Working Too Much Might Mean Your Business Ain’t Working

Allen MurabayashiDavid Fincher’s The Social Network dramatizes the rise and explosive growth of Facebook. In Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg drinks while programming, and two hours and four minutes later, has a $25 billion dollar company. Working hard is glamorous, and leads to babes, bongs and billions.

Ain’t Hollywood grand?

As a serial entrepreneur since my first venture, hotjobs.com, in 1995, I know all too well what it’s like to work until you drop. All-nighters used to be common place, and it always seemed like there was more work than hours in the day. As I’ve gotten a bit older, my body simply will not cooperate with the grind of working 24/7, and as I’m sure you can agree, this isn’t a very healthy lifestyle anyway. So I was happy to see an article by my friend and fellow entrepreneur, Christopher Michel, entitled “Outcome Versus Activity.”

We often equate being busy with being productive. A long laundry list means we’re important and our business is growing, but this is often not true. A few years ago at my current company, PhotoShelter.com, I found myself working myself into oblivion. There was simply too much to do, but we had revenue targets to meet. Working constantly seemed like the way to solve our problems.

  • “If only we had one more feature, we’d be making more money!”
  • “If only we had a sales team, we could really be cranking!”

Two years later, we pulled the plug on our stock photography marketplace because it was burning cash at a faster rate and earning revenue at a slower rate than we anticipated.  Instead, we focused on our photography websites business. The issue wasn’t that we weren’t working hard enough, the problem was that we had a bad business.

We wanted to compete against Getty Images to provide a crowd-sourced marketplace for stock images – more creative and diverse images with a larger cut going to the photographer. What we learned is that unless your business model is truly revolutionary (aka paradigm-shifting), you stand no chance of displacing a huge incumbent. Plus, stock photography was undergoing massive price deflation from the microstock providers.

To turn the company around, we made two major changes: 1) we slashed our operating costs through layoffs and general belt-tightening, and 2) we decided that we would drive growth of our business through marketing.

This was a major change for us. Every time we ran into a growth problem, we’d come up with a new idea and work like crazy people to get it to market. But we didn’t have an effective plan to market it, nor did we really have a good understanding of how people were using our service. Without these two key pieces of information, we worked ourselves silly without any real results.

As a creative freelancer, you probably have a few key clients that you are reliant upon for the bulk of your income. And you probably spend a fair amount of time in a mild panic trying to figure out where new income will come from. You have a Facebook and Twitter account for no discernible purpose, which consumes hours of your time. You spend lots of time and resources on creating new promotional pieces that yield you the same mediocre results. You justify the constant workload with your “independence.”

Sometimes there is no getting around mounds of work. But there’s always some guy out there who is working less and making more than you because he/she is simply working smarter. They probably identified a niche and have a better understanding of how to reach their clientele. They probably charge a higher billable rate and are better at showing added value. They are indispensable and in demand. They haven’t confused activity and outcome.

Neither should you.

Are you working too much?

BTW: This is our first post from Allen Murabayashi, who will also be speaking at the Creative Freelancer Conference in Chicago, June 23-24, 2011. Sign up for conference news here. And check out PhotoShelter’s web sites here.

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