Before I decided to set up my own business, I spent a lot of time asking people for advice.
Who you ask advice from is just as important as the advice itself. It’s easy to choose people to work with you know will affirm your business decisions. Asking people who might contradict you, challenge you or make you question your choices is hard.
But the people who push you can help you make better decisions and commit more firmly to your goal.
When I was about to leave school I was set on doing an art foundation year at my local college. Because my school focused on academic achievements, my other tutors weren’t able to help me make the right choices. I was sent to my art teacher. I explained what I wanted to do.
He looked at me and asked:
“But are you sure you can do it?”
I was shocked. After being turned away from other tutors, I expected him – the arty, creative one – to fully support my decision. But instead he challenged me to prove it was really what I wanted.
I fought my corner passionately. After I’d finished, he nodded and said: “Then you should do it.”
He wasn’t trying to discourage me. He was challenging me to demonstrate my commitment. He wanted me to come to the right choice independently.
Without his prompting, I wouldn’t have proven to myself that my chosen path was exactly what I wanted.
When you make a business decision, you need people who’ll make you prove yourself, as well as people who’ll help you along the way.
Do you have these people involved with your creative agency?
“You’re doing great!”
This person supports you, unflinchingly and unfailingly. They’re often close friends, or partners.
Even in the middle of what feels like a total disaster, they’ll point out the benefits and lessons you’re learning. They’ll tell other people how great you are and lift your spirits. Often, these people aren’t your closest friends, because those people know you too well to be positive all the time.
“You already know the answer.”
This person listens to your problems and encourages you to find the way out yourself. This might be a coach or a mentor for your creative team.
It’s likely they won’t tell you the answer – even if they know what it is. They will also push you to communicate if they can sense underlying problems you’re not talking about. They might have a career that’s longer than yours, or they might simply be very good at untangling problems.
“Seriously, it happens all the time.”
This person has been there, done that and seriously knows their stuff. They’re likely to be co-founders or business peers.
They might not work in the same field as you, but they’ll have experienced every one of your problems twice over. They will often tell you their approach, rather than suggest you find your own way out, but that can be really valuable. Comrades are your siblings in business, who’ll always lend an ear and a hand.
“Well, why not?”
This is the person who tipped the scales; the one who made you make that big decision. They might not even know they helped you do that, and could be only distantly acquainted. Often they’re friends, but they could be family members.
Business decisions can take a long time to be made, and I’ve found there’s normally one or two people whose opinions finally set wheels in motion. They might not actively encourage you to take big leaps, but something they say will be a trigger for your actions.
My main Catalyst was my dad, who worked in a classic nine-to-five job for thirty years. When I asked him what he thought about being self-employed, he said “If anyone can do it, you can.” That convinced me to make the change.
“Hmm, I’m not sure…”
This is the person who believes you won’t do it, you can’t make it, it’s not that easy and you don’t stand a chance. There seem to be a lot of them about, right? And they are so useful.
Often the Critic is simply voicing their own fears about how they couldn’t do what you’re doing, but their viewpoint plays an important role in your business decisions. By paying attention to their criticisms you can normally find a grain of truth in what they’re saying, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Five important people, one centred decision maker
I believe these five people – the Cheerleader, Challenger, Comrade, Catalyst and Critic – are crucial in helping you make strong decisions which create a sustainable future for your agency and career.
Choosing these people wisely means allowing difficult opinions as well as positive ones into your decision-making. By doing so, you’re much more likely to take a considered and well thought out path.
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