It’s a balancing act to own a business. In many way, you’re serving two masters: the clients and your business. More often than not, clients get the bulk of our attention, but it comes at a cost, and it’s one that adds up over time.
Every time we do the client-facing stuff, we’re sacrificing time we could spend building our business. “But,” you might ask, “doesn’t serving the client serve the business?” It does, but a big part of owning a business is knowing when it helps and when it hurts to pick the client over the business.
I’ve struggled to find my balance, and I’m honest enough to admit that I default to serving the needs of my clients before my business. To gain some insight into finding that balance, I turned to Andy Crestodina, a Web strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media. From the outside looking in, it appears Andy has figured out the perfect balance, but my questions pulled back the curtain and revealed that he’s had to create some different strategies to cope with the same tug-of-war between the clients and the business.
1. You’ve said before that marketers have two jobs: they need to market their clients AND market themselves. What are the biggest mistakes marketers make when they try to balance both sides of this equation?
Yes, the “cobbler’s children” problem. The shoemaker is so busy making shoes for others, that his own children go barefoot. That’s bad. The cobbler often just needs a little help…
If any of the client work can be done by another resource, hand it off. Watch yourself during the day. Are there any low level tasks that could be outsourced in a reliable, inexpensive way? Interns, offshoring and “taskrabbits” may be able to take things off your plate. Ask yourself: Am I the only person who could do what I’m doing now?
If some of your own marketing can be delegated, hand it off. Creating content? Write the first draft and hand it off to be edited. Sending email? Give the assets to an assistant who can put it together and send it out.
In both cases, delegation works best when you have documented processes in place. So once you realize that you’re not the only one who can do what you’re doing, do it anyway but write down the steps in the process. It’s more work in the short term, but in the long term, it will allow you to delegate, let go and become far more productive.
2. You’ve managed to build a solid portfolio of work that markets both yourself and your business separate from your client work. What best practices have you implemented to keep your work quality consistent for both yourself and your clients?
Fortunately, we’re at the point where we have teams of specialists. Orbit is designed to allow different teams to focus on specific parts of projects, all within a well-developed management structure using documented processes.
Not only does this let us focus on growing the company while tackling client work, but it ensures the quality of everything we do. But we’ve been doing this since 2001. It took a long time, tens of thousands of hours, to get to this point. It takes time and energy. No doubt.
3. My default position is to always do more client work, even if it’s at the expense of marketing my business. Do you ever find yourself doing something similar, and if not, what do you think has helped you keep a balanced approach to your work?
Honestly, yes. All the time.
It comes down to a question of priorities. If I’m spending all of my time working IN my business and none of my time working ON my business, I may have created a job for myself, but not a scalable company. (Editor’s note: Carol calls this a job-business.)
Here are two ways to help prioritize.
Look closely at how you spend your free time. If you find yourself watching bad TV from 10-11 every night, get to bed, get up early and enjoy a quiet, golden hour of marketing for your own business. Yes, it’s a work/life balance question, but we all have to prioritize.
Look closely at your book of business. If you have a few, unprofitable clients who take a lot of your time, consider restructuring the agreement or just letting them go. You may be losing money month after month trying to service a few bad accounts. Think of the opportunity cost in terms of your own marketing.
4. For non-marketing business owners, there’s still a tension between doing the client work and marketing the business. While there’s no exact formula, do you have any recommendations for business owners trying to focus on both marketing and client work?
In very small businesses, the owners wear most of the hats. Here are the four main hats: operations, sales, marketing and billable client work. They’re all important, but which of these is least likely to be urgent? Marketing. So marketing suffers, especially in small businesses.
One trick is to wear two hats at once…
When you’re doing client work, you may be creating content that could work on your own site. Case studies are a good example. An accountability report given to a client may make a nice success story for your own site.
When you’re doing sales, you may be producing good marketing content without realizing it. Simply by answering day-to-day emails, your outbox may be filling up with blog posts.
Every time you answer a prospect’s question, blind copy yourself. Now put those emails in a folder. Once a month, look through it and see if anything there can be put on your site, either as FAQ content or in blog posts. There’s gold in those Sent Mail hills!
5. In a perfect world, we’d automatically know the best marketing channels and projects for our business, but instead we often experience analysis paralysis. In your experience, what gets people unstuck and at least trying to market themselves?
Marketing channesl are all tempting, aren’t they? There are tens of millions of people using Pinterest. So I should use Pinterest, right? Maybe, maybe not…
Distraction is just a lack of planning and discipline. Once you’ve got a plan, you’ll find your focus. Step one is to carefully consider your audience. When you know who they are and where they look for information to make buying decisions, you’ll stop worrying about that shiny new marketing channel.
Here’s a 3-minute video with step-by-step instructions for content strategy.
Let your strategy becomes your focus. The companies that win aren’t the ones who use the most channels. The companies that win are the ones that focus.
Building a business means generating opportunities to help others (marketing), capturing those opportunities (sales), and finally helping those businesses succeed (service). Two out of three just isn’t sustainable. But three out of three is hard work. It takes delegation, prioritization and focus!
As Andy noted, small business owners often wear many hats, but we owe it to our clients and our businesses to find the balance between doing the work and building the business.
Starting today, what’s one thing you plan to do to find your balance? Me? I plan to watch less bad TV.