Today, I'm going to address a question that I hear often in networking meetings and was expressed to me recently in a reader email. Can you go from creative and productive in a corporate job to a mess working for yourself?
I'm a solopreneur that runs my business from my home and I struggle with getting things done. I am smart and capable and the work that I do with my clients is amazing, but my tasks suffer, my office is a mess and I have programs I'd love to launch; but never seem to get them done. I don't know what is wrong with me. Seriously! The thing is, I was really together in my previous job. I used management tools and my desk was clean and I even took my department top scores for product development. What is going on now?
My experience has been that this is very common and one of the reasons that I do virtual consulting for home-based businesses!
Coming from the perspective of someone that had this happen to her, I’ll share my story as well as some of what I have observed with my clients.
Support You Don't Always See Until It Isn't There
Prior to founding Calahan Solutions, Inc., I worked for a very large consulting firm. I had a teams of 200+ associates that I either managed directly or managed managers or supervisors that managed those people. My job was high profile, high travel and high stress. I was on top of all of it, no problem. Organization was something that I was praised and amazed for. My desk was clear every evening and I knew exactly what was going on for both my short term and long term planning every evening prior to leaving for the night. However, my role was a highly leveraged role. Meaning, there were a number of people I delegated to! Here is a summary:
- Marketing department – handled all of the web and print marketing, advertising and market research – all I had to do was distribute info or better yet, have my people distribute the info.
- PR department – handled all of the radio, newspaper, t.v., etc press releases and corresponding interviews, responses, etc.
- HR department – handled all of the compensation issues, research, performance and people documentation, labor relation issues, downsizing decisions, payroll, hiring, exit interviews, outsourcing decisions, benefits planning and coordination of benefits issues, and so on.
- Sourcing department – handled all of the supply issues – purchasing, checking out where good deals are, handling returns, etc.
- Office management department – handled everything required to keep the office functioning – everything that many people take for granted until they have to do it themselves.
- My FAVORITE 1400 – Any time I had issue with any type of technical issue from my pc or laptop to pager to phone to printer to cell phone, you name it, I dialed 1400 and that group took care of it for me. OH HOW I MISS 1400!
- My Food – Yes, I really did have a free lunch! I could go to the cafeteria any time 24/7 and get great food at no cost. No grocery shopping and no cooking — just go and eat.
- My 2 Assistants – I had two assistants that took care of administrative tasks for me. They scheduled appointments, travel, expense reports, basic client reports, filing, conference coordination, meeting coordination and so much more!
- Financial department – Created outstanding reporting items I could make decisions off of, handled accounting, etc.
And so on. There were many fabulous support groups in my firm that allowed me to do my job well. There were also outstanding systems in place both physical and electronic.
But, When I Left the Firm, That Support Went Bye-Bye
When I left the firm, I left all of that support. As a business owner, I either needed to learn those detailed areas for my business or hire someone to do them for me. Productivity, communication and organization systems that I had in place that had worked for decades no longer worked when I moved to the home. I had an influx of information and there were different types of things that I needed to pay attention to now. My right and left arms in Tabitha and Ruth (my former assistants) were no longer there either! Time consuming issues like when my laser printer jammed and took 40 minutes to fix were now my problem and not a call to 1400 for someone else to fix.
I also found that I had a knowledge deficiency. In my corporate life, I had the largest client of the firm. When you have a multimillion dollar account with a 10 year contract, you don’t worry so much about where the next client is coming from! Going into Calahan Solutions, Inc. that multimillion dollar account did not come with me (darn.) Now, my job was sales and I knew nothing about it!! So, a LOT of my time was put to learning as much as I could as fast as I could. Filing and other administrative tasks took second seat and piles started accumulating.
Even bigger still, my cash flow was no where near the available purchasing power I had with my former company! In fact, it was close to non-existing, so just jumping and hiring people to grow my new business was not a realistic choice either.
It Wasn't Really That I Was Distracted, But I Had Way More Calling My Attention
It did not have as much to do with distractibility as priority setting and the need for a completely different type of productivity system. Since I did not know what I did not know, I would have things hit that I did not expect, so there were no established processes. Needless to say, my first year or so in business were high in learning indeed! Systems, systems, systems! Get them in place and you will eliminate overwhelm and have a blast.
It's Not Failure
I have had home based clients that have similar stories to mine and are so frustrated with perceived failures that they cannot see the forest for the trees, so to speak. They are so used to being on top of it that they are completely caught off guard when they find themselves out of control. In some instances they then start to second guess themselves and shut down.
I have found that the best technique for these clients is to recognize them for what they are doing well and help them see it too. Then, spend time looking at the techniques that used to work for them and the corresponding elements that are no longer working. We then tweak those systems rather building something new. It is much easier for a person to understand a tweak and dive right back into success than to do something new.
You May Be Lonely
I have also witnessed clients that were outstanding while in the office setting, but become very isolated at home and go into a state of depression. They don’t realize that it is the isolation that is causing concentration problems or performance problems. They are social people that function better when they have breaks to convene with other people. Now that they are working from home, they don’t have the break room or passing someone in the hall and they miss that.
I have found that recognizing this issue for these clients is very important. We put systems in place in their office setting, of course, but also implement time at a local Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop or other location, so that the person has their “people fix.” That way, when they are in their office, the isolation depression does not take hold and they can be more productive. (This was a challenge for me too and we bought Danny, our Havanese.)
Driven to Distraction
I have seen some clients that are easily distracted and used to have assistants and meetings that kept them on task. Because of the easy distractability, it is also hard to stay on task for work during work times. Hey – let me get this load of laundry done – does not work as well for this type of person because on the way to the laundry room, other things come to mind and end up taking time.
I have found that making sure to dedicate one spot that is 100% ONLY for work helps. We also set work hours including times for breaks and lunch. Setting more structure in place is helpful. I have also found that many of these clients also do better if they “dress” for work. No PJs and slippers for them! I even have one client that will get dressed for work, get into the car for his “commute” drive to Starbucks for a coffee and then back to the “office” at home. This process of formally going to work makes all of the difference for him. Sometimes, these clients have challenges with accountability, so we establish a board of directors or a board of advisers that the person can “report” to for progress, challenges, etc.
Home Is Not Always Where the Heart Of Your Business Needs To Be
I have also witnessed people that just should not be working from home. They would be better served renting out office space to make a strong distinction between home and work. Working from home is not for everyone. These clients have a hard time drawing boundaries and jump from work to home to work to home type projects. Sometimes they may be hyper-focused on work and the home starts slipping into chaos. Other times it is the reverse. Overall, little is actually getting accomplished because “oh I’ll just watch this quick HGTV or SI-FI show and then get back to work…” Depending on the client and what is financially possible, we end up going a number of directions.
These, of course, are some pretty broad generalities, but are some of the things I’ve witnessed with individuals that once were “together” and now are having challenges. In all instances we implement solid strategy and systems as well as work on some mindset shifts.
If you have been beating yourself up, the first step is to stop and recognize you are not alone. In fact, I have worked with many that on the surface are amazingly successful, but don't feel like it because they are comparing who they were in their corporate days. Remember you are no longer an employee for a reason!
Start by figuring out what your causes are and then put strategies and tactics in place to regain the desired state. You can do it and if you'd like a little help, I'm only an email away.