For many freelancers and small business owners, breaking free from corporate structure, management jargon, and company politics is a significant benefit of self-employment.
Free from “thought showers,” “close of play,” and “touching base,” you’re released to get on with the doing the job exactly as you see fit. There’s no need for everything to fit around the latest buzzwords and management techniques. Unnecessary meetings and conference calls can be cut right down to the minimum, too.
However, completely turning your back on management culture can mean missing out on some sensible (and sometimes inspired) practices.
The wonderful thing about being the boss is that you are free to cherry-pick from the latest and greatest business techniques. Plenty of these can benefit a one-man operation just as much as a large corporate firm.
With all that in mind, here are five management practices that all freelancers and businesses can benefit from.
1. Company Dials
The first couple of times I heard “moving the dials” I wanted to scream, and run, but this is one of those management initiatives that makes so much sense once you learn about it.
Essentially all you need to do is define the dials that are important to your business. You can have, for example, a “commercial dial” that refers to revenue, or a “customer dial” that’s all about brand visibility. You can have as many dials as you want, relating to whatever you want, so long as they contribute to moving the business in the desired direction.
Then, whenever you (or your company) undertake a task, you can refer back to the dials and consider which are moved by that work.
One of the most useful outcomes of having this in place is that it allows you to quickly identify if you’re spinning your wheels on tasks that aren’t “moving the dials.” If anything consumes a considerable amount of time but doesn’t move any dials, you’ll be forced to question whether you should really be spending energy on it.
Anyone can use this methodology – even an individual freelancer. An aspiring writer, for example, could have in mind a “reputation dial” to help decide which unpaid opportunities are worthwhile for boosting your profile – and which are a waste of energy.
2. Questioning the “Why”
I think our new Chief Executive probably saw me wince when he first spoke of “questioning the why,” but once again I have to concede that there’s undeniable logic in doing just that.
Often we do things when growing a website or business because they just feel like things everybody does. For example, establishing a Twitter presence and sharing new blog posts there.
However, it’s sometimes worth sanity checking the “why” behind the things we do. For example, is Twitter the right social network to reach your audience, or would Pinterest be better?
By doing this routinely, you can save an awful lot of time. It quickly becomes apparent that we all do things because we are conditioned to think we should be doing them. When it’s impossible to give a decent answer to the “why” question, we suddenly discover a powerful reason to break those habits.
3. Pivoting and Failing Fast
If you’ve ever heard of BS Bingo, you’ll likely think these management buzzwords would fit right into the game. But once again, there’s wisdom there that you’d be wise to consider.
“Failing fast” and “pivoting” are two linked concepts that allow you to quickly move through the hundreds of ideas that bubble up when you’re in business. Instead of being hamstrung by analysis paralysis while trying to decide what to do, you work quickly to try each thing out. The key is that you do this with a willingness to quickly abandon ideas that don’t work and “pivot” to the next thing.
4. Weekly Check-ins
This one’s not quite as important for an individual freelancer – but it’s worth implementing as soon as your business involves more than one person.
Essentially, all that’s involved is a scheduled weekly catch-up between each individual and their reporting manager. This saves discussions going off on too many tangents in the interim. You can “save it for the catch-up,” and stay on track while making sure everyone knows that they will have an opportunity for some undivided attention.
When I first saw all of these regular weekly meetings appear in my calendar, I cynically wondered when exactly any of us were supposed to get our real work done. In fact, it helps everyone to focus on what they need to discuss at a set time. Sometimes it takes five minutes, sometimes two hours – the crucial thing is that it always happens.
5. Persona Work
This final item is probably the one I struggled with the most, but I’ll say (through firmly gritted teeth) that it makes a huge amount of sense. It’s all about doing all the necessary research to work out who your customer base is and what they want from you.
It’s all too easy to take a build-it-and-they-will-come approach to a business. When companies do things this way and the customers arrive anyway, it’s possible to end up in a situation where a business is profitable but still knows nothing about its customers.
Moving toward this focus can involve as little as a mindset shift or as much as a major customer study. The question to ask is whether you understand your customers (or target customers) to the point that you could easily describe them, and their motivations. If not, there’s a lot that this persona work could help with.
Embrace What Works
While there’s plenty of management culture I’m pleased to be free of, the above items are undeniably beneficial to all kinds of businesses. We can and should accept that there are some things that large corporations get right – after all, they became so successful for a reason.
Even as a one-man-band I’ll continue to take these things on board – just so long as nobody asks me “What good looks like?” or says “One team, one dream” again.