May 21, 2014

How Our Business Focused on Less, and Did More

I’ve always been an idea guy.

Eating breakfast. Working out. Taking a shower. Driving. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, my mind is always spinning with ideas. Seriously. Even when I’m sleeping. I don’t wake up because of dreams. I wake up because of ideas – usually ideas related to my businesses.

So when it came to building my company, my goal was to surround myself with minds that worked the same way. I wanted a culture that encouraged new ideas and worked to bring them to life. You want to start giving online dance lessons? Great! Let’s purchase a domain name and build a site. You’re a talented artist who wants to open your own studio? That’s brilliant! Set your stuff up in our break room and we’ll start marketing it. (Both of these were real business ventures in our office in 2013).

If you had an idea we thought we could make profitable, we started working on it same day.

Unfortunately, this approach tends to get in the way of previously scheduled tasks, not to mention the other businesses we were trying to run. I sat down one day and realized we had 10 – yes, 10 – completely separate businesses operating from our main office space.

Apparently Business Attention Deficit Disorder (or B.A.D.D. for short) is a real condition, and it was crippling our growth.

You can’t be great at anything when you’re trying to be everything to everyone. We were a jack of many trades, which made us a master of none. It was time to grow up and focus our ideas and energy if we were going to build a sustainable and valuable business.

Identify Priorities

We started by trimming the clutter. Holiday toy sales, credit card processing, marketing data sales — they all had to go. We shut down eight of the ten businesses operating in our office, and focused all our resources on the two that held the greatest growth potential moving forward — our core marketing services (then Thrive Marketing Group) and video production (Thrive Creations). In doing so, we further specialized our marketing and research services around technology, which is where we’d realized the most success and growth. Ten months later, we re-branded Thrive Marketing Group as TechnologyAdvice.

Open Communication

Shutting down new ideas and open discussions is the worst thing that can happen to a creative environment, so we had to be cautious and clear when communicating our new vision. We still wanted to hear great ideas and encouraged our employees to operate with an entrepreneurial mindset. We just needed these thoughts focused in certain areas. We established weekly full-team meetings to be transparent in where we stood as a company, and we added regular individual progress meetings to give every employee a chance to have an open dialogue about their concerns or ideas. This helps us communicate better, and ensure the entire team is engaged and on the same page.

Establish Structure

This was the big “growing up” part of the equation. A company of five to ten people operates much differently – and with far more freedom– than a company of 40-60 people. Rapid growth forced us to address a variety of new day-to-day concerns through the creation of office protocol and employee policies aimed at protecting both the individual and the company.  Our lawyer definitely had a good laugh (and a minor heart attack) while reading our first employee handbook.

This process wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t quick. We made a ton of mistakes (especially in hiring), but we learned important lessons that helped us protect our creative culture as we continued to add new people and new objectives.

Growing up as a company also required our core team to grow as leaders and managers – including me. My start-up instincts are always to act first and think later on big ideas, but I wouldn’t have much success leading this company if there wasn’t a structure in how I communicate and execute those ideas. I forced myself to delegate more, and trust in my team to get the job done. I made sure our leadership team was included in conversations about new plans and ideas. Soon, the structure and protocols we put in place felt like they’d been there all along.

That’s not to say new challenges don’t present themselves every day. Do you know any adults who have fewer reasons to stress now that they’re all grown up? I sure don’t.

Even though we’re no longer in our early stages as a company, I’m proud to say we’re having just as much fun as “adults,” and I truly believe our best days are ahead of us.

Have you had to go through a similar growth process as a business or an entrepreneur? I’d love to hear your experiences, or your feedback on ours, in the comments below.

Sorry to run, but I suddenly have a few new ideas I have to jot down!

photo credit: Nick Harris1 via photopin cc

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