I have started a lot of businesses. I have worked with a ton of businesses helping them to grow, and as the internet loves to call it, “scale” their resiliency and success in their business. What You and your business will look like when you start will change within 6 months, let alone 6 years down the line.
It’s easy to acknowledge and even expect growing pains during this process. Pretty much everybody understands that growth is uncomfortable. But when YOU are IN it, it’s easy to get stuck, or completely bogged down in your own sludgey struggle.
When we start overworking ourselves, we become exhausted and often avoid our personal priorities. To put it dramatically, we martyr ourselves for our business and we slide down that slippery slope into the sludge.
We start making reactive decisions. We stop looking for holistic and creative solutions and start choosing between binary options. We view our business, industry, economy, and our world as a battle to be fought, a win or lose.
Typically, we hit full-blown martyr status after the first few months into years in our business. The planning, the launch, even those first few successes, and sales are exhilarating. That first year is a roller coaster of soaring highs and plummeting lows.
We experience some early success and double-down on our commitment. We endure some crushing losses, but take it on the chin. “We’re learning,” right?!? But because business is cyclical, we invariably endure a contraction, where our growth projection takes a bit of a sideways crawl, or even a dive.
At some point, we cross over the threshold of eager beginner to the seasoned owner. We’ve had to say “no” to some of the things that are most important to us. We give up on the idea of weekends and breaks. We tell ourselves we “have to” choose our business, because everyone is depending on us, and this is the way it has to be, so we have to sacrifice ourselves for our success.
We repeat the same failures and tell ourselves, “never again” more than once. My favorite fable, “this will change soon ... next busy season, next event, next product launch, it will be different.”
We don’t do anything different, or think differently, we may have hired an expert or paid for an outstanding designer to fancy things up, but it’s the same thoughts, feelings, assumptions and stories guiding us.
When You Own Your Own Business, Work Is Personal
After you’ve been in business, and really, the length of time for “in business” does vary for people based on business and personality, but also experience and leadership style; but once you start to define yourself by the success of your business, you can’t seem to separate you from your work.
When we start our business, or actually, much earlier in the planning process, we assume all jobs and responsibilities. We imagine the logo and branding, the products and people who are buying them, we see the locations and store-fronts or website and social media posts. We think through production and distribution, business development, and partnerships. We get advice from financial and legal experts. We practice the sales and the elevator pitch.
Then we launch. Maybe we got financing, maybe we invest our personal savings, or maybe we’ve started on a hunch and a shoestring, and we’ve even gotten friends to give us some money for our initial concept. It’s fun!
When you first start you should wear all the hats, or at least be closely monitoring every activity in your business. You’re learning and growing, and in doing so, new opportunities, fast failures, and growth occur.
You go through a few hiring cycles, and it’s frustrating. You test some marketing campaigns, some of which are good, but others fail and feel like huge wastes of investment let alone hope. By this point, you’ve likely got a lot of people in your ear telling you how hard a new business is, how most fail, and your friends and family are likely rolling their eyes when you’re (not) around … a lot.
Fast forward to thousands of hours, who knows how many dollars, late nights, working weekends, laptops on vacations, and investment from every part of your being, so you start to tell yourself, you can’t not keep going. This business is your everything.
When you start to resent your business, when you start asking yourself “how did it get like this,” when you start resigning yourself to the inevitable work vs weekends, uninspiring sales targets, and you accept the general malaise that many assume comes with ownership, it’s time to - as a great poet of the 20th century would say - check yourself before you wreck yourself.
The Top 3 Reasons You Are Killing Yourself For Your Business And How To STOP THE MADNESS
#1 You Are Doing Too Much, Stop.
There are now awards for stressed out, sleepless, unhealthy bosses. In fact, you are likely repelling the right people, new opportunities, and growth in your business, and I can promise you, you are creating chaos and struggle in your business.
As soon as you find yourself waking up with emails, orders, customer calls, and spreadsheets ringing through your brain at 3am - of yes my friend, I am too familiar with this - you know you need to stop.
And honestly, taking that next morning to hit pause and try and regain some sense of perspective will save you and your business.
Where did things go sideways?
When did you stop sleeping, eating right, or simply enjoying your day today?
If you could wave a magic wand, and walk into your dream day off work, what would it look like?
If you looked at your to-do list, what activities are on there (and what is not)?
You need to create some quiet time to reflect. I know, I can hear you saying, “impossible,” or “I don’t have ANY time between work and family.” I’ve been there too my friend, as have te hundred of clients and business owners I have worked with, and I’ll quote the indisputable genius Albert Einstein rather than plead my very mortal case, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
Friend, every single business ever has been exactly where you are at if you are relating to even one word I am writing here. Until you take a step back and redistribute responsibilities and activities to the right people, you will continue beating your head against a wall, until you crack.
Most owners I know have a 4-page running to-do list, an analog (aka paper) calendar, and a digital calendar (or 6). They also have a project management platform, quarterly and annual milestones, maybe a communication platform like slack, and an event and conference (virtual?) calendar. If you’re like me, you also have a stack of papers, journals, and notebooks that contain plans, campaigns, new launch concepts, and extra to-dos.
If the above made your breath shallow or your muscles tense, you are doing it wrong and you are doing too much. You can have a 4-page to-do list and feel excited about it, and you can have layers of scheduling and planning that make your life easier, not harder.
How To Take Control Of Your Day To Day And Stop Doing Too Much
As the owner, you need to be in a position to lead your business. You have to be able to get out of the work and do your job, which is to see the painting, not the brush strokes.
When you take this morning or day to totally change your life and business, invest some creative energy into not just problem solving, but to discover new opportunities and perspectives, everything will change for you.
Get real with your to-do list, meetings, events, plans, and milestones. Which excites you and feels expansive? Which don’t? Use the energy action model above to start to place everything in your day to day, into a quadrant.
The idea with the energy action model is that in a perfect world, we are only engaging in Quadrant 4 activities. However, I believe we can usually turn a quadrant 2, 3, and even 1 into a quad 4 with the right mindset. “How the f*&k can paying taxes, sales, or chasing delinquent payments get to quad 4,” you say?
Well, as any good coach would do, I flip that question back at you and ask, how can you reframe the purpose or desired result and start with your why when you assume responsibility for any task?
Example 1: taxes.
(Original) I hate paying taxes. I pay too much. It’s a pain in my ass. I resent every second of this.
(Reframe) I love making money. I also love roads, running water, gas, and electricity, feeling safe, having playgrounds, and all the things taxes pay for! Making money means paying taxes.
Example 2: sales
(Original) I hate sales. I feel like a sleazeball. I feel like I am trying to constantly rip people off when I upsell, and I feel bad. I’m afraid people can’t afford this and I hate asking for money.
(Reframe) I love solving problems. Anytime a potential customer asks questions, they have a problem, and I might be able to create the ideal solution! I can actually change someone’s life and give them an opportunity to grow.
Example 3: delinquent payments
(Original) I can’t believe this invoice is 60 days late?! These people have no respect, in fact, they’re a$$holes who are destroying my business. I can’t believe I have to waste my time with this sh!t.
(Reframe) This is the third time I’ve had to follow-up. I wonder what it going with them and if they’re ok? If they are ok, I wonder how we can create a better system or simply stop selling to them? I know sometimes I’ve forgotten, not had the cash flow, or just not prioritized an invoice, so I bet together we can figure out a better way moving forward.
Can you FEEL the difference? Suddenly a task you hate becomes a challenge to overcome, where you really shine, or a place to explore compassion and collaboration. Anytime you force yourself to do something, you will get subpar results.
Before doing anything, ask yourself how you will feel once this task is complete. Sit with that feeling and then take action. If that action is delegation, when you start with the end in mind, you ensure impactful and effective activity.
Now, if reframing did not’ shift your attitude around doing a certain thing, the best way to get these quad 1-3 activities off your to-do list is to simply ask for help. Delegate. Or just get rid of them altogether.
I can promise you there’s a lot you’re doing right now that no one would miss if it just disappeared off your to-do list, or from your plans. I’ll get more into delegating outsourcing and hiring in part 3 of this blog.
Once you’ve got your ideal tasks, and have the to-do’s sorted out, look at the realities of your day. Some businesses are very busy before opening, but then once the doors swing out and the people start coming in, it’s a simple flow of sales. Other businesses are quiet before the storm, and pre/post opening hours are when the actual work can get done.
Most business owners I partner with have hilarious schedules. They assign a work out, healthy breakfast, reading and skills development, time with family, and commute into the same few hours (if they’re lucky) before work. Then their morning, the first 3-4 hours of their working day, has everything from meetings, to reporting, to emails, to follow-up invoicing, to project management scheduled. There is no lunch on their calendar.
The afternoon looks a lot like the morning, with a bunch of unrelated jobs crammed into not enough time, and the occasional appointment or errand that needs to be completed before getting home. There is no end time, no dinner, and nothing fun or rewarding scheduled that night, or anywhere in their calendars.
It’s a fucking nightmare. I actually got nauseous typing that up. I went right back to getting my MBA, running a record label, and starting my touring business. That was right before my relationship of 6 years dissolved and I had a mental breakdown.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we pretend we can do it all in an hour, or even a week? Who’s success metric is this, “How much can we put on our to-do lists?”
When you dream into your ideal workday, it starts with what time you wake up and it finishes with what time we go to sleep. Very few of us can do 4 hours of sleep, I used to be that person, but then I got old.
Pay attention to how you are physically feeling when setting up these parameters and know, they will change as you and your business evolve.
How much sleep do you need for optimal performance, right now?
When will you eat? How will you ensure you have the find you want, on hand, when you need to eat?
When will you start work? When will you finish work?
How many breaks do you need to maintain optimal performance in your day?
These sound like basic questions, but when was the last time you STARTED your scheduling with them? The whole point of running your own business and productivity is to be successful, so why not start out with the MOST important contributors to your success - rest and fuel?!?
Why do values matter when you're reviewing and revamping your to-do list? Your values determine what you do, how you do it, and why you’re doing it. Basically your values are the #1 determining factor in your fulfillment, and when you choose tod-o’s based on your values, everybody wins.
Schedule your values. Family time, freedom, health, spirituality, growth and development, it doesn’t matter what you values are, but it makes all the difference in the world when you commit to adding values to your day today. And you know, once something goes on your calendar it is was easier to re-schedule.
This means you can fit it all in, but you're being realistic and reasonable about your reality, and not setting yourself up for disappointment or failure.
Once you start choosing activities that expand and excite you, reframe the other activities or simply get them off your list, and ensure the things that fulfill you are the first items scheduled out, you will completely transform your attitude, performance, and business.
#2 You Suck At All The Jobs, Stop.
Now that we’ve mastered our mindset and productivity, we’re done, right? Wrong. Assuming you really did take some time out to truly redefine your day and to do’s, while I’ve got you, I’d suggest reflecting back on the difference in your business form the first few months it was operational until now.
Make a list of every win you’ve had, the growth milestones you achieved, some of those big-ticket items you ever thought you tick off the list, and some of the goals still pending or recently added.
A lot has changed since you started your business. You have changed. Maybe even your goals, products, and mission have changed.
What jobs did you assume because no one else was around to help?
What roles or responsibilities did you take on because you got tired or outsourcing or hiring people only to be disappointed?
What tasks are still under your job description that quite honestly, you suck at?
Every business owner finds themselves playing back up for one reason or another, especially when first starting out. Please stand up, draw a proverbial line in the sand, and shout out loud the tasks you are no longer going to take on - be it scheduling and project management or bookkeeping and accounts receivable.
And don’t laugh, I worked at a company that grossed half a billion a year, had nearly 1,000 employees, and the CEO sat down with me and went through every single line-item expense, across the whole damn corporation, down to pens and paper, every week. If that’s not ruling with an iron fist, and wasting a huge amount of brainpower, I don’t know what is?!?
Building trust, learning how to hire the right people, on-boarding, and training, investing in the right people, all of this can take years. Most businesses go through 5 rounds of hiring until they nail their process and recruitment strategies. It is SO hard to delegate, outsource, and eventually hire people to take on specific roles in your business. You are not alone my friend.
Gaining some clarity on your leadership style and the boss you’d like to be is helpful. Once you understand this you know the type of people you need to hire, let alone the desired skills and attitudes. As an example, I am not a detail-oriented mico-manager.
I have to hire people who are self-starters, independent, and perfectionists because quite frankly, I can be sloppy and I don’t have the focus to micro-manage. I also can create an astounding amount of work, take on huge risks, and work quite happily under a crazy-inducing level of pressure, so I also need people with a can-do flexible attitude, a growth mindset, and accountability.
Knowing your strengths is helpful, but knowing your weaknesses is crucial. Some of us value DIY, powering through and getting it done, but when we own our business this can be to our detriment. Learning how to let go
#3 If Your Business Doesn’t Support You On Your Worst Day, Stop.
YOU SHOULD NOT HATE YOUR WORK WHEN IT’S YOUR BUSINESS.
End of story.
No, if’s and’s or but’s.
Sell it. Hire someone to replace you. Take a leave of absence and get your shit together. Sorry (not sorry) for the reality bite there friend, but seriously, go get a job! Too many business owners have tricked themselves into feeling like they’re trapped in their sludge. And they complain about their job. THE JOB THEY CREATED. WTAF?!?
Nope. This is your boring story. It may have a plot twist like, “the economy took a nosedive, I can’t expect …,” or “sales are slow across this industry, so what can I expect …” or my favorite, “I’ve tried to hire the right people, but no one will work as hard as I do …”
Seriously, stop making excuses. Your operating expenses should be way less than your gross revenues (think 30- 45%), and if so, it doesn’t matter what your sales or team performance are yielding, this is business and you’re growing it EVEN in a downturn/pandemic/act of god.
Make your success and income personal, but don’t make the trials and tribulations of leadership about you.
Business is a numbers game, and it is fun to play! If you need support, if you can’t figure out how to love your business or your day-to-day CALL ME, or call someone. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would own a business they don’t love, a job is so much easier.
Martyring yourself for your business impresses no one and accomplishes nothing. Yes, there are runs of scaling and growth that demand a 24/7 approach, and then you break. Yes, there are unforeseen crises that need extra, if not all-encompassing attention, until they pass.
Emergencies are not a state of being, they are acute situations. If you are constantly “thriving in chaos,” ask yourself why? Who benefits? How can everything be a #1 priority? What do I love about this sense of urgency?
A true leader can have a bad day, a vacation, even a sabbatical. A boss should not be working in their business, but steering the ship. Your support - be it your cell phone or your automations or your team - should be able to handle the day to day operations.
If you don’t have an accountant helping you with your financial planning, get one. If you suck at sales, hire someone who loves to sell. If you thrive in chaos, you better make sure you employ a dynamo admin or manager to ensure your customers experience calm and confidence.
Stop The Madness And Start Succeeding
You can and should love your work, especially when work is personal. Do a values alignment. Shake up your team, or create one. Even if it’s just a mastermind of like-minded business owners.
Start with your values and what is most important to you. Schedule those commitments into your calendar first. Then make sure you’re getting enough sleep and good food. YES! This takes planning.
One client of mine realized the ONLY thing she needed to change was her sleep routine, because the most successful wins in her life - weight, children, income, community, etc - all were achieved when she was sleeping enough.
If you don’t love your business, and your work, that’s on you. Only you can start to make the incremental changes necessary to turn it around. A crazy question I’d like you to consider is, what if success is what you’re avoiding?
What if you could have a dream day at work? What if your customers were ideal? What if your team was easy and consistent, and truly made your life easier? Would you avoid creating more growth and sales as you might be right now?
Oftentimes business owners fear success because it means more of the sludge. A bigger business doing more sales, in more locations, with more people counting on you can start to induce a feeling of panic. So, somewhere deep down, leadership creates chaos, because it’s easier to put out small fires and not think about what if?
I challenge you to dream into your ideal business. Close your eyes. Smell it. What does one day look like? What are your sales numbers? How many people are you talking to, if any? Where are you? What are you wearing? And yes … what does it smell like?
Involve all 5 senses.
When you start prioritizing yourself, your strengths and skills, and you allow your business structure to finally hold you up, everything changes.
Success not only grows, but it gets easier. Start delegating anything that isn’t your “zone of genius.” Delegate and hire people who love doing the things you hate or plug the right people into anywhere your business is letting you down. Make sure you can take a day off, or loner and your business can keep operations moving ahead.
Don’t settle for less than loving your business. Of course, there are going to be parts of your business, and activities in your business that aren’t your favorite; but these elements better be necessary if these elements are still involved in your business. Your business, the people depending on you, the investments made, all need you to love it. They deserve it.
And so do you.