Shawn Freeman is the CEO of TWT Group, an IT services company. He writes regularly for IT and tech publications, offering perspectives on cloud solutions and cross-border data security and interviews with industry leaders in Canada and the U.S.
When I worked as an IT analyst for an oil company years ago, I realized that I--not my employer--held the key to my professional growth. I was ready for a promotion, but when I applied for management roles, my boss sat me down and gave me some advice: "Shawn, you need to focus. Don't worry about working your way up the ladder. Just focus on your job." That's when it hit me: I did need to focus on my job. But I didn't need to focus on this job.
When I started to take on clients as a part-time tech consultant, I felt a huge resurgence of passion and energy. It was rewarding to feel needed, to make a difference and to be around people who valued my skills. A short time later, I left the oil company and began truly focusing on my job: launching and running a tech consulting company. This definitely wasn't what my boss had in mind when he told me to focus, but because of him, I've now found more success and personal satisfaction than any promotion could have ever provided me. That's why "You need to focus" is invaluable advice for every entrepreneur. Here’s how I apply that advice to my business:
Narrow Your Scope
Unfocused entrepreneurs suffer from "shiny thing syndrome"--getting distracted by all the cool things they could do, rather than the important tasks they should do. Once you home in and find focus, you can trim the fat and distinguish between the things you do and don’t do.
It's easy to begin narrowing your scope; start by eliminating the tasks you absolutely loathe and the ones you keep putting off. If there were huge rewards in doing them, you wouldn't be procrastinating in the first place. Then, moving forward, you can learn to quickly identify the types of new ideas that typically fail to get traction when pursued.
Identify Ideal Clients
It can be tempting to take on any and all clients who express interest in your offerings. Sure, it's important to earn every possible dollar you can, but taking on the wrong clients can be detrimental to your business. In our company, we avoid partners who are too big or too small, and we also avoid unpleasant people because dealing with bad attitudes isn't worth any amount of money.
I'd also recommend avoiding clients who try to nickel and dime your going rate and those who question your process. These folks simply don't see the value in what you do. They probably won't pay their bills on time, and they'll likely end up monopolizing your time. Focus will help you identify clients that are a good fit for your business and enable you to turn down the ones who'll cause major headaches.
Increase the Fun Factor
Focus helps you choose long-term health over everyday pressures. When work no longer revolves around taking on anything that will boost your profit, Mondays no longer suck. When you firmly decide to only work with ideal clients and enjoyable projects, you will ignite passion and put "fun" back into your professional vocabulary.
Fun can only exist if your staff loves coming to work. That's why we keep an arsenal of Nerf guns in the office and indulge in the occasional dart fight to let loose. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for things that may be irking your team. We conduct weekly reviews using 15Five where the team has a chance to express frustrations. This is much better than verbally seeking this information; employees have time to think about their responses, and they're typically willing to write more than they will say.
Enhance Your Life
When work becomes fun, life becomes fun. Focus will not just improve your life; it'll also encourage the people around you to follow in your footsteps. With focus, life becomes intentional; everything you do serves a clear purpose.
Even before I started my own company, one of my main goals was to travel more. The annual three weeks of vacation the oil company allowed barely scratched this itch, so with that in mind, I focused on shaping my business and life in a way that allowed me to travel anywhere, anytime and for any duration. Today, if I want to go to China for a couple of weeks or Australia for a month, I can--I just need to ensure my business has everything it needs to be successful while I'm away (and that I still carve out some time to work while I'm abroad).
Maybe it's time to stop worrying about what should be and focus on what is. Intentionality will clarify your purpose, guide your steps and rekindle your personal and professional passion. Who knows? Maybe a path you haven't yet explored will be better than anything your current career ladder has to offer. It definitely was for me.