No Matter How Big (Or Small) Your Business Is: Company Culture Matters

Tara McMullin
Nov 2, 2017 · 8 min read
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As I write this, my small team is preparing to welcome 2 new hires.

We’ve gone from a team of dedicated contractors in 2016 to a team of 6 fully invested employees in 2017. It’s been a big switch — and one I wish I would have made years ago.

Beyond having extra hands to help and brains to think, one of the biggest rewards of hiring so quickly has been the opportunity to reexamine my company culture. Again, this is something I wish I would have done years ago.

“Company culture” might be something you think you don’t have to deal with until you’ve got a few people working for you. But — like me — you’d be wrong.

Company culture starts with you: the business owner, the freelancer, the coach, the consultant, the writer, the educator, the practitioner.

It’s tempting to think that, when you’re doing work you love and you’re working for yourself, you don’t need to worry about your working environment.

The long hours, the relentless pace, the lack of boundaries… it all doesn’t matter because you’re doing what you want to be doing. Unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many small business owners and freelancers burn out because they’d created an untenable work environment for themselves.

Why does this happen and what can you do about it?

Why Your Work Environment Sucks

It starts with the work. There is a ton of it.

When you start your business, begin a big new project, or enter a big growth phase, the work just piles up in front of you. Because, like me, you’re a doer, you start doing it. You probably don’t take a ton of time to think about how to better organize it, what is important and what is not, and how you might be able to remove items from your to-do list instead of adding to it.

On top of that, you’re constantly being pulled out of your zone of genius. You learn how to do new things and you do them — regardless of how much they line up with your strengths or not.

The less you work at things where you truly excel, achieve flow, or enjoy the challenge, the more likely you are to come to resent your working environment. Now, as a freelancer or small business owner you might think that doing things that you don’t excel at (maybe marketing or bookkeeping), that keep you from flow (hello, answering email), or that present unreasonable challenges (dealing with a difficult customer, maybe) are the name of the game. But they don’t have to be.

Happier Work Environments Employ Job Crafting

Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of Science of People and the author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People, says that happier people have figured out a way to make sure they do things they’re really good at every day. This is “job crafting.”

First, take a look at your own workload. Are you able to maximize the amount of time you spend on things you are genuinely good at? What would need to change to allow you to spend more time excelling at your work? It’s not always a matter of hiring people to do the work you don’t want to do. Sometimes, it means making a change to your brand, business model, or schedule. Which leads to the second step…

Then, consider your business as a whole. A great company culture is where every one is swimming in the same direction. So to have a happier work environment, you not only need to “job craft” for individual positions but for your whole mission.

I often see businesses where daily activities are based on guesses about what is going to make money or reach new audiences and not based on the overall mission of the business, the capabilities that give them an edge, or the unique way they deliver value.

Again, even if you don’t currently have other team members, getting clear on how your daily activities contribute to your mission, market edge, and unique selling proposition will mean your days feel more productive and your overall working environment will improve.

Center Your Company Culture On What Really Counts

As I mentioned, I used the reorganization and rebrand we went through earlier in 2017 to strengthen our company culture — for the benefit of myself and our team. I started with fully defining our mission and vision:


We exist to turn today’s small business owners into tomorrow’s economic powerhouses. We believe we can make the world a more inclusive, egalitarian, and compassionate place by empowering those who use commerce for good.


CoCommercial is the leading social and support hub for small business owners on the web. We connect the members of the New Economy from all over the world in one place so they can help themselves and each other save time, earn more, and fulfill their missions.

Your mission and vision give your culture a focal point. The ultimate test of whether a team member is a good fit, whether a project is important, or whether we’ve chosen the right direction on an initiative is whether it steers us closer to that mission or not. The more things we have pulling us away from our mission and vision, the more our culture degrades. The more our culture degrades, the less I enjoy my own work (and the same goes for my team).

Next, I revisited our values.

Throughout the year, I’ve been working to make them more clear for new people as they come on board, as well as more oriented around decision-making instead of nice, soft platitudes. Plus, I wanted to make sure that our value reflected our actual working environment and the assumptions I naturally operate under. We’ve settled on:

Personal Empowerment

We provide unprecedented access to the inside scoop on what works (and what doesn’t) to grow a small business so that our members can help themselves to exactly what they need, when they need it.

Community Empowerment

We work to raise the profile of the freelancers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs of the New Economy so that public policy can meet the demands of the changing workforce.


We share how things work and why we do them as a model for our members to do the same.


We never wait around for the “right” answer. We form a hypothesis, take action on new ideas, and analyze the results. We encourage our members to do the same and report back on what they discover.

Culturally, one of the biggest opportunities I had was to define our opportunity in the market for our new team members.

I was steeped in it, I lived it, but they didn’t. That said, I know plenty of small business owners who aren’t living their market opportunity. If you’re one of them, take some time soon to fully define it for yourself.

To arrive at your opportunity, ask yourself why the right person needs your solution instead of all the other solutions that exist. Consider their complaints about other solutions, the roadblocks they continually face on the path to solving their problems, and the unique way your company helps them solve their problems.

Here’s what ours looks like:

The business support market is dominated by gurus and experts. Business owners pay thousands of dollars for one person’s perspective and experience — whether in the form of coaching, group programs, or online courses — and get trapped in a cycle of spending more to learn more.

More and more, business owners are losing interest in high-ticket learning that doesn’t seem grounded in reality and doesn’t provide the results they pay for. They know they don’t have the time or energy to commit to high-level education that exhausts their budgets.

CoCommercial provides a low-cost way to connect to people with answers, expertise, and a diversity of perspectives. Support is highly targeted (based on member questions and conversations) and just-in-time. As a company, we also provide access to learning and discussion designed around the needs of the community.

Then, I started truly job-crafting our company.

I looked our unique capabilities, the things we can do best (or want to do even better) that give us an edge in the market. Think of these the same way you think of job-crafting your own daily activities. The more we work in these unique capabilities — across the organization — the more fulfilling, productive, and enjoyable work environment we’ll have.

Our capabilities are:

Distributed expertise — No single expert or guru can provide the experience we can. By relying on our members’ everyday expertise and the multitude of subject-level experts in our ranks, we provide diverse perspectives, answers, and support.

Human-powered network — Every member receives concierge service. We invest in people who are willing to immerse themselves in our community and help our members get the resources they need fast.

Transparent operations — We share what’s working for us and why we’ve made the decisions we have. Members have a sense of belonging to our company as well as our community.

Network-driven growth — Our members are our biggest advocates and we equip them with everything they need to spread the word about our community.

Member Insight — We use direct access to the fears, questions, and goals of our members to inform our development. We can spot an opportunity or need before our members do and respond to fill it.

The more we focus on upholding, enhancing, and decision-making around those capabilities, the more our culture is aligned with our work.

Again, this is hugely important whether your company is a team of one or a team of many because it creates focus and priorities.

Focusing On Culture Streamlines Your Business

As it stands, completing exercises like the above might feel rote, ambiguous, or even vapid. If that’s the case, I’m willing to bet that your business isn’t as focused as it needs to be to succeed.

If you’re a coach-for-whoever-hires-you or a copywriter-in-all-media, it might be hard to narrow in on a mission, vision, values, or set of unique capabilities. That’s a damn good thing to recognize now. Instead of letting these exercises be rote, ambiguous, or vapid, challenge yourself to get more specific, to double-down on your genius, to amplify the story of the brand you want to have — even if it’s not the brand you have now.

Once you’ve started to codify the culture you want to have in your business, ask yourself how you could better represent that culture in your daily activities, your communication with clients, and even your offerings. There’s a good chance that you’ll see an opportunity to fine-tune or prune the way your business generates money based on a better picture of your company culture alone.

Make Time to Nurture Your Culture

There is no reason being an entrepreneur has to mean a life of burnout, stress, or anxiety. Taking time to nurture your company culture — no matter how big or small your business is — can help you transform your own work environment, build a more compelling offer, become more productive, organize your priorities, make better decisions, and feel more fulfilled at the end of every day.

I’d say those are results worth investing in.

Ready to learn more about how your business works & who you could hire to really make a difference? I invite you to tune in for my next CreativeLive class on November 8–9, Create a Hiring Plan & Grow Your Standout Business. I’ll be sharing more of my personal journey, discussing the pain points of business growth with a panel of students, and offering a guide for planning for this next phase of your company.

The best part is that you can watch FREE while the class is live. Click here to RSVP.

What Works

What Works is honest conversation about running & growing a…

Tara McMullin

Written by

Founder & Executive Producer of What Works and The What Works Network — a small business podcast & community. Formerly Tara Gentile.

What Works

What Works is honest conversation about running & growing a small business today. We seek out the thoughtful, intentional, and unconventional ways small business owners make it work.

Tara McMullin

Written by

Founder & Executive Producer of What Works and The What Works Network — a small business podcast & community. Formerly Tara Gentile.

What Works

What Works is honest conversation about running & growing a small business today. We seek out the thoughtful, intentional, and unconventional ways small business owners make it work.

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