Several years ago I started speaking to promote my old accountancy business, Hudson Accountants. Like most people I hate public speaking but I went to a school that taught this useful business skill and, by about the third event, I felt reasonably comfortable.
Until I joined the Professional Speaking Association!
Being an occasional speaker is very different from being a professional speaker and so I felt that I needed to relearn my craft. Fortunately the PSA is really good for helping speakers to speak more and speak better and I am now a full member, a former Regional President, and I’ve been invited to speak at one of their national conferences for the second time.
Usually I speak to accountants and business owners who are more interested in my content than the way I deliver it. At the PSA my peers will (kindly) analyse the way I deliver my expertise too. It can be quite scary but I know that, if I’m brave enough to ask for feedback, they will be very helpful.
How do you make sure that you’re always getting better at what you do?
PS. If you’re new to speaking then I recommend joining your local Toastmasters or ask me about individual speaker coaches.
When I’m introduced at speaking events it usually includes something about how I run two businesses, write my books and look after two teenagers. It sounds a lot but here’s how I do it and how you can manage more too.
First, I try to limit my work to 25 hours per week to ensure that I have time for me and my teens. If I do something personal during the working day then I may choose to work an evening to compensate or I may accept that these is a quieter business week to make up for the weeks that are busier.
Pre covid I would try to book a holiday once a quarter. I think most of us have fallen into bad habits through lockdowns so do book your time off even if it’s just to pamper yourself at home rather than to go away. Rest is important to keep performing at our best.
I love everything that I do so no single part of it seems too onerous. I do find deadlines can be stressful so it is important for me to stay ahead of those by preparing early.
My life involves quite a bit of juggling so my diary is essential for my sanity. I have a default diary which schedules each morning to focus on a different aspect of my business. I split my main to do list between each of those 5 areas. The afternoons are kept free for meetings. If I have a speaking event that means that I can’t do one of my morning sessions then I move the appointment to another time.
On Fridays I double check my diary for the next week and move items from my to do list into an allocated morning slot. My diary is usually pretty fully booked for two weeks ahead and probably half booked for the two weeks beyond that.
I’ve written elsewhere about the benefits of systemising, automating and delegating but please feel free to share your top tips too.
As I write this I’m halfway through a two day coaching course which is really making me focus. I did my first coaching qualification about 10 years ago but never really used it until I set up Hudson Business Advice four years ago to coach accountants, bookkeepers and other business owners. In that ten year period I’ve forgotten a lot of what I already learned as well as picking up some sloppy habits.
I’m always very diligent about keeping my accountancy and tax knowledge up to date as that is a requirement of remaining a member of ICAEW. I also spend a lot of time perfecting my speaking as that is a newer skill for me and there’s plenty of room for improvement. I also go on business courses and read a lot around the subject so that I can improve my own business and also add expertise to my experience when helping other business owners.
I believe in continuous improvement of myself, my business, and the services that I offer. How much time and money do you invest in yourself?
It can be lonely running your own business.
You are expected to present a positive (but not dishonest) image to your clients, prospects, and even to your team. It is important that everybody feels confident in you and the business prospects.
But what is the private truth behind the public image?
It may be serious mental health issues but, more commonly, it could be the 80 hour week that you’re working just to break even. The award you’ve just won could be your “reward” for never getting home for bedtime with your kids. The constant anxiety about whether there will be enough cash to pay the team and your own mortgage.
As a fellow business owner I really get this.
It’s why I write my books, and these tips, and the regular webinars for those who can’t afford our group or individual coaching. Obviously investing in the latter will help you to make any necessary changes faster and more effectively but I appreciate that they may not suit your budget right now so help yourself to the cheap and free stuff until you’re ready to invest in yourself.
For now I just want you to know that you’re not alone. We all have a pile of laundry to do, an overflowing inbox and an interminable to do list. That’s just the reality of life as an entrepreneur.
Don’t beat yourself up for being normal. Enjoy the highlights and work your way through the rest making one tiny improvement to your business each week.
There are lots of myths about setting up your own small business so I thought I’d address some of them here.
- You can work shorter hours – I run my businesses on 25 hours per week and always have but that takes a huge amount of focus on efficiency. Most business owners work far longer than they did in employment, especially in the first three years
- You have more flexibility – true but this also means that you have the flexibility to work evenings and weekends.
- You can make more money – this may be true for a minority but most will be financially better of in employment. Combined with the long hours this means that most small business owners have an hourly wage below the minimum wage
- You have freedom to make your own decisions – true because the buck will always stop with you. There is nobody else to clear up if you make the wrong decision. You can buy in expertise and business coaches but ultimately you are driving the roller coaster
- Build it and they will come – have current business owners stopped laughing yet? Marketing exists for a reason. Every business needs a good idea, marketing/sales, and sound financial management. We cover the last bit in our Finance for Business Owners course.
When people approach me wanting to set up their own business I always ask “Why?” as many would be better off just finding an employer who offers better working conditions. But I also believe that we regret things that we haven’t done more often than things that we have done so, provided that they understand the risks and alternatives, we will always try to help them.
Lots of triathlon and sports metaphors to come. Triathlons, like running a business, are an endurance event. We’ve seen the Brownlee brothers and others helped across the finish line (there’s another message there about needing support, even in individual sports). Speed alone is no good if you can’t make it to the final goal.
Working long hours just won’t crack it as many folk are finding out after working through stressful lockdowns without a break.
Personally I like my 25 hours working week spread over 5 days. I can feel my brain slowing down throughout the day so better to go and do something nice with family or friends, or a bit of alone time rather than push on through (unless there’s an exceptional deadline).
Whatever hours you choose to work you want every one of them to count and that’s why we focus so much on efficiency on the online courses and couching sessions.
Look for one thing you can do more efficiently this week; perhaps by automating or delegating it or just improving the system.
When I first set up my business I had a vision of how I wanted to spend my days and you probably did too.
I wrote mine down but you may have a vision board or another means of capturing what you, personally, wanted out of your business. (If not then you should consider doing this now)
How does your typical day compare to this ideal?
Over the last 16 months many of us have drifted away from this but we now have time to catch our breath and make improvements. I could tell of the benefits of a decent business coach to make things happen in your business but you can still do things for yourself.
What ONE thing can you do today to move your business closer to the business you originally dreamt of? Now do it. TODAY.
I recently did a wholly unscientific survey on Twitter to find out what hourly rate people were earning working for themselves and taking payment as drawings or salary plus dividends.
The shocking, but unsurprising, result was that 25% were earning below minimum wage.
A further 8% were earning less than they had in their previous employment. In spite of taking on additional business risks.
Whilst in start up mode it may feel necessary to reinvest your profits into the business or to work longer hours to save a salary. This is still a problem but there is a finite period. If you have not recovered your hourly rate by the 3 year mark then you need to get some expert help to tweak your business. (This may be me or another favourite coach)
Look at your pricing, look at the type of work that you’re doing, and look at your internal efficiencies before taking on any more work. It’s no good pouring water into a leaking bucket so fix your bucket first.
Please don’t continue working too many hours for too little reward.
Too many people seem to be adopting a long hours culture. It’s partly because of the lack of options during lockdown but now it is time to STOP.
Your productivity decreases throughout the day. My average work week is just 25 hours with perhaps 90% of the output of a 40 hour week. A lot of my work requires my brain to be firing on all cylinders and that’s not the case as I start to tire.
So why do people work 60-80 hours per week instead of employing a second person for the job? It’s usually because they’re not making enough money to employ somebody else. On a quick Twitter poll the other day 25% of respondents were making LESS than minimum hourly wage. And a further 8% (33% altogether) were earning a lower hourly rate than in their previous employment.
So increase your prices (we run regular webinars on this) so that you can afford to employ/outsource. When your own hours reduce you will probably find that your productivity increases so that you can provide a better service to your customers.
I heard this in a PSA (professional Speaking Association) talk and it really resonated.
Are we putting off the joy that we intended when we set up our businesses?
Are we reinvesting our profits for faster growth when we should be taking some of it for ourselves?
Are we spending silly hours working to grow the business faster when we could be spending that time with friends and family (now that we’re allowed out again).
If you knew you only had, say, five or ten years to live how would you spend your time?