Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.
I started a design business about two years ago. It’s something I didn’t plan on doing, I was just freelancing at the time and it turned into a full-time business about a year later.
Now I’m at the two-year mark and I find myself totally overwhelmed trying to manage the day-to-day needs—like billing clients and designing—as well as trying to grow my business by networking, business planning and creating new revenue streams. I feel like I work constantly and am headed toward burnout.
It’s just me by myself and I don’t know what I should outsource and what I need to remain in control of. Please if you can give me any indication of how I can move out of this overwhelm and gain some sense of control over my business, I would be so grateful.
Drowning in Design
First of all, congratulations on all of your success. It sounds like even though you didn’t intentionally set out to create a small business, your work is so successful and your clients are so happy that your business keeps growing. I know it can be hard to pause when you feel so overwhelmed, but I hope you will take a moment to recognize this success.
Being a solo-entrepreneur can be quite challenging, especially when your business grows at a rapid pace. You find that suddenly not only your talents are in demand, but all of a sudden you’re wearing the hat of CEO, office assistant, book keeper, marketing manager and janitor. It can be totally exhausting and a little confusing as well. What’s more, the menial tasks seem to scream the loudest for our attention and If you’re not clear on your path, and well organized, you might find yourself lacking the time you need and desire to focus on what it is you do best: designing and securing clients.
First, take pause and write a business plan. You had mentioned that you just fell into starting your business without doing any substantial planning. Everyone’s path to running their own business is different. However, just because you’re two years in, doesn’t mean that you can do without this initial phase. Part of your overwhelm comes from the fact that you haven’t laid out a clear path for where you’re going. It is true that as our business evolves, what we set out to do shifts, but having that plan will help you decide what opportunities you should pursue and what are not in line with your mission. In addition, business planning will help you see where you need to be investing your time and where you need to bring people on board.
Second, write down a list of everything you do in your business from following up with leads to taking out the garbage. I’m sure this is going to be a long list and cover a lot of different roles. Do your best to get it all down on paper, this will help you see how your time is being spent and what roles you will need to create. It’s probably time for you to invest in bringing so additional personnel on board to help lighten your load so you can focus on growing this business. While every business is different, typically good positions to delegate initially include book keeping and office assistant work. This will help you remove more of the day to day activities like billing clients, reconciling bank accounts, paying bills, sorting emails and scheduling meetings.
Third, find balance. Often times as entrepreneurs we are consumed by our business. It’s our passion, our source of income and we’ve poured everything we have into it. We can easily find ourselves micromanaging it instead of creating boundaries that are essential for our own health and the health of our business. When we start scaling back our time, it’s important that we have outside activities that we can turn to to keep us from filling our time with our work; activities that really inspire us and keep us motivated. I know it might sound silly, but so many times I see entrepreneurs who really don’t know how to fill “free time.” So if you’re going to scale back your hours, I urge you to find things that inspire you and will keep your refreshed whether that means having coffee with friends, going to a movie, or reading a book. The late Stephen Covey, bestselling author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” You must see these types of activities as a priority in your life if you are going to create balance. Really have a plan for what you will do once you have the time that you desire.