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From Hustle Burnout to Working 10hrs/week and Loving Life

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Davidla

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Sometimes in life you don't realize how far you've come until you stop and look back.

I'm currently in a small beach town in Brazil, as a part of a 3 month trip to South America. I wake up with no alarm clock..and start the day with my morning routine that takes about 2 hours. Afterwards I plunge into a deep work session about something I'm excited about (like writing this post).. and only somewhere in the afternoon I look at my phone, check email and plug into the world. For most agency owners and freelancers, this is unthinkable.

This couldn't be farther away from where I was only one short year ago..

Just 12 months ago, I was burning out, hard. I was working 12 hour days almost every day, shuffling between client meetings, managing my team, sales calls, and doing client work to make sure everything holds together.

I started talking to my friends about quitting my digital marketing agency I've been working so hard on for the past 2 years.

It was the beginning May of 2018, I looked at the projections for the month..and my eyes went dark.

If nothing changed, I'd be losing $10,000. I'd have to hustle my butt off this month, just to not lose money.

Magical things happen when you HAVE to make money. I hustled and the month ended in the red, but I knew something had to change..

Why was I working so hard? What was my end goal?

I wanted to create a sustainable digital agency, that makes enough money to support my lifestyle, and does not require my day to day involvement so I can travel, work on other businesses and enjoy life.

Instead..I've created a highly stressful job, WITH the downsides of running a business: payroll..managing a team..dealing with clients...and ultimate responsibility. Something definitely went wrong along the way..

If lifestyle, travel, and enjoyment are the ultimate goal..why not get there faster?

My solution?

I've decided to go on a 4 month trip to Asia. I wanted to enjoy my travels, and decided I was going to allocate a max 10hrs/week to run the business day to day.

Instead of prioritizing business growth, revenue, and hustle..I decided to prioritize my lifestyle and happiness. I was so commited to lifestyle and happiness, that I was also mentally prepared for the business to fail or to shut down in the process, if it came to that.

There have been a lot of ups and down this past year..I've made a LOT of mistakes in the process of removing myself from working IN the business to working ON the business..I'll be sharing the process here.
 

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msufan

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Watching the thread as well.
 

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You’re story is pulling as I can relate. Not in the sense that I’m fully out of working my slow lane. There are days where I still need to put in the 11-13 hours. But I’m in a better place now than I was last year.

I can’t believe I was willing and even made it my own goal to work for someone attempting every week to work a total of 100 hours @ at $13/hr job. Note I never actually made it too 100, but back then 45-50 hours a week wasn’t unusual.

It’s great that you’re taking a step back, look at what you have right now, and focusing on the present rather than just work, work, work.
 

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I'll be sharing the process here.
Awesome, look forward to hearing it. I know there are a ton of folks who will find it relevant...

This thread comes to mind as well as relevant...

You were focused on ENTERPRISE when you really wanted LIFESTYLE.

 

Ravens_Shadow

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Awesome, look forward to hearing it. I know there are a ton of folks who will find it relevant...

This thread comes to mind as well as relevant...

You were focused on ENTERPRISE when you really wanted LIFESTYLE.

This is indeed a prime example of what i'm talking about in my thread. Good on you for recognizing which business type you want for yourself @Davidla. I'll be following the journey!
 

MHP368

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So, you were able to walk away and immediately keep the company profitable or did you just fire half the team and only keep enough clients for a nomad lifestyle...?
 
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Davidla

Davidla

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Awesome, look forward to hearing it. I know there are a ton of folks who will find it relevant...

This thread comes to mind as well as relevant...

You were focused on ENTERPRISE when you really wanted LIFESTYLE.

This is indeed a prime example of what i'm talking about in my thread. Good on you for recognizing which business type you want for yourself @Davidla. I'll be following the journey!
Thanks for the tip about @Ravens_Shadow's thread @MJ DeMarco .

Love seeing more threads like that pop up and spark up the discussion about this.

I think it requires some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

For me, more than Lifestyle v.s. Enterprise it is about alignment and joy.

Instead of trying to optimize for business success, I'm optimizing for building my ideal life.

In my case, it has more to do with freedom, travel, personal growth and impact on others than business success/wealth creation.

Wealth/business success are still important to me, but they are not required for me to be happy and content now.

Interestingly..so far the effect of focusing on enjoyment has also lead to better business/financial results.
 

Lee H

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Following this thread with interest.

I'd love to know more about how you're getting on?
 
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Davidla

Davidla

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So, you were able to walk away and immediately keep the company profitable or did you just fire half the team and only keep enough clients for a nomad lifestyle...?
The first thing was to make some changes with the team, so the financial stress would be much lower.

We had two profit centers:

1) Recurring work (SEO, Adwords, website maintenance)
2) Project work (Websites mostly).

When I decided to make the switch from growth to lifestyle, it didn't make sense to pay our project manager and designer full time salaries, as I'd be focused much less on bringing new business, and they'd have much less work to do.

So I changed my agreements with them to project based. This way when a new project came in, I knew it could be done profitably.

Also had 2 developers on the team, one of which came from an IT outsourcing company and recently received a promotion raising his fee 50%. So it made sense to say goodbye there.

Our project manager did not like this change (totally understandable)..and decided to quit. In addition to not liking the pay changes, he was really into the growth model and had high financial hopes for it..again totally understandable and 100% what you want in a growth company. He was the glue holding everything together..so some big changes needed to happen.

This led to the first big mistake I've done..I'll write on as this soon as I get a chance!
 
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SparksCW

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Interesting topic, resonates strongly. I feel like I work way more than I need to if i just tasked my team better and worked more efficiently myself.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “lifestyle design” and have made steps to reduce/remove any work we do that requires me. Instead we’ll focus on the core products which ironically make more money. 80/20 rule and all that.

Intrigued to hear more about your story.
 

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Davidla

Davidla

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Are You A Solo-Preneur or Are You Building A Team?

This is an important question to answer.

A Solo-Preneur can still have employees..but the focus will be on leveraging his/her skills to a maximum. So fundamentally, they will be more VA/freelance/outsource focused than actually hiring employees, building a culture and taking themselves out of the business.

It's not a bad option..and many Solo-Preneurs make millions a year.

If you are Building A Team, the end goal is to delegate authority/responsibility to the team, and create a human based asset/leverage inside your business.

With remote companies (like ours), the lines can easily blurr between VAs and Employees and being clear and intentional about what kind of business you are building is even more important.

The big mistake I've done, was go from full on team building..to Solo-Preneur mode.

I've had a team of 5-6 employees that were mostly A players. Then one quit, one was fired, and another went part time/project basis.

The roles I had missing to take myself out of the business were Project Management, and Client Success.

I was trying to hire a VA for this job. A from Asia, that had much experience with Web Dev & Project Management..and I thought it was going to be a plus as we were down from 2 developers to 1. I gave them the reins to project/client management.

Things didn't take off. I thought it had to do with training/transition. So I spent a lot of time mentoring, following up..babysitting pretty much.

After a month or so, after seeing that communication wasn't going very well with clients, I've decided to that might not be an area the PM will be able to do successfully..so I've decided to hire a Client Success person who was a Digital Nomad from the US with prior agency experience. Going with the VA and part time mentality..I agreed to them working 2hrs/day as they had another part time job that was taking most of their time. For just client communication with a handful of clients, I thought this will work.

Great..now PM can focus on getting shit done, Client Success can keep clients happy and communication flowing.

WRONG.

So wrong..

Here are all the things that didn't go as planned:

1) New PM who is used to VA style work, and managing other VAs in a very controlling manner alienated my core team. She was also used to be the smartest person in the room..and didn't realize she was dealing with A players. So a TON of small miscommunications and cases where she was sure she was right, which spent a lot of time and effort from the team to show her othewise and communicate about it nicely.

One of the key team members put it this way "I don't have time to explain everything I'm doing to her..it is taking 2 hours per day for me to chat with her about this"

This got so bad, that one of my key employees got very upset/emotional and refused to speak with the PM.

2) PM and Client Success were supposed to play nice together and have clear responsibilities. Instead..things fell between the chairs, delayed, and turned into a big mess slowing everything down.

3) Client Success guy, who was a super nice person, simply did not do his job well enough. He didn't respond to clients on a timely manner..didn't forward information fast enough and was a big bottleneck. Because he was so nice, I didn't see this in time..and only after a few months and some extreme cases (me reminding him 3-4 times about getting a big invoice paid by client only for him to forget about time and time again, and leaving on a 7 day vacation without doing handoff with me even though we talked about it before) I decide to let him go. This was hard as I really liked the guy.

4) We had one legitimately challenging eCommerce custom development project, and it turned out way outside of the "developer" PM's expertise. She was working on it closely with our dev, and the project ran into delays.
I followed up with her every once in a while, and everytime heard from her (and our dev) "We are almost ready, we are just testing some things".

After the project was progressing much slower than planned, I was wondering if our dev was not experienced enough for this. So I brainstormed with PM and authorized her to hire a freelancer to complete the job. She found someone on Upwork, and off we went.

When we were one month behind schedule and getting into serious trouble with the project..I decided to dive into the details and found out we were so far from being ready it's not even funny. In fact, the whole approach they were taking to the custom dev was not feasible and we had to restart. The freelancer hired was also doing a shitty job.

So at that point, I knew this whole experiment failed and I had to let her go as well. This too was really hard, as I saw how hard she was trying, and how much it meant for her and her family to have the job (she was getting paid 4-5X times an average VA salary).

So let's recap..

Now I have:

-Our biggest client, ($90k/yr)project one month late, with 0 real progress to show.
-Many of our other clients/projects were suffering from neglect as well, and were experiencing delays or not making much progress.
-No PM (fired)
-No Client Success (fired)
-A demoralized team
-Instead of having an ideal lifestyle..I was thrown DEEP back into running the company.

Not everything was bad though..

During the last 3-4 months, I enjoyed an awesome lifestyle. I was in Israel, Bali, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.

I was working 10hrs/week, learned to surf and practiced every day, and had my energy restored.

Stepping out of the day to day, enabled me to reach a long-time goal --> a 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat in Myanmar. I was 100% offline with no internet access for 10 days. Going into it..I had no idea how things will be in my absence. I did know though that I was willing to face the conseqeuences whatever they were..the freedom and ability to go offline for 10 days if needed were more important to me than the risks of what might happen while I'm gone.

When I got back, I found things held up pretty well without me..with only one pretty urgent fire I needed to put out . I"l write more about that when I get a chance.

Luckily, we've built a lot of good will with our clients and core team members..and our standards are very high compared to the industry, so even when we were dropping some balls, many of clients didn't notice/mind too much.

So the biggest lesson from this in my mind, is to be clear about what kind of company you are building. Are you leveraging your expertise/time with VAs, or are you building a Team that becomes an Asset?

Without realizing it, I was mixing the two..and it was like mixing Tequila & Wine :)
 

AnneC

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Sounds familiar! Let me know if you ever get back in town... would love to catch up.
 

BJdeMarco

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So glad I read this. I am about to decide if to get an employee or VAs or both... Thanks for the perspective
 

LPPC

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Very very relatable. I will be following this thread too. Good luck!!
 

SeanC

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This is a great follow, especially as a fellow nomad. Keep the updates coming!
 

Andy Daniels

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Amazing insight to those of us who are following close behind. Thank you for the value you have given us!

I'm following this and wish you all the best!
 

Andy Black

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Are You A Solo-Preneur or Are You Building A Team?

This is an important question to answer.

A Solo-Preneur can still have employees..but the focus will be on leveraging his/her skills to a maximum. So fundamentally, they will be more VA/freelance/outsource focused than actually hiring employees, building a culture and taking themselves out of the business.

It's not a bad option..and many Solo-Preneurs make millions a year.

If you are Building A Team, the end goal is to delegate authority/responsibility to the team, and create a human based asset/leverage inside your business.

With remote companies (like ours), the lines can easily blurr between VAs and Employees and being clear and intentional about what kind of business you are building is even more important.

The big mistake I've done, was go from full on team building..to Solo-Preneur mode.

I've had a team of 5-6 employees that were mostly A players. Then one quit, one was fired, and another went part time/project basis.

The roles I had missing to take myself out of the business were Project Management, and Client Success.

I was trying to hire a VA for this job. A from Asia, that had much experience with Web Dev & Project Management..and I thought it was going to be a plus as we were down from 2 developers to 1. I gave them the reins to project/client management.

Things didn't take off. I thought it had to do with training/transition. So I spent a lot of time mentoring, following up..babysitting pretty much.

After a month or so, after seeing that communication wasn't going very well with clients, I've decided to that might not be an area the PM will be able to do successfully..so I've decided to hire a Client Success person who was a Digital Nomad from the US with prior agency experience. Going with the VA and part time mentality..I agreed to them working 2hrs/day as they had another part time job that was taking most of their time. For just client communication with a handful of clients, I thought this will work.

Great..now PM can focus on getting shit done, Client Success can keep clients happy and communication flowing.

WRONG.

So wrong..

Here are all the things that didn't go as planned:

1) New PM who is used to VA style work, and managing other VAs in a very controlling manner alienated my core team. She was also used to be the smartest person in the room..and didn't realize she was dealing with A players. So a TON of small miscommunications and cases where she was sure she was right, which spent a lot of time and effort from the team to show her othewise and communicate about it nicely.

One of the key team members put it this way "I don't have time to explain everything I'm doing to her..it is taking 2 hours per day for me to chat with her about this"

This got so bad, that one of my key employees got very upset/emotional and refused to speak with the PM.

2) PM and Client Success were supposed to play nice together and have clear responsibilities. Instead..things fell between the chairs, delayed, and turned into a big mess slowing everything down.

3) Client Success guy, who was a super nice person, simply did not do his job well enough. He didn't respond to clients on a timely manner..didn't forward information fast enough and was a big bottleneck. Because he was so nice, I didn't see this in time..and only after a few months and some extreme cases (me reminding him 3-4 times about getting a big invoice paid by client only for him to forget about time and time again, and leaving on a 7 day vacation without doing handoff with me even though we talked about it before) I decide to let him go. This was hard as I really liked the guy.

4) We had one legitimately challenging eCommerce custom development project, and it turned out way outside of the "developer" PM's expertise. She was working on it closely with our dev, and the project ran into delays.
I followed up with her every once in a while, and everytime heard from her (and our dev) "We are almost ready, we are just testing some things".

After the project was progressing much slower than planned, I was wondering if our dev was not experienced enough for this. So I brainstormed with PM and authorized her to hire a freelancer to complete the job. She found someone on Upwork, and off we went.

When we were one month behind schedule and getting into serious trouble with the project..I decided to dive into the details and found out we were so far from being ready it's not even funny. In fact, the whole approach they were taking to the custom dev was not feasible and we had to restart. The freelancer hired was also doing a shitty job.

So at that point, I knew this whole experiment failed and I had to let her go as well. This too was really hard, as I saw how hard she was trying, and how much it meant for her and her family to have the job (she was getting paid 4-5X times an average VA salary).

So let's recap..

Now I have:

-Our biggest client, ($90k/yr)project one month late, with 0 real progress to show.
-Many of our other clients/projects were suffering from neglect as well, and were experiencing delays or not making much progress.
-No PM (fired)
-No Client Success (fired)
-A demoralized team
-Instead of having an ideal lifestyle..I was thrown DEEP back into running the company.

Not everything was bad though..

During the last 3-4 months, I enjoyed an awesome lifestyle. I was in Israel, Bali, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.

I was working 10hrs/week, learned to surf and practiced every day, and had my energy restored.

Stepping out of the day to day, enabled me to reach a long-time goal --> a 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat in Myanmar. I was 100% offline with no internet access for 10 days. Going into it..I had no idea how things will be in my absence. I did know though that I was willing to face the conseqeuences whatever they were..the freedom and ability to go offline for 10 days if needed were more important to me than the risks of what might happen while I'm gone.

When I got back, I found things held up pretty well without me..with only one pretty urgent fire I needed to put out . I"l write more about that when I get a chance.

Luckily, we've built a lot of good will with our clients and core team members..and our standards are very high compared to the industry, so even when we were dropping some balls, many of clients didn't notice/mind too much.

So the biggest lesson from this in my mind, is to be clear about what kind of company you are building. Are you leveraging your expertise/time with VAs, or are you building a Team that becomes an Asset?

Without realizing it, I was mixing the two..and it was like mixing Tequila & Wine :)
Interesting insight. I feel I’m a solo-preneur still, even though I have a team. They’re either full-time or part-time freelancers. I have no desire to have permanent employees, and I like working with freelancers because they (should!) already have client-facing as well as technical skills. And they’re more similar in mindset and goals to me.

I personally want to be surrounded by A players. I’ll mentor and bring on interns later, but at the moment I don’t want the folks happy to follow SOPs, I want the folks who’ll create the SOPs.

You’ve a nice writing style too @Davidla. Thanks for sharing and making it easy to read while doing so.
 

Kevin88660

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Sorry to sound paranoid but the way the OP crafts his post seems to be like a well thought marketing piece for a business training course :)

Of course I am joking. I look forward to learn from your success.
 

amp0193

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Sorry to sound paranoid but the way the OP crafts his post seems to be like a well thought marketing piece for a business training course :)
It didn't come across that way to me.

We get people attempting to self-promote like that every couple of days here... it's pretty obvious when that's what they're doing.
 

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Real Deal Denver

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Best thread I've read in a long time.

I'm surprised the pro A team people you hired didn't cut it. I've worked with many of those types, and my experience has been that they refuse to use the words can't and won't. They simply didn't allow themselves to fail. I'm a little worried that the standards have become much laxer - so thanks for that insight. Your tasks don't seem to be overly complex or difficult (?) ;)
 
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Davidla

Davidla

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Best thread I've read in a long time.

I'm surprised the pro A team people you hired didn't cut it. I've worked with many of those types, and my experience has been that they refuse to use the words can't and won't. They simply didn't allow themselves to fail. I'm a little worried that the standards have become much laxer - so thanks for that insight. Your tasks don't seem to be overly complex or difficult (?) ;)
Good point :) Regarding the A level players..I think it makes sense that their approach will change if there is a big change in the company vision/style.

If you joined in order to help grow big and triple your salary.. you might decide to leave if the owner decides to drop the growth plans and go into maintenance/lifestyle mode.

The other part is..that A players hate nothing more than working with less competent people..which just makes their lives harder.
 
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Davidla

Davidla

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I just read the "Hard 75" thread by @Fox, and it brought up an important point I think can be helpful for some.

After achieving some success and getting to $100k/yr (after numerous years of failures), the initial motivation that fueled 'hard work' dissapeared.

I looked at it as a Discpline problem. Too comfortable..need to get uncomfortable and get shit done.

Every time I tried this, it led to the same thing..a period of hard work and hustle chasing money goals, ending in a near burnout and feeling unhappy..and mostly without much results to show for at the end of it all.

The most important result was learning from this process that something is wrong..

Instead of a Discipline problem..it turned out to be a Purpose/Alignment problem.

If you don't have a big enough why, and you don't enjoy the process..that explains lack of results and effort way better than discipline.

More discipline is just going to create more unhappiness, and make it worse.

In my case, I was an officer in the military for 4.5 years, and worked 12 hour days for a few years on my own businesses..so clearly discipline wasn't the real issue.

What helped me get over the plateau was a lot of personal growth work (coaching, retreats, masterminds, books, meditation), and getting clarity on Vision/Purpose.

Only after getting to a state of feeling content and centered every morning no matter what (even if all of my businesses fail), and focusing work on things I'm passionate about, the plateau went away.

I'm still working on feeling content no matter what daily. The habits of 'doing' and related negative self talk are very strong and hard to change.

Now the focus is on doing exciting things, enjoying the process, and the numbers somehow work out as a result..and this is a much more fun process :smile2:

I'm also not saying that everything is fun and roses..there are always things I'd rather not do. But if before the balance was 80% hate 20% like, now it is the opposite and it is much more sustainable for me.

I'd also rather not do something that makes me very unhappy now and deal with the consequences, than forcing myself to do it.

Feeling unmotivated to work? Take half a day off and do something fun/you want to do.

Want to go travel? Go travel and accept that work will be less focused during this time. So what? There's no one handing medals at the end..

I could accomplish this new project in 3 months of unhappy work..or it could take me 6-12months of happy work. I'll take the 12 months + happiness.

We are the voice inside our head saying "you are not moving fast enough" , "you are not good enough", "Y friend did this in 2 months"..so the real work is not doing more, working harder, moving faster etc..it is dealing with this voice that keeps finding ways to make us feel like we can't be happy unless X,Y,Z..and convinces us the solution is to do more and work harder.
 
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