The biggest mistake I made when starting my own business was letting the business run me rather than running my business. I hope to help others avoid that mistake by sharing some of my experience and what I learned starting my company, amy green design, which is now just over two years old.
At the start of my business, I was doing everything, and I mean everything, on my own. From designing brochures to my website to taking all cold calls to drafting every drawing myself, it was all me. That meant the business wasn’t scalable, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to take on more clients, and that I’d need to pull 80 hour work weeks forever if I didn’t start to make some changes about how I was running the business. It wasn’t a sustainable process. And I’m a LEED AP, sustainability and green building expert so this concept of non-sustainable business practices was not sitting well with me.
Here’s where I was at (leave me a comment if any of this sounds familiar to you personally as well). I would work all week, then agree to take on client appointments over the entire weekend, too. Those people wanted my help and sounded panicked at needing my help immediately to move forward, so I wanted to help them. Even if it was Memorial Day weekend. I was saying “yes” to every client and every demand they gave me — even if it wasn’t good or convenient for me or my business.
I’d cancel holiday plans with friends to take consults with potential clients who weren’t truly invested in their project and moving forward. That meant I was giving up treasured time with loved ones to spend time with leads that I found would not sign on — not with me nor any other Architect — even after I’d personally spent several hours with them on-site helping them plan for their renovation.
I’d pick up cold calls from salespeople telling me if I didn’t invest in whatever shiny thing they were offering for my business over the phone that day that I didn’t care enough about my business and would then proceed to allow them to shame pressure me into paying them for their latest “BS”. And none of those “BS” opportunities I paid for and spend time on ever ended up helping my vision or my company – cause I care a lot about my business and what it can do for the people I serve, so no one is more adept to help my business than me personally stepping in to grow it the way I want; like a gardener tending to a well-nurtured garden.
After letting my business run me ragged working early mornings, late nights, weekends, and holidays until I finally realized I no longer felt like my best self nor that I could offer my best maintaining that pattern; I decided to run my business rather than letting it run me.
Did an about-face and started hiring freelancers, interns, vendors and consultants to work for me so I could focus on the things that were truly important about my business to my clients such as customer service, one-on-one-consultations, and my personal advice to clients regarding design, code, and zoning while I let my new team do what they do best — all working together to help support my vision for the business.
The first thing I looked at outsourcing were things I don’t enjoy doing that someone else could do for my clients at the same or even better pricing than I could; so my first step was to hire a very affordable expeditor to handle permit expediting for my clients (I love the design side of the business ten times more than the permitting aspect). Now I simply oversee the expeditor’s work rather than having to personally handle every little step of the process.
Are you starting to think of some tasks you’d love to hand off to someone else to help free up more of your time? Make a quick list of those tasks you could hand off and what hire, intern, freelancer, or vendor you could hand them off to.
Next I started looking at remedial tasks someone else could easily take on on an as-needed basis. Dropping off signed and sealed drawings for permit reviews was taking away valuable work hours from my day (but I didn’t want to charge clients to overnighted huge sets of drawings nor make clients wait for their review while the drawings sat in the mail for a week) so I hired an affordable messenger service to start delivering all my packages for me and my clients who can do so in just fifteen minutes of what my billing rate would be if I was personally delivering it myself.
Are you starting to think of remedial tasks you could hand off to someone else to help free up more of your time? Add those to the list you hopefully already started.
Then I started hiring freelancers and interns including a web designer to help manage my website, an accountant to manage accounts, and an intern to assist with production on client’s projects according to my vision for the project.
I now had a network of consultants, workers and vendors servicing my clients even if I was out of the office at a construction site, on a phone consult, or working on another client project myself. I’d made the business more sustainable and scalable.
Next I addressed getting better leads who were actually ready to move their projects forward and whom I wanted to work with. I’d been getting most of my leads through on-line lead generation service providers where I paid for each lead; even if the lead didn’t pan out. It was leading to me spending a lot of time in calls, emails, and visits with leads that would never pan out to anything regardless of the hours of time and consultation I spent with them.
It took a leap of faith, but I canceled the on-line paid for lead generation system and decided to put my faith in my network. I reached out to clients and contractors I’d serviced asking if they could refer my company, amy green design, to anyone they knew of who needed my services. That referral system is now how I’m getting most of my business now and it’s lead to a list of clientele that feel like friends and is saving me days worth of time each week that my team and I otherwise would have spent chasing after leads that might never come to fruition.
Also developed a potential client intake system to help me determine if the potential new clients were a good fit me, my business, and vision rather than trying to cater to every potential new client who came through my inbox.
Because of this, I now have the luxury of picking the clients I want to work with rather than taking on clients who end up kicking and dragging their feet all while wasting my time; and instead allows me to best help those who do truly need my help.
All this left me with more time to better service my clients personally, gave me the self-care time I needed to feel rejuvenated and inspired in order to give my clients my best self, and be able to accomplish more for my clients in less time.
Do I still take an occasional consult on the weekends or return an email at 4am or take a late-night design review meeting at 7pm? Yes I do but it’s much less frequent and it’s always within timeframes that work within the comforts of my schedule. I’m finally running my business rather than letting it run me. It has made a world of difference to me, my personal health and well being.
Hope you recall this statement every time someone comes to you with an “emergency” due to their lack of planning where they are asking you to give up your holiday or your weekend or meet an unachievable deadline:
“Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” You don’t need to throw your own business and life into chaos because of someone else’s poor planning.
It’s your business! You can implement similar systems and controls to those above. Take a look at your list (that you’ve hopefully been adding to as you read through this article). Do you have a few tasks to outsource along with an identification of whom you can give it to? Try contracting the first one today!