Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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Not too long ago I was on a call with a client, and we got to talking about the things that she could improve.

We’d already done the big, obvious stuff; the client pipeline, the follow-up, laying the groundwork for scaling.

That’s all important stuff, but it’s still a small fraction of what a person does in a day. So, what should we focus on improving next? Nothing very obvious sprang to mind.

How to Improve Your Business in 10 Minutes a Day

So I said, “You know, probably the way you’ll improve the most is if you take ten minutes every day to reflect and write about what happened, how things went, and how they could go better.”

She said, “I can see the value in that idea, but I’m not sure how I would keep myself from being upset about all the things I didn’t get done. I’m always thinking about the things I wanted to get done but didn’t.”

Well, I didn’t have an immediate answer for that, because, well, I always have things I wanted to get done, but don’t, too. How did I come to feel even-keeled about this, even with my Type-A ways? Finally I decided that it was this:

I begin with the assumption that I’m doing my best.

I’m not “phoning it in.” I care. I’m trying. I want to succeed, and I’m willing to put in the effort.

So when I reflect on the day, I’m rarely disappointed in myself. I’m not looking to wag my finger like a performance review. I’m looking at things that happened, trying to figure out why they happened, and figuring out what I could have done differently to have a different outcome.

Often, what this does is highlight the problems that are occurring, but that I probably wouldn’t notice until too late. For instance, if my lower back hurts, not only am I less productive (because it’s distracting and uncomfortable) my days lengthen to get my work done, which exacerbates the problem. By realizing, “Hey, things aren’t going very well today because I’m sore,” this triggers me to think, “I’d better take a break and do some yoga.” This seems small and petty and incredibly obvious, but it’s not something that happens automatically without that time for reflection.

The other thing is that when you identify reason for things, you can avoid the guilt spiral. On Tuesday, I only got three things done off my to do list. But when I reflect, I realize that I spent 4.5 hours wrestling with webforms, and THAT’s where the day went. Or, on a larger scale, I’ve realized that if I work all weekend (as I frequently do for the Amazon business) by Tuesday or Wednesday, my brain is on strike. So when I realize I’m grinding like a dying wind-up toy, I go with it. I don’t sit there hating myself because I just wasted two hours on reddit.

Don’t make this into a willpower issue

With this as with many things, the key to success is to make the best use of your time automatic. I subscribe to RescueTime, because then, several times a day, it will take over my computer, and direct me to write down what I’ve accomplished. It’s incredibly annoying, but I would never do it otherwise.

Mike Vardy, I’ve been told, has a special “Work Journal” that he fills out every evening before he shuts down for the day. There are also services like  DayJot that email you at a preselected time, and when you respond to the email it creates a log.

It’s really hard to tell you exactly how things change when you start logging what’s going on… mainly because there’s nothing really that prevents you from noticing and making the changes on your own. But the issue isn’t that there’s nothing preventing you. It’s that there’s nothing triggering you to be mindful about how things could get better.

THAT’S the habit you want to form— the habit of reflection. And the bonus is that it replaces the habit of self-flagellation. Removing that nasty guilt trap will probably improve your productivity, too.

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Last year, I suffered a repetitive strain injury of my wrist and arm, and it so completely incapacitated me that I overhauled my entire work space, hired a VA, and even forced myself to work on a crappy Kindle tablet in order to get anything done whatsoever.

The sticker shock associated with ergonomic tools was substantial, but coming off a healthy Q4, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.

Until I bought the chair.

The Ridiculous Reason I Wouldn’t Buy Myself an Office Chair (and How I Changed My Mind)

I bought, without a blink, a wall mounted table in order to get the keyboard at the right height, and articulating arm to mount the monitor, a riser cushion, two foot stools, several keyboards, a drawing tablet and a mouse. Several of these items were found wanting and subsequently returned but $300 was not too much, I felt, in order to solve this problem once and for all.

But the riser cushion negated any support from the chair back — I might as well have been on a stool. Over a week I noticed my endurance steadily deteriorate, and finally I realized, I was going to have to get a new chair.

For ONE chair?!!

I love The Wirecutter. They test exactly how I would test stuff if I had unlimited time and resources. So naturally I looked at their article on office chairs. $800 for a chair! I put the idea aside.

Another three days in the office. I was starting to dread work.

Certain things are red flags to me, and dreading work is definitely one of them. I lack the moral fiber to work when I hate it. So I looked at the chairs again. Wirecutter recommended an IKEA chair, and there’s an Ikea in DC, where I was headed in two days. I would look at it there.

It probably it wouldn’t work.

The Times That Try Men’s Souls

I had never been to an IKEA before. I’m convinced IKEA is owned by the Rats of NIMH, who use it as a means for experiments on humans. It’s set up like a maze, a literal maze. And it was absolutely swarming with people. The expression on my husband’s face was that of a man grimly determined to do his duty without cowardice or complaint.

We wound our way through the chaos and tested the chair. It worked beautifully. Well, shit. Now what? I had not come emotionally prepared to spend $200 on one chair! But I also knew that there was zero chance my husband would ever set foot in the store again if I decided to come again in a month.

I bought the chair.

I bought the chair, I got it home, and it was even more perfect in my office than it had been on the showroom floor. Where have you been all my life?

The Justification

Now, whether it’s a ad hoc rationalization or not, I quickly realized that $200 is only a dollar a day of use in a year. Technically less since I work more than that and it will almost certainly last longer than a year.

But I still feel weird about it. Not bad per se, but a bit defensive. Let me count the ways:

  1. It costs more than my husband’s office chair and his back is worse than mine
  2. We already spent $300 ‘on me’ in the last month
  3. Sure, we have the money, right now. But what if we didn’t? What would I have done?

And that’s the crux of the issue. I have some kind of mindset that if I could have ‘made do’ when I was broke then I could have and should have made do now.

Except that when I’m not broke I:

  • Hire service providers who provide an ROI for my business
  • Invest in courses and resources
  • Subscribe to things like Canva and Buffer which make it easier to scale my business and save me time

So what’s the difference about a chair?

You know what it is? When the answer came to me, I felt really dumb. It’s one of those reasons that, once you’re forced to admit it, you think, I sound like an idiot.

The difference is comfort. At some level I don’t feel secure about the legitimacy of my need for comfort. I mean, you can see me here, making the case for its legitimacy, but it’s a logical argument to backstop an emotional objection. I’m confident I could debate the point and win but:

  • But, that’s money we could have saved. Or invested.
  • I worked on a wooden kitchen chair for the first two years of my business. Why such a wuss now?

I share this not to cement my argument somehow, but because I feel pretty certain that you’ve got some kind of emotional objection to something in your business too.

Maybe it’s spending money ‘on yourself’ (which is technically an investment btw — see how much easier it is for me to tell you that than myself?) Or maybe it’s selling yourself as the expert and demanding expert prices.

Whatever it is, you’ve got to learn when your emotional objections don’t get to have a say. It’s possible you will overcome them with time. It’s possible you will come to believe in your expert status or that you will come to a conviction that your need for comfort is a practical necessity.

But in the meantime it’s enough if you just know it logically and allow logic to carry the day.

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I’ve been in the whole ‘build a business’ racket for most of my life at this point. It’s not hard to build a business. The real trick is to build a business that doesn’t make you want to step in front of a bus, doesn’t make you feel bored out of your mind at the same time as you’re screaming frustration, and ideally, maybe makes you feel like you get more out of the business than you put in. The ‘money for services rendered’ thing? That’s the easy part.

To avoid building a business you hate, you’ve got to be strategic.

How to Avoid Building a Business You Hate

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Love What You Do

It’s no surprise to anyone at this point that the foundation of a business that you love is loving what you do. And loving who you serve. And getting paid decently for it. We’ll take that part as read, since there are millions of books and blog posts that all say exactly this.

Learn To Identify Permanent and Temporary Trade-offs

The most important thing when you’re growing your business is to be able to tell the difference between the things you need to do in the short-term “in order to” vs. the things that are baked into the business model.

It’s one thing to hand-sell and ludicrously over-deliver to your first 20 clients. But if you can’t get to the point where you’re dialing that back and doing less hand-holding, well, you’d better be getting $20k per client or so, because otherwise you’re going to spend far more time walking people up to the deal than you are to actually serving them, which is no recipe for repeat customers.

Be Honest About What You Will and Won’t Do

Hey, if you’re not going to travel for business, that probably means that you’re not going to be a professional speaker. So don’t try to be.

Be honest about what you can’t bring yourself to do. If that dooms the business, so be it. Find another one. Plenty of fish in the sea. But, with that being said…

Find The Options for What’s Not Optional

If you hate social media (as I do, and as all right-thinking people do) then figure out another way to market. Yes, it will feel weird. Yes, people will tell you you’re wrong. Yeah, you’ll have to bear the weight of the decision to turn your back on what EVERYONE is telling you you have to do to build your business, and if you don’t you’re doomed to be a big, fat, failure. C’est la vie. At least you won’t wind up hating every second you spend clicking through Pinterest.

Don’t Set Any Of This In Stone

Check in with yourself on a regular basis. We all change, and the business landscape changes faster than that. Could be that the stuff you thought you hated is tolerable after all. Or that the benefits outweigh the irritations. You might also find that the stuff you used to like is now grating and it’s time to find another challenge. You, after all, are reading this post because you saw a link on social media, proving that I found a way to overcome my own prejudices in the matter.

None of this is a guarantee that you won’t want to burn down your business in a fit of pique. But it should help your chances, because what’s the point of winning a game where you don’t like the prizes?

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