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Leading a fast growing creative business - strategies to remain in focus

Creativity and innovation tend to fuel rapid business growth. Whether it’s ground-breaking design, new technology or a reputation for creative excellence - it can attract an influx of new business and new people. Add entrepreneurial leadership to the mix and things can really fly.

The challenge for a leader is that there’s no manual for coping with the pace a new business can grow - or the additional responsibilities that come with it. All of a sudden there are 50 people on-board and you are being pulled in all directions. Keeping a handle on the business itself can get lost amongst the firefighting.

We’ve been there. We’ve worked with many businesses experiencing rapid growth. The good news is that you don’t need to be super-human to lead a super business.

Here are some perspectives and tips to help you reflect, make the most of your precious time and remain in focus.


You can’t do it all - invest your time where you can add the most value

What probably started with a great idea and buckets of passion may have already taken you further and faster than you were expecting. As you grow you may feel the need to cover all bases, stretch yourself just that little bit more every day. A really important early lesson is to recognise that you can only do so much. In fact, if you do too much, the whole lot can come crashing down.

The same belief that was so important in launching the business or bringing the product to market can create some negative behaviours. You may find delegation a challenge, you might feel you are the best (if not the only) person to keep doing all the things you did at the start. You may well be heading towards burnout and not even be aware.

Tip: There is only one of you. Focus your energy and effort where your expertise can add the most value. Be a little less protective and give others the space to step up where they can or hire in external skill sets where needed. That way you stand the best chance of making a positive impact and sustaining success.

Spot the signs of burnout in yourself and others in our article ‘The denial phase of burnout that no one talks about’.


Not everything will go well - but that’s OK

Sooner or later it will happen - if it’s not happened already. A bump in the road, an unexpected set-back. How you respond can make a great difference, not just to your mindset but to others around you. Is it a failure, or an opportunity to learn?

Creative businesses take risks and with risk can come failure - but that’s how you learn. Indeed without risk-taking you won’t push through the boundaries it takes to reach your goals. When faced with set-backs, showing humility and encouraging the learning from the experience helps build resilience and engagement.

Tip: Create an environment where risks are taken and setbacks are seen in a non-judgemental way. Help your people not to be fearful of failure, but see it as a part of the growth experience, both for the business and personally. Being able to rise above the disappointment and manage the de-brief to ensure your team learns from it is an important leadership quality.


Keep the start-up culture going

Creative businesses are often born out of energy, a sense of purpose and a desire to do things differently. It’s a combination that creates innovative work which attracts new customers and the best talent. The danger comes when fast growth saps that energy, you lose your creative focus and start looking like your competitors. Your customers will notice. Your people may even feel you’ve gone all ‘corporate’ on them.

As a start-up, your first employees didn’t buy into an established brand. They were attracted to something much more personal, authentic and almost certainly about the leadership. Start-ups often feel like a family where no one minds the long-hours. There’s a strong sense of mutual support, everyone is there because they want to be.

Tip: As a leader, you need to hold on to your ‘why’ as the business grows. If you started the business, why was that, what was it you wanted to build? If you joined to lead, what attracted you? Why do your people go the extra mile for you? It’s almost certainly down to your example and actions - so don’t lose sight of that as it’s what motivates and engages. Lead by example, in the early days the leadership style is the start-up culture.


Hire for culture fit

Fast growth means more clients, more sales - which puts the focus on delivery. Going back to our first point, you will need to have the right people in place - you can’t do it all. What’s more, as you strive to maintain that start-up culture, you’ll want to hire people that fit that culture.

It can feel comfortable to hire those who feel ‘like you’ - but the best teams are made up of a diverse mix of candidates and capabilities. Look to what they can bring in terms of personality fit to your team. Will they be able to perform in a fast growing business?

Tip: Recruit to skills, values and ‘fit’ to your culture rather than being an exact match in terms of experience. Don’t do all the interviewing yourself, introduce them to the team during the interview process to see how they gel. Make sure your culture and values are included in the onboarding process so that new employees know where you stand from the outset.


Time Management - or Time Mastery?

As the business grows, so do the responsibilities. More meetings, more calls, more pitches, more events. More of everything except hours in the day. There is a limit to what the body and mind can take. The consequences are likely to be burnout through exhaustion due to stress.

In response, it’s understandable for a leader to feel the need to manage their time better. However, the way we use our time has much more to do with our deep seated thinking and behavioural habits than it has to do with our organisational skills. As such, you can set your priorities - but will you actually do them?

Tip: Instead of adding more time management tools to your day, aim for what we call Time Mastery. Understand how you naturally sort and order time, find out what you do that wastes time. Also, consider your energy thresholds. If you are aware of what builds and drains your energy you can plan your activities in a way that suits you best. Finally, communicate your time boundaries - by learning to be clear and assertive about what you will and won’t do, you will save a lot of time – and build stronger relationships.

Find out more about your relationship with time in our article ‘Genuinely busy or disorganised? Which are you?’ and read the first chapter of our book Time Mastery - Banish Time Management Forever.


In conclusion

Creative businesses that grow and scale quickly can take us by surprise. Very quickly a leader has far more to do in what feels like less time. The challenge is to overcome the need to control and let others step up. Of course, failures will happen but that is part of a growth business and the lessons learnt are essential to business and personal development.

As the business grows, it’s important that you don’t lose track of what it is that drives you and the culture that was so important in attracting your first employees. You can train for skills but it can take a lot of time to change behaviours - so recruit those that feel like the best fit. Being aware of your own relationship with time will help you realise that you can’t manage it - but you can manage your use of it very effectively.


For further info:

If you have any questions about leading and managing a creative business and its people, we are here to help. We offer coaching and training for leaders to master communication, influence with integrity, and get a positive response from their people. Find out more about our Leadership Development and Time Mastery programmes and 1-2-1 Coaching.

You’ll find additional management tips in our latest article ‘Managing creative talent - what every leader needs to know’.

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