Juggling tasks for your one person operation
When you’re working for yourself, the hardest part isn’t doing the work, as in, the main pursuit of your craft; the hardest part is juggling all the little things surrounding it.
If you run a creative shop or a client business, you’re not just the craftsman, designer, or consultant; you’re also your own account manager, strategy advisor, PR spokesperson, content manager, writer, photographer, and HR department. You’re the big boss giving orders, the diligent worker executing orders, and the personal assistant making sure it runs smoothly.
This lack of compartmentalization in responsibilities is the whole reason why I went solo — I wanted to be fully creatively autonomous, I wanted to decide what I worked on, and how I learned. But it also takes immense energy to balance disparate things without driving myself crazy.
In this post, I’ll share how I compartmentalize, juggle, and manage all the different types of tasks I do as a one-person operation.
Three broad categories
I’ll start with my 3 part method of organizing everything that you do:
The craft - what you do
There is a big difference between doing the work of the business and running the business. Your craft is what you do. It’s the whole reason you started this endeavor in the first place, your main service or product offering, whether it’s design, illustration, consulting, coaching, coding, or selling handmade items.
Digital presence - how you show up online
Your digital presence is what puts you on the map for your audience and potential customers — it’s easily half of your marketing strategy. Curating a digital presence means building and maintaining a website, having a social media presence, writing a blog, sending out newsletters, and sharing other content. Having a digital presence is all about building trust and familiarity with your potential customers, so that when the time is right, they’ll remember you.
Business development - planning & building relationships
I think of business development in two parts: planning and building relationships. Planning is evaluating what you’ve done to glean insights and key takeaways. It’s also coming up with new approaches and experiments to try, and figure out what works. Building relationships is essentially “putting yourself out there,” meaning: meeting people, letting them know what you do, and making sure they know you’re available for hire. Building relationships is my way of talking about “networking.” It includes a whole range of activities, from forming partnerships, information interviewing, and asking for referrals.
How to divide up your energy?
These three buckets are a big picture way of structuring and thinking about all of your tasks. Now the question is: how do you distribute your focus across these categories?
It depends on where you’re at with your business. For instance:
If you have tons of momentum:
If you’re happy with the new business coming your way, you may have the luxury of honing in on your craft, while keeping the other two categories at their baseline minimum. You don’t want to completely abandon your digital presence or business development (after all, that’s probably what got you here in the first place), but you can create a system aimed at maintenance and long-term growth. In other words, just keep watering the plant.
Suggestion: Focus on craft. Do maintenance for digital presence + business development.
If you’re just starting out
You’ll have to use a lot of active energy to do two things first: establish a basic digital presence (website, social media), and show off your craft. Once you have something solid to show (well, even just version 1.0) your potential clients and customers, your active energy should be on hustling for clients, aka business development— building relationships with potential customers and referral sources. Then, you can rinse and repeat with your digital presence and craft, moving onto version 2.0.
Depending on your business (for instance, if you’re a blogger) hustling for you might mean growing your digital presence. You might also want to use your craft as a vehicle for building relationships; for instance, by creating side projects and personal projects, and sharing it with your audience. The key here is constant experimentation: seeing what works, what has impact, and what doesn’t.
Suggestion: First set up digital presence and show off craft. Then actively focus on business development.
If you’re in between
Maybe you’re getting work— but not from the kind of clients you want— or you’re feeling a bit stagnant. Your challenge might be making time to intentionally take your digital presence up a notch, or actively cultivate your business relationships. The key here is to cordon off a chunk of time, say, one day a week, to focus on experimenting with new approaches. Set aside time for planning and reflecting: what kinds of clients do you really want? How could you go about reaching those clients? How could you relaunch a more targeted website, or implement a new social media strategy?
Suggestion: Maintain your craft, but cordon off time for growing digital presence and business development.
Suggestions for implementing
When it comes to running my one-person operation, ultra-compartmentalization is what keeps me sane. When I'm writing a blog post, I can't think about the coaching client I'm meeting later in the afternoon, or about the illustration project I'm currently behind schedule on, or I'll get completely overwhelmed. I'll end up spending the afternoon laying facedown on the bed and eating chocolate pudding.
So instead, I listen to my body and break up my schedule to give attention to each category. Here are some concrete suggestions for implementing this way of structuring your time:
- Mapping exercise: list everything you do for your business on little pieces of paper. Organize it according to which category it fits under - craft, digital presence, or business development? Or come up with your own buckets.
- When do you do each task best? I like to do things that require intense focus— illustration, design, and writing— in the morning, and schedule my coaching client work for the afternoons. Can you decide what mornings you want to allot to which tasks?
- What's your ideal scenario? For a lot of designers I know, they just want to spend 100% of energy on their craft, and not worry about their digital presence or business development. The challenge for them is to have a simple checklist they follow (weekly, daily, monthly) to work on the latter two buckets. In designing their schedule, the goal is to make those tasks super simple and easy to execute. That's the only way they'll do it.
- What are you resistant towards? It's easy for me to spend all of my time on digital presence (blogging, creating content, working on my site) and planning, but I tend to procrastinate when it comes to networking/building relationships. To get over this resistance, it's just about looking squarely at oneself and recognizing the discomfort. Maybe even design some rewards for yourself for completing those tasks.
When you're on your own, the hardest part is doing the ordering and the order-taking. That's the whole point of being your own boss, right? But sometimes I don't trust that I'm giving the right orders, or that I'm doing it right. The only way to know is to constantly experiment, reevaluate, and readjust course along the way. That, and a good dose of gentleness to myself. Hey boss, you did your best, I'll say. Now keep on juggling.