When the Problem is You: Get Out of Your Own Way, Part 1

Spinning PlatesHave you ever seen a performer who is spinning plates on sticks?  He has to keep all of the plates moving fast enough to keep them from falling.  If he turns his attention from any one plate for too long, it’ll crash to the ground and break.  Does your business, your life, feel like an array of spinning plates?

We all have a lot on going on in our lives.  We’re pulled in a lot of directions.  We’ve got all those plates spinning in the air!  We’re buried under mounds of stuff: paperwork and emails and bills and schedules and the need to deal with all the people in our lives.

And if we’re like most solopreneurs, we try to do it all ourselves.  We want it perfect before we send it out into the world — after all, what we deliver, really, is ourselves.  We get distracted by all the Shiny Things, the magic bullets, the promise of the EASY button that will solve all our problems and make us instantly successful and bring in lots of cash so we don’t have to THINK about all the bits and pieces we hate to do to keep our business afloat! I mean, really now, didn’t we start this business so we could do {insert whatever it is that you love to do here}?  Why do we have to do all this other stuff?

On the other hand, we can also get bogged down in doing all that other stuff because it’s relatively mindless and it’s comfortable (or at least not risky) and it does have to get done, doesn’t it?

I’m really good at keeping busy.  I know how to work hard.  I prefer busy to bored.  But busy isn’t always productive, and focusing on the process and the mechanics isn’t the best use of my time.  Yes, those things need to get done.  But do I need to do them?  Or have I bought into the myth that solopreneur = do it all myself?

There are three predominant myths that solopreneurs can buy into. I know I’ve recognized myself in all of them at one time or another. I’ll talk about one here, and follow up with other two in later posts.

Does this apply to you?

Myth #1: No one knows my business as well as I do, so no one can do these things as well as I can.

Part right and part wrong.  It’s true that no one knows your business as well as you do.  It’s your job to know your business!  As the CEO, you provide all the direction.  It’s all about your vision, your mission, your big why.

But as CEO, it’s your job to keep your focus on the big picture, not to get lost in the details. Yes, it’s a challenge to let go and give someone else responsibility for completing that project or doing that task. And yes, it will likely get done a little differently than if you did it yourself.

The important result, though, is that it WILL get done – and so will the other things that you’d honestly rather be doing.

Get help. And there are lots of ways you can do that.

For really little, clearly defined tasks I use I need to be really really clear about defining expectations, though! I’ve had ebook covers designed, photos cleaned up and their backgrounds removed, and I’m in the midst of getting a client a new logo (that one will actually cost about $20, because we’ve been going round and round with revisions).

For bigger tasks, small projects, again clearly defined, I have a couple of folks I can tap. Right now I have a bookkeeper who does my monthly books. And my daughter-in-law is doing some data entry so I will be able to DO something about those fistfuls of business cards I’ve collected. I also have a VA, a virtual assistant, on retainer who works at a more strategic level, helping me with social media and marketing campaigns.

Finding a VA can be a harrowing experience. The services provided, and the skills to support those services, cover a huge range. There are some who do the straight data entry or clerical tasks, like the business card entry I mentioned. There are some who have more technical training; they might help with setting up and managing email services like Constant Contact or shopping carts like 1ShoppingCart or InfusionSoft. And there are some who work at a much higher, more strategic level – and charge accordingly. More and more those VAs are calling themselves Online Business Managers, because they really do partner with you to manage your business.

It’s not too hard to outsource something as clearly defined as your bookkeeping, or web development. The folks who provide those services have a solid understanding of what it takes to get the job done – and if they’re not asking you the right questions, or enough questions, find another one. They’ll need a fair bit of information from you, but they shouldn’t need much direction. You tell them what the outcome you want, but you don’t need to tell them how to do it. Here’s a situation where you don’t need to know how to do something in order to make it happen for your business. You just need to know enough to hire smart.

It takes more work on your part to be able to outsource tasks that are perhaps not as clearly defined, or that are defined specifically for your company. For example, you can hire someone to handle your customer service tasks: return of product, refunds, requests for information, followup of initial contact at networking events or online. But you as the business owner need to know how you want those tasks done, because the way you manage your followup is probably not going to be the same way I do! You’ll have to train the new folks to do things the way you want them done.

Which means YOU need to know how to get them done! Unless you’re hiring one of those work-at-a-higher-level VAs, one who can help you define your systems and processes, you’ll need to create those systems and processes yourself first.

Think of it like getting your kids to make their beds. If you don’t teach them how to do it, they’ll never learn and you’ll be stuck making their beds forever (or until they move out, anyway!).

The best way to get ready to outsource a task is to start tracking what YOU do when you do it. Take notes of what it takes for you to get something done. Include login information (usernames and passwords); if possible, see about creating a separate login for the new person.

Your aim is to create a step-by-step set of instructions that will allow someone else to do what you’ve been doing. Guess what? You’ve created your first system! More importantly, you’ve created something that will allow your business to grow.

Now do another one!

Action Question: What can you do to get some of those business-supporting mechanics, the non-revenue-generating tasks, off your plate?

Let me know what you’re doing to get out of your own way, and I’ll keep you posted on how I’m getting out of mine!


  1. My accountability group lets me know when I’m getting in my own way! I have come across Myth #1 often, though. It’s one of the biggest reasons why solopreneurs do not find a good match with VAs who *could* help them.

    Myth #1 is also one of the reasons why I specialized in email marketing consulting – since most of the process is already built into email marketing tools, it’s an ideal starting point to outsourcing. I look for that aspect every time I evaluate a new business tool – I don’t want to waste time learning how to use a new tool AND create a new process if there is already one I can customize to my own purpose.

    Great post – and a great reminder to take another look at how I am getting in my own way.

  2. Great post! I occasionally let my presuppositions get in the way or appreciating how operate in the workplace – but the first step is realization, right? Now that I know I make judgements without understanding, it can be worked on.

    Thank you for this blog, I hope many people find it helpful. ~Camille

    • You’re welcome, Camille, and thanks for visiting! If you haven’t already, I invite you to scroll back up and subscribe to my ezine. That way you’ll never miss a post!

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