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Remove Stress In Your Business

independence isn't missed until it's gone

Build the business you want for your life, not the business other people want for their lives.

I was incredibly inspired by an article written by David Heinemeier Hansson called Reconsider. One of my favorite parts of the article reads:

I wanted to work for myself. Walk to my own beat. Chart my own path. Call it like I saw it, and not worry about what dudes in suits thought of that. All the cliches of independence that sound so quaint until you have a board meeting questioning why you aren’t raising more, burning faster, and growing at supersonic speeds yesterday?!

Independence isn’t missed until it’s gone. And when it’s gone, in the sense of having money masters dictate YOUR INCREDIBLE JOURNEY, it’s gone in the vast majority of cases. Once the train is going choo-choo there’s no stopping, no getting off, until you either crash into the mountain side or reach the IPO station at lake liquidity.

Was he writing this directly to me?

Does it feel like he’s writing it directly to you, too?

There are these ideals in business, especially in the startup and entrepreneurial world. These things that we’re told we need to do to become successful.

1. More employees = You look super cool and important
2. More customers = You must have an ahhhmazing product
3. More money = Everything must be going so well and you have a great life
4. Funding!? = You must be filthy rich and ready to retire!

Yet, I’ve had experience with most of these things, and almost all of them lead only to more stress, more problems, and way less independence.

There was a time when seven people relied on me for monthly salaries (roughly $30,000 per month). But I didn’t start out with seven people relying on me. I started out with just me. Just lil ole me and no pressure or keep-you-up-at-night-heart-beating-out-of-your-chest-cold-sweat-stress. The more I read news in the entrepreneurial and tech space, though, the more I was force-fed this idea of scaling my business and how important that was.

So I scaled up.

I’ll admit it was really exciting for a few weeks to be able to boast that I had multiple employees. Look how big we’ve grown! We’re not wearing startup potty trainers anymore, we have startup big-boy pull-ups on now! But that excitement wore off when someone didn’t get their work done on time. That excitement wore off when a client didn’t pay their bills and I had to make payroll happen. ($30,000/month is a lot of money for any size business, let alone a tiny startup.) That excitement really wore off when an employee became disgruntled, and the quality of work they put out reflected poorly on the brand and business I’d built from absolutely nothing. No one told me an employee might be able to put a dent in MY reputation.

Wait? What happened to looking cool?

More customers and more money tend to go hand in hand. I saw this happen in spades in 2011. I went from having one client per day two years prior, to having five clients per day. While that did result in 5x the revenue, it also resulted in nearly 20x the expenses. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough experience (or time) to see the writing on the wall before it was too late. What looked like a half-million-dollar business with lots of customers quickly turned into $100,000 in debt and hundreds of headaches every month.

I share all of this because when I read David Heinemeier Hansson’s article, it really struck a chord with me. A chord that I wish had been struck when I was knee-deep in trying to do everything in my power to scale up my business.

Do you actually need more (or any) employees?

I get that there are companies who have a full roster of amazing employees. Your company might even have its fair share. But if you’re thinking about adding more employees, ask yourself if you’re ready for the expenses, the additional human needs, and the potential fallout that come with hiring.

Take a look at your business at this very moment. Are you stressed to the max because you aren’t sure if you can make payroll next month for your employees? Do you have someone working for you who you think might be hurting your hard-earned reputation?

Since 2013, I’ve run a completely employee-less business. It’s been amazing. I’ve realized how much better I work and bring value to the world when I’m not burdened with managing people. I no longer stress out and lose sleep over the thought of not being able to pay someone. That doesn’t mean I do everything on my own, though. I outsource a ton of things. But those are transactional relationships that are quick and easy.

I’m certainly not advocating that you fire all your employees. But I would take a real hard look at what your employees contribute to your company, and what you contribute to their lives.

Do you actually need more customers and money?

I’ve heard so many entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to make $1,000,000 in their next year. But why? Do you have $1,000,000 in bills/expenses you need to pay? I freakin’ hope not. Those same people have no idea what kind of extra stress comes with the steps needed to increase their revenue to reach that goal.

What are the things you actually value in life? What really makes you happy? Don’t just pick things that society puts up on a pedestal (cars, vacations, other frivolous things).

What are your expenses? If you don’t immediately know the bare minimum amount of money you need to pay your bills and make your business run, I’m worried for you (because that used to be me and it got me $100,000 in debt). Take a real hard look at what you actually have to make to live a life that makes you completely happy. That may require getting rid of employees and customers, and making big changes in your life. That’s a good thing!

Of course, there are good ways to scale your business

Obviously, David Heinemeier Hansson would agree that getting to 40 employees at Basecamp (in 12 years) is right where they need to be as a company. He also knows that increasing the amount of customers who pay for his company’s services helps his company grow. But I’ve watched Basecamp from the sidelines for years. I’ve seen them shut down other business ventures. I’ve seen them restructure their operations to be more lean.

Build the business you want for your life, not the business other people want for their lives.

If you actually think you need more employees, hire some people part-time at first. Have them take on the new tasks, and see if those part-time people add more stress to your life. If you want more customers, make a big push to add more, but then track how much extra time you have to work that takes away from doing the things that make you happy.

Don’t scale your business just because you think you should. Do it because it actually brings value to your life and the lives of people your company affects.

This is the end of the yellow brick road. If you want to read more articles mosey on over yonder.