initiatives get the support they need.
The biggest excuse I hear for not implementing change is that entrepreneurs have no time. But when you examine your choices honestly, I'm sure you'll find you made time for lots of things (lunches, golf, Mansbridge) that prove less important in the long run.
How can entrepreneurs manage their time better? I asked Guelph, Ont. entrepreneur Jim Estill, who founded EMJ Data Systems out of the trunk of his car and grew it to $350 million in sales before selling out to U.S. giant Synnex. Now, besides running Synnex Canada, Estill studies "time leadership" and even blogs about it at jimestill.com. He offers these tips for getting control of your time:
Make a list of your goals, personal and business alike. Prioritize your top goals; review the list regularly so you know when you're on track and when you're off.
Track your time usage with a time log. Note all your activities every day for a week or so, and then review the list. Keep asking, "Why am I doing this?" Could someone else be doing it instead?
Keep a To-Do list, but prioritize it. Highlight the tasks that have to be done today.
On your To-Do list, estimate how much time you think each task will take. That helps you calculate how busy you'll be over the next few weeks, but also suggests which job to tackle when you get 15 free minutes.
Keep a Don't-Do list to remind you to avoid time-wasting tasks better left to others.
Do the Worst Thing First Thing: Doing the most difficult or annoying job first every day gets essential things done, whether it's a tough sales call or personnel issues. Accomplishing these distasteful duties will also strengthen you to handle the innovative tasks that may currently seem daunting: hiring that new manager, exploring new markets or overhauling sales-force compensation. Again.
By definition, going beyond your comfort zone is never easy. But that's where real work and real success lie waiting.