This is the 13th post in a series called Y U No Tell me; Lessons learned from building a WordPress development business. For a list of all posts in the series, please start here.
This post could also have been titled “The Control Freak Syndrome.”
When we were getting started with 9seeds, we were trying to save every penny we could while we figured out if this new venture was even going to work out. My main motivation for starting the business was because I liked building websites. And yet I found myself spending more time doing accounting, payroll, marketing, business development, project management, customer support than I did actually building websites.
I am not an accountant. But for the first 4+ years of our business, I did the bulk of the accounting. If you were to ask my why I did it each month, I would tell you that it's because I did it last month. And the month before that. It might have made sense to take on the accounting at the beginning, but somewhere along the line I should have brought in somebody else to take that over. But I didn't.
If I wanted to do accounting for 4 years, why didn't I start an accounting business?
The root of the problem: I did it today because I did it yesterday.
Burnout, here we come!
I have often joked that I used to feel like I had two full time jobs; During the day I would work ON 9seeds (talking to clients, managing projects, answering support requests), and then in the evenings I would work FOR 9seeds (building websites). But that was just during the week. On the weekends I would typically just build websites.
In the beginning, this level of commitment is probably what was needed to get things off the ground. We worked our asses off, and that was OK. But it's just not sustainable. Burnout was inevitable.
During the first two years at 9seeds, we all took turns burning out. Luckily, it was at different times so we were able to pick up the slack for one another. But if you are a freelancer working on your own, who's going to cover for you when you need to spend 3 days sitting on the couch eating Funyuns and binge watching all 6 seasons of LOST for the 3rd time?
Before you get to that point, let me offer up a couple suggestions.
#1. Hire an accountant.
You might think that sounds like a lofty hire. But the accounting needs of your small business can be handled by a professional in a fraction of the time it'll take you. Why? Because they do this for a living. The amount of time & stress you are going to save yourself will far outweigh the out of pocket expense. Not to mention, the actual out of pocket expense is probably far less than you think it's going to be.
#2. Switch up the roles.
If you have business partners, make sure and split up the jobs that nobody loves doing. Then, every couple months, switch them up. If you didn't listen to point #1 and you still do the accounting internally, have one of your partners take over for a couple months. By switching it up, you're going to be less likely to burn out doing the same thing over and over. Plus, if your partner likes doing the accounting as little as you do, you might just decide that it's time to hire an accountant like I mentioned before.
#3. Outsource support.
Yes, you may be the one who wrote the plugin, but that doesn't mean you need to be the one who answers every question somebody asks about it. Besides, 75% of the questions you'll get are the exact same. You can pay somebody a little bit of money to take that responsibility off your desk. You can still jump in on the 1 in a 100 question that needs more than level 1 support. But those other 99 can be being dealt with while you're working on the next plugin.
#4. While you're at it, outsource everything you can!
Listen, you have limited time each day. You started your business because you love doing something. For me, that is building websites. Doesn't it make sense that you should try and spend as much time of each day doing that thing that you enjoy and is probably what you are best at? You may not need a full time project manager, but maybe there's somebody who could help you out a few hours a week to keep things in order for you. Hire (or partner with) somebody who likes to do those things you don't like to do. (YES, there really are people who enjoy accounting.) Maybe you can find somebody to review your new business contact forms for you and weed out the ones that don't fit your skill set. Hire somebody to help with social media and marketing.
You may not be looking to build up a big company. You may just want to have enough clients to keep you sustained. That's awesome. And it's even more of a reason why you should be spending your time doing the thing that you love the most and it's probably the thing you are best at.
What steps have you taken to avoid burnout in your business?
OK folks, we're near the end. Tomorrow is the final day in the Lessons Learned series and it is the most important tip I can give. Please don't miss it.
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