Working Hard is Stifling Your Business

Have you ever felt like you do all the work in your business? Do you feel like you have no choice? So, did Fred. Listen to Fred's story of how he FLIPPED the direction of responsibility and expertise from himself to his staff.

Fred was a structural engineer. He started out working for a general contractor in the construction of small bridges at first; and then gradually worked his way up to some large projects. While he loved what he did, it was difficult to predict how much work his general contractor would get in any one year.

The problem was that the only people who would hire Fred's company were municipalities who wanted to build a bridge. Not just any bridge. It had to be a design-build project. Design-build meant that the same contractor who designed the bridge would build the bridge. Most bridges were designed by engineering firms who were separate from the contractor. That meant that Fred wasn’t kept very busy.

Fred decided to leave his job working for the general contractor and start his own structural engineering firm. At first, his only client was the old general contractor he used to work for.

It was a great arrangement. The general contractor didn't have to pay Fred unless they had work; and Fred could seek design work from others when the general contractor didn't need him.

It was difficult at first. Fred earned half of what he made as an employee in his previous company. As Fred developed some solid sales and marketing skills, he was able to generate more interest in his design ability; and was eventually working full-time as an independent structural design engineer. Eventually, he hired an administrative assistant to do all his paperwork and billing; an Auto-CAD technician to draft his drawings; and a junior engineer to help him with some of the design work.

While he liked he was doing, the money wasn't that great and he was working all the time. He found that:

  • he spent 40% of his time doing design work,

  • 40% of his time selling his services to government decision makers; and

  • 20% of his time directing the work of his underlings.

After he paid his expenses, he tended to make just a little more than he had made as an employee, with twice the stress level.

In one of Fred's networking events, he met a guy named Coach Russ. This guy indicated that he helped business owners grow and become profitable while reducing the amount of time they spent at work. Fred remembers laughing when Russ told him that. Fred couldn’t see any way he could grow, make more money and work less. It just didn’t make any practical sense.

Still, Fred was curious. He was facing a sort of busyness that yielded little in the way of profits and consumed a lot of his personal time. He was curious what kind of magic Coach Russ could perform on him. He called Russ and they set up what Russ called a Discovery Session.

Fred cancelled this initial meeting four times before they finally met at Russ's office. It seemed like every time Fred wanted to meet, something would come up that required his personal attention.

Russ started their meeting, "It seems like you're a busy man. Four reschedules is probably a record for a Discovery Session."

Fred responded, "I know. I'm sorry for all the delays. I had intentions of meeting, but something always came up at the last minute."

"No apology necessary. I'm glad we could meet. I’m curious. Why couldn't others in your office handle whatever it was that you were called to do to make you reschedule our meeting?"

"We're a really small design firm, Russ. I do most of the work and my staff basically helps me do my work. Two of the delays were due to design deadlines that were pending that I needed to meet. I was already working nights to meet these deadlines as it was; and I couldn't afford the time to drive over here and meet with you."

"Interesting. What caused the other two delays?"

"Those delays were caused by a high-maintenance customer demanding I meet with them at the same time I had scheduled our meeting. Because they had to coordinate their meetings with so many other players, I couldn't force them to reschedule their meeting."

"That certainly makes sense. Could someone else on your staff have attended those meetings?"

Fred laughed, "These are high-level meetings with very important clients. I have a rookie staff with an Auto-CAD technician, a rookie engineer and an administrative assistant. The best they would have done is taken notes. My clients would have been furious that I wasn't there in person."

"Got it. Let's talk about you. What prompted you to set up this meeting in the first place?"

Fred told Russ his story, how he broke away from being an employee of a general contractor only to find himself more stressed and working more hours for only a little more money.

As Fred finished his story, he said, "In our networking event several months ago, you claimed that you helped business owners grow profitably while spending less time at work."

Russ smiled, "Yes, I did. If my memory serves me, I believe you chuckled."

"Yeah. Sorry about that. I guess I'm now curious if you can do this for me?"

"I probably can. However, it's not really my work that will help you; it's YOUR willingness to shift the role in YOUR company that will make the difference."

"I'm not sure I understand. I’m working hard, Russ. I don't know what more I can do to make my small engineering firm work better."

Russ smiled again, "That's the point. You’re doing all the work. You cancelled our meeting four times because you’re too busy working IN your business to work ON your business."

"That's where you lose me. If I were to hire all these people to do the work of my business, I would make even less profit than I make today. I can't afford to hire the help you say I need."

"How do you know that you can't afford to hire help, Fred?"

"Look. If I'm barely making enough now; and I'm doing all the work. How can I afford to hire more people?"

Russ dodged Fred's question, "I'll tell you what. I want you to answer your own question. If you want to work with me as your business coach, your first objective is to create a business plan that’s profitable and doesn't have you doing one thing in your business."

Fred reacted, "That's impossible! Are you listening? I told you that I'm barely making it now. How on earth can I create a plan where I'm doing nothing in my business and still making money?"

"Fred, you’re used to earning a paycheck as an employee. And you’re now engaged in a practice where you have some assistants; but are overwhelmed with work. For you to grow, you need to shift your thinking. You first need to become a manager; and then become an entrepreneur."

"An entrepreneur? I am an entrepreneur. I answer to no-one but my customers."

"You’re striving to create a practice. There’s nothing wrong with a professional engineering practice. The challenge with a practice is that you provide ALL the expertise. This means that practices are limited to your ability and your time. That's why you're so busy."

"Okay. How can I create this business plan if I don't even think it's possible?"

"You’re an engineer. A business plan is MATH. You can create a spreadsheet that shows your expenses with several employees doing the work; while you simply manage these workers."

"I suppose. I'll put together the ‘business plan’... but I'm not convinced it will actually work."

Russ smiled, "That's all I ask. If you hire me as your coach, I’ll help you shift your perspective. You just focus on the math for now."

It took a month for Fred to get back to Russ with his business plan. The plan took time. Trying to set up a meeting time that he wouldn't have to continually reschedule was a different matter. In fact, they decided to conduct their meeting via a video call because it would take Fred too much time to drive back and forth to Russ's office.

Fred started, "I have to admit, Russ. This business planning exercise surprised me."

Russ asked, "How so?"

"I created a fictional engineering firm with three full-time engineers, an office manager, a salesperson, and an Auto-CAD technician. In my fictional firm, I’m managing these folks, not doing any actual work, and am able to bill enough time with my engineers to make it all work."

"Wow! It sounds like your thinking may be shifting."

"While I've made this work on paper, making this work in real life is another problem."

"Tell me the opportunities you see arising with your plan.'"

"What? I didn't say opportunities. I said problems."

"The word problem indicates that you see obstacles. The word opportunity implies that you have yet to come up with a solution. Which word would you prefer to use?"

"Okay. Here are my OPPORTUNITIES. I do all the engineering now and I'm quite good at it. In fact, I believe that most of my clients hire me because of MY expertise."

Fred paused expecting that Russ would respond to his first OPPORTUNITY.

Russ commented, "Please continue."

"Then there's the problem with sales. My prospective clients expect to talk with me. I'm the expert. They want to see who they’re hiring in order to give me their business. They won't trust some wet-behind-the-ears salesperson to convince them to use me for high-profile bridge designs."

Fred paused and Russ asked, "Is that it?"

"Those are big deals! How can I solve those prob... I mean OPPORTUNITES?"

"Fred, you’re going through one of the roughest transitions any manager ever has to go through. I call it the FLIP. For you to grow, reduce your working time and make real money as an entrepreneur, you have to FLIP your expertise from you to your team."

"Are you saying that I need to train my people?"

"Quite the contrary. To successfully navigate the FLIP, you need to change the direction of how expertise flows in your engineering firm."

"I don't get it. My clients hire me because of my expertise. If I hire rookies and expect them to deliver for my clients, I'll lose business."

"In order for the FLIP to work, you can't hire rookies. You must hire experts who are the new creators of your firm's expertise."

"That's going to cost a lot of money. How am I going to come up with this money?"

"You’ve created a viable business plan that demonstrates that you will be profitable paying your new experts while you simply manage them. Right?"