It's true. You are a busy business owner who needs a break. You need to step away from everything and re-focus, re-energize, and re-connect with your spouse and family.
If you feel like stepping away is absolutely impossible, we need to analyze WHY.
1. Do you have trustworthy staff in place?
Does your staff know exactly how to handle every scenario that comes up in your business? Do they have permission to act and solve those problems? Are they used to you stepping in and solving things? Or have you enabled them to solve problems just like you would?
2. Are you still doing all the work?
Depending on the size of your business, you may still be doing all the work or delivering the service/product. This is, of course, how every business begins. However, in order to grow, you have to start hiring staff and delegating so you CAN get away.
3. Are you constantly playing catch-up?
I talk to many business owners who just can't catch up. There are always emails and problems and projects that are unfinished. If stepping away from your company for a week breeds panic because you would fall even more behind, you need stronger systems in place. You are only one person. You need support, staff, and systems so you can see the big picture and stop putting out all the fires.
I am not trying to discourage you. No, I'm trying to shine the light on areas you can improve. I'm trying to allow you go to on vacation!
If you can paint a vision of what you want for the future, you can attain it.
If you can see it, you can chase it.
If you know where you are going, you will get there.
If you can imagine yourself packing up, leaving your company in good hands, and able to unplug for a week, then you can decide to do whatever it takes to get there.
It's all about staffing, training, and systems.
If you regularly get away from life and business, you can attest how powerful it is to get perspective and return to work more energized and refueled to take your business to the next level!
This week, our family is headed to Florida for some time in the sun and fun together. When I get back, I'd love to talk to you about joining my coaching program. If you're desperate for solid systems that allow you to go on vacation (multiple times every year), let's talk.
I have to tell you a secret. My kids are the motivation for streamlining and systematizing my business. They are the reason I hire staff and spend so much time training them. They are what drives me to learn new technology to simplify my systems.
You see, when I first started my business, I did everything. I taught piano lessons, I scheduled the lessons, I tracked the tuition, I hired the teachers, I bought the books, I scheduled the meetings, I did the advertising, I rented the recital hall, I printed the programs, and I even designed curriculum and wrote exams for my students. (The only thing I didn't do was make the ice ring for the recital--one of my teachers volunteered to handle that. How nice.) After I had baby #3, I realized there was no way I could continue at this pace. Something had to change. I scaled my company back a little, and then had baby #4. I felt stuck. I didn't want my company to stay small, but I also didn't want to put my kids in daycare and work all day long. It was time for big changes. I started ruthlessly researching and reading dozens of business books. Two books changed my life forever.
"The E-Myth, Revisited," made me realize that I had started my business because I am wired to be an entrepreneur. However, by running every detail of my business, I had hamstringed myself into a position of never being an entrepreneur again. I was so busy running the day-to-day operations that I couldn't create new ideas for growth. I couldn't add new programs when I was so busy maintaining what I had started! It was time to put really strong systems in place so I could scale my business and finally grow (without more stress).
When I read the book "The Four Hour Workweek," I was challenged to think about my purpose in life. If I could clear all the stress and the tasks, what did I really want out of life? I realized that my children were my inspiration. I longed for more quality time with them. I hated that I was constantly working and always stressed out. I wanted to be the best mom possible. I wanted to take them on vacations. I wanted to travel and show them other parts of the country--and even other parts of the world. In my mind, I created a vision for my life where our family could be together more often, having fun and learning together. And this is what motivated me to completely change my business model.
Now, our family takes multiple trips every year. We spend full days at museums or the mall. We go out to eat, laugh, and go to the movies. We are rich in time. For time wealth is really what matters, isn't it?
When I got serious about growing my business, I hired my first administrative staff member and wrote my operations manual. I documented everything I did to get a student, enroll a student, and get that student started with a teacher. I wrote training manuals. I spent hours putting my brain onto paper so someone else could do what I had been doing. Little by little, as I could afford it, I increased my admin's hours. I focused all my efforts into learning about marketing. I realized that if I could be good at marketing, then my business could finally grow.
Because I wanted quality time with my kids, I was ruthless with my schedule. I determined when I would work and when that time came, I didn't waste time. I was super focused and I got more done in 6 hours than most people do in a couple days. When tasks popped in my head, I jotted them down, but I didn't deviate from "mom-mode." I begged a friend to watch my kids one day a week so I could focus on marketing and growing my company. I felt a drive deep inside. My motivation was my kids.
As we enter a New Year, so many of my business friends have been sharing with me that they want more intentional, quality time with their family. How do you accomplish that? By putting more systems in place.
Want more quality time with your family? Here are goals to run after:
1. Hire staff and train them properly.
It's not enough to hire people if you can't trust that they will do things correctly. Spend several weeks in training and you'll be able to step away from tasks that are currently consuming you.
2. Document everything.
Is it time-consuming? YES. But once it's done, it's done! Write everything down that you usually do. Every step. Make checklists. Don't skip anything. Imagine if you had to have surgery and were out of commission for a week. What needs to be written down so someone could step in and do the work that you usually do? Use this motivation to do a brain-dump so you can finally create an Operations Manual.
3. Create your weekly schedule.
If I don't schedule time with my kids or time with my spouse during my week, it just doesn't happen. Appointments get scheduled. Emergencies arise. People need me. It's just a reality. The important things get squeezed out by the urgent things. I have to be super intentional about my time and make my kids and spouse a priority. My desire to be the best mom and wife possible is what drives me to keep improving my schedule. I check in with each kid and ask them what they need from me. Sometimes I'm surprised by the answer. It's often more simple than I imagined. Mostly, it's just a request for more quality time without distractions. I go on coffee dates with my kids. I listen to them. I even schedule meetings with them! I call them "Mentor Meetings," because I want to spend their childhood being their mentor and guide as they grow into the person God designed them to be.
My kids keep growing and changing, so I keep assessing what needs to be changed and improved. We never "arrive" at a perfect system or schedule. But when I look back 9 years ago, I remember a crazy-busy, stressed out mom. Today, I'm fulfilled and doing what I love. I have lots of time with my kids. And I actually like being with my kids. (They are turning out to be great human beings!) I feel blessed to be their mom and I realize that in only 9 years, they will all be graduated. The days may be long, but the years are definitely short. I want to maximize the time I have and be intentional about my time.
Maybe you've been meaning to add more systems or staff to your company this year. Best way to implement those changes? Keep your kids as your motivation. I'm cheering you on!
I was getting a haircut this week and my dear friend (and hair stylist) described a crazy day last week when she was running all over town to get to the bank, and then run to Target for groceries and batteries and dog food. I stared at her in disbelief. "Sweetheart," I said in love. "Why on earth are you wasting all that time?!"
"What do you mean?" she asked in exasperation.
"Honey, I NEVER go to Target for groceries or batteries. You need to order that stuff ONLINE!"
My dear friend is a busy business owner and mom of 4, just like me. She was running all over town getting ready to travel that week. I gave her some huge time-saving tips and I want to share those with you, too.
1. Whenever possible, do NOT go to the bank.
Get your checks automatically deposited into your accounts. You can even take a picture of your checks to be deposited and upload them to your bank. (If your bank doesn't provide this, maybe you need a different bank.) Avoid the bank like the plague and it will save you so much time!! (In fact, as much as humanly possible, get rid of ALL checks! You should be using Square to take payments on site, have clients on auto pay. Use anything except checks that need to be deposited or can be lost or put through the wash. Not that I know anything about that, wink wink.)
2. Order your groceries online.
You do not have time that be subjected to the marketing powers of Target or Walmart or Cub. It's so easy to be sucked into their deals and their shiny displays. Get what YOU need and stick to your list! Every Sunday night, I place an order at www.cobornsdelivers.com. I found a day that matches their delivery schedule and I get my groceries delivered to my door before noon on Monday morning. Some of my friends place an order at Walmart and go drive to the location and they'll load up your car! It doesn't cost anything extra, but it can save you SO much time and stress and effort.
HUGE tip: Go into your previous orders and re-order items that you buy every week. Honestly? This is probably 75% of your weekly order anyway! Don't reinvent the wheel. Just get those basics again.
Also-- do NOT scroll through everything they offer. Use the search bar to find your favorite items and then add them to your cart!
3. Get Amazon Prime.
My friend told me that she had been meaning to get Prime from Amazon (free two day shipping). "What is stopping you?!?" I asked. It's only $99 per year!! (And sometimes you can find a deal on that price!) Amazon Prime means never searching Target for batteries or light bulbs again. Just order them. Amazon Prime means getting the gray sweatpants delivered to your HOUSE and saves you hours of searching, when school or activities send you an email informing you that little Sally needs gray pants for the school play. I even have toilet paper and paper towels on autoship. I'll always need those items so they might as well show up on my doorstep every 90 days without me having to think about it.
You do NOT need to waste your time running errands! You have important things to do!
Here's what you have to get right so you can eliminate the crazy:
1. Get organized.
Are you jumping in the car every time you run out of something (like cat food)? I love to keep lists in my phone and when I'm almost out of something, I add it to my list. I also set reminders so I remember to check my stock of frequently used items (lightbulbs, batteries, napkins, shampoo, etc.). I like to place one order per month for these types of non-perishable things.
2. Plan ahead.
Know the delivery schedule for your online grocery service and place the order on the same day every week. Set reminders in your phone to prompt you to place your grocery order. I know you have a million things to think about--so don't rely on memory to ensure you get this done. Once a month, have a reminder to order the miscellaneous items from Amazon. Take inventory in your house (like you would in a brick and mortar store) so you kknow what you need to order!
3. Find apps to keep you organized.
I store all my Christmas and birthday gift lists in Evernote. I can access my lists from my phone or computer and search lists from past years so I remember what I gave and what names I had. When I shop on Amazon, I write down what I ordered and how much I spent so I don't have to add it to the list after it arrives. My hubby and I love to use MyGroceries, an app for tracking the groceries we need. We can both add items as we run out of items and then we both know what we need.
Is technology holding you back?
We talk to so many people who just hate technology. I get it. Things are constantly changing, and if it's just not your cup of tea, it can be intimidating and frustrating. However, just like learning anything new, you CAN keep trying. Don't let your limiting belief hold you back. Are you hearing a voice in your head that is saying, "I'll never learn this stuff. I'm just not good at technology."?
Turn those statements around and say, "I can learn this. I can try one thing at a time. I won't give up."
Attitude is truly everything. If you believe you can achieve it, you will!
Technology has the ability to make your life simpler so you can get back to what you LOVE to do. Driving around, getting distracted, and wasting time is not improving your business or your family life. If you could free up time to have an evening with your familiy, wouldn't that be worth learning a new skill?
You don't have to do everything at once. What is one change that could you make to free up some time (especially during the busy holiday season)?
How can you take one tiny baby step and make a huge difference in your life? Try ordering groceries. Or picking them up curbside. Or using Amazon Prime. I think you'll be delighted with the results when you just stop, breathe, and readjust your steps. You don't have to overhaul your life-- you just have to make one small change! And it could make a huge difference in your stress levels! Get your peace back this Christmas season.
I'm cheering you on.
Dear busy business owner,
You deserve the highest level of support possible.
Hiring that new team member, hiring a house cleaner, or hiring a nanny is not a luxury. It's not something that other people can afford, but you can't. No, if you are building a succesful company, it's not a luxury--it's a necessity.
You didn't start your own company to work non-stop and never take a vacation! Imagine working for a boss that never gave you breaks and never allowed you to have time off. Ludicrious.
When you are your own boss, you need to be kind to yourself. And the only way to ease your burden is to hire the highest level of support around you. Imagine having amazing team members that understand your vision and who are invested in helping build your company. Wouldn't that be amazing?! You have to actually visualize that person and what it would feel like to have them on your team before you can hire them.
Now imagine if you were able to soley focus on income-generating activities. Could you do more marketing? Get new clients? If other team members were managing the day-to-day operations, would it free you up to bring new income into the business? Hiring the right team means their efforts, plus your freed up time will pay for their salary! Make a list of the tasks you could delegate or train someone to do. Make a list of things you wish you could do--but never get to becuase there's just not enough time. Keep the list very specific and on your desk. Now make a list of the qualities and personality traits of the people that you want to work for you. Be as detailed as possible!
This last summer, we moved into a new house. Before we fully decided to move, I wavered on the decision. Should we stay? Should we move? I wrote pros and cons lists and prayed (a lot) and finally Chris and I came to the unanimous decision that it was time to leave. I made a list of all the things I wanted in our new house. I had about 20 items listed. Then, I ruthlessly and relentlessly scoured the MLS, looking for homes. When I found one that I liked, I jumped in the car and drove by it. I attended open houses. I talked to realtors. I searched high and low for the right house. It seemed nothing was right for us. And then, out of the blue, a house became available. When I drove by it, I was stunned. It was exactly everything that was on our list! Down to the exact neighborhood! I jumped on the opportunity and within days, it was done. The house was ours.
Everyone around us (including our kids) exclaimed, "Woah--that happened FAST!" But they didn't see the agony and searching that had occurred for the previous 6 months. And the reason it could happen so fast is that I knew exactly what we were looking for.
You can't find what you're looking for if you don't KNOW what you are looking for! If you wander around aimlessly, you'll continue to waste time, waste energy, and probably end up lost. But if you STOP and define exactly what your goals are, make a list, and keep that list close, then when you find it, you'll know it's right!
If you know you need to hire more help to lighten your load, make a list today of exactly what you are looking for. If people have failed you in the past, use that experience to know what you do and don't want this next time. Please don't give up on people just because you've been burned. Decide to learn from the experience. Make your list. Get very specific. Then go hunting for that person! Don't stop looking until you find the exact fit.
When I look around our house, every day I am amazed that we live here. It's exactly right for our family. I'm so glad I had the faith to believe I would find what I was looking for. It was worth the journey!
Dear tired soul,
You really don't have to do everything. You don't have to stretch yourself so thin. You don't have to fill in all the white spaces until there's no margin at all.
You really don't have to say "yes" to everyone who needs you.
You don't have to shoulder everything on your own.
That project that is driving you crazy?! You don't have to do it. Nope. You can let someone help you. You can hire someone. You can delegate it.
I know you're strong. I do. I know you've done this before and it's easier and faster to just do it yourself. I get it.
I know you've been burned by hiring people and then they leave. They get a different job. They go a different direction. They have left you in a lurch. I get it. I really, really do.
I know it's scary and overwhelming, but you really can hire someone again. It's scary and vulnerable, but you can do it. In fact, you must.
You can't keep going like this.
I see you. You're so tired. You're so exhausted and depleted. And you just keep pushing through.
It's time to make a change. It's time to take a new road. You simply can't keep going like you are.
The stress will eat you alive. Your health will start to fail.
You can't live on caffeine and limited meals.
You are the author of this story. You are not a victim of circumstance. You can rise above. You can make a list of what you WANT and what you DON'T WANT and adjust accordingly. You can make a plan and execute it. You are STRONG. You are amazing. Look what you've done to get this far! You are a warrior and an overcomer. You can overcome this.
It's time to put your foot down. You don't need to keep going like this. It's time to make a change. It's YOUR time.
You've got this.
And if you need help, you just let us know.
It's a common complaint. People get soooo much email. So, as business owners, how do we still use email but not drive our customers crazy?
1. Keep it simple.
No need for multiple columns or fancy designs anymore. People are reading their email on their phone and you need to keep your communication to a one column design.
2. Once a week
Try to keep your communication no more than once a week. Be simple and use bullet points, when you can. Think of busy people checking their email on the go. You want to be clear and concise!
3. Be entertaining!
Have a lighter tone in your email (not corporate or formal) and make people want to read your emails. If you're always boring or rude or forceful, they'll delete it without even opening it.
4. Be conversational
As you're writing, think of one person in your mind. Write like you're writing to a friend. It will be so much more enjoyable for everyone to read. Drop the formal tone. Just be yourself!
4. Use a BIG font!
You can't always control how your email will look on a mobile device, but you can help by making your font BIG when you send it. When the font is too tiny, it's frustrating to try to squeeze and pinch and try to read all the words!
4. Use a REAL email provider.
No more Outlook. No more gmail. If you are running a company, and sending bulk emails, you must use a real email provider, like Mail Chimp (our favorite). First of all, it's much easier to keep track of your lists and email contacts. Secondly, it's the law that people must be able to opt out of your list. You must have an "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of your email.
(Obviously I'm not talking about emails to one person. I'm talking about your mailing list, advertisements, sending out your blog, or emailing your newsletter. Yes, still use gmail for every day emailing!)
5. Be consistent
If you're running a company, I know things get busy and crazy. But make it your goal to email your list at least once a month. Once a week is better. When you disappear and go silent, it can be very confusing when you show up in their inbox again. "Who is this again??" they will ask. And if it's been awhile, come right out and introduce yourself again! It will help.
6. Open Rates
If you're watching the open rate statistics in your email provider, don't get discouraged. The numbers aren't always accurate for people reading your emails on their phones (which is almost everyone). One tip to increase your open rate is to use a very causal subject line, like you are writing to a friend. This makes people curious and they want to read what you've written.
7. Broadcast on multiple "channels"
When you send an email, be sure to send the SAME message in multiple ways. Post it on Facebook, post it on your blog, hang up flyers in your brick and mortar location, or hand out flyers. People need to see a message multiple times, and plus, there's always that one guy with 2,000 unread emails. Send your info in multiple ways and you're more likely to be heard.
Remember--our world is noisy and filled with information and messages. Be interesting and conversational and keep it simple. Focus on connecting with your reader! Then your message will be heard!
Once in awhile, I find my heart pounding, emotions rising, blood pressure escalating. I feel resistance: "I don't want to do this" I mutter. I push through. "Gotta get this done." I slam my fist on the desk, frustrated.
Other times in my business, I breeze through tasks, amazed at how quickly and easily I can maneuver my way through the situation. I click through items one by one, happily checking things off my list.
What's makes all the difference in these two scenarios? It's all in how we are wired.
Some people love to physically do things with their hands. You may like building, fixing, using machinery, untangling things, or making a physical model. Some of us get angry and frustrated while attempting to do the same things.
Some people are wired to create systems, organization, and rules. Others buck systems and love to question "Why?"
Figuring out how you are wired and what comes easily and naturally is a huge key to more happiness in life. If you can avoid the stress of doing things you are not naturally good at, you can spend more time on the things you love. And here's the thing: the thing that YOU love is difficult for other people! So if we stick to our strengths, we all win.
A couple years ago I was preparing for a big family meal at our house. Relatives were driving from out of town and the house was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. I needed another rack added in the oven so I could bake more food at one time. This particular oven rack was curved at one end and I could not figure out how which direction the rack should go in. Was it backwards? Upside down? I felt my blood pressure rising, but instead of getting frustrated, I called out to my hubby, Chris. He installed the new rack, easily and with no effort. What was frustrating for me was easy to him.
Very often in our business, we send out emails to our clients. Chris can labor over the words and phrases and waste time and effort, or he can ask me to pound out a couple paragraphs in a minute or two. It's not that he can't write--it's just much easier for me.
Having a team for your business is crucial so that you can figure out how each person is wired. I love giving assessments to my staff so I know what they enjoy and what stresses them out. Studies have proven that we all love doing a job that we enjoy, that we feel is meaningful, and where we feel useful. "Delegate" isn't such a scary word when you re-frame it and think of assigning tasks based on who truly thrives in each area.
We've all been taught to "power through" or to do the unpleasant tasks first. "No pain, no gain." But I'm going to challenge your thinking. Every time you do something that brings up feelings of anger, stress, or resentment, write it down. (Or make a mental note. Or tell Siri to jot it down.) Conversely, when you breeze through certain tasks, write those down too. Bonus points if the task isn't just easy, but you truly love doing it. After assembling your list for a few weeks, analyze it. What tasks should you stop doing? What can you give to your team instead? Don't delegate because you "should" delegate, delegate the items that frustrate you or stress you out. Keep things on your list that you truly enjoy and love to do. Here's why: You gain energy from doing things that come easily or naturally to you. When you gain energy, you can get more things done! Why drain your battery doing something that someone else could do easily and naturally?
A business owner recently told me that she delegated all her favorite tasks to her staff because she thought as the owner that she "should" do the unpleasant things. NO! Everyone defines "unpleasant" differently. Keep the tasks that you love and are good at. Assign tasks to your staff based on what they are good at. Then we all win!
I hate numbers, but Chris loves them. The same task in a spreadsheet that would put me in a bad mood takes Chris effortless time.
I love copywriting. I can whip out a headline, an email subject or a blog in just a few minutes. Chris will waste time and energy trying to do the same thing.
Some of my kids are really good at some things, and others are good at other things. I pay attention and assign them chores based on their natural abilities. I'll tell you a little secret: it makes the whole family happier when we all get to do the things that we are naturally wired to do.
I challenge you to re-think your To Do list. Who can help you? Who can you delegate tasks to? Who can you hire? And what can you do more of just because you love it and it comes naturally?
Accept this challenge and watch your life change. Guaranteed.
It's a simple fact: people want connection. They want to know a real, living, human being cares about them. This is such an easy, simple thing to implement into business or ministry, and yet most of us are missing the mark.
Through connection, you can grow your business with 3 simple systems: using your website, email, and Facebook. (Chances are, you’re already using these 3 things! Whoo hoo!)
The #1 mistake that 90% of websites make is not capturing the reader’s attention with BENEFITS for the reader on the home page. Why should people choose your business? What sets you apart from other businesses just like yours?
Home page rules
The average visit on a website is 1 minute! To make matters worse, between 21-79% of your readers only look at the first page they land on. They won’t even attempt to click through your other pages.
You have only seconds to grab the attention of your reader and give them the answers that they are seeking. Are they looking for pricing? Contact info? Directions? Information? Do you have the answers to THOSE questions on your front page?
If you have sentences like: “Thanks for stopping by our website. We hope you will browse around. Let us know if you don’t find what you are looking for” then you are WASTING an opportunity to connect with your audience! You need to GRAB your reader’s attention with a headline (or a question) that they are already asking.
If you have a very beautiful "cool" website without the pertinent information, you will frustrate your reader. If your website is not on a responsive theme, they may not be able to see anythingbecause your site originally designed for a desktop computer. It’s hard to keep up with all the changing trends! If you haven’t updated your site in the last year or two, it's time for a redesign.
The right Pictures
Make sure you have pictures on the home page of your site! Your site should reflect your audience, so pick pictures that look like real people (not like fake models or stiff stock photos). Portray the clients you are trying to attract! The best thing you can do is take real pictures of your real clients!
Answer the questions they are asking
Make sure you have text on your home page. Answer your audience’s questions quickly and swiftly, and let them know why they should choose YOU.
Search engines love text (and can't "read" images with words on them) so this will help when users are searching for what you do.
Call to Action
The very last item on your home page should be a Call to Action. Do you want them to call? Stop by? Request more information? Make it clear. People are in a hurry and want to be told exactly what to do!
Next week we'll talk about email and Facebook!
I love organizing. And I love finding tools that will make running my life and business easier. I know every business has very specific, unique needs and it really depends on what you need, but here are a few that I just had to share!
I love Formstack for building forms. I place the HTML directly into my website so it looks like a seamless part of my site. I use it to build forms for Request Info forms, employee and contractor applications, and front desk communication. Formstack will email you the data (you just tell it which email addresses to send the data to) and the info is also stored online in a database. Super helpful for my business!
I use this alllll the time. Literally every single day. Because I am always interviewing and hiring contractors to work for me, I have to keep track of a million resumes, interview notes, availability notes, etc. In Formstack, I can keep notes and easily search for what I am looking for in the search bar. (And even though I'm a pretty organized person, I don't have to be organzied in Evernote! I just throw my notes in there and I can easily search for what I need to find later!)
Evernote is synchronized with my computer and my phone, so I can get to those notes from where ever I am. I can also share specific notebooks with my staff, so they can access the notes of mine that I need them to. My front desk staff has a notebook to track client notes, waiting lists, cleaning lists, etc. We literally use it for a million things.
For my home life, I store recipes in Evernote, homeschool notes about my kids, Christmas gift lists, and so much more.
My paper calendar goes everywhere with me. It's not too fancy, but I love that the hours in the day are listed, so I can easily put in appointments. The To Do list on the bottom of every day keeps me on track so I know what I should be prioritizing and doing for that day.
My Google calendar is essential for keeping my whole family on track. I prefer paper, but my husband is a digital-only guy. Every Sunday night, I make sure our calendars are the same (adding appointments onto my paper calendar or vice versa). When someone emails me a date, I can click and BOOM it's added to my Google Calendar. I especially love the reminders on my Google calendar. My phone will buzz or beep telling me I have a phone call or that I have to leave to take my kids somewhere (you can build in travel time for driving--AWESOME).
I know everyone has favorite tools for running their business and their life. And I love discovering new ones! If you have more to add to this list, please do tell!
In 2003, I had a two year old and an infant and a husband in the hospital with a ruptured appendix. While he was recovering from an internal infection explosion and spending a week in the hospital, I was busy taking care of my babies and running back and forth to the hospital. Getting the mail, and taking over paying the bills, I found credit card statements that I did not know we had. I discovered we were $20,000 in debt from credit cards alone.
The world stopped that day.
I looked around at our brand new townhome that we had just built and a brand new SUV that we had just purchased and I realized the very, very deep pit we had dug for ourselves. Soon after my husband was home from the hospital and the weight of our situation settled on me, I laid in bed feeling trapped and confused and angry and alone. I imagined grabbing my two young boys out of their cribs and leaving my husband. How did we get here? How did this happen? What does our future hold?
I didn't leave. Instead, we declared that this was our turning point. We made the hard decision to sell our car and our brand new, beautiful house. We worked very hard and deliberately over the next 5 years to get out of debt. The budget was sliced and diced until it felt like nothing was left. It was time to stop ignoring the budget and the numbers and the mess. We had to tackle this head-on.
I bought food that would stretch as far as possible, using recipes with the word frugal in the title. One day in the grocery store, an older gentleman saw me using a calculator as I placed each item in the cart. Every decision mattered, and he could tell. Very gently, he pointed out the discount bin in the meat section—it was the meat that was set to expire in a day or two, and deeply discounted in price. I stocked my freezer each week from that bin, and we filled in the gaps with pasta and rice. I cut coupons for everything, and drove to several stores each week, just to find the best deal for milk and toothpaste. I vowed to not purchase anything without a coupon. I treated myself to a gourmet coffee only on Tuesdays, when the mochas were discounted to $2.00. In the drive through window, I handed the barista my assorted change, embarrassed that it came from crevices in my couch and the change drawer in my minivan.
In the summer, I only shopped at garage sales, and even then, my husband begrudgingly handed over a limited amount of cash and change for me to use. (I think my mother-in-law saw what our predicament—because she offered to buy the kids shoes every year. What a blessing!)
The entire whole time that we clawed our way out of debt and attempted to re-wire our brains and lifestyle, I was growing my small business. The motivation to make more money to support our family was overwhelming. I did what I knew how to do, and I relied on books and friends and other business owners to fill in the gaps. I was desperate to make my little company grow.
At that time, I taught piano lessons and I hired other piano teachers to teach lessons as well. To make more money, I knew I had to multiply myself. I handled all the billing, scheduling, and administration. People called me for lessons, and I matched them with a teacher who would come to their home for lessons.
I worked every afternoon, while my kids napped, working on developing new systems and new organizational tools for my staff. I wrote emails and newsletters late at night, when my kids were finally asleep. I kept business books I wanted to read on the back of the toilet and read a few pages in the bathroom every day. I took walks with the stroller and the tricycles and prayed for wisdom and direction and ideas. I had a separate cell phone for the business, but because I was so busy with the kids, it sat in the drawer until I could answer the calls while my husband gave the kids a bath at night. I was so embarrassed to make follow up calls at 8:00pm, but my prospective clients were grateful that I had gotten back to them. I was good at what I did and I closed nearly every sale, steadily adding new clients and growing my business.
During this whole time, we were also church planting. My husband was a youth pastor and then an associate pastor, and because the churches were brand new, they couldn’t afford to pay very much. I desperately wanted to grow my business to supplement our small ministry income.
The darkest days of this journey was when my husband switched from one church to another and the new church couldn’t pay him at all. He has amazing techy skills, so he was hired right away as the computer guy at a fairly large company. However, with the commute in traffic every day, he was gone from 7:45am to 6:30pm. He would arrive home exhausted, and collapse on the couch. As he lay on the couch, and the kids begged him to play, my eyes would shoot daggers at him as I finished prepping for dinner. I had been home all day with a new baby, 3 year old, 5 year old, and 7 year old and wanted to collapse on the couch, too. He was exhausted and I was exhausted and I didn’t know if our marriage would make it or if we could survive this season. I found myself in tears daily as I tried to do tasks that I wished he were home to do for me: assemble the bike rack on the back of the van, kill the spider in the basement, shoo the bee out of my kitchen, change lightbulbs, and replace water filters.
Daily I would think: this is not what I signed up for. This is not what I wanted to do with my life.
I knew that the job of a mom was important and I wanted to be with my kids. But I also wanted to work and make more money for our family. I would stare longingly at my computer and count down the hours until the kids were napping or having screen time so I could work on my business.
Over and over, I thought: “If I could just make more money…if I could just grow my company…if I could just work harder…then things could change. If only I could enroll more students in my lessons and classes…if only I could figure out this marketing stuff.”
I read every book I could find. I scoured the internet. I talked to anyone who would listen to me at the park while my kids played. I tried so hard.
In 2008, my dad was laid off and suddenly the problem was bigger than just me and my small family. I saw my parents suffer and panic. I had to do something. Around my dining room table, we brainstormed, and together we launched a theatre company. They had been teaching music and theatre for years, and I had been running the administrative side of my music lessons business, and together I knew we could form a powerful partnership. But now I really had skin in the game. I was absolutely desperate to learn more practical skills for my business so I could make more money for myself and my parents. I dreamed of my husband being able to quit his job and work with me on my company so we could church plant without needing a salary from the ministry.
One day, while searching for answers online, I found a business coaching program, describing the answers exactly as what I was looking for. The price tag was absolutely shocking, so I quietly shut my computer and didn’t tell my husband for a couple months. I thought about it constantly and prayed desperately and fervently. How would I come up with the money for this program?! But how could I say “no” to the very answers I was so desperately seeking? I knew that taking this step would catapult me to the next level. I knew I had to figure out how to say “yes” to this opportunity.
When I finally got up the nerve to spill my secret to Chris, he was quiet. Finally, he looked at me steadily. “We can do this. We’ll figure out a way.” I was shocked. We had JUST climbed out of debt. I didn’t think there was any way we could swing the cost of this program. We couldn’t go backwards into debt. But my very frugal, very conservative, safe husband said, “We have to do this. We have to get answers. This isn’t debt—it’s an investment.”
This coaching program wasn’t just a purchase—it was a trip to a conference. We had to buy plane tickets and reserve a hotel room, plus pay for the coaching program. I thought I was going to be sick. But as I sat in that gigantic conference room, pen scribbling furiously with all the notes I was taking, I knew we had made the right decision. All the questions, all the gaps in my knowledge, all the wondering vanished. Here I had found answers. Here I found help. I found hope.
Fast-forward 5 years. My husband was able to quit his job—because our music school grew enough to more than replace his salary. We have a commercial location, three employees working our front desk (I don’t even answer the phones anymore!) and we have 30 teachers who work for us and teach over 400 students at our studio each week. Our lessons and classes grew, like I prayed! In fact, we had to knock down walls and build more rooms for more lessons!
My parents’ theatre company grew so much that they spun off with a different name. We share students and marketing, but we are two distinctive companies now. Both are thriving and growing!
I don’t have to shop in the discounted bin of meat anymore. In fact, I order groceries online and they are delivered to my doorstep. Just the other day, I visited my old coffee shop where I used to hand over my fistful of change. This time, I had $100 in cash in my purse. I started to get tears in my eyes. How things have changed in only a couple years!
We have NO credit card debt, we travel at least 3 times a year, and we enjoy the freedom of working and schooling from home. We have been to Washington, D.C., North and South Carolina, Texas, California, and Arizona in the last two years. We travel because we love it. We love showing our kids different cultures and giving them experiences that they will remember forever. The money we invested in the coaching program was quickly recuperated as my business immediately started growing and thriving with the answers that I had been seeking. We’ve continued to invest thousands of dollars in classes and coaching and conferences. Never once have we regretted our purchase.
As our business has grown and been streamlined, one of the most important things we’ve gained is time wealth. As we have worked through a very specific, deliberate process to re-define what we want for our life, eliminate time wasters, and automate processes in our business, we have fallen in love with life again. We have time to spend with our kids, have friends over for dinner and deep discussions, and time to help other business owners. We love helping and serving at our third church plant (without having to ask for a salary!) and raising and homeschooling our kids.
The number one question that people ask me is "How do you do it all??" My answer is found in the acronym “REAL.”
Redefine where you are going.
Eliminate time wasters
Automate everything you can
Love what you do and do what you love.
This formula has transformed my life and now I’m focused on helping others change their life, too! Together, Chris and I help business owners take the important, proven steps to improving their lives and their businesses. I’ve done it for myself, and I’ve helped many others achieve the same results! It’s hard work, it’s intentional, and it’s not overnight. But the results are worth it! Your family and your business need you to make this change. And I’m going to show you how. (Read more in my book, Happy Kids Growing Biz. Click here and get it for free.)
About the Author
Hi, I'm Jen Hickle!
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