It’s incredibly easy to buy into the illusion that more is always better, and as an entrepreneur there’s a subtle but powerful inertia pulling you to grow and grow -- more employees, more clients, more deals, larger footprint, larger reach, more products or services, and the list goes on. But what we fail to consider is what the growth costing us. I’ve always said that an empire can turn into a prison really quickly, so be careful what you ask for.
When I left my position as a management consultant to start a small-training consulting business, my goal was simple: to work as little as possible. Now, a decade and a husband and two kids later, I’ve doubled down on this philosophy out of necessity as much as desire.
Is the moral of this story don’t grow your business? Of course not. But if you’re interested in embracing a more conscious intention to prioritize life over work (and still dare to enjoy true entrepreneurial success) here are a few tips:
Embrace efficiencies that enable you to work smart, not hard.
The "lazy entrepreneur" philosophy is about getting the biggest bang for each hour so that you can work as little as possible. One of the best ways to stay true to that ideal is by seizing the 80-20 rule to focus on the 20 percent of efforts that yields 80 percent of the results (or revenue in many cases).
Here are a few ways to get this done:
- Develop and document repeatable processes. For example, instead of stumbling through your order fulfillment process, clearly identify it, document it and periodically revisit it to make enhancements. This not only saves tons of time when you need to complete the task but also reduces the learning curve when you need to delegate to others.
- Automate as much as possible. No time to tweet daily (much less hourly)? Use services like TweetDeck to schedule and send your tweets automatically. If you socialize across multiple platforms, HootSuite is another great tool. Also, develop small habits to increase your efficiency throughout the day. For example, disable the chime on your email inbox and instead schedule email check times. Use a timer to manage potential time wasting activities like internet browsing.
- Just like you plan out your work schedule, do the same for your non-work time. Instead of letting important activities like pilates class, prayer or cooking with the kids fall to the wayside (or get squeezed in only once everything else is done), schedule them. Remember that what gets scheduled, gets done, and life is just as important as work.
Pay your dues….strategically. One of my favorite sayings is “Do what you gotta do until you can do what you want to do.” Anything worth having is worth working for and a lucrative small business that allows an entrepreneur to be lazy is no different.
Here is how to get it done:
- Plan to invest serious sweat equity during the first 18 to 24 months (yes, 40, 50 and 60-hour workweeks should be expected). Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work like a dog. But be strategic about building a business that will enable you to decrease hours significantly after the first couple years.
- Be available for the right client and opportunity anytime, anywhere. Don’t just wait for those early big wins, seize them with a vengeance. Don’t get so caught up in delivering for current clients that you forget to constantly feed your pipeline (even when it seems like things are going well and you may not need to).
- Remember to work “on the business” while you’re working “in the business” (you can still be lazy while doing it). You don’t have to do everything -- you just make sure everything gets done. Invest time and energy early on finding those diamond in the rough partners or vendors who can take on much of your non-essential business activities like PR, online marketing or social-media campaigns. I call it “smart sourcing,” or outsourcing intelligently by using other small businesses to reduce cost (and enable you to reduce that workload sooner rather than later).
Develop a growth strategy consistent with your goals. As a small business, you want to grow. The key is to grow “smart”. In my case growing smart means identifying ways that I can accommodate more clients and increase revenue without necessarily working more hours. Last year, my revenue was approximately double what it had been about four years prior, but I worked 18 fewer days.
Each entrepreneur must identify the growth strategy options that will best support their ultimate goals. The key is to think about how you want to grow before you need to act. If you don’t plan for growth in advance, you could jeopardize your current business stability.
Here is a few pieces of advice on how to achieve this:
- Analyze your profit margins as you grow to determine where most of your profits are coming from and focus your attention/energies on the most profitable services, clients, etc. Don’t be afraid to move away from less profitable or more problematic clients once you can replace them with more profitable ones. Seek “easy money” – those products or services that simply require less effort while still providing tremendous client value.
- Reserve your personal time for those activities that meet the “revenue potential” threshold (e.g. landing a major new client, developing a new product, etc.). Remember to focus your time on the 20 percent of your efforts that result in 80 percent of your results.
- Look for passive revenue opportunities – how can you make money while you sleep? Maybe it’s offering a product like a video, e-book, or online subscription service.