Let me just state right up front that “The Shoemaker’s Children Have No Shoes” might as well have been my tagline for most of my career. Too busy designing other people’s websites, I rarely put much effort into my own. And that worked for a long time… until it didn’t. Let’s talk about the reasons for this phenomenon, and why those kids really should have the best shoes.
If you don’t know the story: A shoemaker is really great at what he does, but he’s so busy making shoes for other people that he doesn’t have time to make any for his kids, so they gotta go barefoot… poor little dirt nuggets! 😢
Those of us with small businesses providing a service use it as the most tired-old, I-can’t-even-anymore excuse. If you think you’re the only one? Ha! Not even close. It’s common to see…
- Designers struggling to design their own website or brand identity
- Web developers with broke-ass websites
- Marketers without a marketing game
- Social media specialists who don’t have very many followers
- Coaches who lack clarity and direction in their own lives
- Accountants who can never find the time and energy to get to their own books
- Brand strategists with no brand strategy
- Virtual assistants who need assistance
I could be here all day, you get the point. But what I really want to address is…
Business owners who don’t work on their own businesses
It doesn’t matter what you actually do, if you’re spending all your time and energy serving clients but you’re not giving any attention to your own business…what’s that all about? I want to know!
I’ve done a little reading up about the psychology behind all of this and I find it fascinating, but it seems there’s no clear answer for why we do this to ourselves. Or maybe it’s just different for each of us.
Here’s what I think the possible reasons are:
With only so much time in the day, if money is an issue (as it is for most of us), we must spend as many of those hours as we can billing clients. We simply can’t carve out the time because we can’t afford to.
We get stuck in our own heads and it’s hard for us to make decisions and take action. It’s much easier to do the work we’re great at for others because we’re not as emotionally invested in the outcome. For creative professionals in particular, if sitting down to a blank page or a drawing board to work on your own stuff feels like an existential crisis (“Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do I get there? What if I’m wrong? What if it’s not good enough? What’s it all for? What’s the meaning of life anyway?”) then there’s probably some emotional stuff standing in your way of doing what you know needs doing.
If your pipeline is always full, if you’re too busy and don’t need any more business coming to you … then for you it seems as though nothing’s broken, so there’s no sense fixing it. (I considered making the subtitle “shortsightedness.” And I’m not judging you if that stings, that’s the lesson I learned in my own business.)
The desire to disconnect
We’re busy doing that thing we do all day and the last thing we want to do is do it some more in our free time. Or, maybe you just don’t enjoy the work you do to pay the bills?
Perfectionism and insecurity
We know that when we become our own client, we need to do our very best work: this is how we’re going to show the world the result of our very best efforts. Problem is, “doing your best” is a hell of a lot of pressure. Avoiding all that and binging Netflix just feels nicer.
Most things that go cockeyed for small business owners have at their root some version of fear. Maybe you’re just not ready to put yourself out there in a big way, maybe you aren’t prepared for what would really happen to you if money weren’t an issue in your life anymore, or maybe you’re afraid of feeling stupid, being judged, of people criticizing you. Maybe you’re afraid if you were to apply your super powers to your own business, you would become successful. Are you genuinely ready for that?
A flaw in your business model
The way you’ve created your service offerings and priced yourself will not allow you to work on your business, the things that lead to growth and profit like: creating a steady pipeline of leads through marketing, building passive income offerings, or elevating your brand so you can charge more. You didn’t build in any time to work on your own business when you created your pricing structure and systems. (In other words, it’s not about doing all this in your spare time when you should be living your life-life, but creating offerings and pricing that allows you to take care of your business during business hours.)
We feel unworthy
We just flat-out feel more comfortable taking care of others because we don’t think we have any right to indulge in self care — that’s for other people, better people, more-together people.
Why it’s limiting your business
Here’s what I’ve learned. If all of your attention goes to your clients and never to yourself — if you’re always working in your business but never on your business; if you’re always caring for others and never caring for yourself, it’s probably always going to feel like you’re working in quicksand. You’re paying the bills, but you never quite reach where you want to be.
PRACTICAL BIZ MATTERS
Working on your business is necessary for a few practical reasons, without it you’ll find it very difficult to:
Do only the work you really love that makes you that money-money. How can you cull all those things you don’t enjoy doing just to make money when you’re not building a business that allows you to? What if you could just focus on the things you’re really great at, the things you LOVE doing, the things that people love paying you well for? If you can’t right now because you don’t have enough demand for those particular things, and you “have to do all that other crappy stuff” to pay the bills, that’s happening to you because you aren’t minding your own business.
I know, “But… but!…” But for real. You’ve done what you needed to do in the short-term, truuuuust me I get it, so get it… but you’re not building your vision-board version of your dream business, are you. (That’s not a question.)
If you don’t have the skills to do the work you really want to be doing, and never seem to find the time to hone them, same same.
Raise your prices. For those of us providing a service, we assume all it takes to raise our prices is to have high demand, but that’s not always the case. It may also require establishing yourself as an authority. (How much time are you spending on the speaking circuit? Writing books demonstrating your expertise? Blogging epic content?) It may also require that you up-level your branding — good design and messaging has the power to elevate; bad design and off-messaging has the opposite effect. (When’s the last time you paid attention to that?)
There’s also a personal care side to all of this as well. The accountant who is always putting off doing her own books feels a little ashamed about that, it’s a nagging psychic pull. It may not be obvious because we humans are good at avoidance, but these things are always there in our subconscious: “I put myself last, I’m always last, and I’m too overwhelmed to take care of myself, I can’t wait for the day when I can put myself on my own list.”
I believe that feeling successful in business actually has little to do with how much money we’re making or how many followers we have on social media — all those things we’re striving for in the day-to-day. We want those things for a bigger reason, they’re a means to an end.
Once we’re making enough money to satisfy our basic needs, motivations become about higher things. It isn’t about currency in our wallets, that’s just paper. It’s things like:
Quality time with friends and family,
Learning that thing you’ve always wanted to learn,
Having new experiences and adventures,
Feeling healthy and strong,
Making a difference in the world,
Peace of mind,
(To be transparent, my list also includes expensive shoes, handbags and kitchen knives and an apartment above an art gallery on the sea coast but really, it’s mostly about those other things.)
The reason I’m pointing this out is that you’re already capable of having a lot of these things even before you reach some pie-in-the-sky version of your MASSIVELY SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS™.
People with less skill, talent, and hard-workitude than you — and even the conventional definition of “success” than you –have figured out a way to enjoy those higher things more than you’re enjoying them now. The difference is, they’ve just decided those things come first so they put them there.
You may already have more success than you realize, you’re just not enjoying it because you think you’re “supposed” to be worried about everyone else in order to get some return some day. What if that day never comes?
How about this one: Do you want to look back and think, “I’m so glad I worked so hard for everyone else that I didn’t take time to do that yoga practice I always meant to, or have lunch with friends more like I wanted.”
No, I’m not getting off topic, thank you for asking. Self care plays a vital role in your business life. The better you care for yourself, the MORE you’re able to care for others. So much happens under the surface when we make excuses that we don’t even notice that we’re actually making the work of our work even harder. Lack of self care affects our creativity, motivation, focus, and energy… and those things can translate directly to dollars and customer satisfaction. Taking care of yourself is the smart business move, so book yourself into your calendar.
And have you ever noticed someone — maybe a colleague or a competitor — who’s always out there wearing fancy clothes and jetting off to France again and ENJOYING LIFE WEEEEEE but they don’t work anywhere near as hard as you do? Doesn’t that drive you crazy? What right do they have! And why do you have to be here slaving away for other people when you’re ten billion times smarter and more talented than them?
The difference is that they put their business first, they didn’t wait. They aren’t slaves to their billable hours — which is really just “owning a job” and not at all the same thing as “owning a business.”
They didn’t toil away for other people, wait for some level of success with that and THEN pay attention to their business… that’s backwards. They built a business designed specifically to meet their goals of having fancy clothes, and the time to vacation in France and enjoy life. They worked on their business so they could have all those things.
Don’t be jelly, just stop doing what isn’t working for you and do what they’re doing.
WHAT COULD YOU MAKE HAPPEN IF YOU PUT YOUR OWN BUSINESS FIRST?
I bet it would be great. What if you put yourself first? Would your clients suffer? (Spoiler alert: no.)
What excuses are you making? What are you waiting for?