81. 4 Instant Fixes for Overworked Solopreneurs
The Double Win sounds great—but as a business owner flying solo, it feels out of reach. Your list of tasks is a mile long. You’re concerned about losing clients. You’re having to master new skills as you go. Is there really enough time in the day to take care of your business and lead a fulfilling life?
In this episode, we tackle challenges that come with running your own business head-on. We’ll describe four common obstacles to the Double-Win and walk you through practical solutions you can start leveraging today. When you do, you’ll finally stop feeling burnt out and start adding hours back to your week.
In this episode, you’ll discover—
- How to set boundaries with demanding clients
- The connection between a lack of motivation and a lack of clarity
- Why offering less allows you to provide more value
- Strategies to drive results when there’s just not enough time
- How to free yourself to do the stuff only you can do
Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Blake Stratton and Nick Jaworski. Blake and Nick, it’s good to see you guys. How are you?
Nick: We’re doing well. How are you doing? How are you both doing?
Blake: Verbs, how are you? Let’s pull back the veil. I’m just kidding. Keep the veil up, please.
Verbs: Fantastic. Doing well.
Blake: Yeah, man. You’re doing great! You can’t see this. I’m 99 percent sure our podcast listeners can’t see us. In the event they can, they see you’re sporting some amazing Michael Hyatt & Company swag. You have a great-looking sweatshirt there.
Verbs: This is that new Mhco performance gear.
Blake: Yeah. You’re an Mhco athlete.
Nick: What events are you going to run, Verbs?
Verbs: The productivity dash.
Nick: That’s amazing. Well, why are we here? What are we talking about today?
Blake: Today, we are talking to those of you who work for yourself. You’re your boss. You’re a solopreneur. You’re a freelancer. You’re a 1099. You have 1099s coming in all over the place this time of year. We have the advantage at Michael Hyatt & Company of working as a team, but a lot of us have actually lived a good portion of life as business owners, agency owners, freelancers, or solopreneurs. I know I have. Verbs, I know you have to some degree as well. Right?
Verbs: I have. Back in my music days, I was a solopreneur. I was a businessman.
Blake: We’re talking to solopreneurs. If you’re not a solopreneur or a freelancer, this will still apply to you. You can borrow these concepts, because, really, what we’ll be talking about is getting the double win in that context.
Verbs: Yeah. Blake, I think there are a lot of people or a lot of stories I hear. I get to work not as closely as you do with some of our BusinessAccelerator clients, but I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of stories of solopreneurs who are actually trying to capture the double win for themselves and are encountering obstacles or there may be some for the first time where this concept is totally new and you want to learn what the steps are to really grab ahold of the double win for your life. That’s what we’re going to help walk through today.
Blake: Exactly. I’ve talked to enough people to know the promise of going into business for yourself and of being your own boss. I don’t know if there has ever been a time in history where it was easier to get started and make a decent living just working for yourself starting your own business, and the promise is, “I can own my own business, and I can call the shots.”
What I’ve encountered and what so many of our clients experience is it’s not, “I own this business, and I call the shots.” It’s, “My business owns me, and my business calls the shots,” because they just get… Nick, you’re nodding your head. You can probably relate to this as well, Nick. Back when I was a marketing consultant doing freelance work, it was really, really challenging, because you feel like, “I have to do it all, and if I stop or if I wait or if I set a boundary…”
Verbs: You lose.
Blake: “…there may not be the money I need or something is going to drop, and I have to be responsible.” As a result, I would have a lot of sleepless nights, because I would wake up, and there was always something else to do. I remember telling my wife, “Once we leave this job and I’m working for myself, we can take vacations whenever we want.” Now, Christmastime at my parents’ house doesn’t count. Outside of that, I want you to guess how many vacations we took in the three years I was freelancing.
Nick: Is it zero?
Blake: It was zero. I took less time off when I was calling the shots than when I was working for the man.
Nick: My version of that… I was single at the time. I had left a career as a teacher. Then, I was doing podcast work. I used to say, “All I want to do…” I’m laughing because it’s so sad how simple it is. All I wanted to do was to go see a movie during the day. I would go, “God! I’m not in a classroom anymore. I run this business. I can do what I want. I’m going to go see a matinee.” Ask me if I ever did it.
Blake: The height of luxury.
Nick: Matinee movies are the best. We’re in a pandemic now, but when it’s over, if you can sneak out during the day and see whatever Tom Cruise movie you want to see, or whatever, do it.
Verbs: Today, we’re going to look at four specific obstacles to the double win and the solutions you can leverage to overcome those obstacles. Blake, help us out. Walk us through this first obstacle here.
Blake: The first obstacle is, “My clients expect me to be available around the clock.”
Nick: I’m stopping you right now. Right away, let me tell you about one of my first clients who I’m so grateful for.
Blake: His name rhymes with Blichael Shmyatt.
Nick: I’m not saying any names, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity for a big show or whatever. I started off offering, “I can do a great edit for you. I can edit your podcast. I can make it happen quickly,” which is a great service. People are going, “He’s turning this around.” Then, pretty quickly that meant this client was sometimes recording their show at 10:30 at night on the West Coast which is 12:30 a.m. where I was.
Then, the show has to go live at 5:00 a.m. my time, so I’m staying up to get audio at 12:30 and not getting done until 2:30 or 3:00. I did that for like a year and a half, because I spent the whole time going, “I’m just so thankful for this.” Maybe it was good, and maybe it wasn’t, but it really took so much effort for me to say, “I can’t do this anymore.” It’s shocking how quickly we just accept what we’re given and say, “This is my life now.”
Verbs: Nick, how many clients were you working with at the time, and how did that impact all of your other work you had to get done?
Nick: I don’t remember the amount of clients, but I started to plan around my late nights, which was helpful but so dysfunctional. I’m always tired. I’m waking up at a normal time having to do that work, so it really zapped all of the energy, but I think about what Blake had said before. You spend it and say, “Once we get through this… I’ll make it through this. Then, it will be this other magical thing across the border over there in perfect land.” I know I’m not alone. I’m sure we all do this. In fact, I’m sure we all do this to some extent today. Do you guys fall into these traps at all? I know you guys are experts in the double win, but sometimes things happen.
Blake: What I’ve learned is that I do experience this occasionally from some of our clients or even occasionally from even within a team context. How your clients are treating you… I think what’s helpful for me to realize is it’s really just a mirror. It’s a mirror of how you are leading a client. I think I first heard this concept from Jay Abraham that clients are people who are under your care. As long as they are your client, they are under your care and your protection. That’s how you need to see them.
If you think about that, if a client is expecting you to be available around the clock, a lot of times, or at least my first thought when I experienced that was, “This guy doesn’t get it,” or “This client is unreasonable,” or “My next client is going to be better than this experience,” but those experiences are just mirrors of the type of leader you are as someone who has someone under their care.
The solution is to set boundaries at the start of the agreement. You can actually even set boundaries before the agreement happens, because you tend to teach people how to treat you. This kind of sounds backwards, but if in the sales process they are texting you at 10:30 at night and you’re jumping on and texting them right back, they’re going to expect that regardless of whatever the agreement says because that’s how you taught them how to treat you.
Recognize that you are teaching your clients all of the time how to treat you, whether you say it explicitly or not, and you have to decide beforehand, “What are my boundaries?” You can’t really express boundaries to the client if you haven’t expressed them to yourself first.
Nick: For me, one of the big changes was, “Do not text me unless there is a show that needs to be up and is not or you’re recording actively and cannot figure it out.” Basically, those are the only times I hear from clients. Otherwise, they’re in an email, and I get back to them in a reasonable time. I was scared to do that, because I thought what I was offering them was availability and closeness and attention, which is true, but what they also were paying for was expertise and a professional.
When you set those boundaries and give them clear direction, I think people see them differently than we see ourselves. I feel like I’m a baby. “Don’t do this. Blah! Blah! Blah!” They see it as, “This is a grown man who has stuff to do who I trust with all of this stuff. I’m going to honor that.” It really has never been an issue, not once, but it’s really easy to find yourself being overburdened by these clients.
Blake: You may have to put on your flippers and do a little scuba for this part. Go deep. Think about, “What is my vision for this? How would I ideally like to work?” Not just, “What is my vision for this quarter or this year, but what is my vision for the future in the long-term?” I would say to the degree you are familiar with and excited about and clear on that vision it makes decision making and difficult conversations with one client easier.
I still do this. I work with a team. If I ever have to have a hard conversation with one of our clients or if I ever needed to call on a prospect and suggest something or have a challenging conversation to bring them to a point of a decision, I’ll usually pause and reconnect with my actual vision to put the severity of this problem in perspective, because if I don’t start acting like the person who can achieve that vision, then I just will never achieve it.
That, to me, makes it easier, because some of your clients might get bent out of shape. There are some clients you have now that you won’t have in six months because they don’t want to cooperate with that. They want to eat McDonalds, and they value speed, and it is okay if it’s crappy. For Nick, you’re working with someone who is trying to build a better podcast.
Say, “I think if we dialed this podcast in and really go for it, you can reach 10 times the audience you have right now. If you partner with me, that’s the result I want to go for. Now, the people who are getting 10 times the downloads that you are have this quality a show, so let me tell you some boundaries that I need to be able to deliver that level of quality to you.”
Incorporate them in that vision. There is a vacuum when there is a “No” or when there is a loss in relationship with a client, but if you’re clear on who you are going after and what you want and you’re always upgrading your quality of service, that vacuum is going to get filled, and it’s going to make your life better.
Verbs: The second obstacle is, “It’s hard to motivate…”
Nick: I’m pre-upset about this. I’m already upset about number two.
Blake: You are? I can have a meme guy answer to this, but I like what Hannah wrote about this better. What are you upset about it for?
Nick: I’m just emotionally upset because it’s a real problem. This is the number-one problem people talk about, I think.
Blake: Oh, gosh! I should let the meme guy answer this.
Nick: No, no, no! This might even all be in the show. Verbs?
Verbs: I think it’s worth just mentioning that the second obstacle is, “It is hard to motivate myself when it’s just me.” Release your feelings.
Nick: To me, I will say that every time I meet somebody and they go, “What do you do?” and I say, “I own this company, and I do this stuff,” not every time but the vast majority of the time they’ll go, “What’s a podcast?” That’s a huge part of it. Then, they’ll go, “I could never do that because I would never get anything done.” That is a problem. I have struggled with that as well, so I have solutions, but it sounds like Blake maybe has a faster solution than my more diagnostic solution.
Blake: No, no, no. This is a happy show. I don’t need to bring any tough love.
Nick: Sometimes people need tough love. What is it?
Blake: I can reframe this. I’ll connect it to the same scuba activity we did last time, which is a lack of motivation is almost always connected to a lack of clarity. A lack of motivation is almost always connected to a lack of clarity, and what I will say, and I think I heard… It was probably Elon Musk or Gary Vaynerchuk or someone like that who is fine being blunt. You have to get that fixed.
If you want to be successful and also be a leader… If you need to motivate yourself to get moving, something is wrong. It’s the gentle way you can interpret how either of those guys may have said that. I won’t rehash what I shared in the last obstacle. I do think getting clarity and having… You know we talk about SMARTER goals, and one of those is an E. You know if your goal is exciting enough and if it is clear enough because you’re motivated to do it. If you’re consistently not motivated, you don’t have a discipline problem; you have a vision problem or you have a clarity problem.
Nick: I think that’s 100 percent correct. I don’t think that’s controversial at all, but there are all kinds of reasons that people get in their own way related to doing the things they need to do. It could be that they are nervous about doing it wrong or they’re scared. Sometimes I’ll promise a product, and I’ll go, “I think I can do this.”
I feel really good about this, and then when I’m starting, I go, “Oh, my gosh! This takes more time,” or “I really need to do more research on this,” or whatever. Then, suddenly, it takes me four times as long to do it. There are all kinds of reasons why somebody may not start that don’t necessarily connect to that you’re lazy, although we tell ourselves that, but I think the idea of vision…
For me, it was like, “Own a podcasting business.” That was the vision, but that’s incomplete. Right? The vision involves, “Own a business and be able to enjoy life,” or however you want to stretch that out, because if you just put the business part, you’re up at 12:30. Then, you’re spending four hours delaying work you just have to do. I don’t know. Verbs, I’m sure you can relate. Everyone can relate to this. Maybe Blake can’t.
Verbs: If not, he needs to get that fixed.
Nick: It’s hard sometimes to get to work.
Verbs: I think even with any kind of creative work I would say that you feel like whatever the last thing you worked on that did well or was well-produced… You want to keep coming up with ideas at least at that level or something that can supersede that, so sometimes it can be daunting, so you figure, “Let me distract myself or try to drum up some inspiration by doing other things,” because you don’t feel motivated in the moment, but that’s more project and task oriented more so than, “I’ve created this business, and now I don’t want to run it, or at least I don’t want to run it by myself. What do I do?” That’s a harder obstacle to overcome if you can’t get it fixed.
Blake: Let’s talk about a very practical way to help this, because I can’t empathize with this. I know I’m maybe showing a little attitude about it, but I do think it is a real thing. Even for me, Verbs, when you said that just now I remember that especially with creative projects this is tough. I think this is great if it’s motivation or if there is a sticking point or a rut at all.
If it’s creative work or if it is business work, it’s very helpful if you’re a solo business or if the business really falls on your shoulders to start co-working in some capacity. Start collaborating in some capacity. If that’s informal… I can think of my two most successful independent agency-owner friends who have a very close-knit group of other business owners, and they’re always connecting, if it’s by Zoom or going on a trip. Wow! That has absolutely helped them. I think they’re starting to open up now, but co-working spaces can be helpful for that, I think, in the visual cue of seeing other people.
Nick: Another example of that, and I know I’ve talked about it on at least another Michael Hyatt podcasts before, but I just do think it has real value especially during a pandemic… I was on it today. There is platform called Focusmate, which is essentially a stranger across the Internet who you sign up for a time and you tell them, “For the next 50 minutes I’m writing these three emails. Then, I’m going to be 10 minutes into this other thing.”
Then, they say, “I’m going to do X, Y, and Z.” Then, 50 minutes later, you check in with each other and say, “How did it go?” That accountability to somebody else, even if you don’t know them and never see them again, is so powerful. Every time I find myself really dragging, I just do a Focusmate, because it also forces me to say what I need to do. Even that action alone… To say, “What do I need to do right now?” I really recommend Focusmate for that kind of thing.
Verbs: That’s the second obstacle. “It’s hard to motivate myself when it’s just me.” The third obstacle is, “I’m doing everything. There’s just not enough time in the workday.” I’m doing it all, Blake. There are only 24 hours in a day.
Blake: Yeah. I talk to people all of the time when this is how they feel. Their to-do list really is never ending because they are doing the delivery, but they’re also doing the marketing and sales, and there are always new customers and new clients out there to be acquired. Truly, your to-do list could be never ending between trying to get a new client and trying to deliver for the current client and trying to make sure you’re paying your taxes and all of that operational stuff, too.
We talk about a strategy in our Free to Focus course, and I’ll mention it here, because I think it’s really helpful, where you are doing one of three things: eliminating, automating, or delegating tasks. We actually did an episode when we talked about this, Episode 78, about how to trim down your to-do list.
We’ll give you one other strategy for this obstacle, but the first thing I would say for a solopreneur just from my own experience is I remember one of the first sales I made. I was doing copywriting for an email funnel. I was doing the strategy for it, and I was writing sales pages and doing all of this. I was doing a million things, and I thought the more stuff I offer my client the higher they will value me.
What I learned was when I narrowed the focus of my client offering, first, it was easier to get clients because it was simpler to understand what I did specifically, and secondly, I would be able to charge more, because the result was clearer and easier to understand. I was more of a specialist. You know you’re going to spend more for the specialty than you do the generalist.
With eliminate, automate, and delegate, obviously with automation there is software and stuff like that. We’ll talk about delegation later in this episode, but start with elimination. Look at your offering and ask, “What among the things I offer my clients really drives the result that they pay big money for?” Then, see if you can’t eliminate the rest. That’s kind of a preemptive. That’s obviously not something you can necessarily do in an afternoon, but I would start there, because that will help.
Nick: Another level of eliminating and automating and delegating is so simple, and I don’t always do it. For example, my email box is a thing that causes me nothing but grief. We talked about it. We’re going to talk about delegating in a second, but I basically hired someone to manage my email because I just couldn’t do it anymore.
It was causing too much stress, but I still have to go in there and do all of the work, so I just had to tell myself, “I’m only checking emails at these times. I’m doing it all at one time. Then, I’m not thinking about it for the next four hours. Someone else is going to check it. They’re going to manage it. If there is an explosion, they’ll tell me.” Even simple things like that and batching the work that is emotionally wrought for you…
I know that for a lot of people email isn’t, but it is for me, so being able to batch that and then do the stuff that you can kind of coast on or really focus on in longer chunks without having to stop every 20 minutes because there is a new email allows you some momentum to get through the day and not feel like you’re exhausted.
Verbs: Yeah. I think what you just said about batching the task is critical. It’s figuring out what tasks you need the most energy for and what part of the day you’re going to do those tasks in. Otherwise, if you wait till the end of your workday to do the most draining task, chances are it’s not going to get done. Once again, it gets pushed back to another day. Understanding what type of energy you need for which tasks you’re going to batch together is paramount to be able to get this going in a way that’s going to be beneficial to you.
Blake: I would say, for what it’s worth, I don’t know how you both feel, but doing that thing first is almost always the way to go. Whatever those things are that are going to cause you… That’s like batching the emotional labor. If you’re doing that at 9:00 a.m., you’re going to have a better day than if you do that at 4:00 p.m.
Nick: I’ll piggyback on that and say our tool for the ideal week is helpful for scheduling out when you can batch things. For a solopreneur, I would actually say expand the ideal week to an ideal month and use mega-batching for certain activities. When I say that, I mean you are reserving full days for a category of activity or even multiple days.
For example, I’m doing marketing, I’m doing sales, I’m doing delivery, I’m doing operations, and I’m doing accounting. I’m doing it all for my little business. I would strongly encourage you to not dip into marketing every time you’re scrolling on Instagram and you see an ad. “Oh! That’s a good ad! Why don’t I do that with my Instagram? Well, let me look at that for 15 minutes.”
I would actually batch. When it comes to marketing the strategy you’ll need to succeed, so often it’s the solution we think of after three hours of really digging into stuff. The stuff that really will move the needle from a marketing perspective takes time, and as long as we have client interruptions and these other things to do, we’ll always short-circuit our marketing process.
I would encourage to try mega-batching a full day. Take the first and second of every month. I’m blocking out that day. I’m not taking sales calls, client meetings, or anything. I’m doing a deep dive in marketing, and I’m just reviewing my marketing and doing an after-action review and planning. If I have to create content, I’m writing the four blog posts I want to write for this month on that day.
Whatever that is (marketing content and creation), use batching, because, first, it will make that activity much more successful because you’ll have sustained focus, and secondly, it will give you that peace of mind to say, “I have time set aside later to do that. I don’t need to worry about it right now.”
Verbs: That’s the third obstacle. “I’m doing everything, and there is not enough time in the workday.” Taking us to the fourth obstacle, and a lot of people say this even if it’s just in their heads, is, “I can’t delegate it. I don’t have anyone else working for me.”
Nick: The idea here is like what I do for a living and probably what a lot of people do is that I am the recipient of people who have decided to delegate. For example, my website on the front page says, “Podcasting is not rocket science,” because it’s not, but it is time consuming. You have to learn like 10 skills really well and apply them.
If you’re a busy businessperson, then you don’t have time for that, so having someone else take out the two to three hours a week that you were going to devote to that which you don’t like to do… You don’t like to hear your own voice or whatever it is. However much money you’re spending on that service are you getting in return in terms of energy and actual time to get another client or whatever?
For me, as I said before, there is a freelancer for everything out there, so just as you encounter the stuff that either never gets done, or if they do get done, you don’t like the outcome and you don’t like doing it, go, “There’s someone out there who will do this and I’m not burdening them. In fact, I’m creating opportunities for people, and I’m going to have more time to do the other stuff.”
I think it’s a hurdle to get over emotionally. I remember it very, very well. One time, Michael Hyatt had said he always made more money when he hired someone else to do something, and that really stuck with me, because it’s freeing you up to do the stuff you and only you can do.
Verbs: I can attest to the fact. I do a lot of asset production especially as it pertains to BusinessAccelerator, so that is creating workbooks and that sort of thing, but there is this one step in creating a workbook that our clients love. It’s the feature of just having a fillable workbook, a digital version of the workbook you can download and type in whatever content you want to capture, but just the process of creating that is… I won’t say it is the bane of my existence, but it’s that one thing at the end of the day. Every single box and every single field has to be made into an interactive piece.
Nick: I’m reasonably mad about it right now, and I don’t have to do it.
Verbs: We brought that concern to the team, and they were like, “This might be something we just need to figure out a freelancer who actually does that,” which there are people who specialize in creating interactive PDF documents and love to do it. If I could explain to you the amount of years and hair that I got back just from being able to take that task and move it along to somebody else who would appreciate it even more so was glorious.
Nick: I’m picturing your kids running in the room and sobbing because they haven’t seen their dad in like four years. It’s like you’re going to love again.
Verbs: Hold on! One more field! One more checkbox! We need a radial right here.
Blake: I remember when I was freelancing. I didn’t really think of this, first of all, because in my head I thought two things. “I can’t afford to have someone do this for me,” and secondly, I guess the flip side of that coin is, “I’ll save money if I just do it myself.” If I could go back in time, I would have not just said, “No, Blake, you can’t afford it,” because I don’t know if I could have honestly back then, but that’s the problem. I never clarified the cost on either side of that coin.
Let’s look at the one side of the coin. First, if you feel like you can’t afford it… “I can’t afford to do it.” I’ll ask you, “How much does it cost?” Most people will say, “I don’t know. I can’t afford it.” I’m like, “Well, you will never afford it without first knowing how much it costs.” I would do two things. First of all, calculate your hourly rate.
Think about how much went into your bank account. Divide that by 40 hours or 50 hours or 60 hours or however much you’re working. That’s rocket science. That’s your hourly rate. Then, figure out how much time you spend doing that task. Now, that’s how much is the current cost. That doesn’t include the opportunity cost, because you could be making sales or you could be doing higher leverage work, but just look at the opportunity cost. That’s what it is.
Then, look at how much it would cost to hire someone to do that. I’ll just tell you right now, if you hire a specialist or a freelancer to do that task for you that you need to outsource, it’s probably going to take them half as much time as it takes you. Calculate the cost. Maybe you truly can’t afford it yet, but what I can guarantee you is…there is magic to this…when you clarify the target it makes it easier to get to the target. You end up getting there faster.
It’s some sort of magic with goal setting at that level of awareness. “Okay. Cool. Now I know the number per hour I need to hit until it’s literally financially irresponsible for me to not outsource this.” Get that level of clarity if you haven’t already. That will help you with the whole, “I can’t afford this,” delegation obstacle.
I wish I had done this back in the day. That whole laying it all out and calculating the cost and baby-stepping your way into that I learned from Michael, and Michael worked with the good folks at BELAY. BELAY is a company full of vetted, high-quality freelancers and assistants helping people outsource easily, and the best part about it is that the buy-in is low and the risk is also low, because they do all of the hard work of trying to find the right person to help you with that task.
I know that, really in some ways, the beginning of Michael Hyatt & Company was really taking that first step and working with BELAY. If you don’t know where to begin with this, who knows? I know our company has grown so fast since Michael first took that step when he was a solopreneur, so just imagine if you’re willing to take that step where you could be in five years or eight years or 10 years. If you don’t know where to begin with the outsourcing thing, look up belaysolutions.com. Check them out if you need a starting point with outsourcing your lower-leverage work.
Verbs: The good news is you don’t have to feel like your business is running your life. By leveraging the power of boundaries, co-working, batching, and outsourcing, you can add time back to your week without costing your business. Nick and Blake, do you have any final thoughts we could share with our Focus on This listeners?
Nick: Well, I’ll just say, as somebody who still is a work in progress on this front and trying to understand the balance between work in a business I own and a life I’m trying to live, that it really just does come with being intentional about what is possible. For me, one of those things was saying, “Every Wednesday is a deep-thinking day,” then setting that goal and telling my assistant and making it happen.
That has been mentally helpful. You just have to set a goal. I think Blake said it really well. You sort of set a goal/intention. Then, you work toward it, and over time you’ll see this is way easier than it used to be, but it’s never just going to happen on its own, so just start with something we’ve said today, and you’ll feel better.
Verbs: Thanks for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends. Remember to use #focusonthispodcast. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…
All: Stay focused.