Hard work is the only way to get ahead in life (and business).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that saying over the years, thinking that working hard was the key to success.
Of course, now I look back fondly on the naivety of that advice. And how it led me to $20,000 in credit card debt and a bout of depression.
Hard work, you did me a lot of good. You left me for dead, hopelessly in debt and with little hope.
When I was down on my luck (back when I believed in luck), it was smart work that rescued me from the gutter. It was smart work that set me on the path to personal and business success.
Hard work alone is not an equation for success
My personal breakthrough, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of debt and depression, came through the satisfaction of starting and growing a business.
This is when I learned that the key to eliminating debt wasn’t sticking it out at my dead-end job and working more hours. I had to find someone who would pay me more. I needed a get-out-of-debt scheme, and that meant breaking the patterns that got me there in the first place.
Work 60 hours a week at my salaried job? Still in debt.
Save money for my employer? Still in debt.
But if I made a website for someone on the weekend? The debt started to chip away.
Hard work alone would keep me in a downward spiral of debt. 6-12 months of smart work and my trajectory started pointing to the moon.
Bad business advice
A lot of business owners focus on hard work because they were indoctrinated to think that this is how to get ahead in business.
“If you just work hard enough,” they’ll say, “you can achieve anything.”
I’m living proof that working hard isn’t all it's cracked up to be. If you focus only on the number of hours you work each day, you are limited in what you can achieve.
Once I changed my focus to being a smart worker, rather than just a hard worker, I was able to build a consulting practice that would pay me well and create opportunities that were previously only dreams.
The limits of being just another hard worker
In a hard-work business, it’s all about hours. It’s about the sweat and tears, and the physical toll it has on your mind and body.
Let’s say that you are regularly putting in 12-hour days to service your clients. At the end of the day, you are too tired to do anything for your business, yourself or your family. You don’t have time to generate new business or protect your interests with current clients.
At some point, a client may have a leadership change and the new management might chooses to work in-house or with another agency. And when that happens you are left with nothing to show for your hard work. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start your hard work all over again.
There’s no legacy in hard work. While you were working long days, you had no time to develop your unique business practices. You had no time to build your reputation. You had no time to develop your client pipeline.
You’ve sacrificed the work-life balance you desire and have nothing to show for it. Hard work isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Now don’t get me wrong, I respect hard work, hard workers, and people who produce. But hard work alone will bring a business nothing but frustrated.
Major breakthroughs occur for a business when taking a smart work approach.
The smart work business
Hard work is closely related to work ethic, but there is a key difference: work ethic is focused on the outcome. Hard work is focused on effort and time.
Entrepreneurs (and everyone, frankly) need to focus work ethic. This is the beginning of learning to work smart.
What do I mean by that? Instead of working in your business, work on your business.
I work hard and I have a strong work ethic, but the reality is that my business doesn’t need my effort 16 hours a day. And yours shouldn’t, either.
Work smarter and build a team
The amount of time that you can personally dedicate to a job or a project is finite. But you can always buy more time as needed.
In your network of hard-working marketers, you surely know people who you can hire to accomplish tasks on your behalf. It’s very easy to find capable workers to complete tasks. Independent contractors, offshore resources or virtual assistants, the Internet is filled with marketplaces showcasing talent.
Who knows, perhaps you will find one or two who can do the task better and faster than you can. That’s precisely what you want; to outsource low-value tasks so you can invest your time working on high-value ones.
Build your business so that you only have to perform the tasks that only you can do faster and better than anyone. The areas where you can create high margins.
And with the time that you save, you can invest it into building your reputation and finding new clients.
That’s precisely what I am doing at Jeffalytics. Building a team-based business, bringing talented people into my organization to complete tasks and increase output. Now I can get more done, and do better work.
Work smarter with scale
Over time, you will find that certain projects and jobs can be delivered very efficiently. With that efficiency, you can develop high margins for your business. Focus on these.
What does a smart business owner do when they establish efficiency? They scale the work they do across multiple clients to gain economies of scale. This will save you time and effort with each new job. As well as allow you to scale your business and create higher margins.
You will soon develop a reputation for your expertise and fast turnaround. As people talk, you will generate more demand for your services. And when you have more demand, you can charge more!
Work smarter with selectivity
I’m able to earn a comfortable living and travel the world at the same time. I am also able to keep my clients happy and grow my business. I can do this because I am selective about my clients.
I don’t work with every client, only with the right clients. These are the clients who pay me for the value of my deliverables and not by the hour. With a strong reputation, my business can be more selective with the clients we choose to work with. We can only take on the projects that we know will be profitable.
You may think this is a dream. But anyone can do this if they work to build a smart business.
Work smarter with a pay-off goal
Working smart means focusing on the activities that generate profit for your business. Profits allow you to reinvest in expanding your business. Profits mean you can pay yourself a higher salary. Profits even lead to higher valuations when it comes time to sell your agency.
To achieve profits, you need to create a business that is profitable and repeatable. That means delivering more work for more clients with higher profit margins.
By applying these work-smarter principles, I’ve built an ideal lifestyle business. I am writing this article because I know what it feels like to struggle. To feel that there is no way to get out of the downward spiral.
Since those dark times, my life has had many fortunate events. While they may seem like lucky breaks, I attribute all of this good fortune to a change in attitude. Instead of just working hard, I am constantly thinking of ways to build a smarter business.
If you are struggling and would like to focus on building a smart, lifestyle business, then I encourage you to learn more about my Agency Jumpstart Course.