Startup entrepreneurs often find it difficult to imagine a life free of long work hours, especially with never-ending to-do lists, buzzing smart phones and client questions that need immediate attention. According to The Princeton Review, most early stage founders work an average of 70 hours per week.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. OPEN Forum spoke with several entrepreneurs who work 30 hours or less per week and still make well above six figures per year.
Here’s how they do it.
Time block. Travis Miller and Jimmy Vee work around 30 hours per week and take about eight weeks of vacation per year. They are co-founders of Gravitational Marketing in Orlando, Fla., and attribute their enviable work/life balance to planning ahead. Each month, they take out a calendar and color code days based on tasks; green days are dedicated to sales presentations, orange days are for client meetings, red days are for administrative duties and so on.
“It helps us be diligent with our time; otherwise we would get eaten alive by things that come up and have to work 12-hour days,” Vee says.
The duo is serious about single-task time dedication (“never multi-task,” says Miller). They operate a ‘closed door policy’ while at work, complete with office hours. Employees know never to interrupt and to wait until designated times to approach the pair, which helps maintain time management and self-sufficiency throughout the staff, too.
Outsource. Melanie Benson Strick hates email. When she found herself spending up to three hours per day going through messages, she looked into outsourcing inbox management. Today, Benson Strick, founder and CEO of Success Connections, a business training and coaching company in Chatsworth, Calif., spends just 30 minutes answering emails carefully selected by her virtual assistant, messages that only she can answer.
Miller and Vee also outsource, but instead of relying on the same person each time, they’ve created a “virtual bench” of talent to choose from whenever a need arises, consisting of around 10 writers and five website designers. They regularly source such professionals from sites such as 99designs and Elance.
Not sure what tasks to outsource? Miller recommends compartmentalizing types of work into dollar-per-hour values. Plot out your revenue or profit goal for the year to determine how much you need to make per hour to achieve it. Outsource all work that will undercut your hourly rate.
Love your regulars and pay for referrals. It’s much more expensive to win a new client than to please a current one, so focus on making your loyal customers happy, says Benson Strick.
Along the same line, consider instituting a referral program. Debra M. Cohen, founder of Homeowners Referral, is a big proponent of such arrangements and happily hands over a percentage of revenue to whoever referred her the business.
“It helps keep my overhead low and business flowing in,” she says.
Build residual streams of income. Back in 2008, Josh Frey was miserable. As founder of On Sale Promos, a Washington, D.C.-based promotional products company, he was working long hours, managing 10 salespersons and paying $50,000 in monthly overhead.
Wanting to reclaim his personal life, he transitioned each employee into an independent contractor licensed to sell his promotional products to clients, giving each freelancer the power to operate the business as their own. The catch for them: Frey would get a slice of each sale.
“In the first year, I earned a little more than $150,000 in commissions from my people’s sales without doing anything,” he says.
Today, Frey also brings in extra cash by training budding entrepreneurs on how to start a promotional products company. He says entrepreneurs in almost any industry can set up residual streams of income by offering training seminars or licensing additional business locations.
Here’s a tip: Start at your local chamber of commerce. Offer a free business seminar on your industry, gather contact information from participants and follow-up to offer additional, paid training sessions.
Streamline. Instead of reinventing the wheel each time you write an email to a client, create a new business pitch or cold call a lead, try automating processes. Benson Strick does this by hiring someone to qualify sales leads, ensuring that she only sees those pre-approved.
“Most people make running a business ten times more complicated than it needs to be because they are working with bad habits,” she says. “You don’t need to make things harder on yourself and slog through every task from scratch. Create a system and watch your time free up.”
What are your secrets to working less and making more?
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