If you want to get the best out of your team focus on what they are doing well — and you will get more of the same. Tell them what you like and be specific so they can replicate it elsewhere. I love sharing examples of excellent customer service and strategic thinking with my team. People start emulating these approaches in all different ways because they understand what success looks like.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanne Hardy. With a background in fine arts combined with an astute business acumen, Jeanne Hardy established Creative Business Inc. in 2005 after realizing the growing need for financial literacy in the art world. Expanding over the years to work with creative entrepreneurs across all industries, Jeanne has since helped countless companies to successfully grow, expand, and achieve long-term financial sustainability. Jeanne is an alumna of the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Businesses program, and she recently completed a certificate in Strategic Leadership with Stanford GSB Executive Education.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
There was a moment early on when I started getting a lot of calls from all over for our bookkeeping services. I started onboarding 4 or 5 new business a week. One after the other, these potential clients were saying you really saved so and so, or I need you to help me the way you helped so and so. You changed so and so’s life can you do that for me? I was so moved and thrilled and taken aback. I never realized the impact this type of work could make. Peace of mind, confidence in your decision making. We were really moving needle for folks. I was inspired to try and work with as many creatives as possible. Scaling service business is not easy, but I wanted to try.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started leading your company?
I started Creative Business when my kids (boy girl twins) were less than a year old. I changed the company from providing onsite financial services to being a fully outsourced cloud-based service company. I needed the work to be more flexible so I could do more with my kids. This was 2005. I didn’t have many mompreneaurs to talk to about this, so I just did what worked best for me. Little did I know that most businesses were going to also be transitioning to these platforms in the coming years. In hindsight it was one of the best business decisions I ever made.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I signed my very first office lease (not a shared office), I immediately ordered all new furniture and file cabinets computers — everything. I was shocked when it all arrived unassembled, I didn’t realize I had to put everything together — by myself. I wanted my staff to come in on Monday and be thrilled to have a beautiful new office. I called my husband and we spent the entire weekend putting it together. It serves me right because I broke my own rule; I had no plan, no measurements I just jumped into it. That is when I learned the golden rule in business — Always start with a plan!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Creative Business Core Values are based on IMPACT. This is how I evaluate opportunities, partners, employees, client relationships. If the work we are doing does not make a positive impact on the client, the community the world, the environment we just don’t do it. Not that we need to see impact across the board, but we need to see it somewhere. Many of our client are purpose driven companies, we have not-for -profits, we have artist and makers working with public education, we have designers who speak around the work on a wide range of important issues. By using our core values to inform the work we do we have a unique perspective in working with our clients. We take into account more than just revenue and profits we have to approach everything from a much more holistic place. Taken together we sometime move mountains and open up a whole new opportunity that was not getting enough light. Sometimes it feels like finding the truth.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Last year, in response to client demand, I formed a new division of my company, CBI Advisory. Working with so many businesses over the years, I’ve been fortunate to encounter amazingly talented people in operations, branding, merchandising, marketing, law, the list goes on. The Advisory was the natural next step — it allows us to bring this the knowledge, the resources and experience we’ve accumulated to new clients who are looking level up their business. The Advisory can do this quickly. We are working with clients in retail, art and design, hospitality, and manufacturing.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Focus more on what’s working and less on what’s not. Find out from them how they solved the challenge. Be interested in how they think through the work. Give your team leaders the freedom to work through a challenge first. Then always evaluate ‘why’ they chose their strategy. Helping them articulate the ‘why’ before How leads to more creative thinking and the potential for innovation.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
A very wise person told me that as I grew my business the biggest challenge will be managing my own energy. It wasn’t until a year or two later that I truly understood how essential to success that can be. As a leader your energy needs to be reserved for the activities that will bring the greatest impact to your team and the goals of the organization. You have a unique perspective that needs to be shared. Set the strategy and communicate your thought process for success often. Find your leaders among the team. Keep in mind leaders show up at every level. The goal is to help them to Think like you rather than do like you do.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am lucky as I have had so many. Someone that always comes to the forefront is a CPA who I have worked with for a long time. I lost a big client early in my business. Clients had come and go but this was a major blow — or felt like it at that time. I had been integral in helping this business grow and it felt personal when they let me go. He gave me great advice that I still use today. “This happens to every business owner and you can’t take it personally. You have to tough it out and go back to work and keep doing your best for your other clients.” I have actually heard myself say this to my clients when they have had these experiences. So, I have been paying it forward for years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We support many cultural organizations in New York City. I also work with LaGuardia community college and we developed internship program that connects interns with local small businesses — including mine and we’ve hired a few of them as full-time employees.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- If you want to get the best out of your team focus on what they are doing well — and you will get more of the same. Tell them what you like and be specific so they can replicate it elsewhere. I love sharing examples of excellent customer service and strategic thinking with my team. People start emulating these approaches in all different ways because they understand what success looks like.
- Recently a long-term employee left our company. It was really sad for everyone. I wasn’t happy about it I was actually a little hurt. It’s important as a leader to make these moments positive for everyone. I saw that it was up to me to help everyone feel it was okay…change is normal and should be embraced even if it’s difficult or sad or makes you angry. Your job is to build the bridge to the other side. Turn the page.
- Negative feedback and criticism do not generally result in a change in behavior. In my experience it has often made the problem worse. Easier said than done sometimes but it’s worth practicing and trying to be self-aware.
- Firing people is never easy but it’s also not the moment to outline everything they’ve ever done wrong or a list of fails. Performance feedback should be happening on many fronts. Thank them for doing their best and wish them well in the future. It’s a business decision and should be done with empathy.
- Even leaders need to know where they bring value and where they really don’t. This too is much easier said than done. But knowing when to step away and let someone else lead is a powerful skill.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I helped some incredible entrepreneurs retire this past year and it pains me that their incredible knowledge cannot be captured and utilized more broadly. There are not enough mentoring opportunities for creatives and that’s a loss for all of us. I would love to start a knowledge share movement where capturing these hard-won best practices, winning strategies and amazing stories could be captured, catalogued and shared. An entrepreneur’s library for all of us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most — Abraham Lincoln
Practice Kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now — Jack Keouac
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Warren Buffett. I frequently ask myself what would Warren Buffet think about this idea? Would he agree with me that the world needs this idea or that idea to manifest? What would Warren like the most about this? Warren are you laughing at me right now? Warren Is this a prudent business decision? Warren Have I asked the right questions? I’ve some serious ideas about what small businesses are going to need in the next decade. I would love to have a long lunch with Warren Buffet and discuss the State of Small Business America with him. I’m an excellent cook and Warren is very busy so I will bring lunch TO him. I hope he’s reading this.