A while back, I was catching up with a fellow entrepreneur friend, “Jamie.” She’s someone I had met early on when I started my marketing firm just over three years ago. At that point, she had been in her business for nearly five years, while I was just starting out. She seemed to have it all figured out. Jamie is a graphic designer focusing on website design, and said she was so happy to have plenty of steady work rolling in. She had even hired her first assistant and was thinking about growing and expanding her team. I thought she surely had this whole “how to become a successful entrepreneur,” thing figured out. I admired her. I wanted to be like her. Then, three years went by in what felt like the blink of an eye…. Maybe I was oblivious to what was happening in some people’s lives because, well, I couldn’t keep up with EVERYTHING. I used social media, in limitation. I engaged online, where I could add value and build meaningful relationships. I cut back on in-person networking events unless they truly aligned with my values, my dreams, allowed me to both give and receive, connecting with ideal referral partners or prospective clients. I started going where “my people” were, which meant that I started attending more out of state events than I did local events, just so I could be there in person with others who shared similar passions as me, and where I could build meaningful networks with like-minded people.
It all happened so fast… so when I ran into this friend, who I thought had it all figured out and was well on her way to growing a very successful business that she felt proud of, I was shocked to hear the frustrations she shared and to see the look of defeat on her face. She questioned me about how I was, “doing it,” with both a tone of interest, but also, a bit of envy and defeat; I understood how she felt because it reminded me of three years earlier when I felt that envy and defeat when I watched her. It felt like the tables had really turned, and I felt awful for my friends as things appeared to have gone so “backward” for her, in her business. We scheduled a follow-up meeting and spent more time together, talking through the details of what has happened in her business the last three years. She explained that she had been “doing everything” to grow her business but was growing increasingly frustrated with having to work harder and harder to earn the same amount of money that she was three years ago, and furthermore, she no longer had an assistant. They parted ways after the assistant felt frustrated by a lack of direction, and Jamie was frustrated that the assistant just didn’t know what to do, and she didn’t “have time to manage her.” She was too busy trying to get sales, she didn’t have time to train someone. Here is the long and short of it. Jamie was in a constant feast or famine mode. She was spending her time “trying everything,” rather than focusing on a Strategy that would actually grow her business. Here’s what her average 50-hour work week looked like:
- 6 hours attending local business events
- 3-4 hours doing 1-2 coffee meetings a week
- 7 hours sorting emails
- 2 hours paying bills
- 1 hour reaching out to past clients asking for referrals/leads
- 3-4 hours meeting with new prospective clients
- 3 hours making proposals
- 3-4 hours posting on social media accounts (LinkedIn, which always took her a lot of time to come up with things to say, content stresses her out. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)
- 2 hours perusing and posting in social media groups looking for leads
- 1 hour creating her email newsletter
- 3 hours doing “simple” non-billable tasks for past clients
- 8-10 hours working on client projects (delivering services)—but, some weeks, this was 0 because she’d get a lot of work, be busy with projects, and then when those ran out, she’d need to go out and find more clients again
- 1 hour organizing her office
- 1-2 hours attempting to write blog posts that she despised writing (but felt she had to try everything)
In addition, Jamie reported feeling exhausted, frustrated and said she could hardly remember what she loved about being a graphic designer and business owner in the first place. She was suffocating under the grind of it all. Now, when you look at the weekly breakout of where she was spending her time, you might be thinking, “well, that looks like a pretty balanced work week to me.” But look again, is it?? Jamie has stated a desire to grow. She is the president, or essentially the “CEO” of her company. However, she was doing the work of about five different people and areas of expertise (sales, assistant, bookkeeper, business development, copywriter).
The primary function of a CEO is to lead the development and execution of the company’s long-term strategy, and manage the resources so the company can realize that long-term strategy. There is nowhere within Jamie’s “doing it all” weekly calendar, that accounts for anything to develop and execute on the long-term strategy. This is the #1 place where most entrepreneurs go wrong. I see so many Coaches, Entrepreneurs, Service providers, start off with a level of success, but then, they either end up complacent and they stop pushing toward the future, or they end up overwhelmed and frustrated and simply don’t know how to develop a long-term brand strategy. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, it’s ok and normal. You aren’t born with this skillset. Entrepreneurs need to be shown how to map out an executable plan for the future. If you are like Jamie and feel like you are stagnant, or starting to slide backward, the good news is that you don’t have to stay in that place. Here are five very simple steps to make time for strategy (even when there’s so much to be done).
Step 1: Baby Steps.
Start with blocking 1 hour a week (or as much of a bite-size piece that you can handle to start off with). Seriously. Set that time aside, turn off email and phone reminders, and allow yourself to focus on the long-term vision of the company. Map out what you want the business to look like in 1 year.
Step 2: Bite-size action steps.
Once you draft what you want the business to look like in a year, start back-tracking and map out, every action step that is going to be needed to get you to that 1-year vision.
[Want an action step you can take now? You can sign up for my weekly bite-sized transformations, where I share bite-sized action steps that have worked well for me as I build my brand].
Step 3: Do the strategic work.
Start utilizing that 1 hour each week to stay focused on executing the steps in the plan that need to be executed. Most likely, when you mapped out your 1-year plan, you have included goals for growth, and that growth can come in a few different ways: adding more customers, increasing revenues with existing customers. In order to gain more customers, it may include marketing components such as improved online lead capture and setting up a marketing opt-in funnel. This is a great early step to building long-term value. Start capturing those leads now, so that you can continue re-marketing to them throughout the year and convert them to clients when they are ready. This is one of the best things I focused on, in my first year in business, and steadily grew our email list to over 1,000 people who opted-in. It may not sound like a massive list, but it was an engaged list. I can track back five clients in the last two years who were on our email list and engaging with our content prior to becoming our customers. I can also account for $64,000 in annual sales from those 5 clients that are now coming into the business. You see how this can work for you to focus on the future, and long-term growth, rather than churning a one time sale in the “now?” Another big important part of this strategic work is delegating. Use your time weekly to figure out what needs to come off of your plate, and find ways to hire or outsource.
The more you find ways to both focus on your zone of genius, and focus tasks that grow the long-term value in the company, the more productive and profitable you’ll be. Imagine what the payout could be in 1 year from now if you spent 5 hours this week time getting your email capture up and going (capture limitless leads), versus, 5 hours at a networking event – sure, that networking event might lead you to a great client, but that’s one client. And if you are weighing your options, which strategy and use of your time will impact larger future growth? Find ways to keep your focus where it needs to be, and hire people to do the rest. Hiring or outsourcing and investing in your support team is an investment in your personal and company’s future.
Step 4: Carve more time.
As you are able, start allotting more time to work on strategy. Push for it. Save the space on your calendar and protect it. I started carving out time early in the business, at first it was one hour a week… two years later, I now have an entire day a week that is dedicated to the company’s brand marketing strategies. Because I love producing content, I use that day to revisit the long-term business plan, re-assess if everyone’s talents are being utilized in the best ways, and I focus on creating content that will invite in leads and grow both my personal, and company brands as leaders in the branding and digital marketing space. My favorite day of the week is strategy day!
Step 5: Dream Bigger.
Once you are dedicating at least 1-2 hours a week toward strategy, and have a one year plan mapped out and you’ve begun taking action on it, now it’s time to dream bigger. What’s the five-year plan? Do the same exercise. Map out what you want your life and the business to look like in 5 years. And start backtracking every action that needs to happen to get you to that place. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, the biggest online retailer and most highly valued company in the world, is known for having mapped out his vision for Amazon more than 20 years ago. He focused on the end game, not the “now game.” He had a plan, followed it, and new that he’d have to keep adapting to market changes along the way, but he never stopped focusing on the long term. He focused on profitable strides, he didn’t just stay busy every day and “do the work.” Allow yourself to dream bigger – what do you REALLY desire? Once you decide that, take the time to make the action plan. Be the CEO. Develop and execute the long-term vision. I hope that you find these steps easy to implement and that you take some time today to focus on profitable, long-term strides. If you’re considering working with someone, to coach and guide you in developing and executing your strategy, I invite you to book a consult call with me here. Stay in touch, let me know how these steps are working out for you. Tell me, what’s one of the most valuable things you’ve done to make meaningful, profitable strides forward?