Personal Inventory: Photographer’s Must-Do
We’ve covered important ground already in this series on building a thriving business, and we have not even discussed cameras or props, or posing techniques, or editing styles. As mentioned previously, to be successful in business over the long-run requires first investing in ourselves before learning specific industry-relevant skills or the tricks of the trade. In this next article, we continue along this same vein. We now look at the importance of a personal inventory, specifically the importance of self-awareness for managing our strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t skip this important component. This isn’t mere theory. It’s about you, the person.
Put in the time. Do the work. You’re building a solid foundation upon which a thriving business can grow. Skimp on this task and you risk building on a foundation of jam.
This is the fourth article in our series on building a thriving photography business. We hope to enrich and empower your business efforts—whether you’re just starting the journey or you’re well down the track. (If you’re just joining us, we suggest that you start at the first article here: Building a Thriving Photography Business.)
Why a Personal Inventory?
You may have heard the ancient Greek saying, “Know Thyself”. Socrates expanded on the saying and taught that
An unexamined life is not worth living”.
Heavy stuff, yes, but there’s great truth in the sentiment.
We all know someone who lacks self-awareness, right? Someone who talks too much or who talks over everyone else.
Socially, it can be awkward around such people, and even at times, a little embarrassing.
Self-awareness is wonderful tool to possess. Not just because it’s a good social skill to acquire, but more importantly, it arms us with self-knowledge.
And it’s through a personal inventory that we acquire self-awareness. That we get to know ourselves. That we “examine” our strengths and weaknesses.
In The iBoss Dilemma, Craig shares how self-awareness helped him process a monumental business decision.
What would you do if the business you start explodes out from underneath you inside six months, and you know you’re wholly unprepared to manage the growth?
- Ride the tidal wave knowing you’re going to sacrifice heaps of time your young family needs (and it’ll probably all end in shipwreck anyway)?
- Go with the torrent for as long as possible knowing you’ll ultimately disappoint customers when they realise you’re out of your depth?
- Deceive yourself into believing that you can stay afloat by revising your priorities and thereby fudging your original big-picture plans, plans that affect others?
- Or bail out by cashing-in to the first interested buyer when your fledgling business is a few years away from showing its true value (and worth millions)?
I’m not sure what you would hypothetically choose, but I actually had to make the choice. For real.
Let me back up a little.
It’s early 2003. And my firstborn has just turned one. A daughter, and I feel privileged to play a huge role in her life. Nappies. Burping. All-nighters. I want to be the present-father as much as I know it’s the best investment I can possibly make into her life.
Up to that point, despite having a Bachelor of Commerce degree to my name, a sense of life purpose and priority had not yet afforded me the time or opportunity to dabble in business.
As 2003 dawned, I was presented with a golden opportunity. To start a business that would serve as the platform from which I could continue my community development work in Southern Africa. That’s an important point. The business was intended to help support my sense of life purpose. A well-laid plan that was already two years in the making. A plan that affected a multitude of others, people I couldn’t just drop.
Six months later into the golden opportunity, and I was drowning.
Now, the rest of the story. The overwhelming success of the business was not tied to any ingenuity on my part. It was linked to timing, good fortune and a bunch of other factors that played out to my advantage.
To twist the words of Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games,
The odds were definitively in my favour.
So, after six months I pretty much faced the choices outlined in the introduction to this chapter. I was not going to sacrifice the time my young family needed. Not for all the tea in China. That’s a definite no to option (a). I wasn’t prepared to fake it and let down my customers. So, no to (b). I certainly wasn’t going to revise priorities and drop those involved with community development projects that were just starting to gather tremendous traction. So, that would be a no to option (c). And there was no interested buyer to bail me out, a decision that would have been a disaster looking back. So, no to option (d).
So what did I do?
Again, I’ll tell you at the end of the chapter. (Yep, this may be my strategy to get you through each chapter of the book. Just kidding. Last time I’ll do this.)
I was fortunate in another way. I had surrounded myself with a number of wise men and women. As a collective, we valued honesty and constructive criticism, and through such values, it was a habit to invite feedback from one another. Regularly. Not just in big decisions where we tend to be more defensive because there’s more at stake. As a way of life, we lived (and continue to live) by the following statement:
A true friend stabs you in the front because you’ve asked them to.
Allow me to illustrate this with a rather crude analogy.
Let’s say I’m about to go onto stage to give a talk to a large audience. You pop by to wish me well as I wait in the wings, so to speak. And lo and behold, you notice my zipper is down. Lost in my own head, I failed to zip up after stopping in at the bathroom.
What do you do?
Listen, I know what I need from you at that point. Honesty. And don’t soft-soap the issue.
I’d much rather you embarrass me in private than allow me to stand in public and show the world the colour of my underwear!
True friends are honest because you’ve asked them to be honest.
The Gift of Self-Awareness
Through the safe place of these relationships, and the feedback offered, I had developed a fairly healthy sense of self-awareness.
At first it may sound odd, but self-awareness delivers us from self-deception and self-absorption. Why? Because through self-awareness, I see “me” for who I am. The good and the not so good.
Self-awareness is simply self-revelation. And through this awareness of self, we learn to evaluate our own lives more honestly. Through this self-knowledge, we learn to appreciate our strengths and to accept our weaknesses.
Yes, we appreciate our strengths. We recognise those resources given to us as gifts and use them for the good of others.
And yes, we accept our weaknesses. We accept that no single person has all the gifts, and that we don’t even get to choose the ones we want. Our task is to discover those we do have, and accept those we don’t. And herein lies a truth we don’t hear every day:
I cannot be whatever I want to be.
What? Heresy! Stone the heretic!
It’s true. Tar me with pitch and feathers, but it’s true.
The Be Anything Myth
It may at first sound totally deflating, but it’s tremendously liberating once you unpack it.
So, let me explain myself.
By strengths, I’m referring to a person’s unique mix of gifts (or abilities, or talents, or whatever word you prefer to use). I personally like the word “gifts” because it reminds us that they are blessings given to us for the good of all. As such, we cannot take credit for them. We can, however, temper them with humility and use them with grace.
Yes, we can learn skills (life skills, work skills, and the like), and that’s important to do. But you cannot learn a gift. You cannot learn a talent. You either have the gift or you don’t. And you can be sure that if you don’t have a particular gift, you are blessed with others.
For example, I do not have a talent for music. I cannot play an instrument (not for a lack of trying, mind), and I cannot hold a note. I’m tone deaf. When I sing, dogs run and hide. In fact, I’m even banned from singing in the shower. Unless we’re spring cleaning. Then my voice helps in stripping soap scum from the shower walls.
Now, I can improve by learning the skills involved, and I’d like to think I have. (Self-delusion is a wonderful thing.) But I’ll never have the gift of music. I can be better than I was, but I’m still chasing dogs away.
So, if my strengths refer to my inbuilt or inherent gifts, my weaknesses refer to my limitations, those areas in my life where I’m not gifted. (Yes, there are limitations placed on us by culture and custom, fear and failure, abuse and hurt, and the like, that we can overcome. I’m not referring to those limitations here.)
So, to be clear, by weaknesses, I’m not referring to character deficiencies or moral flaws. I’m not suggesting we say, “Oh, well, I have a vicious temper. It’s just the way it is.” Or, “I’ve got a biting tongue, and y’all just better accept it now.”
It is at first a little sobering to admit your gift-mix limitations. But it’s also liberating. For one, it helps you to cherish, polish and perfect your areas of strength.
Discovering Your Strengths
Gallup, the USA-based research colossus, has over a 40-year study found that effectiveness and fulfilment lies in the strategic focus on one’s strengths, not one’s weaknesses. They have surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide and have found that only around 30% of people have a reasonably good idea of their strengths and use them appropriately. Those who do are “six times as likely to be engaged (positive and productive) in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general” (Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0).1
Wow. Take that in slowly.
Knowing your strengths and using them appropriately is key to effectiveness and fulfilment.
So obvious when you think about it.
Plus, knowing our strengths (and thus, our weaknesses) helps us realise our need for others. A healthy person is an interdependent person. Just as it’s not healthy to be dependent on others, it’s also not healthy striving to be independent of others. Sooner or later, you’ll need to lean on a friend. It will be that much easier if you admit your limitations to yourself.
So back to that shocking statement I made:
I cannot be whatever I want to be.
Ra-Ra Sounds Good
The ra-ra we hear from the motivational gurus goes something like this: whatever you desire, whatever you set your mind to, anything is possible … if you harness the will power necessary and you’re prepared to work hard enough.
The ra-ra formula looks something like this:
Desire + Will Power + Hard Work = Anything is Possible
This is typically presented with a sparkling, pearly-white smile, and the implication is, “Be like me!”
But the formula is crocked. Yes, I’m suggesting that just adding sheer will power and hard work to “whatever you desire” is faulty thinking. For the vast majority of people, the ra-ra formula works out like this:
Desire + Will Power + Hard Work = Tons of Disappointment
You see, the get-real formula is stated this way:
Desire + Gift-mix + Will Power + Hard Work = Your Potential Fulfilled
Plus, add this caveat: our desire must be tempered by a healthy awareness of our gift-mix (strengths and weaknesses) in the first place.
Okay, for a little fun, let’s give Steve Stunning, the conference speaker, a different gift-mix. Obviously, to be a successful motivational guru, one needs a gift-mix that includes:
The gift of the gab, the ability to tell engaging stories and capture succinct memorable points, a winning personality, a good dose of charisma, and it helps if one’s voice is easy on the ear.
Now, let’s swap out that set of gifts for what it takes to be a laboratory scientist. Yep, I admit, I don’t know what it takes to be a laboratory scientist, and I’m going to fall prey to any number of clichés, so please bear with me. But there’s a reason Steve Stunning is not working on the next cure for cancer, and there’s probably a reason crowds aren’t going to pay a chunk of change to listen to the squeaky pitch of Professor Smell Fungus as he expounds on the minutiae of micro bacteria and … well, you get my point.
Without their respective gift-mixes neither Steve nor the Professor are going to excel at what they do no matter how much they work the formula, Desire + Will Power + Hard Work.
So, here’s the get-real formula again:
Desire + Gift-mix + Will Power + Hard Work = Your Potential Fulfilled
A Big Decision
So, how did all this help me make a big decision?
Yeah, I’m not sure. What was my point?
Just teasing. I didn’t ramble along for nothing.
First, I knew what the big picture was. And I was reminded of this by my friends. The business was to be subservient to the growing community development work. It was not to usurp it.
Second, I knew where my strengths lay and what my weaknesses were. I was neither wired nor equipped to manage the growth of the business. On the one hand, I was a relative greenhorn in the industry: I simply did not have the market knowledge or product nous to fulfil the potential of the business. On the other hand, my talents lay elsewhere. I did not have the goods in my locker to make it happen at the scope required.
This was a tremendously liberating reality. It’s freeing to know what you can and cannot do. It also saves you wasting time and spares you a heap of pain and shame.
In truth, my big decision, in the light of this self-knowledge, wasn’t a difficult decision.
Locus of Control
The technical term for this is locus of control.
More broadly speaking, your locus of control helps to distinguish between what is in your power to control, and that which sits beyond your reach.
Think of it as two concentric circles with you in the centre circle. Something like this:
Okay, that’s a circle inside an oval. But you get the point.
In the smaller, inner circle is all you can control. Things in your power to change. Things like your attitude. Yes, our attitude.
Things like our responses. Our response to opportunity and challenge. Our response to change, both seasons of change and more permanent change.
In terms of business, we’re talking about the control you exercise over what products or services you offer. And the value you add. Your USPs. The customer service you offer. The professionalism you exhibit.
In essence, the things we can change are the things relating to our character and the things we have responsibility for.
In the larger, outer circle lie all the things you cannot control. Things like other people’s attitudes and responses. Things as practical as market forces, and things as ethereal as the seasons your business endures. (So, for example, while we have no power over the seasons, we do have the power to choose how we respond to any given season.)
Do the exercise. Write your name on a piece of paper and draw two concentric circles around it. Then write down all the things that have bearing on your life, and place them in one of the circles based on whether you have control over it or not.
Then take charge of the things you can change and resolve to cease fretting and sweating the things you cannot.
It’s an empowering tool. A liberating concept. Who would have thought that knowing one’s limitations could be so life-giving?
Your strengths (your inherent talents, gifts, abilities) go in the smaller, inner circle. While you did nothing to earn them, you do have the power to grow and develop them. And like muscles, if you don’t, they can atrophy.
Your weaknesses (your inherent limitations) go in the larger, outer circle. Again, you can learn skills, but you cannot change the way you’re essentially wired. If you’re tone deaf, you’re not going to have a record label no matter how much you want it.
No Man (or Woman) is an Island
John Donne said it,
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
By accepting our limitations, I’m not suggesting you neglect a necessary component of your business. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably a one-person show. That means everything rests on your shoulders. If your administration skills leave a lot to be desired, then tough. Admin must get done, right?
For many start-ups, this is the beginning of the end. The time expended in managing weak areas, typically things like administration, website management and marketing, robs from time needed to perfect and polish strong areas, things like the actual product or service offered. And it’s the latter that makes the business. It’s the latter that gives you joy and satisfaction. It’s the latter to which your goals are linked.
So many small businesspeople are time poor because they get entangled in managing secondary support systems actually meant to serve the primary business. These support systems morph into monsters with ravenous appetites. In a real sense, they become the master, and we end up slave to them.
Think time, creative time, and strategic planning time are all sacrificed at the altar of the administration or management gods—demanding gods who are never ever satisfied.
So, what’s the answer?
Realise you need help. Realise you need others. Yep, you need a team.
Yes, accepting your limitations is an acceptance that you need a team. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Only Superman flew alone. And hey, face it. You’re not Superman. Or Wonder Woman.
For some that may mean hiring staff with strengths in the areas of your weaknesses. Good recruitment doesn’t double-up on areas of strength. (At least not initially. If you’re able to build a large staff, doubling up on talent, especially in the context of mentoring relationships, can create an empowering team.) Yes, shared values are important. Absolutely. Yes, good chemistry is a must. But when you’re hiring, look for talent you don’t have … especially in areas that free you up to do what you do well (e.g. administration) and areas that enlarge the reach of the business (e.g. marketing).
For others, and certainly those who are just starting out solo, it means two things:
- Invest in technology that plugs weak areas like administration or management.
Fortunately, there is a heap of technology available to help with administration, workflow, invoicing, mail management, and the like. You can hunt down freemium versions or get an entire office setup for anywhere between $100-$250 a year. That’s chump change for an effective, efficient virtual office.
What’s best for your business and your industry?2 Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in your field and ask what works for them. Do your research. Test-drive a few freemium services. And then take the plunge and make it work for you. You’re the boss after all.
- Outsource work in areas that generate business.
Most businesspeople are passionate about what they make or create or produce or source or offer. Yet they find things like website development, marketing and promotional work hard slog. These are areas that, while secondary to the main business, are vital to growing the business itself. It’s in these areas that outsourcing to a carefully chosen expert or two adds value to your business and, most importantly, frees you to do what you do best. (And because they generate business, they effectively pay for themselves.)
Master the Primary Thing
You don’t have to do it all. The truth is, you can’t. Or not for long anyway. There’s truth in the saying,
“Jack of all trades but master of none.”
A successful business needs you to master your craft, to master the product you produce or the service you offer. And to master the primary thing in your business, you may need to outsource a few secondary things to those who master them.
Jack didn’t make a good businessman after all. The last anyone heard of the fella, he fell down a hill and broke his crown.
So, here’s what I did to avoid falling on my head.
After reminding myself what the big picture was, and being honest with my strengths and limitations, I made way for a business partner.
A business partner who had the strengths I lacked.
He agreed to step into the dynamic of the business in line with his strengths, his expertise, his knowledge of the industry. And I shifted over into a role more in keeping with my talents and time constraints. Doing so meant we effectively steered and managed the rapid growth of the business. The load was carried on both our shoulders even as we brought in staff to plug the gaps as they appeared. We still played catch up to a degree, but boy, we rode the wave.
Two years later, we brought on another partner who added a missing ingredient to the mix. Four years later, we sold the business for a heap.
More importantly, my family didn’t have an absent father. And my big-picture purpose flourished with the business in support of it.
I dread to think what would have happened if, through a lack of self-awareness, I didn’t make the change required.
1 What I knew as StrengthsFinder 2.0, I see is now called CliftonStrengths assessment. It’s still the same great tool created by former Gallup Chairman, Don Clifton.
Remember, as a tool, it’s only as effective as the way it’s used. It’s certainly not a magic wand. It should be used as part of an evaluation process, and it’s most useful when a trained Strengths coach is invited into the process. This is not a plug for the coaches involved (or the tool for that matter). It’s just the best way to get the most out of the tool.
2 Lorna uses 17 Hats. Their annual plan is U$199, which effectively works out at U$17 per month. You can give it a spin for free over a two-week period.
Personal Inventory: Knowing your Strengths & Weaknesses
That’s good stuff, isn’t it?
I trust you’re getting a lot out of this series and realise just how important it is to get this stuff right upfront. A little latter in the series, I’ll include Craig’s very helpful notes on Discovering Your Strengths and Weaknesses in a separate article. (Or you can get the book now for yourself. It’s available in both eBook and paperback formats.)
A personal inventory can take the form of a “formal” personal stock-take or it can, as implied above, be more of a personal reflection in which you invite the perspective of others you trust. While the former certainly has merit, I have found the latter to be more beneficial. That said, you do need to be intentional about it. It does require setting some time aside and giving some measured thought to it.
Remember. You’re investing in you. And that’s an investment worth making.