Barbara Ann Corcoran is an American businesswoman, investor, speaker, consultant, syndicated columnist, author, and is a Shark on ABC’s hit reality show Shark Tank.
I built my business exactly the way my mother built her family. She raised 10 kids in a two-bedroom flat like it was easy, and I wanted to replicate the big happy family I grew up with.
I pictured my business from the get-go as a team of people working together and having lots of fun. Here’s what I did to create a powerful team of a thousand people and how, as a side benefit, we also became the creative powerhouse within our industry.
Bring Fun Into the Office
Fun at work makes good business sense because happy people work harder, and a lot more work gets done. People are more productive and build better teams when they enjoy their jobs and each other’s company.
When we play together, the barriers and competition between us naturally break down. Playing helps us see each other in a new light, different from the one at work. We are able to find out about someone’s kids, where they’re from and what their interests are outside of the workplace. Good fun even brings archrivals together, allowing them to vent their competitiveness in a healthy way.
In short, fun at work is the best way to build strong teams. If you conduct business as usual, the best you’ll have is a usual business. But if you create a team that plays together, you’ll create an extraordinary business!
Find Creativity Everywhere
I’ve never once had a creative idea sitting at my desk, but I’ve found hundreds of great ideas outside the office. All of the most creative advertising campaigns at the Corcoran Group were copied from ideas we found outside the office. Every publicity stunt and new way of doing business were discovered or dreamed up when our team was out having fun. We brought the ideas back to our business to try out, and they made our company a more fun and creative place to work.
Free massages, manicures, soft-drink coolers, ping pong tables, yoga classes, color-coded filing systems and online chat rooms were all found outside and brought back home. If you want to build a creative company, the smartest thing to do is to always look for fun.
Real Estate War Games
One of our best marketing ideas changed our entire business, and we found it at a party when we had way too much to drink. It was the day we accidentally discovered the internet.
This idea would come to us three years before our competitors realized they could sell real estate online. We were drinking too much when my Navy Captain husband started bragging about the war games he’d just played in South Korea on this new thing called the internet. He described with wild enthusiasm how the U.S. Navy performed their war maneuvers online.
“But Barb,” he said, “It was in real time. I swear, it was so real that I could reach out and touch the boats in the North Korean harbor.”
I had just wasted a ton of money putting all of our unsold properties on videotapes, only to find out that the customers didn’t want them. So I quickly put them up online, and—boom, boom—we had two sales out of London within the first week! I registered all of my competitors URLs that same week until they all called and I gave them their URLs back. But it took most of them a full two years before they discovered the biggest thing that was about to change the way real estate was bought and sold.
From Bankruptcy to Puppy Sale
On the brink of bankruptcy, I also copied an idea from a puppy sale and used it to sell 88 unwanted apartments in 11 Manhattan buildings. We were in the depth of the real estate recession, and these apartments were the dregs of the market. They had huge monthly maintenance costs, lobbies in need of renovation and many had no kitchens or baths.
If I hadn’t been out of the office watching a puppy sale where there weren’t enough puppies to go around, I would have never had the clever idea to sell them all in a one-day, one-price sale. I added up the asking prices, divided by the number of units and made my announcement for a “secret sale” taking place the following Monday at 9 a.m. sharp. I explained how all apartments would be sold first-come, first-serve.
“Pick any studio for $49,500,” I announced to my less-than-enthusiastic salespeople, “any one-bedroom for $99,500 or any two-bedroom for $165,500.”
The first successful buyer flew in from Paris to be first to get the pick of the litter and camped out in line starting at 4 a.m. that morning. He signed a contract for a one bedroom, site unseen, four blocks away. We started the day with 88 apartments no one wanted, but by day’s end, we had earned our company over $1 million in net commissions.
All creative ideas are on the outside, so make sure you and your team go out and find them.
Start a “Mad Money” Fund
As my business grew, I learned to lean on everyone for creative ideas because we needed that many more. But good ideas cost money, so I mandated that 5 percent of company sales be earmarked for trying new things to keep our shop creative. Every office had a 5 percent “mad money” fund, and each sales manager had to spend it on trying new ideas before the end of the year.
Some of the ideas were spectacular and some were just plain awful, but I considered the money very well spent because the innovative ideas kept coming through!
Budget for creativity and watch the ideas flow.
Always Play on Company Time
It’s smart to plan all your fun events to take place during company time. It gives your team permission to take time off, and it always feels like a good hooky day from school. Besides, if the boss is having fun instead of working, everyone readily follows.
I found that the folks who are most resistant to fun need it the most, and stressed-out people only need a little push to join in the merrymaking.
Make Every Event a Surprise
Change always keeps fun fresh!
I planned meticulously for our yearly February sweetheart parties and surprised our staff with the newest, coolest places. We had a mandatory dress theme that changed every year: 1940s garb, pajamas or cross-dress. Everyone had as much fun planning their costume as they did at the party, and dressing as someone else loosened everyone up for a jolly good time! Our company retreats were always to an unknown destination, which wasn’t revealed until everyone arrived at the airport, making the anticipation almost as fun as the outing.
Remember that surprises make for the best fun because they allow everyone to experience the excitement that small children feel on Christmas morning.
Snap Lots of Pictures
It’s smart to take pictures because they double your pleasure. Everyone gets to relive all the fun the next morning and the photos lock in the memory. When you post collective photos online or offline, you give everyone the chance to compare notes, share them and feel the camaraderie that’s so important to building strong teams.
If you’re out to build a fun and creative company, the fastest way to do it is to have fun! Find success not just through how much profit you bring in but by how much your employees love to come in every morning. Not only will they stay with you, but they’ll help you get through the down periods that every business goes through.