You were probably working for someone else when inspiration struck. “I can do this myself and make more money! I’ll have more free time and no boss.” A year later you don’t sleep, worry about paying the bills, and haven’t been outside in over a week.
Where did it all go wrong? Was there a day when it all fell apart?
It didn’t fall apart at once. Business owners fall behind one day at a time, become overwhelmed and often give up their dreams. But that doesn't have to be you. The irony of reading a long article to save time is not lost on me but hopefully you find this worth it.
First, let’s jump into about the problems you are facing.
Problem 1: You’re responsible for everything
This is every solopreneur’s nightmare organizational chart and how it recently looked inside my SEO agency. You know what needs to be done but you are stuck doing it all. I became a photographer years ago because I loved taking photos but the actual taking of pictures was less than 5% of running a photo studio. Have you felt the same? You love cooking so you opened a restaurant or you loved gardening so you became a landscaper? Our passions are why we start the business.
Now, you’re also the sales representative and the receptionist. You are the office manager and the custodial services. Need something from the office supply store or the post office? Get in the car because you’re driving.
Problem 2: Endless tasks pull your attention and time
With so many things to do, what should you do next? Regardless of whether you use Trello for time management, Asana or a pen and paper you will need to prioritize your tasks each day.
But there are so many tasks that need to be done, especially when you first start. Do you work on your website design or call back a potential lead? Should you write a guest blog post or setup your Mailchimp automation?
You may even create a list the night before and think you’re getting a jump on the next day. Then the phone rings at 8:45 am and all your plans for the day go away in one extended phone conversation with a client.
Problem 3: Multitasking slows you down
Multitasking does not work.
You know this yet you can’t stop, right? It’s been proven over & over that multitasking during important or difficult work slows you down, makes you less productive and you produce inferior work. Yet you can’t stop.
It’s the endless tasks and the responsibility for everything, right? All of these problems tie into each other.
Problem 4: You set unrealistic expectations for your day
It’s a random Tuesday so today you plan to launch your website, write 3 blog articles, call back two leads, follow up on a meeting you had last week, do a bit of clerical work, buy new ink from the store and come back to print off your completed tax forms.
No, you’re not. Sure, your to do list looks like 300 hours of work and it all needs to be done by Friday. This is a crushing list of problems. Let’s get to work on solving them so you can get back to work.
Solution to Problem 1: Outsource what you dislike doing
Growing your business means you will eventually hire others to help you do some pieces of the business. Many of us envision this as “making enough to hire someone” but that’s rarely the first step. I suggest three steps: freelancers, contractors, full timers.
Freelancers: find freelancers who want infrequent and occasional work. Plenty of people want to fill in their spare time now and then by helping your business. You may not need a full time writer but having a professional edit your sales copy will make you much more money.
Contractors: people who want a significant amount more money but not the commitment of a full-time job will be open to contracting. Set a limited number of hours or tasks and you won’t feel limited by the jobs you dislike. You can take on more work and gain valuable clients and experience by having a part-time member of your team do big chunks of work.
Full time: when you can afford it and the work requires it, you will bring on a full time employee. This saves you a huge amount of time as it means someone you can give top-tier training, understand your whole business and grow with you. You start to create a culture and understand who you are as a business.
Solution to Problem 2: Set boundaries and break big tasks down
When sports teams get badly beaten early in a game they tend to try and come back by overplaying. They “try too hard” and make the situation worse. We see our colossal task list and do the same. You want everything done at once so you’ve make it worse.
First, set clear boundaries. Don’t check email every 5 minutes. Don’t answer the phone every single time it rings. If you work from home and can set aside a space, time and no interruptions you will get more done and get back to your family that much faster.
Break your projects down into manageable tasks. “Design, build and launch website” requires a mammoth effort and days of time. “Sketch out website layout” doesn't take as long and you’ll feel better for getting things done.
Solution to Problem 3: Automate what you often repeat
Small business owners have a tendency to treat automation in one of two ways: never automate anything because you don’t understand it or automate everything because you understand the power of it.
Neither of these approaches addresses the strategic question: why should you automate?
Automate those tasks that you repeat over and over not “once in a while” tasks simply because you can. Some things should not be automated like social media replies and interaction. Don’t auto-spam your new followers. Tools like Zapier & IFTTT will guide you into your first few automations.
If some tasks require human intervention you can still semi-automate those tasks. Canned responses in Gmail let you save a chunk of text to quickly copy into new emails. If you get a lot of pricing requests you can type the response once and add it to emails within a second, saving plenty of time and creating a professional template that requires little to no input.
Solution to Problem 4: Prioritize Your Time via Urgent/Important Quadrants
Study this chart:
Understanding whether tasks are high or low priority and urgent or non-urgent will save you a lot of headache and time. Urgent tasks that are not important don’t necessarily need to be done immediately even though they’re urgent. Maybe they don’t matter, like buying tickets to a webinar you are considering. It’s time sensitive but if you decide not to attend it was never that important.
Important tasks may be due immediately (taxes) or may be important but due later (signing off on your new office lease.)
Understand that urgent & important tasks are your most valuable and should be done first. These are crises and should be treated as such. You can’t live your entire business life in this quadrant for long but when required you should stay in this segment as long as possible.
Not important and non-urgent tasks are the time-wasters that we spend unnecessary effort on. You don’t need to check Facebook Insights for the 8th time today. It is neither urgent nor important to return a call to the lead you have no possibility to book. And no, you don’t need to check Twitter mentions before lunch.
Most entrepreneurs will become overwhelmed and feel helpless at some point. These problems can send you out of business but overcoming them puts you at a clear advantage to everyone else. While others are struggling with their day-to-day, you can push through and get more done than ever.
Have you experienced entrepreneurial overwhelm? How did you get past the hardest stages?