We all want to change our business in some way.
Move away from hourly/project billing to selling a product. Leave a full-time job to go out on your own. Stop working with clients who don’t value your work and attract those who do. Stop doing everything yourself and start growing a team. Double your revenue. Learn a new skill. Test a new strategy. Launch something.
Every one of us wants something to be different this time next year. Probably a lot of things. And we know that in order to bring about this change, we’ll need to take actions. Probably a lot of actions.
But there’s one thing standing in your way. It’s the same thing that stands in my way, and everyone else’s.
How will you ever find the time to work on your business when every last minute you have is spent working in your business (and/or resting and recharging)?
You’re in the thick of five different client projects. You’re taking meetings to land more client work so you can keep next month’s bills paid. Your mornings, evenings and weekends are spent raising the kids and enjoying some time with your significant other or your friends. Yard work. The commute. New episodes of Homeland. Reading up on the latest tech.
In between all of that, where exactly can you fit in things like launching a new product, or blogging, or doing customer research? And when your new path is still unproven, can you even afford to risk whatever precious (extra) time you can scrounge up?
Today I want to share a few things that helped me make time to significantly change my business over the course of the last 3+ years.
But before we get into it, I want to emphasize two things about that last sentence.
- Make the time. Nobody will just give you the time you need. You have to make it. That means making some hard decisions and doing things that might seem uncomfortable at first.
- 3+ years. I said it took over 3 years to bring about the big changes I wanted. That’s probably an understatement. The bottom line is no meaningful change happens overnight. I won’t (ever) give you the “easy” or “fast” solution because there rarely, if ever, is one.
Now let’s get to it. Here are 5 strategies I have implemented, and I think you should too, if you’re struggling to find the time to work on your business and change it for the better.
You hear this advice thrown around a lot. Let me tell you why it applies here…
If you charge more for your time as a freelancer — either by increasing your hourly rate or your project fees — then you can take on less work to make the same amount of money.
I’m not necessarily advocating increasing your rates as a way to make more money (though it might have that side effect). I’m saying you should charge more so that you can book less work and free up more time to work on something new (of your own).
Raising your rates is scary. But the more you do it, the easier it gets.
My very first client project as a freelance web designer was for $800. It took me 12 months to muster up the nerve to quote a project in the four figures ($1,800). But guess what… They signed! By my third year, I wouldn’t consider projects that were under $5,000 and during my 4th year, every project I signed was above $15,000.
Did raising my rates drastically increase my income? Actually, no. Year one (when I made almost nothing) to year two obviously saw a big increase. But in years 3-5, my income actually stayed about the same or slightly decreased.
Why? As I charged more per project, I intentionally took on fewer and fewer of them. I went from working 6+ simultaneous projects in the early years, to about 3 at a time, to only one client project at any given time, until finally I stopped taking client work.
Raising my rates allowed me to slowly invest more and more of my time into building side-projects that turned into full-time income generators. It also gave me the cash I needed to spend on things like hiring developers, self-education, and testing out marketing campaigns.
Will raising your rates allow you to fit everything neatly into a 40-hour work week? No way. We’re bootstrapping a business here. Hustle is in our DNA. But earning a bit more cash than you used to can certainly give you the runway you’ll need to self-fund as you go.
By the way, if you’re looking for the best advice around on how to raise your rates as a freelancer, then you should read Brennan Dunn’s stuff.
Wake up earlier.
As I said, in order to make more time to work on your business, you need to — literally — make more time. Add hours to your day.
The best way I found to do that is to wake up earlier. Why earlier? Why not work a bit later? Or add a late-night work session?
The early morning is pure gold, in my book. There is no time of day that is more valuable, more high-impact, and exciting. I’ve become obsessed with the morning. I wish it stayed morning all day. Sadly it doesn’t work that way.
When you first wake up, your mind is completely rested. That means you have more creative energy at your disposal than you will at any other time in the day.
I found that when I get to work early in the morning — literally just minutes after rising and waking up with a tall glass of water — my work is different in two very noticeable ways:
- I work faster. Way faster. I often feel like I’m getting 4 hours of work done in just one. I’m writing more words per minute. I’m getting to a solid design iteration faster. I’m landing on the right solution in fewer steps.
- Maximum quality. Bar far, my very best work is done in the morning. My thoughts and creative process are clearer. My writing is more compelling. Really hard problems suddenly seem easy.
Bottom line: Your early morning is your time to be super-you. Don’t sleep through it.
Here’s what I recommend you do, starting tomorrow morning:
- Set your alarm clock for 90 minutes earlier than you normally wake up.
- Place your alarm clock across the room or in another room, so that you actually have to get out of bed to turn it off.
- Tonight, place a tall glass of water next to your alarm clock. Gulp it down as soon as you get up. They say being “tired” is really due to dehydration. As soon as your body is flooded with water, you won’t be able to get back to sleep, even if you try.
- Once you’re up, get right to work. Before breakfast, before coffee, before everything. You’ve got an extra 90 minutes that you didn’t have yesterday. Now make use of it.
- After a solid early-AM work session, go ahead with your normal routine (breakfast, coffee, taking care of the kids, etc.).
For many of us, waking up early is difficult and uncomfortable. I challenge you to just try it. First, just know that the first 3 days will suck. You’re adjusting your body’s routine. But after that, it gets way easier, and within just a couple weeks, you’ll begin naturally rising early, even on weekends.
You’ll need to get to bed at least an hour earlier than you do now. Don’t do any work or check email just before bed. That’ll just keep your mind “awake”. I spend my evenings watching our favorite TV shows, then reading a few pages on the kindle. This puts my mind at rest and helps me get the most out of my 7-hour night’s sleep.
Once you start taking advantage of your early morning, a funny thing happens. You’re even more productive during the rest of your day. Why? Because you’ve already accomplished so much before lunch, so now you’re “on a roll”. You’ve set the tone and pace early and that propels you through the day.
Remember, working on your business is the most important thing you need to do if you want to change your business. So you need to prioritize that by doing it when you’re operating at peak level: The early morning.
Don’t do everything.
I’m guessing you’re subscribed to 10 podcasters, bloggers, and business books, all preaching to about 100 different things you should do right now to improve your business. This article is one of them.
Here’s my advice: Don’t do most of it. In fact, don’t do everything I’m telling you to do here in this article.
Just do one thing. Take one — only one — piece of advice you’ve heard, and take action on it. Make it your goal for this month.
This should be difficult. You should struggle to choose between various things that you know you should do and you want to do. The fact that you’re having a hard time deciding is good. It’s forcing you to prioritize. You have to make a decision. You have to look at your current situation and decide which thing can have the most impact if it got done within the next 30 days?
In order to truly focus and get something done, you have to acknowledge that everything else can and will be done later. It helps to jot those other things down in a to-do list titled “Later” or “Next month” or “Next year”. The act of jotting them down and telling yourself “not right now” will help you stay focused on your one task at hand.
For example, for well over a year now, I’ve been wanting to incorporate webinars into my marketing strategy. In fact, we talked all about it in our podcast episode about webinars. But up until now, I’ve been consumed in getting other things done. Now, as I’m looking ahead to November, I have decided that it’s finally time to tackle the webinar thing. It’s been on my “next month” list for months, but this November, I’m moving webinars to “right now”.
So far I shared a few ways to free up your time so you can allocate more of it toward working on changing your business. But what if that change required less time to accomplish?
That’s the idea in this strategy. Aim for a much smaller goal than you were going to. Don’t worry, we all want to achieve big things, and you will. But nobody gets there overnight. Everyone gets there through a series of smaller “wins”, that eventually lead to bigger “wins” later.
Why start with a smaller, simpler “win”? Well there’s the fact that they’re easier to accomplish. But really, it’s about time. Smaller, simpler goals require less of your time to execute. And since you’re already short on time, that’s exactly what you need right now.
One of Justin Jackson’s first products that he sold to his audience was attendance to a 2-hour live webinar on a Saturday. He simply promoted it to his email list, sold a number of seats, then prepared some slides and showed up on the day. That was a quick “win” that Justin can (and did) leverage into building his next, bigger product.
Don’t have a large email list or following? Then I recommend offering some sort of productized version of your consulting service. Why? Because it can be launched extremely quickly to paying customers. Both Jarrad Drysdale and Adam Clark launched their productized consulting products in a weekend.
Not only does productizing your service require relatively little effort to set up and initially launch, it can be built around a service that you’re already doing anyway. That means the risk of it not working out is mitigated dramatically. If you’re interested in Productizing, I have a free crash course as well as an advanced training & workshop on it.
Make change happen.
Think back to when you first went freelance. Why did you do it?
For me, it was the prospect of being able to freely change direction and pursue new opportunities whenever they came up. I wanted the ability to ensure my work made me happy.
As we gain more experience, we want different things. So what I love most about doing my own thing is that ability to constantly change, improve, and reinvent the way I work and the way my business operates.
Can you relate? I think everyone who is self-employed has some need to control their own destiny. Because if it were only about money, then chances are you can make more by doing what you do in a high-paid corporate position.
No, you’re on your own because you want to bake your cake and eat it too. You want to earn more, but not at the cost of not enjoying what you do (and the impact you have on others).
What I’m saying is, you’ve got to continuously make change happen in your business. It comes with the territory. You can’t simply fall into a comfortable routine just because it’s paying the bills. If you’re not happy with where you’re at right now, then change it. Make the necessary sacrifices, adjustments, and get a little uncomfortable for a bit.
That’s how this works.