What are you really selling? Hint: It’s not your time
Most of us think we’re selling time, but really we’re selling our ability to solve problems. This requires creativity, and creativity requires space. Something most of us struggle to find.
Like many start-up soloists, I spent the first few years of running my own business getting to grips with time management.
I was selling my time, so it became increasingly important for me to use it wisely.
Every tiny little process improvement or productivity hack I could find was something to celebrate … and some of the early insights that led to my time management fixation were even documented right here on Flying Solo.
My business has matured over the years, however, as has an awareness for how I prefer to work and the outcomes I want to deliver for my clients.
"My creativity is not only one of my personal strengths, but also my greatest business asset."
As a result, I now know that while it might appear to everyone else that I’m selling my time, what I’m actually selling is my creativity, my ideas, and my vision for how to bring them to life.
Many of you reading this are probably in the same situation – even if your business isn’t in one of the so-called creative fields, like graphic design or writing.
Regardless of your industry, you draw on your creativity every time you solve a problem, come up with exactly the right metaphor to help a client understand a technical issue, or move one step closer to the vision of the business you’re striving to create out of nothing.
In other words, every small business on the planet has creativity built into its DNA.
After years of neglecting mine, I’ve now come to recognise that my creativity is not only one of my personal strengths, but also my greatest business asset.
But it’s an asset that I need to use wisely, because just like financial assets, it can easily be under-utilised or even frittered away.
Cultivating my creativity and giving it opportunities to expand has therefore become one of the highest strategic priorities in my business.
If you’re keen to take a similar approach, here are my top tips for creating space for creativity in your world.
Respect your own creative rhythms
Don’t waste your most creative time on things that aren’t either fun or important.
For me, that means postponing all but the most important emails until the afternoon so that my mornings are open for me to be expansive and productive.
Once my quota of imaginative energy for the day has been used up, only then do I turn to chores like churning through my inbox and catching up with paperwork.
I’ve also learned that it’s usually more effective to allow a question to bubble away at the back of my mind than it is to actively worry about it or work on it. I’ve found my most inventive ideas tend to come to me when I’m doing something completely unrelated to the issue at hand.
Clear the decks
Remove obstacles to original thinking and constructive ideas by clearing physical clutter from your space and mental clutter from your mind.
Meditation, bushwalking and delegation all work wonderfully for me here, giving me the mental space that allows new concepts and deep insights to rise to the surface.
For others, having a clean and uncluttered desk and office space is just as important.
You might even want to turn tidying up into a little ritual you do in preparation for spending time in your creative zone.
Build systems that support your creativity
I’ve rebelled against structure most of my life but, have reluctantly had to admit that my creativity thrives best when there are solid systems in place that allow me to capture my ideas, explore them without limitation, and ultimately, bring them to life.
Whether you favour an app, a journal or a regular brainstorming session with a coach, having access to a time and space that encourages you to think laterally and open up to insights is invaluable and helps get you into the habit of thinking outside the square.
Constrain yourself with a clear brief
As small business owners, we often bemoan our limitations – usually issues to do with lack of time, budget or skills.
Instead, try an approach to problem-solving that treats those limitations as boundaries rather than roadblocks and uses them to help you arrive at an effective solution to whatever issue you’re facing.
If you use Twitter, you’ll already be familiar with this concept, and will have learned how truly inventive you can be when your messages are restricted to only 140 characters.
A similar approach can be applied to almost any situation, simply by giving yourself a brief that has the constraints of timeframe, budget or skill set built into it in much the same way that you might brief a contractor that you hired to work on your business.
All in all, acknowledging and actively working with my creativity has turned out to be a huge turning point for my business, and one that I know I’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of for many years to come – as will my clients.
How do you foster your creativity, and what have the benefits been? Please tell us in the comments, using as much creative flair as you like.