My First Six Weeks as a Successful Entrepreneur, Part II: Five Balancing Acts

February 19th, 2013 | Daniel Cohen | 27 Comments

Juggling Lego

If you decide to jump ship and start your own business (as I detailed in Part I of this post), here are some balancing acts you will have to consider.

1. Niche vs. breadth

I had some entrepreneurs tell me that starting a business is like starting a band: Take EVERY gig. Play EVERY show. Extend as far as you can. Get a portfolio.

Others told me to focus. Pick a niche. Investigate a specific market so you have less competitors and more specialization.

I went down the middle. I won’t take gigs that aren’t cost-effective. And I don’t take gigs that make no sense for me.

For example, I’m not taking on software manuals. They may involve writing content, but it’s not what I do. There are great writers out there for that, and they’re needed, because half of the manuals written overseas make no sense whatsoever. But it’s not what I do.

I explicitly explain to people that I am writing business materials. That way, there’s no concern as to what I can or will write.

But I’m also not going to position as a full-service marketing firm. I don’t have the capacity for that. I think few do. If you come to me and you want a website, I have great design partners and we can handle it together. But I specialize in writing messages that will drive the point home.

The same goes for PR. Will I work the phones and raise funds for you? Probably not. But I’ll write you a heck of a fundraising email and help you manage the lists. And if it’s easy for me to make a contact for you, I’ll do that too.

This approach allows me to stay in my wheelhouse without narrowing so much that I have to turn down fun, profitable, high cash business.

2. Action vs. understanding

Perhaps the trickiest dimension, I have had a hard time figuring out the exact balance between production and assessment. I want to move forward as fast as possible, and often feel I don’t have the time to contemplate a decision. And sometimes, I don’t.

Deciding to pull the trigger on something can mean the difference between landing a project or not. Sometimes, the clock runs out on you and you’re technically not sure you have the capacity to handle a job.

So knowing yourself and what you can handle seems to be the balance there. What I do is block out time each day for education and do it then. I allocate 45% of my time to sales, 45% to production, and 10% to education. This period includes non-project brainstorming and innovation, as well as marketing.

For example, I wrote this post during my 10% portion of the day, getting ideas on paper so I can learn from them.

What also helps is setting the appointments you HAVE to set as no-brainers.

Don’t think about whether or not you need to go to the dentist. Just go.

Don’t go more than a month after billing before seeing your accountant. Don’t bill anyone at all without starting an accounting system. And don’t bring anyone on board for more than tiny contracts without employment contracts and CRM.

These are things you have to do… so why think about them? Spend your education time learning about them, then set them up and start using them.

3. Sales vs. production

I want new clients, but I’m under deadline! Ah!

The fact is, you have to hunt clients while you have them if you want to grow. There are many happy entrepreneurs (usually solopreneurs) out there who have two or three clients and don’t need any more.

If this is the life for you, your sales time drops and you have a comfortable balance. But if you want to grow (and at first, you should), you have to sell.

And you don’t have the luxury of dropping the ball on production.

I don’t have a great answer here yet, and would be open to hearing more from entrepreneurs and business owners in the comments.

The best thing I can say is to divide the day as best you can into different categories, meet those categories, and expect a few long nights.

4. Systems vs. innovation

At an established company, innovation is an incredible benefit, perhaps even a must. At a new company, that still rings true. But startups also need consistency – consistent customers, consistent sales, consistent product creation and consistent performance. Without this consistency, it never finds its place and builds on itself.

It never becomes a grownup company.

If you’re in a field with very specialized customers, you may not need to innovate as much. For example, certain kinds of manufacturing probably have stayed largely the same or a longtime.

But if you are in the pure service industry? You better innovate.

Marketers should, above all, seek new methods and find new ways of doing things. But then they have to implement those methods to make them cost-effective for the company and the customer. Not an easy task. By the time you implement a method, a better one may have come along.

Thus is the life of the business owner, especially one in marketing. Keep in mind that, in our line of work, you are the product until you make the product.

So when you sit down to map out a process and sell it, choose wisely what you plan to map out. The same goes for who you map it out with.

5. Personal vs. professional

Here’s the real kicker. I think this one may be universal.

My business happened to take place at an opportune moment. I’m 28. My client portfolio was growing. I had a good, recent track record. I’m not married. I have no kids. And I live in a city with plenty of people. Tons of small businesses. Houston is an easy place to stretch a buck. Not to mention that I happen to have already worked in a pretty hot field with plenty of mainstream buzz.

Even so, there are some things that take time. I have a cat who needs shots here and there. I have friends, a girlfriend, parents, my Grandma, my brother, my sister-in-law, my niece, aunts, uncles, cousins and other people who I care about and take the time to see.

And I still want to stay in shape (my exercise volume has decreased dramatically since starting a business; someone please tell me how to keep this consistent in the comments).

The plan is to build the business up to where I can manage it with a little less personal stress… but isn’t that everyone’s plan? And don’t we need to make sure we are, as people, healthy in the meantime?

Another puzzle I haven’t yet solved.

The cat keeps me calm, so that’s a start.

Think I left something out? Have any tips of your own? Please share your business experience with the world. Tell us in the comments.

Image: Helico via Flickr, CC 3.0

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Daniel Cohen

Daniel Cohen

Owner & Lead Writer at RedShift Writers
Daniel J. Cohen is the founder and lead writer at RedShift Writers, LLC. Cohen and his fast-growing team of content writers produce visionary content strategies and prolific content production for a growing portfolio of wonderful businesses from Bengalore to the California Bay. Most of all, he wants to leverage writing to improve the world.
Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen
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"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?

23 comments
shonali
shonali

@shellykramer @craigmcbreen Thanks for sharing @mrdancohen guest #WUL post!

mrdancohen
mrdancohen

@howiegoldfarb @shonali As usual, you add insight and useful thoughts into the discussion. Thanks Howie!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

You know that I have also gone back on my own; so it's not my "first six weeks" as such, but it has been my first few weeks back on my own after a while. Much of what you have expressed resonated, but you know what a couple of the biggies for me are? Nos. 3 & 4. They are SO tough, and an entrepreneur's life is tough enough!

I heard something during the NPR winter membership drive this afternoon; that there three types of funds they are trying to raise, and I think they apply to all businesses. First, there are the funds you need to run the business. These are the day-to-day operational cost. Second, the funds you need to grow the business. And third, the funds you need to innovate - because that's where you really start differentiating yourself.

I've had a lot of conversations on entrepreneurship over the years and am blessed with remarkable people around me; @shashib @tinu @jillfoster @ericamallison to name just a few. They help me refine what I'm thinking and figure out my path - as do people like @HowieG and @Roger Friedensen (and many others, I'm going to get into trouble now!). But I've never thought of it this way. And I think if we can figure out where we are in terms of running, growing and/or innovating we are (maybe sometimes they are all present, but one will drive the priorities) that will help put the rest in perspective.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Great post @Daniel J. Cohen  

@Shonali knows my recent struggles. I have a good friend with a web/seo/marketing company that is busy and she does everything. You want a vehicle wrap? store sign? website? rebranding with logo and print literature? SEO etc. And she wants me to help her expand into marketing (social, strategy, etc)


But she is stuck in some places due to lack of people power which means it is hard to grow my side of the business. So while she s working 20 hrs handing the stuff she does that I don't. I have very little work. She can't handle new business unless it is what I do and I can do that on my own for myself.

That said she will grow and maybe as true partners maybe as strategic partners. I am like you. I want to offer stuff I don't do but I don't want to do the stuff that isn't my expertise. And I think I have to discuss for her benefit that. Everything has a cost. Would I want to spend an hour processing 4 orders for business cards and making $5 each or billing $50 or more per hr for some content work?


I think you have it really well balanced. Really excited for you.


mrdancohen
mrdancohen

@Mark_Harai @shonali Thanks for the share!

Erin F.
Erin F.

I'm at the point where I'm having to consider cutting down on commitments. I just can't do it all, not if I ever want a full-time business. I already struggle to do everything I should be doing because of a day job. 

I don't know that I have an answer to the personal/professional quandary. In my case, I'd like more to happen on the personal side. Do I have time for that ? Not if I look at my time logically. I believe, though, in making time. For instance, I'm making time to go dancing. It refreshes my spirit even if it tires the body.

In terms of niches, I've decided to narrow mine. I'm focusing on non-profits and social good organizations these days.

Latest blog post: Editor’s Can’t Be Writers

howiegoldfarb
howiegoldfarb

@mrdancohen @shonali please tell @ginidietrich she wants me banned from @spinsucks

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@HowieG That is exactly the trap I don't want to fall into this time around. So I'm trying to be more careful of how I grow, and that means I have to be smart about how I position myself. Personally I think strategic partnership is the way to go, at least initially. @martinwaxman and I've been discussing much the same!

Daniel J. Cohen
Daniel J. Cohen

@Erin F. Hey, let there be dancing! And non-profits, too. Focusing in can be of great help. 


I think the personal time issue is one of those we all seek to work through, sooner rather than later. You want to do what you love for a living, but you also don't want to work until you fall over (if you can avoid it).


Dancing until you fall over sounds like a heckuva lot more fun.

shonali
shonali

@howiegoldfarb There are times I can't exactly blame @GiniDietrich ... @mrdancohen @SpinSucks

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

@Shonali @HowieG @martinwaxman Yes! Strategic partnerships are how I've grown from a 1 person shop doing everything under the sun, to a more refined business model with 2 FT staff and 2 steady "partners" and contractors who help hoist up to the next level. When you're selling brain power, scaling up is really, really tough. Good thing we're surrounded by such smart cookies, huh!?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@mrdancohen I LOVE Asher Lev. And the word verklempt

_spell
_spell

@mrdancohen 'verklempt' could be exempt, Klement, Klimt, Vegemite, guillemot, weakliest, Kliment, clumpy, Clement or clement.

mrdancohen
mrdancohen

@ginidietrich @howiegoldfarb @shonali Asher Lev makes me verklempt (sp?). He's such a mensch.

shonali
shonali

@howiegoldfarb Who'da thunk it?! @ginidietrich

howiegoldfarb
howiegoldfarb

@ginidietrich @shonali my mom's mother was fluent in Yiddish. her clan moved from eastern Europe to Montreal - YiddishFrenchCanadians

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@howiegoldfarb @shonali I read "My Name is Asher Lev" and Yiddish became part of my language

howiegoldfarb
howiegoldfarb

@ginidietrich @shonali who knee Gini was the reincarnation of my sweet yiddish grandma

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