Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

December 12, 2011

How to Get it All Done This Holiday Season

Filed under: Growth Management,Planning — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 9:28 pm

“We’re trying hard to balance our busiest work time with the never-ending to-do list. How to stay balanced and sane.” Amy Graver, question on LinkedIn.

My answer. Two levels, Amy.

1. Right now. Hire a personal assistant, someone like a concierge, who will handle all small issues for you with competence and aplomb–both business and personal. If you’re busy doing year-end billable work for your best clients, and you have someone else running around for you, picking up your cleaning, writing addresses for all your holiday cards, replacing the color toner cartridges, dealing with the caterer, getting your invoices out, you will be so-o-o happy. Plus rested and better off financially.

2. Planning ahead. All my clients do an action plan for the coming year. Goals, strategies, and action items. The action items are spread out over a year calendar. But first I have them write in their busy times, vacation times, etc. If holiday season is a crunch time, then they make sure they don’t pile extra things into that period.

The first things to enter are your personal “have a life” things. Why? Because the reason you are in business is to get to do the things you most want in life, including “have a life.” If you don’t do this, you might as well have a J-O-B!

Happy holidays! And may the new year bring you health, prosperity, and relaxation!

October 8, 2009

Getting Past Procrastination

Inspired by a short article in BNET, “Why We’re Wired for Procrastination

Do you ever procrastinate? Stop kicking yourself! The linked BNET article says it’s not a moral failing; it’s just the way the brain is wired. Here are the first three “brain quirks” and the resulting “procrastination effects.” (There’s more detail in this Psychology Today article.)

  • Quirk 1: The brain is built to firstly minimize danger, before maximizing rewards.
    Procrastination Effect:
    We avoid tasks that threaten the self, and we discount future rewards in favor of immediate gratification.
  • Quirk 2: Too much uncertainty feels dangerous. It feels like possible pain so we avoid it.
    Procrastination Effect:
    Uncertainty — not knowing what to do next — is scary. Delaying a task becomes a way of coping with or avoiding that fear.
  • Quirk 3: Our conscious processing capacity is small, which makes us terrible at a lot of things, including predicting what might make us happy.
    Procrastination Effect
    : It’s difficult for us to set realistic goals — or stick to them.

Well, okay, procrastination is not a moral failing, but we still have to run a business, and get things done.

My clients are small business owners, and I see this behavior everyday in them (yes, and in myself). This springs up whenever they need to get out of their comfort zone and dive into the new, e.g.:

— Making marketing calls
— Expanding into a new niche
— Hiring a top level manager
— Investing in growth
— Preparing their business to sell
— And the #1 Procrastination Generator: Writing a book! Hey, many of us get frozen up trying to write a blog post!

So how do you counter procrastination? I was excited to note that the way I work with owners helps limit their procrastination due to these “brain quirks.” Here’s how: I put together groups of 10 owners. Each ongoing group meets half a day a month. The purpose is to tackle the challenges to growth you face, using the group as your problem-solving panel and sounding board. But these growth challenges are the very ones that generate the most procrastination, because you are forced outside your comfort zones. Thus a big part of what we do is have members set commitments, then report back to the group the following month.

Being held accountable by a group of peers you respect is a powerful force. As one woman said, “There’s no way I’ll go to the group and not have my commitments done! I’ll stay up till 2:00 am the night before if I have to.”

The 9th Circle in “Procrastination Hell” is reserved for people who write books. And business owners who write books are in the center of that circle. Running your business is a full-time job, and writing a book is a full-time job. The business pays you now; the book might pay you something way off in the future. The business gives you instant feedback on how you’re doing. The book? Will anyone ever read the dang thing? Writing a book–even a business how-to book–is complete self-exposure.

Thus writing a book scares the bejebbers out of people. (I’m saying this as a guy who’s published four books, and many workbooks.) I tell people a book takes two years to complete: 10% of the time writing; 90% agonizing over it.

An example: A consultant I’m working with has been writing a book about his field for the last couple of years. The early parts went really well, but the  closer he got to the end, the slower it got. He’s down to writing the lead ins for each chapter, and progress was zero. Every time he set aside time, something would come up. Paid client work! Can’t miss that. The wife needed his help. The dog had a problem. Etc.

We talk by phone 10 minutes a week, setting goals, then reporting how it went. Every time there was no progress, we problem-solved how to do better the next time.

Finally one week, he made a bit of progress. Elation! Congrats!

Then the next week, he reported that he had completed all the rest of the chapter summaries. “Once I got started, and generated some momentum, I just kept rolling,” he said.


1. Having a coach really helps. When I write my books, I hire a coach to keep me on track.

2. When you are stuck, find a way to get unstuck that will allow you to make a bit of progress.

3. Once the logjam is loosened, and you build some momentum, keep going. Stay on a roll as long as you can.

4. Strike while the iron is hot! When you feel a bit of inspiration, go for it RIGHT THEN. If you wait even 1/2 hour, it’s gone.

In my e-book “Recapture Your Time,” I have a section on getting creative things done while you’re running a business. Overcoming resistance. Carving out time for development. Finding your best creativity work style.

And I’m also doing an e-book on “Cash Flow From Your Creativity.” When will it be done? Depends on how well I practice what I’m preaching here. If you’re interested, bug me, then I’ll be more likely to get it done sooner.


August 4, 2009

How Much Time for Admin?

Filed under: Entrepreneurship,Growth Management — Tags: , , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 5:46 pm

Q: From Matthew on LinkedIn. “How much time does a “single shingle” professional spend on admin?”

A: One person suggested 30% of time for admin. If this is on target, this is why solopreneurs never get to take a vacation.

Suppose as a professional, your time is worth $100 per hour, and that you can find work at this rate if you have time to market. Suppose you work a 50-hour week, so 30% of your time is 15 hours per week. Suppose you can hire a really good admin assistant for $20/hr, or $300 for a 15-hr week. (You’ll hire somebody AT LEAST as fast as you are.)

So if your admin person freed up 15 hours of your time each week, and you used that time to get even 3 more hours of paid work, you’d break even. But surely you’d be able to generate more than 3 extra hours, so you’d definitely be ahead financially.

You’d also be focusing on activities where you brought more value to your business, and that were more exciting for you. And you might even be able to take more time off.

With more time and energy for marketing, you might get more selective with your client selection, and thus be able to raise your prices. You may have time to brainstorm and create a new way of structuring your business that sets you apart, so you could charge even more. More money, less effort. I like it!

So stop thinking “single shingle” and get the help you need.

Do I Have to Work All the Time?

“For the Self-Employed, It’s an Endless Workweek. Recession Takes Away Vacations, Weekends as the Consequences of Missing a Business Opportunity Mount”
Sarah Needleman, WSJ Small Business. 8.4.9

In this article, solopreneurs tell us why they can never take any time off. Here’s my response.

I think the folks described in this article have fallen into a bad “24/7” habit. It’s unnecessary, and damaging to their business prospects.

Back in boom times, people said, “There’s so much work, I’ve got to be available 24/7 to handle it all!” Now they’re saying, “There’s not much work, so I’ve got to be available 24/7 so I don’t lose out.” I see many people like this who wear it as a badge of honor that they are on call all the time.

A solopreneur who gets stuck in this vicious circle virtually guarantees he or she will remain a tiny operation. Why? If you work all the time, when do you do the strategic thinking and planning? Develop strategic alliances and new ways of doing business? Train or groom skilled associates who can take part of your load? When do you recharge your batteries, and leave time for creative insights?

That’s the job description of a successful entrepreneur who is intent on growing the business, putting more money in their pocket, and not having to work so dang hard. The 24/7 worker bee never gets to this place.

I use this parable with my small business owner clients:

The Zen master says,
“Every day I meditate an hour,
no matter how busy I am.
Except on those days when the crush of work is overwhelming.
Then I meditate two hours.”

The “hour” is figurative: you set aside the time you need—even during the toughest of times.

Some simple rules:

— Don’t stay a solopreneur. Have a collaborator so you can energize and back up each other. Can be a colleague, a “partner,” or an employee.

— Tell your clients when you are available and when you are not. Mostly, they just want to know ahead of time. I do not believe your clients disrespect you for taking time off.

— Think you always have to be available to Client A even if you have something personal scheduled? Try this simple test: Suppose you have a meeting Tuesday with Client B. Then Client A calls and says, “I want to get together with you Tuesday.” Do you break your Client B meeting? No, of course not. You tell A, “I’m booked for Tuesday; what about Wednesday?” Treat your own appointments with equal weight.

— Feel you absolutely must stay in touch during vacation? Then do so, but limit it. My wife and I  (both consultants) take weeks in Hawaii. We tell our clients when we’ll be gone, and say we’re available only for brief urgent contact. Our insight: we’d rather spend an hour during the morning fielding emails via laptop while sitting by the beach than not go at all. And there’s a subtle joy from billing for $175 while sitting under a palm tree in your swimsuit!

*      *      *

If you’ve read this far, and you’re shaking your head and thinking, “No, no, this doesn’t pertain to me. I really do have to work all the time,” then respond and tell me why. If I can’t give you a way out of your vicious circle, I’ll send you a free copy of my “Recapture Your Time” book. But of course you wouldn’t have time to read it . . .

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