It’s quickly coming up on two years since I decided to leave my 9-to-5 job in an agency and head back out on my own. While it’s been hard, and I’ve worked more hours than I’d like to admit (after all, as Jason Fried said: “working long hours, isn’t a badge of honour.”), I think I’ve come through the other side. I’m back to some form of normality, I’ve got more free time to spend with family and friends and financially I’m better off than I’ve ever been.
I’d be lying if I said everything was plain sailing, though. I’ve run a company before and had my hands burnt a few times over the years. So, having had a really unique opportunity to hit the big ‘reset’ button, I made sure I wasn’t going to fall into the same traps I had before. Here are some of the things I’ve done that I believe are contributing to me not being a total stress head and feeling like I’m constantly chasing the next pay cheque!
I used to do the whole credit control thing myself. Once a week I’d send an awkward email to anyone that owed me money, get an “I’ll pay it later” in return and then forget about it until next week. Then along came Xero, and it’s automated payment reminders. Set those up and forgot about it.
Ever used them?
I found them to be extremely effective at collecting money and prompting payment.
That’s a little bit of sarcasm.
I’ve never found automation works quite like picking up the phone and speaking to someone. Except, if you’re anything like me, you don’t have time to be chasing up people on the phone and over email. Also, you’ll loathe doing this and will probably put it off until you need to give cash flow a boost!
This year, I decided to hire a virtual assistant to help me do the bookkeeping/ credit control/ kick-my-ass-for-receipts job. Yes, it felt big headed and I did think, “do you really need an assistant?”, but it’s made a massive difference to my business and my stress levels.
The biggest difference this has made is that my attention seldom drifts to admin and accounts, and the energy I used on those things can be refocussed on my clients.
A really good friend of mine, Rachel Powell (check out Ownit.Life), asked me years ago, “how much is enough?” We were talking about what I wanted to clear through the business in the year and I didn’t really know where to start. The question really stumped me.
How often do we sit down as small business owners and say how much do I actually want to make?
Sure, we can all sit there and say we want to be millionaires, but actually, what do we need in a given year?
For me, I wanted to put £10k on my salary, pay off a bit of credit card debt, go on holiday and have some savings in the bank at the end of the year.
Listing these things gave me a number to shoot for and figuring it out allowed me to plan the work I had committed to against this number. And you know what I found?
I was going to smash my number, even if I didn’t win another client in the year!
Again, I can’t begin to tell you what a stress-busting realisation this was. Why was I killing myself when in reality I was going to do way better than I thought by delivering for the clients I already had (naturally so they continue working with me)?
This one was hard to do.
One day, when skimming through my inbox, I realised something huge: that some of my longest standing clients — some of which had been with me from the beginning — were actually using up the majority of my time.
I looked at about 10 messages stacked on top of a message from my biggest single client. That single client spent more in that month with me than those other clients would spend in a year, yet they were been pushed down to the bottom of a pile.
That’s not because those clients aren’t worth my time, or (a phrase I really hate) not worth it, but because their businesses are at a size that companies (like my previous one) are designed to service and look after.
Unfortunately, that’s just not me anymore.
There are numerous companies out there (like my old agency) that work with independent businesses that might need a bit of help now and then, but I made a conscious decision to focus on working with rapid growth companies that can see the benefits of investing in marketing and have a marketing budget to act. It’s meant I’ve walked away from a fair few ‘flash in the pan’ projects recently, while still growing my bottom line.
One big advantage of knowing what numbers you want to hit is that you can go out and look for one or two anchor clients — clients that you can go all in with.
These kinds of clients are the folks that underpin your cash flow and give you financial stability. Naturally in exchange, when I say really go all in, you’re going all in. Effectively becoming a virtual member of their team.
If you are fortunate enough to have clients like this, you really need to look after them and treat them like the “VIPs” they are to your company. I’d never advocate or suggest taking a “just enough” approach with any client, but especially your VIPs.
One sure fire way to burn yourself out and piss off your clients is by overcommitting your time. It’s easy to do when you’re talking to someone, or they’re asking you when you’ll be able to do something. You just pluck a date out of thin air for a couple of weeks time. Because that’s enough right? Well, not if you’ve already agreed to hit 99 other deadlines and have just chucked another into the mix.
One massive thing I started doing was booking out my diary. I don’t use any fancy scheduling software that promises to make everything ok for this, Google Calendar does the job just fine. Naturally, when quoting work I’ll know how long something is going to take, so I drop that time into my calendar.
The next thing is simple, but easy to get wrong. When someone asks when I’ll be able to get something done, I’ll (in 99% of cases) let them know I’ll back to them. I’ll then check my calendar for the next available time and offer to book them in. Sure, some people want stuff done tomorrow, but so do all of the people anyone works with!
It’s a hard thing to get right at first, but once you’re in the flow of working like this makes so much sense. All you have to do is treat those “appointments” on your calendar as appointments and not move them (unless a meteor is hitting the earth or something like that). It’s really that simple. No changing schedules. No winging it. Just sticking to what’s there on the screen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the juggling act that’s working for you, as well as your opinions (good or bad) on anything I’ve done while flying solo. Your feedback is always appreciated 🙂
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