Working Crazy Hours Is Exhausting, Draining and Painful. But Sorry Entrepreneurs, It's Necessary.
Why entrepreneurs need to work next-to-impossible hours in the early days of their businesses.
Lately, there is a huge movement towards the idea of work-life balance. We are often told that people can be just as effective in working less time and that doing 50-70 hours a week is toxic, unsustainable, and unnecessary.
Although it sounds smart to maintain work-life balance, experience tells me that a business would not normally get off the ground if a business owner didn't put in the time.
I launched my first business in 2002 and like most entrepreneurs, worked incredibly long hours. A typical day was about 12 hours and a typical month involved taking one weekend off. I averaged 60 hours of work per week for four years straight as the business grew from $1M+ in sales revenue to over $10M+.
In 2006, I launched another business and once again found that a 50-60hour week was the time it took to stay on top of everything that needed to be done. The same happened when I started another company in 2010 and it persisted for another five years.
There’s a reason for this. Businesses make money primarily because of the assets they control and as a result of the labor that sweats those assets. A startup neither has any assets or any labor force.
The trick to getting a business off the ground is to create valuable assets (products, systems, brand, intellectual property, etc) while simultaneously recruiting a team and running the day-to-day operations. If that sounds like a hard task, you’re right — it is. It’s a constant balance of working on the business, in the business, and recruiting people to join the business. You also have to achieve all of this, without running out of money.
Anyone who works in an established company is leveraging existing assets. When they mention the company brand, refer to their operations manual, log in to the IT system, share a customer success story or sell a proven product, the assets are doing most of the work.
Working with an established team creates efficiency and momentum that you don’t normally notice until it’s missing. A company that has a team of 40 people who have all got training and experience is constantly benefiting from that team dynamic. Even if you hired and trained one new person a month, it would take about 4 years to arrive at a functioning team of 40 people.
Creating assets is a full-time job. Hiring and training people is a full-time job. Running the day to day operations of a business is a full-time job. It’s easy to see why entrepreneurs don’t have any trouble filling 12+ hours a day with work that needs to be done.
It’s important to know this before you start a business. If you have an expectation that a business will materialize with minimal time and effort, you will experience a lot of frustrations as the reality sets in.
On the flip-side, if you expect to be doing long days and working on your weekends, you’ll get on with it and still have a smile on your face. Work isn’t really work for entrepreneurs. Creating your own business, around something you are passionate about will feel energizing most of the time.
It is critically important that if you are doing long hours that you are blending your time between the three key roles. You can not simply be working in the business or else you will eventually burn yourself out and have nothing to show for it.
I recommend a blend of:
- 50% of your time working in the operations of the business: sales, marketing, administration, delivering value to customers.
- 25% of your time into asset creation: creating software, systems, intellectual property, media, and documenting best-practices.
- 25% of your time into hiring and training your team: start with an executive assistant, then get a salesperson and someone who can assist clients. Initially, this time could be used for fundraising and then when funds are secured, diverted to hiring and training.
Using this formula, you might spend 30 hours a week working in the business, 15 hours creating assets, and 15 hours developing your team. To some, this might sound like an unbearable workload but most successful entrepreneurs I know have put in these long hours in order to get to the point where they now make it look easy. More to the point, they have the assets and the team in place, who make it look easy.