Engaging Curiosity to Work Lean

Entrepreneurial creatives live on hope, optimism, and belief in our purposes. Not to say that other entrepreneurs don’t—relentless optimism runs through every business owner—but those who work in artistic fields deal with more rejection.

After all, hundreds of stories exist of artists who confronted rejection after rejection before making it big. Stephen King was rejected by thirty publishers before Carrie was accepted. Oprah was fired as a reporter at 22 and struggled for seven more years before starting the show that made her world-famous. Decca Records executives told the Beatles that they “had no future in show business.” That sheer volume of rejection means that our creative businesses sometimes run on belief alone.

That same belief in our purpose can lead us to overinvest in software and services that deliver more than what our business needs. At this point in my business and my life, I’ve spent a lot of time untangling the esoteric and arcane parts of multiple computer programs for myself and others. Overinvesting in CRMs (Customer Relationship Managers) and accounting software and other services causes hundreds of dollars of waste by hopeful entrepreneurs waiting for their business to grow to the point where the program is necessary.

Up until I started my coaching practice, I did the same thing. Buying something a little too big seemed just what was needed. You want room to grow, I thought as I plunked down my credit card for another subscription that promised great things. You know this program, I thought with another swipe of the card for update on a piece of software I’d been using forever.

However, at the origin of my coaching practice, simplicity and creativity became my guides. Quickly ticking off the boxes in a long list of “this is what you do”s held no glamour for me. I mapped out my business and listed what I wanted to do instead of the tools I would need. Unleashing my curiosity, I asked what the simplest solution with the least cost could be. Every monetary outlay required an obvious reward in time, money, or accessibility.

The big test of this new attitude was the inevitable renewal of Quickbooks, an accounting program I’ve been using for over two decades. As I found myself considering spending $300-$600 each year for access, I stopped and wondered, did I actually need this program?

And the answer was no. After spending several weeks researching other accounting services and software, I discovered that I needed even less than I thought. Simple formatting of a couple of spreadsheets allowed me to track my cash flow and business income and expenses. This past year, my accountant happily did my taxes with no problems.

I continued asking the question, what did I really need here? Could I do it on my own? How could I engage my creativity to create the tracking that I really needed?

Right now, I use the Google suite of tools (mostly spreadsheets and the calendar), OpenOffice, my email program, and a Bullet Journal to keep track of my clients and projects. For my newsletters, I use MailChimp as it’s familiar and free for my level of subscribers. Each time the program I’m using stops fulfilling my needs, I move on.

My intent is to create a small and simple business that I can handle on my own. I’ve had employees, and I’m not interested in doing that again. As such, when I need to add another tool, I will search out a program that does what I need it to do, or as close as I can find to that, and add it to my toolbox. I’m running lean because one of the great things about technology is that, when you need something, you can go ahead and just sign up for the latest and greatest version. Future technology tends to be better than past technology.

Paying for something that’s a little too big for your needs really only wastes money. If you allow your growth to propel your expansion in software and monetary outlay, you end up in a better financial space, and usually, you haven’t attached yourself to a piece of technology that might not actually serve you when you grow.

You don’t always get to where you think you’ll be, and where you get isn’t always in the shape of what you think it will look like. Wait to see what happens, and get curious about what you need when you get there.