Run your business; don't let your business run you. You know the adage, but do you follow it?

Truthfully, in recent months it's been a struggle for me. There have been times when I've felt burnout creeping in with every new proposal to write, every new meeting request. I love the work -- the actual public relations and communications -- that I do. But the distractions and noise are too much, sometimes. And I don't want to work all the time. I want time to read a book, hang out with my kids, or cook something new for dinner.

Anyhow, I signed on for some group coaching at the end of last year, and it has helped a lot. It's helping me be more mindful that I'm in a different place than I was four years ago when I was about to launch my PR business. Growing my business doesn't mean what it used to. I don't have to say "yes" to everything. I need to protect my time. Take fewer meetings. Write fewer proposals.

If this strikes a chord with you, and you also want to do less meeting and proposing, here are four tips. 

1. Ask qualifying questions.

Determine if a meeting is worth taking, or a proposal worth making, by asking some qualifying questions before you jump in and invest your precious time and energy. You want to find out if a prospect is qualified to do business with you. Here are some good questions my business coach and I came up with for me and my business.

  • What is the scope of work and time frame to get started?
  • How do you envision us working together?
  • What is your anticipated budget range?

If the prospect can't answer all or most of those questions, I'm not going to hop to it. I can't tell you how many proposals I've written over the past four years that I had no business writing because the prospect said they didn't know what their budget is or I didn't ask.

2. Ask good follow-up questions to their objections.

Say the prospect isn't giving you anything to go on, budget-wise, and they want the work to start immediately, because of course they do. They suggest you write a couple proposals covering various levels of service -- like a Kia version, a Mercedes, and a Tesla.

Don't do it -- unless you want to grow your busywork threefold. Consider the fact that this prospect could be using you to do their footwork. They might not know about PR, communications, marketing, SEO, or whatever you specialize in. They don't know what to ask, so they're going to use your proposal to shop around.

Or, say the prospect objects to providing a budget range or objects to the price you put on your proposal. Here are some excellent follow-up questions:

  • What's more important to you -- time or price?
  • Do you need things to start happening now? Or do you need to watch costs?
  • What were you trying to achieve when you reached out today?

3. Put a time limit on proposals.

When you do write a proposal, put a time limit on it, meaning the work and fees quoted are good for two weeks (or however long you prefer). I'm bad at remembering to do this. But it keeps the other party accountable and sends a message as to how you will work together -- if that other party is lucky enough to hire you. You are not a doormat, waiting around for them. You are busy and important.

It also means you won't waste time and energy stewing over the fact that you have been ghosted on a proposal that you took the time to write. I have a proposal out there right now, and the recipient has barely acknowledged it. She is someone I see on a regular basis. I don't need the work, and now I really wish I'd put a time limit on the proposal for the sake of my mental energy. 

4. Say 'no' more quickly.

If something doesn't feel right to you for any reason, politely say "No thanks" and move on. Or you can say, "No thanks, but here's a referral to someone else," if you trust this prospect is worth referring within your network. No proposal needed.

As a final piece of advice as you navigate where you spend your time and energy, know that nobody else has it figured out, either. Think about the sheer volume of business self-help books and podcasts. In my business coaching group, there are brand-new business owners, established business owners, and those like me, somewhere in the middle. We are all still growing our businesses and growing as business owners.