Hard work is the only way to get ahead in business.
I’ve heard that sentiment many times over the years, as if working hard is all you need to be successful.
Now I look back fondly on the naivety of that advice. And how it led me to $20,000 in credit card debt and a bout of depression.
Hard work, you did me a lot of good. You left me for dead, hopelessly in debt with few prospects for clawing my way out.
When I was down on my luck (back when I believed in luck), it was smart work that rescued me from the gutter. It was smart work that set me on the path to success.
Hard work alone is not an equation for success
My personal breakthrough, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of debt and depression, came through the satisfaction of starting and growing a business.
This is when I learned that the key to eliminating debt wasn’t sticking it out at my dead-end job and working more hours. I needed a get-out-of-debt scheme, and that meant breaking the patterns that got me there in the first place.
Work 60 hours a week at my salaried job? Still in debt.
Work hard to cut expenses for my employer? Still in debt.
But if I made a website for someone on the weekend? The payday started to chip away at the debt.
Hard work alone would keep me in a downward spiral.
After a year of smart work? My trajectory started pointing to the moon.
Bad business advice
Many business owners focus on hard work, because they believe it will get them ahead in business.
If you just work hard enough, you can achieve anything.
I’m living proof that just working hard isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you focus only on the number of hours you work each day, you are limited in what you can achieve.
Change your focus to working smarter. This approach allowed me to build a consulting practice that would pay me well and create opportunities that were previously only dreams.
The limits of being just another hard worker
In a hard-work business, it’s all about hours. It’s about the blood and sweat, and the toll it takes on your mind and body.
Let’s say that you are regularly putting in 12-hour days to service your clients. At the end of the day, you are too tired to do anything proactive for your business, yourself or your family. You don’t have time to generate new business or protect your interests with current clients.
A client may have a leadership change and the new management might choose to move the work in-house or to another agency. When that happens, there is nothing to show for your hard work. You’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start all over again.
There is no legacy in hard work.
While you were working long days, you had no time to develop your unique business practices. You had no time to build your reputation. You had no time to develop your client pipeline.
You’ve sacrificed the work-life balance you desire and have nothing to show for it.
Hard work isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Now don’t get me wrong, I respect hard work, hard workers, and those who produce. But hard work alone will bring a business nothing but frustration.
Major business breakthroughs come from working smarter.
The smart work business
A smart work ethic is focused on outcomes. Hard work is focused on effort.
Obviously, entrepreneurs need a focused work ethic. That’s the price of admission.
But more importantly, they need to learn how to work smarter.
Instead of working in your business, work on your business.
Work hard and work smart? Your business won’t need your 16 hours of effort each day to turn a profit.
Work smarter and build a team
The amount of time that you can personally dedicate to a job or a project is finite. But you can always buy more time as needed.
In your network of hard-working marketers, you surely know people you can hire to accomplish tasks on your behalf. It’s very easy to find capable workers to complete tasks. Independent contractors, offshore resources or virtual assistants, the Internet is filled with marketplaces showcasing talent.
Who knows, you’ll probably find one or two who can do the task better and faster than you can. That’s precisely what you want; to outsource low-value tasks so you can invest your time working on high-value ones.
Build your business so that you only have to perform the tasks that only you can do faster and better than anyone. The areas where you can create high margins.
And with the time saved, you can invest in building your reputation and finding new clients.
Build a team-based business, bring on talented people to complete tasks and increase output. Get more done, and do better work.
Work smarter with scale
Over time, you will find that certain projects and jobs can be delivered more efficiently. This creates higher margins for your business. Focus on these projects.
What does a smart business owner do to establish efficiency? They perfect their process to gain economies of scale. They take less time and effort to complete each new job. They scale their business without sacrificing profits.
Focused businesses develop a reputation for their expertise and fast turnaround. As people talk, they generate more demand for their services. And when they have more demand, they can charge more!
Work smarter with selectivity
Want to earn a comfortable living and travel the world at the same time? That’s something I have been able to achieve over the past two years. The key is keeping clients happy, and being smart about how I grow the business. It all comes down to being selective with my clients.
I don’t work with every lead that comes in the door, only the right ones. These are the clients who pay for value, instead of hours. With a strong reputation, a business can be more selective with the clients they choose. They only take on the projects that are sure to be profitable.
You may think this is a dream. But anyone can do this if they work to build a smart business.
Work smarter with a pay-off goal
Working smart means focusing on the activities that generate profit for your business. Profits allow you to reinvest in expanding your business. Profits mean you can pay yourself a higher salary. Profits even lead to higher valuations when it comes time to sell your business.
To achieve profits, you need to deliver your services with high margins. That means creating repeatable business processes, and delivering more work with the same amount of effort.
By applying these work-smarter principles, I’ve built an ideal lifestyle business. But it took years to get there.
I know what it feels like to struggle. To feel that there is no way to get out of the downward spiral.
Since those dark times, my life has had many fortunate events. While they may seem like lucky breaks, I attribute all of this good fortune to a change in attitude. Instead of just working hard, I am constantly thinking of ways to build a smarter business.
Are you struggling to build a smart, lifestyle business? Let’s talk.