Business tips for Craft workers

First appeared in ‘Craftsman’ (U.K.)

If there’s one general trait I’ve noticed in craft workers around the world it’s their passion and commitment and willingness to work long hours. I’ve also noticed that often that isn’t enough. Craft workers tend to be creative which doesn’t always lend itself to being business-focused. Not that this cannot, or does not, happen – it obviously does. However creative people tend to find it harder dealing with practical day-to-day business issues.

Here are a few hints and tips that will hopefully help. ‘Practical business tips for creative people’ if you like;

Firstly, and I would argue, absolutely critically, you must determine your mission, vision and values (stop groaning at the back). I know this has had a bad press. I would estimate 90% of these statements are awful. They tend to be decided by a committee of senior managers then handed down to the staff in a similar manner to Moses’ set of ten value statements a long time ago. Go into any large Organisation and ask staff what the mission statement is and the reply you tend to get is along the lines of; “I don’t know the words but the tune goes “da da da da da da da da, da da da da de” and there’s something in there about being the best, oh and teamwork”.

The joy for small companies is that it’s yours. You own it and it must be meaningful and drive your business. So, write a mission statement, a set of values, a credo, a code of ethics, a vision, a set of principles to guide … call it whatever you like, but do it and do it properly. Don’t get hung up about it being a mission, a vision, a set of principles – just use whatever terms work for you. There are some truly great mission, vision statements. The best mission statement with split infinitive? – “To boldly go where no man has gone before…”. Now that’s a mission statement you would come in to work early for, I guess?

There is the story of a man walking around a large building and asking everyone their vision statement. They could all quote it. They all owned it. They could all see how the effort they put into their job helped to achieve their vision, from the higher paid technicians to the toilet cleaners. The man was John Kennedy and the vision, or challenge, was “To put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”

So how do you do it? Take some time and space (no pun intended). In terms of the mission statement ask, “What is the purpose of my business? What business am I in?”

This isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. In the sixties Parker pens had a crisis. They were losing money as biros came along and started taking their customers. They had a high level meeting to try to rectify the situation. The initial thoughts were to cut costs and compete with the disposable pens. This was a non-starter. They quickly abandoned this idea. Then they went back to basics and asked themselves what business they were in? If you own a Parker pen I will bet you received it as a present. The vast majority of people did, still do. So Parker pens decided they weren’t in the ‘compete with Bic’ business at all, but in the gift business. This transformed the business strategy. Instead of trying to cut costs they actually made their pens more expensive – better packaging, up market advertising and it worked.

So back to you – what business are you really in? “We make pencils” – superb start. Next question – “Lots of people make pencils. What’s so great about your pencils?”.”Our pencils are better than anyone else’s pencils in Cardiff…., no in Wales…., no in Europe…., no in the World….” – OK now we’re getting somewhere. Spend time on this. Find the best ways of describing it.

Are they the best pencils in the World? If not then maybe they should be, or maybe they aren’t but they’re the cheapest, or the most expensive, or the sexiest, or something. Once that’s agreed, totally, in your own mind you can look at the vision. Think of your business in ten years time. Draw it – if you need to. Yes draw how they see the future. Not a literal drawing of the finest pencil being produced but try to identify your feelings, your ambition, something real that they can identify;

“We want one of our dresses to be worn at the Oscars” would work. “To sell to Harrods” was Johanna Sheen’s vision in the 70s when she began making pictures from pressed flowers. By 1981 she had achieved it. If you can identify something as concrete as this then all you need to do is work out what you need to do to achieve that. Talk about it. Get excited. Set a target, a date, something to aim for. Ask yourself how will you know when you’ve really succeeded?

“Edward will shut up.” “Edward?” “He’s the pain in the arse customer who’s never satisfied.” What an incredibly powerful vision “To shut Edward up”. Priceless. Next you need to work out what business values will help you achieve that. Again make them real. “Great customer care” is nonsense. “Rectifying any mistakes within 24 hours” is better. When mistakes happen, and they will unless you’re not human, you can use these values to address the problems. Make a list – display them, use them, live them. One of the best one I’ve come across recently was “To what are we committed? Looking good or getting the job done.” – If you’re committed to getting the job done you’ll make mistakes, you’ll try different approaches, but you’ll be in business for a long time. If you’re only committed to looking good, people will soon see through it. You may benefit in the short term, but there’s no future in it.

A key value is time. Your time is vital. Try this exercise from Stephen Covey. It’s known as ‘Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks’. Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in. “Is the bucket full?” “No” you reply. “Of course not” I say and put some smaller rocks in it to fill in the gaps. “Full now? “, “No”. I put in some sand, then some water. It’s full. So, what’s the learning here? It’s to do with the order. What would happen if you’d reversed the order? Put the water in first, then the sand, the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You need to schedule them first, not try to squeeze them in after arranging the water (writing pointless expense sheets), sand (unnecessary travel) or small rocks (meetings with the bank manager, supplier that takes three times as long as you because no-one is properly prepared). What are the big rocks in your life?

For many it’s things like family, time to watch the children grow up, time to remember why you started this business in the first place, really enjoy your work. You decide. You identify three or four things you believe are important. The three or four things that will make a difference to your life. When you’ve decided what they are then schedule them. Once these times are scheduled fit the rest of your work around them. Try some of these exercises. They won’t all work, but hopefully they’ll get you into the right fame of mind for running your business. You run your business remember. It doesn’t run you.

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