3 Ways the Work Environment Defines the Entrepreneur
How the people and things you surround yourself with can aid or hurt your chances of success.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Ah, the hardworking entrepreneur. In Hollywood stories, we are the people who spend all day hustling to make a buck; spending nearly twenty hours a day in our garage or building our network of contacts in order to beat back the competition. While it's true I keep long hours, I've noticed that I don't have a film crew following me around everywhere I go. In fact, I'm left to my own devices for much of the day.
A good entrepreneur is the one who sees around the corners and adjusts the game plan accordingly. The life of an entrepreneur, in most cases, is one of lonely perseverance. We toil for hours on end with the hopes of creating something of value. And, don't let the A-listers on the big screen fool you, the vast majority of us spend at least a year, sometimes two completely broke. We pour every last penny and ounce of effort into a fledgling start-up.
Here are some things that are true of most, if not all, entrepreneurs and how their work environment helps or harms their success.
1. We are defined by the company we keep.
There's a big difference between Leonardo DiCaprio's character in The Wolf of Wall Street, and Steve Wozniak. Both are entrepreneurs who leveraged their team to create millions of dollars in personal and shareholder profit. One of the reasons they were so different is the company they kept. While one was snorting coke with prostitutes, the other was buried circuit deep in motherboards and computer code.
Your initial partners are the ones that set the culture of your company. Some of the online guides on employee satisfaction point to most employees agreeing that a solid work culture is more important than salary. It turns out, an epic team culture could cut down on hiring and recruiting costs!
And, you're likely to experience major bumps on the road to corporate success. Jon Elvekrog says that the choice of a team is the universal first step in building a company of value. I couldn't agree more. If times are tight and you have to cancel the lease on the office, let go of excess staff and fend off stressful calls from panicked investors, your inner-circle will be the last line of defense against absolute failure. Choose them very, very carefully.
2. Home offices have surprising impacts on productivity.
I have yet to meet an entrepreneur that works solely in an office. Our mobile culture dictates that work travels with us. I personally spend most of my working hours at home. If you're looking for advice on creating an office away from the office, home office gurus love to share their list of home office hacks in blog articles and slide shares.
To be honest, I've found that I can work almost anywhere I feel comfortable. But, the places I feel comfortable are different from other people's preferences. The choice of a workspace at home, in the office or on the road deserves careful consideration. If I'm distracted by someone else's conversation, or a cluttered and disorganized workspace, my productivity plummets. Instead of powering through production for my clients, I'm constantly having to refocus.
3. Client perceptions: balancing impressive vs. frugal.
Most of my client communication occurs via email, Skype and traditional phone calls. But, on rare occasion, I'll ask a client to meet me in my office. Now, here's where it gets tricky for the solo entrepreneur. There's a balance to be struck between the need for your office décor to look professional, but not so expensive that the client thinks you're billing them for excess overhead costs.
I want my clients to feel comfortable, and perceive that I'm successful. But I also want them to feel that I'm not wasteful or too hung up on appearances. This balancing act will look different for people in different professions, but I work in the digital space. So, I get to take advantage of the "Google Effect".
Instead of spending a ton of money ornate office furniture and fancy artwork, I invest in middle-of-the-road furniture that looks more like it belongs in a cubicle than an executive workspace. My chair is a mesh ergonomic design, and the desktop surface is black plastic. I use bright colors on the walls to give the space some personality and use mirrors to increase natural light during the day.
I feel comfortable and professional without being stuffy. The relaxed atmosphere helps my clients feel at ease, which makes business meetings much more like a friendly discussion about an exciting project.
Perception is reality -- especially when it comes to personal branding. Carefully consider the types of partner and employee personalities you'll blend with. Find ways to make your workspace (both at home and at work) comfortable and productive. And, above all else, make sure the mood of your office space meets the expectations of visiting clients.