Recently, the IWT team asked over 275,000 readers how long they’ve been thinking about starting their own business.
The answers we got blew us away:
Isn’t it strange that more than half of people have been THINKING about starting a business…for years?
When we dug a little deeper, we started to see patterns that hold a lot of people back from actually doing something about it. Can you guess the biggest one?
“I don’t have time to start a business.”
It’s an interesting paradox: A big reason many of us want to start a business is to gain greater control of our time and energy. Yet the actual act of getting a business up and running means we must surrender time and control.
It isn’t easy — and it can be overwhelming. But it is possible.
We’ve seen thousands of people start and successfully grow their business, even when time is tight.
How do they do it? What “in the trenches” tips do they have for making space for your business when you’re just getting started?
To answer this, we turned to some of our students who’ve grown their businesses to six figures and beyond. We asked how they balance working on their business and their life (especially in the beginning). Here’s what they said.
“[My business] was more fun than the other things I did with my free time.” –Talia K
There’s something magical when you actually LOVE what you’re working on. You seem to have an infinite well of energy and actually want to work on your business.
This was how Talia felt when she started her business. At her 9-to-5 job, she discovered that she had a skill her colleagues didn’t: preparing healthy, affordable lunches — and her colleagues would always ask her how she did it.
That was how her recipe blog on making easy, delicious, and affordable meals, Workweek Lunch, was born.
She just plain looked forward to working on her business after coming home from her job. That was more fun than going out, watching TV, and working out (which takes up an hour of her day max), and she’d work on her business 2-3 hours, a few days per week.
Since then, her business has grown to six figures, and she still loves working on it.
“If you’re dreading it or putting it off, it might be time to take a closer look at what’s going on under the surface. I’m not saying it should be easy to execute (there are a lot of bumps and struggles along the way no matter what), but my hope for those just starting out is that you picked a vertical or topic you’re excited about sharing with the world and helping others,” she said.
“There can only be one priority.” – Meggan H.
Starting and growing your business are synonymous with a seemingly never-ending to-do list and other priorities.
Meggan H. founded Culinary Hill, a cooking blog that blends her culinary school education with her Midwestern sensibilities. The beginning was especially challenging because her time and focus were split between working on her business and raising her infant. When we asked her how she did it, she had a similar response to Talia: she just really looked forward to working on her business.
“I would devote my weekend time to work as much as possible. I sacrificed having a lot of close friends or doing interesting things in the early years and focused primarily on my baby and my business,” said Meggan, “I would focus on computer work at night, and ‘batch’ the cooking and taking photos of them on the weekends when I had the best daylight available for photography.”
This theme of “batching” her work, where she focuses on one priority at a time, rules her weekly schedule even today. This is what a typical week looks like for her:
- Monday: Meetings, appointments, and phone calls
- Tuesday: Testing recipes
- Wednesday: Writing emails for list
- Thursday: Thinking/planning day
- Friday: Focusing on whatever is left for the week or needs urgent attention, like a clean-up day
“The days that things happen are mostly arbitrary, but by lining up the task with the day of the week, it’s easy for me to remember. So if it’s a Monday, I surrender myself to doctor’s appointments, phone calls, and other interactions — and don’t try to write emails or test recipes,” said Meggan.
Essentially, Meggan is a believer in knowing your priority, the thing that really moves the needle, and doing everything you can to focus on that. This means even setting up your schedule so that you can focus on that ONE thing to protect your time, energy, and focus.
“To me, the business is like an instrument: you don’t want to sell tickets to the awesome concert you’ve promised, and then get on stage and not be able to play.” – Margo N.
A lot of us don’t realize that business is a skill.
You have to learn to listen to your market, talk to your customers, sell, write marketing material and content, productize, manage teams, etc. Nobody teaches us these things! So Margo, founder of Neely & Daughters, spent the first six months studying business and the competition, diligently working on her skills, and taking no clients during this time.
Focusing on learning the skill of business, little by little, helps you hone the amount of time and energy you need to spend on it. Otherwise: hello, overwhelm and distractions!
“When you are in ‘the flow’ and feeling that deep need to work on your stuff, break every damn rule and find a way to hook into that energy,” Margo says.
“Show me a person’s calendar, and I’ll show you where their priorities are.” – Ramit
After all, if something — working on something in the business, exercising, strategizing — isn’t on your calendar, is it truly a priority then?
As an example, here’s a peek at Ramit’s calendar:
Ramit schedules at least 2 coffee meetings with journalists, every week, for more opportunities to be in the press. Because it’s IMPORTANT.
There are benefits to keeping a utilitarian calendar: You never have to wonder what to do or where to start. You know exactly what you’ll be working on every day, week, and month.
And it’s not just Ramit. Here’s a peek at Talia’s calendar for Workweek Lunch:
Talia has a fairly full calendar, yes, but you’ll also see that she has a LOT more control over her day-to-day.
You don’t have to spend 40 hours on your business every week. And while some days will be long, especially in the early days, there’s a big difference in extra hours working for someone else and extra hours building your own business.
Bottom line: If you’re not spending ANY time on your business, is it really that important to you?
And at the end of the day, Meggan says it best:
“You either want to put in the time for it, or you don’t. I have spent so much time over the years talking to other people who ‘want what [I] have,’ but when I tell them what to do, no one does it. You can make time if you want to. I am not special.”
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