I’m living out my own Groundhog Day these days.
As I wrote about last week, I’ve been in the middle of a weeks-long deja vu moment as the school year comes to a close and I find myself sketching out a plan for my work and family for the next few months. It brings me back to where I was two years ago — except in the intervening two years we dealt with both a health crisis and the birth of this fine young publication you’re reading now.
As it turns out, exactly two years ago I wrote about the transition I was going through — specifically looking at whether I was doing the things that I would advise one of my self-employment coaching clients to do — and I shared that last week. Now I want to bring it into the present. If I were one of my own small business coaching clients, am I doing the things I would advise a client to do? Let me take a stab at that. Here’s the career advice I would offer, and an honest look at whether I’m following it.
Planning advice: Revisit your business plan and bring it up to date. If a client came to me explaining her life detour and her goals for getting back on track, I’d ask her if she had a business plan in place and how up-to-date it is. While I don’t believe in being a slave to a business plan, or letting the planning process distract you from actually starting or managing your business, I am a strong believer in having at least a basic plan to guide you.
It’s way easier to develop cash flow and other financial projections based on real data.
Am I following my own advice? In part, yes. True enough, when the shit hit the fan with my daughter’s health last year, I basically threw our business plan out the window. Months later, when things had normalized, I started putting it back together.
I spent several weeks in January and February not only updating Pyragraph’s financial projections, but expanding them significantly so they are much more detailed than our original projections. One thing that made this doable was that we had a year’s worth of actual financial data to work from. It’s way easier to develop cash flow and other financial projections based on real data, so I ran with it and now have three sets of cash flow projections for five years: Each set uses different assumptions for business model priorities.
What I haven’t done yet is finish updating the narrative parts of our business plan, specifically our marketing plan. I’d love to have a more detailed schedule of our marketing initiatives for the next 12 months.
Operations advice: Focus on developing systems so your business can run without you. I’m not saying you should turn your business into a soulless dream-crusher, I’m just talking about putting simple systems in place (yes, in writing) to streamline the things your business does — especially the things you do over and over, like opening your yoga studio and setting it up for the first class of the day (and closing at the end of the day), or taking on a new commissioned painting customer for your pet portrait business.
When you organize the essential tasks involved in your business into clear processes, and train your staff so everyone understands the processes and uses them consistently, you’ll save time and effort, minimize mistakes, and just generally help save everyone’s sanity. In many ways, developing these processes sets apart “regular” small businesses from their freelancer counterparts.
I am feeling way more checked out of family life than I want to be.
Am I following my own advice? Yes. I’m proud of our track record on this. From day one of Pyragraph I’ve made a point to systematize our work — especially editorial processes — and doing so is the biggest reason we were able to survive me being gone for three months last summer. As our workflow and technology have evolved, I have made a point to update the processes. We recently brought on two new Contributing Editors and the updated workflow documents have been essential in getting them up to speed. It’s a great relief to know these documents are in place.
Sanity advice: Make sure you take time off, both for quality family time and for yourself. It’s too easy for self-employed folks to get caught in the whirlpool of working all. The. Time. Make work/life balance a priority, and protect your personal and family time.
Am I following my own advice? No, not well enough. I mean, it’s not like we have zero quality family time but overall I am feeling way more checked out of family life than I want to be. The reality is that my daughter has only been back in school since April, so this is my first opportunity to really try to get the business back on track — so I feel I need to run with it. Homeschooling and trying to run a business is just insane, I don’t care what anyone says, so it was hard to make progress during those months. But is this reality or rationalization? That question plagues me.
Personal time is basically nonexistent. I have a vague memory of being in shape and exercising regularly but it feels like a fantasy at this point.
The good news is a family camping trip is imminent (yay!), as is a long-promised trip to Disneyland, and I’m planning it out so I will not have to work while on vacation. Our staff transition is settling into a groove, so I’m feeling more able to rely on our systems and let go. The weather is better so I’m riding my bike again (I’m such a wimp in the cold weather) so my muscles are waking up from hibernation.
So I find myself here in this place that’s familiar, but not exactly the same. A rung or two up the spiral, so to speak. And you know what? It’s a fine place to be.
Photo by Albert Herring.