My friend Donna had a dream of leaving her job and starting a landscaping business. Five years ago, she took the leap and began The Dirty Hoe. For a while, whenever I saw Donna, she was radiant. The business took off. Her dreams were coming true!
Last week, Donna visited me. She looked tired, and her enthusiasm had vanished. I recognized that look. It’s the “hamster-on-the-wheel” stage of self-employment. She confirmed my suspicion when she said, “I feel like I’m working just so I can pay my employees.”
I recalled a day when I was in a co-writing session in a Nashville office. The other songwriter and I began chatting about our careers. My CD Right Outta Nowhere had just been released, and I was on the road constantly. As I talked about my life, I started crying. Not the Ingrid Bergman eyes-brimming-glamorously kind of crying. This was the bad kind of crying. The kind that scares people.
On the outside, I had succeeded. My dreams had come true. My office was run by a well-paid, full-benefits, full-time employee. I had a packed touring schedule. My CD’s were selling well. And I was freakin’ exhausted. I had reached the hamster-on-a-wheel stage of being a musician. I was running and running just to keep my office going.
If you have your own business, if you’re self-employed, if you’re a musician, a massage therapist, a consultant, or an artist – then perhaps you know this feeling. Maybe you feel like that right now.
Here are 13 ways to break that cycle and take your work (and your life) back…
1 – Commit to getting off the wheel
I meet musicians all the time who say they need to break the cycle that puts them on the road all the time. But they never actually commit to that shift.
Don’t just say you want to get off the wheel. Commit to breaking the pattern. Even if it takes a year to create a new paradigm (it took me about two), make a choice to stop doing your work the same old way. This will take consistent practice.
2 – Stop assuming there’s only one way to do your career
Break your own new ground. Don’t assume that it has to be the way everyone else does it. Don’t follow the crowd. Find a new model. In fact, be the new model!
3 – Create a User’s Manual to You for you
Your User’s Manual to You is your own guide to you and your work. It reminds you how much you bill out for, when you get paid, that you require a deposit in advance, that no client is allowed to be rude or abusive to you, that you don’t respond to emails or work-related calls on weekends and if you make exceptions to that, and that a client can be fired if certain standards are not being met. Write everything you can think of, and then set it aside. Keep notes for a week as you discover new areas that need boundaries. Then revisit your Users Manual again. Make a final draft with bullet points, and post it on your wall by your desk.
4 – Create “Ultimate Profiles” for everything in your business
The Ultimate Client Profile describes the very best client you could imagine to the last detail. The Ultimate Employee Profile describes the traits of the ideal employee you hire. The Ultimate Business Partner Profile describes exactly what you want out of anyone with whom you do business.
I created an Ultimate Performance Profile – with a full description from my fee to the promoter’s great attitude.
Now, this isn’t to say that everything that comes along will effortlessly fall right into that description. But it does make you clear about what you want and most importantly what you don’t want – which brings us to the next item…
5 – Learn to say no
It was scary when I began turning down performance dates that didn’t match my Ultimate Performance Profile. Some promoters were rude to my agent, and some accused me of being a diva. (I sang an acoustic guitar version of the Titanic theme song for my retreaters this weekend. Does that count?) Those people were all mirroring the voices in my head that were shouting, “What are you thinking? You’re lucky to even be an artist!” But gradually, I learned to say no. And gradually, the ultimate performances began to appear.
Learning to say No creates self-respect. It teaches people how to treat you. It tells the universe that you trust it.
6 – Sunday Self Time
Schedule an hour every single Sunday. Two hours is ideal. Do nothing but “be with” your business. This is a time to evaluate the coming week, to set priorities, to allow some ideas to flow, to pay attention to your business life – rather than just spending your time in “reaction mode.” (It is not a time to answer emails!) The first time I read this idea in a business book, I thought, “Now, what they hell would I do for two hours on a Sunday just pondering my business?” What I came to realize is that I was creating space to generate ideas – much like the practice of creating songs. Only this was for my career – and was just as important as songwriting time.
7 – Simplify
Automate as much as you can. Automatic payments and automatic deposits have cut my finances time in half. Get a Skype line rather than an office phone if you can. Don’t print things out just so you can file them. Store them in a folder on your computer. Create systems that simplify. Don’t assume that just because it’s the way you learned how to do it is the way to continue doing it. You might find ways to significantly cut your operating costs.
8 – Ditch the “Get it while you can” mindset
You know this mindset well. It goes like this: “I have to take every client/performance/opportunity that comes along because six months down the road, I may have nothing. I gotta get it while I can.” This mindset is insidious. It will take over your business. And if you’re not careful to change it and learn how to trust your process, then don’t be surprised if you wake up one day to discover that you have whiskers and are sleeping on a bed of sawdust.
9 – Learn about Multiple streams of income
Blogging has taught me that my income can come from many sources. That way, if one thing falls through (a performance date, for instance) then it’s not the end of the world. Most of my income sources come through automatic deposits. I get income from being an affiliate to several products and companies, from donations to me from my readers, from my iTunes sales, as well as from CD sales on my site. In other words, my income doesn’t come solely because I show up at a venue and play my songs and sell CD’s. This took time to create – and is an on-going venture – but it keeps building and it goes a long way to keep me off of that wheel.
10 – Put a monetary value on your time and/or your assets
How much do you value your work time per hour? When I first began to think about this, I thought it was impossible to tell. But then I asked myself, “What pays me?” I thought about how a song like “No Such Thing as Girls Like That” isn’t just a “funny” song – but it’s my most requested song. It’s also the song people ask about at the CD Sales table after the show. Songs were my biggest assets for a long time. I realized that if I spent time writing songs, then my “billable” time was worth quite a bit, and the value continued to serve me over the years. (Whereas, if I spent my time at a show that paid me much less than I was worth, then I wasn’t really creating wealth in the long run.) Not every song is that kind of song – but this helped me recognize the value of the time I put in at my guitar. This process will be different for everyone – but it’s an invaluable way to start claiming your worth as a business.
11 – Hire People
You don’t have to hire people for your office. You can hire people to help you in other ways too. Once you determine how much your time is worth, then you have an easier time hiring someone to, say, mow the lawn. You’re worth $85/hour, so you pay the kid down the street $30 to mow the lawn because you could be generating income during that time. (Provided you don’t sit at the window, biting your nails thinking of the money you’re spending.) If you want to hire someone to help you at the office, get very clear about what that person will do, and what your expectations are. Create an Ultimate Profile before you hire that person.
12 – Plan vacations
One of the successful self-employed women at my last retreat told the group that this was the first time she had allowed herself any vacation time since she started her business. She admitted that she was exhausted and had no idea why she never lets herself take a vacation. Many self-employed people don’t take vacations.
Wanna know why?
Because they don’t plan one.
You really must get into the habit of planning time away from the desk. (Step away from the computer!) Many people crave time away, but they don’t plan ahead for it. Plan at least one vacation in the coming year. I’m up to three at this point.
13 – Become an entrepreneur
I know. This one sounds weird. But trust me on this. Stop seeing yourself as self-employed, and start seeing yourself as an entrepreneur. The change in your awareness will be palpable. As Richard Branson said, “I wanted to be an editor or a journalist… but I soon found I had to become an entrepreneur in order to keep my magazine going.” Secretly be an entrepreneur, even while you are an artist or whatever else you call yourself.
Recently, I spoke with the songwriter who had to witness my outburst that day in Nashville. He said, “Wow. You know what? You’ve done it. You’ve really done what you said you were going to do with your career.” It’s nice to have that validation from someone who saw me in such a bad place. But it’s even nicer to have my life back. And I am proof positive that anyone can step off the hamster wheel.
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