I always wanted a pager

This morning I woke up in my own bed. Nothing terribly exciting or remarkable there however we've just got back from a long weekend away on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. My partner is pregnant and is finding sleeping difficult. That combined with the size of the beds on a boat meant that I spent time sleeping anywhere but in the bed. After a few nights sleeping on the floor of a boat, you come to appreciate the finer things in life - like a mattress and decent pillows!

With Coronavirus hitting, our planned holiday was cancelled and we hastily rebooked something a little closer to home. We wanted to make sure we did get a holiday this year because we realised that neither of us had stopped working since Christmas - it had been seven months without a proper break.

In my younger years I worked a full time job and then took annual leave to go and work in summer schools. This meant that the only proper time that I had off was at Christmas where I was essentially forced to stop working for two weeks because everything was closed.

I loved working, even when not at work I wanted to be. Working gave me a sense of purpose. In my early 20s I went on holiday to Florida. One morning I received a call from work because a system was down. They didn't know I was away so just called my mobile. It was 8a.m. for them, it was 3a.m. for me! I didn't mind though, even though I was thousands of miles away, I was still being asked for help and that made me feel good.

One year, after a two week break away I stepped off of the plane at 4a.m. and headed straight to work. I couldn't wait to get back into the swing of things. A week after our long weekend away, I'm still struggling to get back into 'work mode'. I still enjoy work, it's just no longer my favourite thing to do.

Now I'm in my mid-thirties, life has changed and so have my priorities. No longer do I crave the rush of being 'on call' at all times, instead I dread checking my e-mails and seeing that there is a problem that I need to solve outside of my working hours. Now my priorities and interests have shifted from work to spending time with my family.

Now I look back, the craving for work and being on call was always there. I used to love watching TV shows or films where the characters were on call. Medical dramas where doctors had a pager and could be summoned at any time of day was exciting. The idea of being deep asleep and then you're suddenly awoken by your pager because someone's life is in the balance and only you can help was exhilarating.

That has now changed. The 'dream' of owning and responding to every pager bleep has long since been extinguished. Now I crave no bleeps, no calls and an empty inbox.

The desire to be needed is a basic human one but something that is particularly prevalent in entrepreneurs. Not only do we need to feel needed, we also thrive on solving problems. That is after all why we set up our own businesses because we saw flaws in other peoples and knew we could do better.

Perhaps it's also a young persons mindset. We have boundless energy in our twenties and as we grow older our energy levels dip, other responsibilities take hold and we realise that life is not and should not be all about work. Work shouldn't even be the main element of our lives, instead it should be more like a hobby, something that we do because we choose to and because we enjoy doing it - not something that ties us to our desks for 40 hours a week because we have to be there.

Inspiration

I have recently been devouring the Mr Money Moustache blog, something that I learned about via the Tropical MBA podcast. MMM (Mr Money Moustache) is an inspiration for me. He used to work in a 'real job' but has dedicated his recent years to spending time with his children with work something that he does if he wants to but only once his duties as a dad have been completely fulfilled.

Whilst I am earning a lot more than I ever did in a real job whilst working far fewer hours than ever and have the ability to work from anywhere, I am now in the position where I need to change my business model even further. The next step is to move from business to near complete automation whereby I can either employ staff or use the resources that my existing businesses have given me, to step back and just manage the business with a few hours of my time each week, rather than the current 27 that I spend on it.

30 hours a week is not much compared to what most people work but as my desire for a pager has waned over the years, so has my need to work in general. I don't want to be woken up at 3a.m. with an urgent call but equally, I don't want a 3p.m. call either. The trick is how to get there so that my business runs on (almost) full autopilot.

Productivity

The First 100 Days, Looped

The first 90 days is a concept which seems to be popping up at the moment in the various business / lifestyle podcasts. The idea is that you divide the year into four 90-day blocks and set targets for each. They are short term goals which you would like to achieve, a way of constantly pushing personal or business development.

This is something that I do myself although with a slight variation. What I prefer is a 100 day rule.

I have a huge interest in American politics and something that each new president is aware of is the media's obsession with the first 100 days after the president is inaugurated. This is the period where generally, the new administration has the most energy, enthusiasm and opportunity to make significant changes. It's a chance to show the public that things have changed, for the better.

I prefer 100 day plans in my business too and here is why.

The problem with the 90 day rule is that it doesn't give you a break in between. With four 90 day blocks, that's effectively reviewing your progress every three months then immediately setting new targets and getting started on them. There's no down time, no opportunity for real reflection. With 100 day chunks, you have the opportunity to complete your targets and then sit back for a few weeks, bathing in your glory before starting all over again. This will help avoid burnout and give you the chance to think properly about what you want to do next.

100 days break the year down into three blocks of 100 days, with around 20 days gap in between each period. 

With 100 day blocks if you need a bit of extra time with one of your targets and you're going to miss the deadline, rather than carrying it over into the next period, you have a buffer of a few weeks to get it finished. What you don't want to do is carry the target onto the next period otherwise it will stay on your list forever, continually getting pushed back and delayed.

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The Business Pyramid

My first real online business focussed on web site design for other small businesses. I spent a great deal of time looking at what other design firms were offering before settling on my own four packages, with increasing price points depending on the number of pages the customer needed on their site. At that point, I had basically no income and like everyone I was hustling, scraping by to earn enough money to survive.

To make sure I did survive, I had to do whatever I could to bring in some regular money so I also offered 'add on' services. Anything related to web site design such as SEO, logo design, Adwords management, e-mail marketing, photography... anything and everything to keep things going.

It was hard work but it wasn't a bad strategy. I was able to develop skills in lots of different areas. For example, by offering a photography package, I worked with lots of hotel and B&B owners. They know the value of having great images on their web sites but aren't sure who to trust to take them. As they were already working with me, I was able to offer this service at a one-off cost to them. I would just head round, take lots of bright, clear, attractive pictures of their rooms and give them full ownership of the images so that they could be used not just on their site but also on any other advertising that they did. This was win-win - they suddenly had lots of high-quality images for all of their online listings (AirBnB, TripAdvisor, etc.) and I received a one-off payment to help keep me going. I was also able to learn more about the tourism sector which allowed me to set up a web site business tailored to the tourism sector.

More importantly, I was able to keep my customers locked into my eco-system.

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Be good, be fair, be honest

Let's be honest. Clients can be a real pain. If you own a service business, you'll probably find that 99% of your clients are perfect. They don't ask for too much. You do the work asked of you, they pay their invoices and everyone is happy. For those people running product-based businesses, who don't need to interact with your customers very much - they buy your product, you send it to them and that's it - may have moved into a product-based business because you were fed up dealing with customers in your original business.

I work with hundreds of customers across various industries and the vast majority are lovely people who I am happy to speak to and help out where I can. There are the odd few that are difficult and when they crop up, I really do try and ditch them as fast as I can. The time, mental energy and shear frustration of having to deal with these people isn't worth it. I am a good few years into my business now and the income is steady so I can afford to ditch customers however if you're in the first few years, this may not be an option at the moment - paying the bills and keeping the lights on is probably your first priority and I understand that. I was there too a few years ago, hustling to bring in enough money to keep things going and build the business to a stage where I was able to generate a steady income and then, only then, was I able to be a bit more selective with who I worked with.

Three recent incidents with 'difficult' customers have been on my mind and I thought I would share the three short stories.

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