If you decide to jump ship and start your own business (as I detailed in Part I of this post), here are some balancing acts you will have to consider.
1. Niche vs. breadth
I had some entrepreneurs tell me that starting a business is like starting a band: Take EVERY gig. Play EVERY show. Extend as far as you can. Get a portfolio.
Others told me to focus. Pick a niche. Investigate a specific market so you have less competitors and more specialization.
I went down the middle. I won’t take gigs that aren’t cost-effective. And I don’t take gigs that make no sense for me.
For example, I’m not taking on software manuals. They may involve writing content, but it’s not what I do. There are great writers out there for that, and they’re needed, because half of the manuals written overseas make no sense whatsoever. But it’s not what I do.
I explicitly explain to people that I am writing business materials. That way, there’s no concern as to what I can or will write.
But I’m also not going to position as a full-service marketing firm. I don’t have the capacity for that. I think few do. If you come to me and you want a website, I have great design partners and we can handle it together. But I specialize in writing messages that will drive the point home.
The same goes for PR. Will I work the phones and raise funds for you? Probably not. But I’ll write you a heck of a fundraising email and help you manage the lists. And if it’s easy for me to make a contact for you, I’ll do that too.
This approach allows me to stay in my wheelhouse without narrowing so much that I have to turn down fun, profitable, high cash business.
2. Action vs. understanding
Perhaps the trickiest dimension, I have had a hard time figuring out the exact balance between production and assessment. I want to move forward as fast as possible, and often feel I don’t have the time to contemplate a decision. And sometimes, I don’t.
Deciding to pull the trigger on something can mean the difference between landing a project or not. Sometimes, the clock runs out on you and you’re technically not sure you have the capacity to handle a job.
So knowing yourself and what you can handle seems to be the balance there. What I do is block out time each day for education and do it then. I allocate 45% of my time to sales, 45% to production, and 10% to education. This period includes non-project brainstorming and innovation, as well as marketing.
For example, I wrote this post during my 10% portion of the day, getting ideas on paper so I can learn from them.
What also helps is setting the appointments you HAVE to set as no-brainers.
Don’t think about whether or not you need to go to the dentist. Just go.
Don’t go more than a month after billing before seeing your accountant. Don’t bill anyone at all without starting an accounting system. And don’t bring anyone on board for more than tiny contracts without employment contracts and CRM.
These are things you have to do… so why think about them? Spend your education time learning about them, then set them up and start using them.
3. Sales vs. production
I want new clients, but I’m under deadline! Ah!
The fact is, you have to hunt clients while you have them if you want to grow. There are many happy entrepreneurs (usually solopreneurs) out there who have two or three clients and don’t need any more.
If this is the life for you, your sales time drops and you have a comfortable balance. But if you want to grow (and at first, you should), you have to sell.
And you don’t have the luxury of dropping the ball on production.
I don’t have a great answer here yet, and would be open to hearing more from entrepreneurs and business owners in the comments.
The best thing I can say is to divide the day as best you can into different categories, meet those categories, and expect a few long nights.
4. Systems vs. innovation
At an established company, innovation is an incredible benefit, perhaps even a must. At a new company, that still rings true. But startups also need consistency – consistent customers, consistent sales, consistent product creation and consistent performance. Without this consistency, it never finds its place and builds on itself.
It never becomes a grownup company.
If you’re in a field with very specialized customers, you may not need to innovate as much. For example, certain kinds of manufacturing probably have stayed largely the same or a longtime.
But if you are in the pure service industry? You better innovate.
Marketers should, above all, seek new methods and find new ways of doing things. But then they have to implement those methods to make them cost-effective for the company and the customer. Not an easy task. By the time you implement a method, a better one may have come along.
Thus is the life of the business owner, especially one in marketing. Keep in mind that, in our line of work, you are the product until you make the product.
So when you sit down to map out a process and sell it, choose wisely what you plan to map out. The same goes for who you map it out with.
5. Personal vs. professional
Here’s the real kicker. I think this one may be universal.
My business happened to take place at an opportune moment. I’m 28. My client portfolio was growing. I had a good, recent track record. I’m not married. I have no kids. And I live in a city with plenty of people. Tons of small businesses. Houston is an easy place to stretch a buck. Not to mention that I happen to have already worked in a pretty hot field with plenty of mainstream buzz.
Even so, there are some things that take time. I have a cat who needs shots here and there. I have friends, a girlfriend, parents, my Grandma, my brother, my sister-in-law, my niece, aunts, uncles, cousins and other people who I care about and take the time to see.
And I still want to stay in shape (my exercise volume has decreased dramatically since starting a business; someone please tell me how to keep this consistent in the comments).
The plan is to build the business up to where I can manage it with a little less personal stress… but isn’t that everyone’s plan? And don’t we need to make sure we are, as people, healthy in the meantime?
Another puzzle I haven’t yet solved.
The cat keeps me calm, so that’s a start.
Think I left something out? Have any tips of your own? Please share your business experience with the world. Tell us in the comments.