Robert Sofia is a best-selling author, award-winning public speaker, and financial industry thought leader. He has developed marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies, consulted with over 1,000 companies nationwide, and is the co-founder of Platinum Advisor Strategies--number 362 on the Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest-growing privately owned companies in 2013, and number 10 on the Agency 100 list of the nation's fastest-growing agencies.
There are plenty of advantages to being self-made. You get to choose when you work, where you work, and with whom you work. On the other hand, unique challenges arise when your income is determined by your own resourcefulness and ability to be productive.
During the past six years, in the process of building my simple online business into a multimillion-dollar company with over 30 employees, I have fallen into many traps. Some of them have slowed me down and others cost me money, but they all taught me valuable lessons. Here are five common traps entrepreneurs fall into, and the workarounds I've discovered.
"If I want something done right, I have to do it myself." Sound familiar? Perfectionism is a trait often valued in employees, but for entrepreneurs it can be a real problem.
The Workaround: If you want to get ahead in the digital marketplace, outsourcing is no longer optional. Letting go of control can seem risky at first, but it's ultimately very liberating.
To ease into delegation, I started out giving up simple administrative and content-related tasks first, such as blog-post formatting and proofreading. Once I became confident doing that, I found it easier to delegate more complex tasks, such as social media management, ad campaign building, and analytics monitoring. While I used to handle all such tasks on my own, today I have a team of individuals doing everything for me. This has freed me up to focus on the more important task of growing my business.
Try arranging projects through escrow services or freelance bidding sites like Elance and oDesk. If you prefer to pay remote staff on an hourly basis but you're uncomfortable with the honor system, you can easily monitor staff with hour-tracking software. The added advantage of using your own software is that you'll avoid middleman fees associated with third-party freelancer sites, which can add up. Startups with limited funds can consider hiring a business student as a virtual intern in exchange for a monthly stipend, free training and hands-on job experience.
2. Poor time management.
The art of effective time management can elude even the most experienced entrepreneurs. The good news is that technology allows us to cheat a little bit.
The Workaround: These days, almost anything can be automated. If you aren't sure where to start, here are a few areas where I've found automation useful:
- Curating and scheduling a week's worth of tweets in HootSuite;
- Using a web scraping tool like Import.io to automate competitive research;
- Scheduling an email drip campaign with autoresponder software;
- Using an all-in-one digital commerce solution like WooCommerce to manage payments, inventory, and reporting;
- Integrating marketing efforts and keeping track of customer data with marketing automation and CRM software.
3. Bad prioritization.
As business owners, we fill a lot of different roles daily. It's easy to fall into the trap of frittering the days away working on the easiest tasks instead of tackling that one important project that will take your business to the next level.
The Workaround: Hiring a consultant or a coach is a great way to get some fresh perspective and identify key areas of your business that need work. Besides the time and money you'll save by learning from someone else's mistakes, you'll also get an added dose of accountability -- an invaluable asset for any entrepreneur.
I put this off for a long time, thinking I didn't really need an outsider to tell me how to run my business. Once I finally hired a professional coach though, I found that simply having an outside party to bounce ideas and concerns off of was valuable. In many cases, just the questions she would ask me led to discoveries I would never have made on my own.
4. Taking on too many projects.
While it's important to keep up with the latest trends in business strategy, spreading your time and energy across a multitude of tasks can quickly lead to burnout.
The Workaround: The solution to information overload is doing more of what works and less of what doesn't. Here are some of the ways we've been able to accomplish this at our company:
- Instead of investing in new content, we focus more time on identifying which keywords we're already ranking for and optimizing that content to rank even higher.
- We track our social media shortlinks to find out what types of content resonate most with our followers, and try to post more content along similar lines.
- We identify which advertising platforms are converting the best for us and increase our spending on those platforms, while scrapping the platforms that aren't working.
- We focus time on eliminating unpopular inventory so we can promote our most popular products and services.
5. Difficulty following through ("It's not ready yet" mentality).
Parkinson's law tells us that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. In other words, we have an uncanny talent for making things take a lot longer than they should.
The Workaround: One of the dangers of being self-employed is that we tend not to take our own deadlines seriously, because there's no immediate consequence if we fail. While the threat of punishment is a proven motivator, it can be equally as effective to introduce an element of reward. You can achieve this by seeking out a mastermind group to set goals and discuss each other's progress on a monthly or quarterly basis.
One thing that has worked for me is seeking out an accountability partner for certain projects. Occasionally teaming up with a friend, partner, or fellow business owner to see who can achieve a goal first can be fun and motivating. A little bit of friendly competition can be a powerful incentive.
The next time you find yourself falling prey to one of these five entrepreneurial traps, don't let yourself be bested. There are resources available to help you make positive changes -- take advantage of them.