Are you working too hard at the wrong things?

You only need to spend an hour on LinkedIn to see some form of debate around the “hustle” culture.

On one side, you have people telling you you have to make sacrifices if you want success. Work evenings. Work weekends. Don’t take holidays. If you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

On the other side are the people warning you not to burn out. It’s about creating a good work-life balance. Taking time for yourself. Don’t work until you drop.

So who is right?

Well, both to an extent.

If you want to build a successful business, you do have to work hard – that’s true. Sitting on your arse waiting for clients to knock on your door isn’t going to get you very far, very fast.

But that doesn’t mean you need to spend every waking minute thinking about work – it’s ok to take time off. The world won’t end if you don’t respond to an email within five minutes.

Working hard is not the same as working long hours. You can work hard at the wrong things. And if you fall into that trap, you’re unlikely to create the work-life balance (or the income) you want.

Being busy is not the same as being profitable

Do you ever find yourself doing tasks that make you feel productive when really you’re just putting off the stuff you need to do? I call this “proactive procrastination”. 

It’s things like tidying up your email folders, creating spreadsheets you don’t really need, spending hours “doing research”, and making long lists of all the things you want to do (but never get around to doing). 

You feel like you’ve been doing something productive, but in reality, you’re just avoiding the difficult tasks.

Or maybe you fill your time with free calls and meetings, attend every networking event going, and contribute to lots of conversations in online groups or on social media.

You’ll certainly feel busy, but if none of it is translating into sales, it’s not a good use of your time.

It’s easy to be busy. Anybody can make work for themselves – the hard part is making it profitable.

Are you making yourself busy for the sake of feeling productive? 

You don’t have to do everything yourself

I hate the phrase “work smarter, not harder”. Not because of the meaning behind it but because of the way it’s bandied about by fake gurus who use it to sound intelligent.

But it’s not terrible advice. Making your business as efficient as possible is definitely the sensible way to go. Eliminating unnecessary work and minimising repetitive tasks makes absolute sense.

Why type out a new proposal from scratch every time when you can create a template and then fill in the blanks?

And when it comes to outsourcing, I’m a big fan. You might think it’s a good idea to save a few quid by doing it yourself, but that can be a false economy. If something costs you £100 to outsource, but you can make £200 in the time it saves you, it’s a no-brainer.

And if you don’t know how to do something, why spend hours trawling the internet, trying to learn how to do it yourself (only to end up doing a mediocre job of it)? Either pay an expert to do it for you or pay an expert to teach you how to do it to a good standard.

Don’t be afraid of getting help with tasks you can’t do or don’t want to do. Invest in software or training that will make tasks easier.

Doing low-paid work

It’s easy to be busy if you’re taking on low-paying work, constantly discounting your rates, or working for ‘exposure’.

The freelance job sites are full of projects paying less than the minimum wage – fill your boots if that’s what you want.

But bear in mind if you keep filling your time with low-paid work, you’ll end up overworked and underpaid. 

You’ll get clients piling on more and more work because your prices are so low. And you’ll build a reputation for being cheap, so you’ll attract price-buyers instead of clients who value your skills.

And if you’re kidding yourself that all that work will pay off someday and you’ll suddenly start getting the good stuff, don’t hold your breath.

The only way you’ll start getting the higher paying projects is if you put your prices up and learn how to attract the clients willing to pay what you are worth.

You’ll never find the time to get your marketing under control if you’re spending 80 hours a week on client projects that pay a pittance, taking on anything that comes your way just so you can pay the bills.

Stop scraping the barrel for work and start attracting the clients you want (my book teaches you how).

Dealing with difficult clients

Time-vampires. Clients that suck you dry of time. Calling you at all hours, requesting endless meetings, always wanting amendments or changes or a quick favour.

This is not a good use of your time (unless you are getting paid for every call, meeting and favour).

You didn’t start working for yourself to let clients dictate how and when you work. Take back control.

It’s your business, so it should work on your terms. If it doesn’t work on your terms, you might as well get a job – at least you’ll get holiday pay.

And if you don’t want to ditch difficult clients for your own sake, think of your good clients. Why should they get less of your time and energy than a demanding client? Shouldn’t you focus your attention on the clients who don’t make you roll your eyes every time they call?

Agreeing to pointless calls and meetings

“It would be great to jump on a Zoom call so I can find out more about what you do.”

“Let’s grab a coffee and see whether there’s potential for us to help each other.”

“Have you got five minutes for a call? I might have an opportunity for you.”

Ever had a message like this?

And do you jump on Zooms, agree to coffees, and call anyone who asks?

I used to. You never know where a conversation might lead, right? And yes, occasionally some of those calls and meetings did eventually result in work. But most of them didn’t.

Most of them were a complete waste of time. And I’d get to the end of the week having spent hours talking to people, but not actually earning any money. I was busy but not profitable.

Fortunately, I’m a bit savvier these days. And if you’re filling your days with pointless calls and meetings, you need to get savvy too.

Be more selective. Don’t agree to every call, Zoom or meeting request you get.

Ask a few questions to uncover the real reason someone wants to speak to you. Do they want to try and sell you something? Do they want to pump you for free advice? Does their “opportunity” involve working for free? Is an in-person meeting really necessary, or would a fifteen-minute call be sufficient?

You need to be sensible with your time – if you don’t value it, nobody else will.

Building a brand instead of a business

“Build your personal brand. Build a community. Build a following. Build a subscriber list.”

How about you build a business instead?

I don’t know about you, but I have a mortgage and bills to pay, so I need to earn money. And to do that, I need clients who pay me in return for a product or service.

Having a great brand is irrelevant if it doesn’t help me attract the right clients.

Your first priority as a freelancer or business owner should be getting sales and delivering on your promises.

And while building your brand can help generate leads, you need to turn those leads into happy customers.

It’s too easy to confuse engagement with results. But it’s easy to get engagement. Post a pet picture and watch the likes come rolling in. Talk about something super personal, and you’ll be flooded with comments.

But will that engagement help you make more sales?

It might help you get a huge following – you might even have a lot of people expressing interest in what you do.

But until those “potential customers” actually make a purchase – until their interest translates into cash in the bank – all you’ve got are fans, not customers.

And fans aren’t going to pay the bills.

So focus on building a business with systems and processes to attract, nurture and convert your ideal clients, then deliver above and beyond their expectations so they keep buying from you and recommending you to others.

Never switching off

You don’t have to be focused on work every minute of the day. You shouldn’t feel guilty for watching crap TV or reading a trashy novel every now and then. It’s ok if not everything you do is productive – cut yourself some slack. Take a break. Look after yourself. Make time for exercise and hobbies.  Don’t neglect your friends and family.

You have to work hard when you’re “at work”, but you don’t have to be “at work” twenty-four-seven. 

I’ve never heard of anyone getting to the end of their life and saying, “I wish I’d spent more time working and less time with my family and friends.”

And if you are feeling overworked or you’re spending too much time working on the wrong things, my book will help you get back on track.

It’s full of practical, actionable advice based on stuff I do in my own business (so I know it works).

Say goodbye to low-paying work, crappy clients, and pointless meetings, and create a business that works on your terms.

Get your copy of The Freelance Fairytale here and create your happy ever after.

Hi – I’m Lisa

If this is your first time here, thanks for reading. 

I’m Lisa – owner of Make Your Copy Count Ltd, and author of the ‘A-Z of Blogging’ and ‘The Freelance Fairytale‘. 

I help freelancers and small businesses attract more of the clients they want by providing copywriting training and business mentoring

If you’d like to get to know me a bit better, sign up for my daily email here