Four Ways to Solve the Problem of “Too Much Work”

Marcia Hoeck growing the business 0 Comments

Sure. It looks good from the outside. Instead of having to scrap and claw for projects, somehow – and often you don’t know how it happens – you just have too much work.

You know you should be appreciative, and you are, but it’s also very frustrating and stressful to be so busy that you don’t have balance in your life.

• You’re cutting back on sleep.

• You feel like you’re cheating your family because you’re not spending enough time with them, and when you are, your mind is not with them.

• You’re running on adrenalin much of the time, and it’s a real possibility that important details are slipping through the cracks.

Whether you’re on your own or if you have help from staff or freelancers, the story is the same: you just have more damn work than you can handle. And you don’t want to turn down any of it.

So here’s the deal: you have 4 options

Option 1: Make a decision to grow your business by leveraging the power of other people.
Option 2: Raise your rates.
Option 3: Turn down work that won’t get you to where you want to go.
Option 4: A combination of the above.

While this can seem like a crazy “problem” to have, having too much business and being overworked can be a big challenge. There’s not only the very real problem of being stressed and burning yourself out, but your work can also suffer, detracting from your reputation pretty quickly. You don’t want to let this go on for much longer.

Option 1: Make a decision to grow your business by leveraging the power of other people

If you’re a one-person operation, there’s only so much work you can do. And there are only so many hours in the day. If you bring someone on – as an employee, a contract worker, a freelancer – to help you, you amplify the amount of work you can do, as well as the amount of money you can make. Many creative and service-based business owners are reluctant to do this because, after all, your name is on the door, and the work revolves around you.

You have to get over this, really, if you want your business to grow and you don’t want to kill yourself doing it. There are good people out there, and you can find them. I remember when I started hiring people for my design firm, and when I was really honest with myself, some of them were better designers than I was. This was a big blow to my ego – but when I got over that, I realized, by having them help me carry the load, I extended my reach dramatically — and my income shot up dramatically, too. I didn’t lose control, which is your fear, I know — I still directed the work. And I had been holding myself back by trying to do all of the work by myself.

Another reason you don’t hire to distribute the load is because you think you don’t have the money to hire anyone. But if you think about it, and if you do it right, you don’t really need money to hire – what you need is the work. If you’ve got the work to keep a new hire busy, then you get the money to pay them from the client, and it doesn’t cost you anything. Plus, you make more money – because you charge more for their time than you pay them. Right? So technically, they’re free. Do you have more work than you can handle? Then you have what you need to bring someone on to help you.

If you already have staff and/or freelancers to help and you still have too much work, then you have to look at the way you’re distributing the work. And you still may need to bring on another person. This is tricky because you always want controlled growth, so don’t bring on too many people too fast.

Cam Foote of Creative Business has a great rule of thumb for when to add people: you (and your staff) should be working for at least 60 hours per week for at least 6 months before you hire someone else. This benchmark is a good measure of sustained growth, and a large spike in business for a shorter timeframe could just be a fluke. Bringing someone on too soon (especially an on-staff employee) can be a mistake. If you’re already at the 60 hour per week mark and have been there for over 6 months, it could be time to add people.

Option 2: Raise your rates

Not ready or willing to hire? Here’s an idea that works really well: the next job you quote, add 10, 15, or 20% to the bottom line. If it’s a job you really don’t care that much about, add more. Raise your prices overall, even with ongoing clients who are used to your old prices. Tell them the truth, and you might want to give your best clients a bit of a warning. Tell them it’s been awhile since you’ve raised your prices, and you’re going to have to raise them next month, or next quarter. Definitely raise your pricing for all new clients. Then wait to see what happens. If you still keep getting the same amount of work, keep inching your prices up until clients start falling away. When it levels off to a manageable load, stop raising your rates – you’ll know you’ve gotten to the right price range for you.

There. Now you should have fewer clients and projects, so you’re not so crazy busy, and the clients you have left are paying more for less work. You end up generating the same amount of revenue – or more — on fewer projects, which you can easily handle. And, the clients who stay are probably your most ideal clients anyway.

Option 3: Turn down work that won’t get you to where you want to go

Do you have criteria for the work you accept? Or are you still accepting anything that comes through your door? Now that you’re so busy, you’ll want to be more selective.

If you’ve narrowed your specialty, it’s a no-brainer to filter the work you accept through the lens of your specialty and expertise, and turn down work that doesn’t fit. Yes, I know it’s difficult, but you’re too busy, remember? It’s time to stop and really think about the work that comes your way and if it truly is a good fit for you and your firm . . . or not.

Some of this will even come as a relief for you. You know those small sales sheet jobs you get from that client you don’t like to work with because she’s always in a rush? Wouldn’t it feel good to tell her you’re not really set up to do that kind of work, that you specialize in annual reports, to give her the name of a colleague who would love to get the sales sheet work, and suggest you’d like to help her with her annual report when she’s ready? Everyone wins.

The best way to turn down work is to decide on the criteria of work you’ll accept.
• Is it in your niche industry or area of expertise?
• Will it lead to something that’s in your niche industry or area of expertise?
• Will it lead to something bigger and better for you? (Be careful with this one and don’t fool yourself.)
• Will it give you experience in an area you want more experience in?
• Is it a special favor for a long-term client?

Whatever your criteria, decide on them and stick to them. Then, turn down any work that doesn’t fit.

Option 4: A combination of the above

You can leverage the power of other people and raise your rates.
You can raise your rates and turn down work.
You can turn down work and leverage the power of other people.

You get the idea.

A word of caution: These are one-two punches, and I’d only recommend doing a combination if you’re really, really busy and you want to thin your client roster anyway. Because you’ll definitely lose clients who want you to be low-priced and at their beck and call – they’ll notice you’re taking control — but you’ll retain clients who understand you’re running a business and are tightening up your ship. Your good clients may even respect you more, as these moves signal “serious business.” Just make sure you communicate your plans to your clients, and the benefits your changes will make to their business. Don’t do too much too fast.

All of these options will give you more control over your business and life – and you won’t have to chuck it all and go work for someone else (admit it – you’ve thought about that in the darkest hours, haven’t you?). You know you wouldn’t be happy doing that, anyway.

You’re good like you are. You were made to run your own business, and you know it. Having too much work is just one of those “good” challenges along the road. And now you have four ways to help you address it.

If you’d like more help navigating the challenge of too much work, or other problems of running a creative business, sign up for one of my no-cost Instant Insight Sessions. We’ll talk and see if I can help.

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