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Jack of all trades

Since I’ve been running a small business I’ve found I needed to become a Jack of all trades, a master at weaving multiple competing activities into a seamless whole. Simultaneously. Things demanding attention at any one time include:

  • Doing the current work and submitting it by the agreed date
  • Following up leads and developing a pipeline of future work
  • Business development activities like blogging, writing for other publications, exploring new directions
  • Business administration like taxes, invoices and chasing payments
  • Professional development e.g. training, courses, conferences
  • Looking after myself and having time for family and friends

Some days there is just too much and it is hard to know where to start. But each one of these activities is really important or they wouldn’t make it on to the list. Some are more enjoyable than others, but I want my business to grow and flourish so they must be done (even the uninspiring bits).

Asking around how other small business owners manage this I don’t think there is one single answer to how to best balance everything. It seems like everybody comes up with something different. Nevertheless I think there are some broad principles and guidelines that are important to keep in mind to help us create our own balanced working life and keep our businesses on track:

Look after #1:

I figure there must be an equation that goes something like “A healthy me = a healthy business”. We’ve all heard it so many times in so many cute memes and parables, but in real life I must come first. I must make sure I get enough sleep, eat properly (especially lunch), exercise, meet friends and have plenty of family time. These things are foundational to a healthy me and thus to a healthy business.

Prioritise:

Prioritising is definitely easier said than done. There’s no rules and like setting fees it is a blend of science, art and guesswork. But I think about things like: Who are my dream clients? (Should I be doing their work first?); What are my business goals? (This can help sort out the important from the distractions); What is due next? What do I enjoy? What work energises me?

Plan:

Planning of course helps us create some sort of order out of chaos…well mostly. To help keep things on track I try to set some broad commitments like blogging twice a week wherever possible. I also try to map out the coming month to the extent possible so at least I know if can say yes or no to new work.

Outsource:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that as the sole employee of your business you have to everything. But it isn’t true. With a creative eye we can outsource many tasks. Sometimes we can share work with colleagues, or subcontract the work to an associate. Sometimes we can convince family members to help us with taxes. So yes, some of it we have to do – but sometimes outsourcing can help ensure everything else keeps ticking over nicely.

Stay positive:

Sometimes things get overwhelming and it’s hard to see a clear way forward. So I have learned to remind myself that things always have worked out in the past. I have survived hectic times before and have what it takes to manage. Just thinking this defuses the pressures and gives me a clearer head to sort things out sensibly.

Stay flexible:

Flexibility is key to all this. Planning and prioritisation are great…until things change as they inevitably do. Workflow can change from one day to the next. Brilliant opportunities can arise when they are least expected. So a plan for the week or month is a work of fiction to be discarded and rewritten as needed. We need to smart and move and shift things around as the work ebbs and flows around us. We need to know when to say no. We need to know when to stop investing energy in an activity. We need to know when to outsource. And we need to know when to down tools and get out for a coffee or a walk.

So yes, running a small business means I need to not only be a Jack of all trades BUT be master of them all. But looking after myself, prioritising and planning, outsourcing, staying positive and flexible means I’ve got a great chance of doing just that.

Do you run a small business? I’d love to know what strategies do you use to balance everything?

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