Ron Swanson is my spirit animal.
We have much in common. We both sport mighty facial hair, we both love a good steak, and we both hate skim milk.
And ever since Parks and Recreation ended its incredible six-season run, I’ve terribly missed his gruff, nonchalant advice and musings.
For those not in the loop, Ron Swanson (played by the incredibly talented Nick Offerman) is the brilliant mind behind gems such as this:
But then one day, he said something profound. Something deep. Something that business owners everywhere need to hear:
I’ve always been staunchly against businesses that offer multiple unrelated products and services. You know; the small neighbourhood gas station that also cuts keys. Or that one restaurant that serves both pizza and sushi, the one that the locals know to avoid.
The problem that I see too many business owners encounter is that they try to do too much, too soon. They get caught up with excitement for a thousand different ideas and can’t focus on just one.
It’s not enough for them to just be a service provider. They also need to get into merchandising. And publish a book! And start hosting workshops! And why are we not on YouTube yet? And how do we get 20% off coupons into cereal boxes? On second thought, screw coupons – how do we make those cool decoder rings?
Now, it’s important to note that none of these things, in and of themselves, are bad. In fact, they’re all great!
But the problem arises when you try to take on all of these very different responsibilities all at once, without any clear unified direction and without any understanding of how they impact each other – or your business.
By trying to do everything all at once, the only thing you’ll do is ensure you fail at five things instead of one.
It’s why nearly all of my clients come to me in the first place. When asked why they came to me, the one thing I hear most often from my copywriting clients is: “I know that I need great writing to promote my business, but I don’t know how to do it on my own and I don’t have the time to learn.”
It’s why I didn’t even start this blog until a full three years into my writing career. I wanted to make sure that I could handle the responsibility of posting to a blog while also managing my clients’ work. I needed that time to gear up, to learn how to become more productive, and to develop the confidence in myself that I could handle the ongoing responsibility that managing a blog entails.
It’s also why, when it came time for me to re-brand, I hired a web developer instead of trying to build my site on my own.
I’ve built half-decent websites on my own before, but I knew that this time, I wanted to build something awesome. A website I could be proud of. A website that business owners all over the world could go to for professional advice and, on occasion, a motivational boot in the ass.
And I also knew that I couldn’t commit the time and resources to learning how to build an amazing website on my own if I also wanted to run my business. I’m not a web designer – I’m a writer. That’s why I need to focus on my writing instead of trying to get my widget the right hue of forest green. When it came time to rebrand, I knew that my time and energy was better spent on my writing, not on fiddling with HTML code and CSS sheets. And I knew that if I tried to build my site on my own, I’d end up with some half-done piece of crap that I’ll end up hating in a month.
So I outsourced, because I knew that as a business owner who operates online, I couldn’t afford to half-ass my website. And given that I have paying clients I need to keep happy, I can’t exactly half-ass my writing while I learn how to code. At the end of the day, my time was too valuable to not hire a web developer.
That’s why you need to fully commit to your main business activity, whatever that may be. If you sell wicker patio furniture, don’t branch out into artisanal fair trade coffee roasting. If you run a driver training business, you shouldn’t be offering to repair your clients’ water heaters. Your business needs focus. When you truly understand your business’ purpose, you’ll find that the money comes much easier.
There are lots of different ways that lack of focus can kill you.
Without focus, you won’t have a clear objective, and that means you won’t know when it’s time to actually go to market with your product or service. You’ll always be adding ‘just one more little thing’ here and there, always tweaking, until one day when you wake up and discover that the money has run out and now you have to go back to the corporate world and get a (*shudder*) job.
Without focus, you’ll develop such a large range of products and services that trying to actually support all of them will be one continuous game of Whac-A-Mole. Whether it’s marketing, customer service, manufacturing, or distribution, you’ll have a dozen different processes for each one of your various ventures. It’s like juggling a bunch of flaming chainsaws. One is easy enough. But when you start to add two or three or a dozen, that’s when things get dangerous. That’s when people lose limbs and burn their faces off.
Without focus, you’ll try to do everything at once – chasing late payers while you’re building your e-commerce store while also working on Thursday’s blog post while handling a client complaint while processing inventory – and you’ll ultimately get nothing done.
And of course, without focus, you won’t be able to identify problems and then pivot in response. You need to be able to respond quickly when things aren’t working out. That’s how businesses survive. But with a dozen different unrelated things going on all at once, it’s hard to filter out the noise and actually spot the issues. When you’re juggling a dozen flaming chainsaws, you’re not paying attention to the big lion that got out of his cage and is eyeing you like you’re a filet mignon.
(Note to self: Write another article about how running a business is like running a circus.)
So not having a clear focus is one of the most dangerous things ever in the world of business.
But how do you actually find focus? And what do you do with it once you have it?
It’s great to talk a big game about focus, but at the end of the day, you need to have an actionable strategy. So that’s what I’m going to give you.
I proudly present to you: Mike’s Ultimate Guide to Getting Focused and Whole-Assing Your Business.
Get Clear on What Exactly It Is You Want
I didn’t start blogging for myself until I decided that I wanted my blog to be a resource for entrepreneurs. In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which was required reading when I was in 6th grade), Stephen Covey says that highly effective people begin with the end in mind.
What does that actually mean? It means that before you start doing anything, you need to figure out what the hell it is you actually want to accomplish.
For instance: Trying to put together a bookshelf is way easier when you know what the final version is supposed to look like.
So instead of running around trying to podcast, write a book, run a workshop, and have dinner on the table by 6, figure out what exactly it is you want to achieve. Why are you starting a podcast? Why are you publishing a book? “To what end?” is the critical question here.
Start Somewhere, Anywhere….But Actually Start
The hardest part of anything is getting started. You’re brimming with ideas, and they all seem awesome. Which one do you start first? This is a problem that my friend Cynthia Gunsinger talks about in Episode 1 of her podcast Whoop-Ass Wednesdays when she talks about grabbing onto a Big Hairy-Ass Goal:
“You have a million ideas…how do you just pick one Big Hairy-Ass Goal? And if you pick one, is it the right one? And if you pick that one, can you actually do it? Okay, that’s too much, let’s just go get our leftover Halloween candy and have a nap.”
When I started this blog, this was the exact problem I faced. But I discovered that as soon as I actually committed to it, everything came much easier. At first I didn’t know where to start, so I did some research and generated a list of topics. Then I picked a topic that seemed like something I wanted to write about, and I wrote. And pretty soon, I had my first blog post done. And now I have my second one done, too.
Too many entrepreneurs get caught up in the worry of “Am I doing the right thing? Am I going about this the right way?” that they forget to actually do something at all. The lesson in all of this?
It doesn’t matter where or how you get started – as long as you actually get started. So pick something and commit to it.
Gear Up: Productivity Tech & Tools You Won’t Hate
First off, if you don’t have a project management tool, you need to get one. Project management programs like Basecamp, Asana, and Trello make it easy to keep track of deliverables, revisions, and timelines. If you’re having trouble keeping track of all your deadlines, or if you keep jumping between projects and feel like the details are all swirling together and scrambling your brain like eggs, then one of these simple (and FREE) tools is going to be a godsend. Seriously, Asana has saved my ass on more than one occasion.
If you have trouble focusing and tend to get distracted by the huge world that is the Internet (Cat photos! Food photos! OMG, someone is WRONG on the Internet and I need to tell them exactly why!), then you need to find a way to block out the distractions. For a relatively self-disciplined crowd, one easy way is to use a time tracker, like Toggl (also free). With Toggl, you can quickly and easily input a task and set a timer, giving you that extra boot in the ass you need to get it done.
But what if Toggl still isn’t enough? What if the lure of adorable little kitty cats playing with yarn is too great? Well, there’s always Freedom. With Freedom, you can block certain websites for a set amount of time. Always on Facebook when you should be working? Have a project proposal you need to get done? Set Freedom for a 2-hour Facebook block and watch how easily you can knock out that proposal.
For us writers, there’s a whole suite of motivational tools to crank up the pace and start getting words onto paper. One of my favourites is Write or Die. With Write or Die, you set a desired word length that you want to hit, a time goal for how long you want to write, and a timeframe for how much of a grace period you want. Finally, you’ll decide how terrible you want the consequence of not writing to be, from Gentle up to Electric Shock. Once you start writing, you can’t stop – if you stop, you’ll see a light turn from green to yellow to red. Once it hits red, there are consequences. I’ve only ever used Kamikaze Mode, which starts un-writing your words if you pause for too long.
There’s also now a Write or Die 2, which offers enhanced reward and consequence capabilities. I haven’t tried it yet, but I intend to.
Obviously these last two are more stick than carrot, but don’t fear –there are lots of other, friendlier productivity tools for writers. 750 Words tracks your writing and gives you valuable information like how often you get distracted, but for me, the clear winner is Written? Kitten! This site leverages the power of cat photos to motivate you, which I think is brilliant, given the Internet’s collective affinity for everything cat-related.
(Side note: I’m convinced that thousands of years from now, future archaeologists will uncover the last remnants of what we know as the Internet and conclude that people from our time worshipped cats as gods, just like the Egyptians. But that’s another conversation for another day.)
With Written? Kitten!, every time you hit a preset number of new words on the page, you’re rewarded with a photo of a tiny adorable kitten. (Not a cat person? That’s okay. There are also Puppy and Bunny variations available.)
Cheesy? Yes. Does it work? Most definitely.
In today’s modern world, with everything happening all at once, with phones buzzing and music playing and emails coming in, it seems like you have to be everywhere all at once. But if you try to be everywhere, you end up going nowhere. So instead, I urge you to focus on one thing at a time, and use whatever tools are at your disposal to make focused work possible.
Building a business is like playing Jenga – you can’t add another block until you know that the stack is stable. So pick one thing and whole-ass it.
You’ll get more done in less time – and with less stress.
What have you been half-assing in your business? And what do you actually want to get done?