Figuring Out How To Build Family Time into Your Own Business.
As a parent trying to run a business and a family, my time is limited. I started my own business so that I could spend more time with my family. And, as much as I love building websites and automated sales systems and digital marketing, I want to spend more time with my family than than I do working. They’re that great.
I’m probably not supposed to admit that.
I know I’m supposed to be hustling 25 hours per day and eat in front of my computer and spend hours on social media and know the latest coding techniques..and…and…and… I know this because nearly every article about entrepreneurship tells me that I have to be doing everything, everywhere. But most of those articles seem to be written for folks who are single and can devote most of their day to their business.
Over the past few years, I’ve worked out strategies to use my time well, and to pick the projects that will work for me. But I still feel like I’m sacrificing more family time that I should be. There’s got to be a way to work smarter.
I’m going to constantly update this article as I try out implementing these strategies to let you know what really works for me and what doesn’t.
My Theory – Uncertain Cash Flow Prevents You from Spending Time with Your Family
You left that corporate job to set up your own consulting gig so you could spend more time with your family. But now you see even less of them than when you worked for the man. And, when you are home – you’re not really present. You’re worrying about where to find that next client, that next paycheck.
Sound familiar? Follow me as I figure out how to break away from that setup and you can do the same. I’ll be upfront about what I try and what helps and what doesn’t help.
Although lots of time saving or time management techniques help out, avoiding that “feast or famine” cycle must be the best way to manage your time. So many consultants live in the roller coaster of project based income. If you can steady your cash flow then you can eliminate so many time consuming tasks:
- Scrambling to find your next client once you wrap up a project
- Complex planning to make sure you cover expenses each month
- Neglecting your own work in favor of a low-quality client project just so you can get paid.
Why a steady cash flow automation can solve your time crunches
Can you make a good estimate of your next April’s income? Right now, I can’t. Now, I can probably come close to a yearly estimate, and even a quarterly estimate, but I can’t say just when that money is going to be coming in.
Will it be end of March or beginning of April? Or more realistically, will it be before my mortgage payment is due or after?
I don’t know if I’ll be mid-project or if I’ll be trying to drum up new business. Or the worst – trying to finalize that project that’s been lingering since January so that I can get the final payment.
If you can count on a steady stream of cash each month, and plan out a few months in advance you can:
- Know well ahead of time if you can cover regular expenses
- Plan on income for your family
- Stress less about when your next dollar is coming in
- Continue to work your business plan without the unplanned scramble to get another quick paycheck before the mortgage is due
- With the plan I’m working on below, you can gather leads for your flagship product at the same time
- And, most importantly, be present at family activities in both body and mind.
What’s Stopped Me In the Past
The biggest thing that holds many of us (me especially) back is that we think we have to do everything. We get really caught up in the client work – the delivery of completely custom work for each client.
That in turn stops us from focusing on how to make improvements to our business that will benefit us. Instead, we’re building and improving other people’s businesses at the expense of our own.
There are a few reasons we fall into this way of thinking:
- We think we have to offer every service a client may want and we end up re-inventing the wheel for each project. You know this is a trap, right? It’s actually fun for me to learn cool new things for each project, but it destroys both my project profit and any hope for a steady income.
- We think clients really want custom. They don’t – they want the result you can give them, and they think custom work will do that.
- I always think I will save money if I do everything myself. For today that might be true, but over the course of even a month, that’s not true at all.
- A bunch of folks think no one else can do it as well as they can. I’ve gotten over this one myself, but it’s taken time and experience to get there. If you can teach your process, others can handle the delivery.
- In the US, we’re brought up to be self-sufficient. We think it’s admirable to do things solo, when really it’s holding us back.
Not only do you not have to do everything under the sun, but it doesn’t even have to be you who does the work. It’s really your process that makes your product unique, and if you can nail down that process, you can train someone else to deliver it to your client. And if your employees are delivering your process, you’re free to work on new processes or improving your existing ones.
It’s funny – I watched my grandfather and my father struggle with this same problem in our family businesses. And yet, when I opened my own web consulting business a few years ago, I jumped right into doing custom work, all by myself. And now, it’s not serving me.
Work Is Changing
If the workplace is changing, shouldn’t that make our lives better? It should! But it’s not for a lot of us. Or not in the ways we thought it would.
I think in the US, work is making our lives better, but not in ways that mean much to us. The outrageous increase in productivity and the flexibility of work brought by mobile working bought us giant flatscreen TVs and 3000+ square feet homes and third and fourth vehicles. That sounds great, and that’s how we got sold on it.
We stay working long crazy hours, under terrible lighting, and allow our kids to be raised by daycare centers and nannies all so we can have our $5 coffees and swim at the country club.
We still don’t have time to meet the kids getting off the school bus at 3:00.
Thousands (millions?) of highly educated, highly capable people want to have both a family and a intellectually stimulating career. And yet, that’s hard to figure out. I think a lot of my education taught me how to be a great employee. Even in business school, I learned how to be a great manager, but not a great entrepreneur.
I am determined to solve this problem for myself and my family and then show you how to do it to. I can see that what’s really missing is a consistent income that I can plan around.
How I Plan to Bring in Steady Cash Flow to Cover Monthly Expenses
My family does a loose budget each month, and while we can certainly make that process better, it works pretty well for us. My irregular income definitely makes it harder to budget though, and we tend to just estimate the best we can. We just don’t know exactly when my income will hit our bank account though, so we don’t feel we can count on all of it coming in.
I’m going to change the nature of my income. My plan is to have most if it come in on a regular basis, though I will continue to have some one-off payments. But, until that point, budgeting differently can help.
I am so thankful that when my husband and I married, the first thing we did was go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program. We started our married life out of debt and on a pretty decent, though conservative, financial path. In that course, I learned an old salesman’s budgeting technique that comes in handy for irregular income.
Month 1 is the toughie – try to live without the irregular income. I think this is either impossible, or only possible if you have a spouse with a regular paycheck or a family willing to support you. You could also pick a month with unusually high income to start as your Month 1 and spend as little as possible! Any which way you can, you have start out with a little money set aside for this method to work.
Here’s the technique – it’s pretty simple once you see it. But it’s not easy.
- Save all your income (see above – super hard!)
- At the beginning of the month, write out all your expenses for the coming month.
- Order those expenses in order of importance to you. At the top should be food, shelter, transportation, and necessary clothing. Near the bottom should be any discretionary spending, like movie tickets. At the very bottom should be your unsecured debt, like credit card debt if you have any.
- Next, allocate the income you saved from Month 1 to the Month 2 expenses, starting with the top of the list and working down. If you run out of money, then you have to readjust, or decide something doesn’t get paid.
- Save any income earned in Month 2 (for Month 3 – see where this is going?). You’re living the current month on last month’s income. That way you know what you have to work with.
- Repeat your budgeting process with Month 2’s income.
- Save all income from Month 3 (to be used as income in Month 4).
So, while this is great and works, it would so much easier if the majority of your consulting income was a little more regular!
Invoice by Subscription
So many consultants that come from a corporate background have worked through a natural evolution of pricing and invoicing.
When you first set up shop, you charge an hourly rate that sounds scarily high. But after your first couple of projects, you realize that you’re drastically under-priced, and hourly rates aren’t quite right.
Next, you bump up your price and you charge a flat fee for a project and invoice at completion of the project. It only takes one client who drags his feet for you to understand your mistake here.
So, you move to a 50% upfront deposit, and a 50% at completion plan. If you’re like me, you refine that a bit to something like 50% upfront, 30% after a certain date or milestone, and 20% at completion. This works better, but it’s not good enough.
While these plans are incremental improvements, they still have a fatal flaw – your income is irregular and you don’t know when you’ll receive the last 50%. You’re left still waiting for that last payment, and at the mercy of clients who may have entirely different priorities than your income!
My plan to combat this is to take the longest reasonable schedule for a project, and divide my project fee by the number of months it will take. Then, set up a recurring credit card subscription for that fee.
I will get paid on the same regular schedule even when a project stalls or I’m waiting for content from my client. My process is clear and tight enough so that I know any real delay in the schedule will be one caused by my client, not by me.
This will be so much more convenient for me as well as my clients. I’ll be able to plan and budget a few months into the future. I won’t have to send an invoice for each payment or watch my emails and bank account to see if/when I get paid.
My clients won’t have to come up with an entire 50% right upfront. My projects provide a great value, but my larger projects aren’t cheap. I’ll be helping my clients’ cash flow at the same time I’m helping mine. In many cases, I’ll already be making money for my clients as their payment is due.
Smaller Products Sold on Automation
I will be setting up the same automation for myself that I build for my clients. My positioning is changing a bit, and I need to develop some smaller products to help customers DIY their own sales automation.
This is so important – small, regular sales on automation combined with recurring revenue (below) are what can keep a small consultancy alive between larger projects or when prospects are low.
By creating relevant products that can help my site visitors move forward with their business, I can create a consistent cash flow that can pay for some of the traffic I send to my site. When Mike Killen at Sell Your Service showed me how to use small products to pay for traffic, I knew right away that would help me out tremendously. Not only would that help me, but it really was the spark I needed to really be able to help out my clients.
In addition to creating another steady stream of income, smaller products can introduce people to my work and generate leads for my larger project work.
Once I set up the automation, this becomes essentially passive income. I do really hate that word – the work isn’t passive at all. It’s just not on-demand work and it allows you to do the hard work when it fits your business and schedule. Does that mean it’s off-demand? Is that a thing?
Recurring Revenue Products
I already offer a couple of recurring revenue products. These are a lot of work, and not at all passive. But, I know what work I will be doing each month, and know what’s coming in, and that’s wonderful for cash flow!
I’ve set them up so that all my expenses associated with them are covered. But, my own work (or someone else’s?!) isn’t fully covered right now on my current plans. I end up doing a lot more for each client than I had planned. I’m going to have to adjust my care plans and my email marketing plans a bit to make sure I can continue to give my clients a great service.
Right now, I am using website care and maintenance plans as well as some email newsletter/marketing plans as my recurring revenue products. I may redo those, but I’ll continue to offer them because they’re pretty essential services that my consulting clients really need to make the most of the web tools I’ve built for them.
Another product I’d really like to develop is a coaching package. I do some consulting for a couple of clients now, and I’m loving it. I would really like to use that experience to offer some group and one-on-one coaching for consultants.
Ugh! Affiliate sales sounds so sleazy. That’s because it’s a darling of the get-rich-quick-with-no-work crowd. If you do it right, it’s not sleazy at all. The get-rich-quick guys end up resorting to sleaze tactics because the right way does take some work and time, and they don’t want to do it.
First and foremost, affiliate sales are sales made based on your recommendations. Therefore, I only will recommend things I believe in and use and think will help my clients.
I’m forever digging for new software and new products, and I’ve found some great ones. And some great services. I’m constantly making recommendations to friends and clients and colleagues.
I’m already an affiliate for a few things I believe in, but I don’t really talk enough about them or promote them. I’ll be writing some articles on my favorite products & services.
Once set up, this is another generally passive source of income. Or off-demand work??? It’s definitely a fair bit of up-front work to present and promote the right information that your site visitors need. I expect that affiliate income won’t be exactly regular. I do think it will contribute to monthly cash flow though because the work isn’t on-demand.
Hire and Delegate
Hiring seems like it’s going to just be another expense, rather than help me increase or steady my cash flow. But I know that I can’t do everything I want to be doing alone.
If I want to be working on both client work and building out some of these business assets that will help me meet my monthly expenses (and I do), I have to start to build a team to accomplish everything. If someone else can be working on administrative tasks and product delivery, I can be working on improving products and figuring out how to help more people.
I’ve already started this a little bit. I’ve hired other freelancers for parts of projects as needed. For the most part, it’s gone well. The key is in knowing what I’m hiring for. If I need an expert, a branding expert for example, then I have to hire and trust that they know best. If I need some work done on my projects, then I have to have a well-documented process in place already.
The plan going forward is that I’m to start at the top and work through these ideas. I’m going to update this list and write other articles about what works for me and what doesn’t. My motivation is the idea that I can help other parents get to the bus stop at 3:00 as well.
When I left my corporate job, I knew I had a great set of skills that would help people. I could do great, helpful project work in a timely and reliable way. What I didn’t have was a realistic sense of how to consistently bring in steady income.
While the answers don’t sound so complicated, it took me a while to get where I am now, and I still have a ways to go. So much of the advice I found was geared to people who were not like me. My goal is to help other people like me – parents who left their corporate position so that they could spend more time with their families, while still supporting those families!
Cheat Sheet – Tactics for Steady Cash Flow
If you’re a consultant who left corporate work to spend more time with your family, but you seem to be just as tied up with your own biz, then maybe I can help. If you’re serious about improving your cash flow and better using the time you have, check this out. I’ve put together a checklist of cash flow sources that includes what I’m planning, plus a few bonus ideas that might work for you.