Deliberate practice isn’t a lot of fun, and it’s not immediately profitable. It means being in the pool before sunrise, working on your swing or stride when you could be hanging out with friends, practicing fingering or breathing in a windowless room, spending hours perfecting details that only a few other people will ever notice. There’s little that’s inherently or immediately pleasureable in deliberate practice, so you need a strong sense that these long hours will pay off, and that you’re not just improving your career prospects but also crafting a professional and personal identity. You don’t just do it for the fat stacks. You do it because it reinforces your sense of who you are and who you will become. – Rest
If you run your own business it means that you need to do more than practice your coding or design skills.
You need to put that same dedication in to learning/practicing how to run a good business.
How to budget.
How to run a good project.
How to vet clients.
How to recharge creatively.
How to organize your day so you can be maximally effective with your time.
If you’re not in to all those things, just stop now. Your chances of success are low.
Most of Business Success Isn’t Your Core Skill
While you may think that you’re main work is to write that code, push those pixels or write those words, it’s not. At least half your time should be spent doing everything else.
You should spend time marketing, and following up on emails and touching base with prospects hoping to turn them in to clients. You’ll spend time following up with old clients hoping to be on their radar when they have some new work.
That means a few things for you.
You May Need to Charge More
If you’re working a standard 40 hour week then you should be able to earn everything you need in 20 billable hours. I say 20 hours for a few reasons.
The first reason I say 20 billable hours is that to get this in to a regular week for most people will take 40 hours. Sure at a job they paid you for 40 hours, but they only got about 4 maybe 5 good productive hours a day out of you.
The rest of your time was taken up with getting coffee, chatting with coworkers, using the bathroom, and all sorts of things that didn’t bring any effective work product for your boss.
While you get to cut a bunch of that out by working for yourself, you don’t loose all of those distractions. In fact, you may have more distractions around. Changing the laundry over is a fine quick break, but it’s also a stop in your work for the day. I aim for 5 – 6 productive hours in a day, but it took me years of practice and discipline to get here.
Second, if you focus only on billable hours, then you’re neglecting so many parts of your business. Yes you need to do work for clients, but so many small business owners get in to a feast and famine cycle because they get busy and then stop all work towards bringing in more clients.
When you need to have time focused on marketing, and networking, and client vetting, and client follow up. If you’re not doing those things, then you’re more likely to have a feast famine cycle.
Finally, you need a budget for your finances to figure out what you charge. The best resource I’ve found for this is Profit First. For most small businesses, they figure they have some profit if at the end of the year there is some money in the bank account.
Sometimes their accountant will say that there was profit on paper, but of course the money is gone. Profit First tells us, and I agree, that we should be taking profit out of our earnings right away. Here is how you should be breaking up your budget.
- Profit 5%
- Owner’s Comp 50%
- Tax 15%
- Expenses 30%
For most freelancer’s this means a few things. You’re probably paying yourself way to much. Unfortunately most freelancer’s are paying themselves closer to 90% of their income and it still feels tight. You don’t have a business if this is you, you built yourself a job and that’s a bad thing.
What would it take to reduce what you pay yourself? What would it take to increase what you earn so that you’re paying yourself 50% of what you earn? Both of those questions need to be answered alongside your spouse/partner if you want to run a business.
This budget almost always means that you have way too many expenses as well. If you’re a digital worker and have 30% expenses, you’re spending way too much. I’ve been able to get my expenses under 20%. You may not be able to do that, but 20-25% is entirely reasonable.
You Need to Budget Your Time
Just like you need to have a budget for your money, you need a budget for your time. Time is even more valuable than money, because you can never earn back any time you’ve “lost”. Once the time has been used, it’s gone.
When I wrote about how I use a Bullet Journal to run my online business I also wrote about my timeblocking strategy. I also talked about how I do it with Mike on The Productivity Show by Asian Effeciency. If you need to dive deeper, go read and listen.
In short, look at your week. Start by adding your family commitments to your calendar. Then add in your self-care, like runs or walks or whatever you do to recharge. Next add in any appointments you have with prospects or clients.
Only once all of that is on the list do you have a handle on your week. Now you can add in your current client projects. If you try to figure out how much client work you can do before you’ve added all of this stuff, then you’re fooling yourself.
When you step back and look at your week, you should have overarching percentages for the different areas of your business. I like to start with these as the goals.
- 15% Marketing
- 10% Education
- 60% Your Core Service
- 10% Admin
Note that you have 5% slack in those numbers, which I still think is low. It’s low because most people have no time set aside for things that come up so 5% is a good starting point.
Also note that only 50% of your time is spent on your core service. That means if you can’t pay yourself what you want to earn with 50% of your time then your business isn’t profitable enough. It’s time to make some changes.
If you need help getting control of your time, then make sure you check out The Art of Focus. The whole second part of the book is about gaining control of your time so you can be more productive.
You Need Processes
Part of getting control of your time is building processes around what you do. Do you know how long you follow up with clients for? How many emails do you send them and what do those emails say?
What is your marketing strategy? Where are your customers? What tone should your blog posts have, and how does your ideal customer talk about their problems?
For my blogging I have four buckets. They’re labelled:
- To edit
Bucket one is were everything starts. It’s an idea, a quote, three bullet points with a question to look in to further. Bucket one is content I could turn in to a blog post.
Bucket two is content that is fully outlined. It will have headings and bullet points and some written paragraphs. A 1000 word post starts here as a 200 – 300 word outline.
Once I’ve taken a working article and written it then it’s in Bucket three where I’ll edit the content. After that it lands in bucket four because it’s ready to be published somewhere.
My blogging strategy is to move something from each bucket every day. So I generate at least one new idea. I outline one thing so it’s ready to write and I write one piece. At any given time I have 5 – 10 blog posts ready to publish because I stick to the schedule.
This also means when life happens and I have sick kids or I’m unable to work for a week, I don’t have to scramble for content. I have a backlog ready to go. When I have a site ask me to write for them, I almost always have content ready to go that just needs an edit to match the tone they use.
Build a plan. Stick with the plan.
This is all about practice
All of this comes down to practice. How much time are you spending learning your main craft? How much time are you spending making sure that you’re getting better at the other 50% of your business?
For most people I coach they don’t start by spending 50% of their learning time on how to improve their business. Most of them don’t have any learning time to start with, and if they do none of it is spent on anything outside of their core service.
I was there to at one point and I was firmly stuck with a low quality business. It was only when I started to take my processes seriously and learn how to maximize my marketing that I built a 6 Figure WordPress consultancy.
If you’re not spending time learning about all the aspects of your business that aren’t your core service, don’t be surprised if you’re stuck with a business that’s barely making it.
Photo by: helico