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Feeling Overwhelmed? Here’s How You Can Easily Regain Control of Your Workload

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Feeling Overwhelmed? Here’s How You Can Easily Regain Control of Your Workload

Your aim as a Small Business owner is to get as much work in as you can – isn’t it? It certainly is – to a point. I’m going to share with you how we found that point, which might help you if you’re in a similar situation.

There is such a thing as too much business.

Three years ago I was living the simple life as a freelance editor. Work from publishers would simply land in my inbox. But, as the publishing industry contracted this was no longer viable, and even an awesome editor like myself couldn’t rely on the work. After analysing where the publishing industry was going, I decided to move into self-publishing for Small Business. I had the skills and the connections. A perfect fit.

After giving the business a new look and hanging out my shingle, the work started to flow. At first it was just right for one person; two or three books at a time. As things grew, I started outsourcing to a few reliable freelancers. Still all good. As the growth continued, my partner, Anna, came into the business, and we also hired one of our wonderful freelancers.

In case you’re wondering, this is the point where we should have stopped. This is the point where I should have started saying no, when I should have taken stock and considered more carefully the amount and type of work we were taking on. But, like most people trying to build a business, I thought the best thing to do was to say yes to everything and work out how to manage it later.

Now, don’t get me wrong – we still hit every deadline, produced great books and had dozens of happy authors. The problem was the effort it was taking from me to make it happen. Small Business is hard, and none of us are afraid of some long hours. But nobody goes into it to consistently work 12-hour days. Who would sign up for that? Not me – but somehow I had.

Realising we had reached a point at which we needed to hire another full-time person or scale back a little, we decided on the latter as we realised we were growing faster than expected.

Here’s what we’ve done:

  1. We’ve scaled back our ambitious plan of 50 books a year to a more manageable 26. We might get to 50 in a few years, but not now.
  2. When a potential client makes an enquiry, I tell them when we can start on their book, rather than just asking what their schedule is and then having to make sure we meet it.
  3. We no longer take on projects that are not our core business.
  4. We no longer accept projects that are on extremely tight deadlines.
  5. We’ve increased our rates to be in line with the high standard of service we offer, rather than thinking we need to keep our prices down to make sure we get work.

It may seem that all of this would result in us missing out on work – and it has! That’s precisely the point.

But now, rather than more work than we need, on sometimes difficult timelines, at rates that were less than what we should have been charging for our level of service, we are attracting more of our target market, have more control over our schedule, are avoiding high-effort, lower return projects, and – here’s the gold – I’m working less and earning more than I was 12 months ago.

So, if you find that you’re frantic and can’t seem to get control of it (we’ve all been there), carefully consider whether you’re just saying yes to everything rather than making an effort to take on the amount and type of work that is right for you and your current circumstances. If you have more work than you can handle, use the opportunity to adjust your business so that you are consistently landing the right work, rather than just aiming for ‘busy’.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Georgia Thomas
    Reply

    Great article Michael. This is such an easy trap to fall into, because the natural thought is that you don’t turn work away while you’re trying to grow a business. But as you’ve experienced, sometimes it is exactly what needs to be done to have the type of business you want. Thanks.

  • Michael Hanrahan
    Reply

    Thanks Georgia. Yes, we had plans and I thought we’d prepared ourselves well, but when it all happened a bit more quickly than I expected, my initial – and common – reaction was to work like a lunatic because I thought I should take all the work we could get. Twelve months later we’ve learned from the experience and have much more control over what we’re doing.

  • Roland hanekroot
    Reply

    Graat article Michael, I often say to my clients, knowing what to say no to, and saying it is the most underrated skill in business… I actually think it’s impossible to build a great business without being able you say no

    • Michael Hanrahan
      Reply

      Thanks Roland. I knew this in theory, but didn’t know how important it was until we started to get overloaded.

  • Daniela Cavalletti
    Reply

    Insightful advice and a great piece, Michael. The most valuable lesson to learn in business is indeed to be able to say ‘no’. But when we’re in the middle of it it’s sometimes very hard to do or even seeing the need for it. Let alone the opportunities it brings. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Michael Hanrahan
      Reply

      Thanks Daniela. Glad you found it useful. Yes we didn’t realise where we were at until it was too late and we had to dig our way out of it. We’re receiving more enquiries now but we’re much more on top of it.

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