Hi, I'm Ashlie. Owner and lead designer at Wolf & Willow Design! I'm a 12 year corporate accountant turned full-time designer helping other small-business entrepreneurs chase their dreams. I'm also a wife, #girlmom, and Air Force veteran.
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Running a business is hella hard! Sorry if that came on a little strong…but we like keepin’ it real around here!
Sorry sis, but this post is not going to be a simple “don’t stress about it, everything will work out” kinda thang…mmmk? Still with me? Good.
In our current existence (ahem, hustle culture), we’ve somehow managed to find ourselves in a place where staying busy and overworking is a measure of success. Or at least the pursuit of it.
Ummm….no thanks! Truth is, I got into this business because I wanted more freedom and time with my family while getting to fill my cup with things that I enjoy doing. What I didn’t count on, was how hard it was to transition from the restrictions of the corporate world.
Translation: being able to do whatever you want whenever you want is not an effective strategy to run a business.
Then there’s the fact that running a business generally requires you to do 90 million things other than what you started your business to do.
Fun fact: as a web designer I only spend 30-40% of my week actually designing. Tragic, I know. Wearing all the hats is something no one tells us about when we get that entrepreneur gleam in our eyes. But here’s a lesson I’ve learned that I hope to impart on you by the end of this post:
Just because you run a business does NOT mean you have to spend every waking minute working on it.
Read that again.
Ok, are you ready to dive into my top three tips on how to incorporate this much more reasonable (and less stressful) strategy into your business? Let’s go!
Boundaries, oh boundaries…how we love to hate you. But let me tell ya, boundaries are your best friend when it comes to being a small business owner. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on it, you can check that out here!
If I could only give one piece of advice for new or aspiring entrepreneurs, this would be it!
See, if you worked in corporate or in any sort of employee type job before starting a business (or maybe you still are!) you have been unknowingly conditioned to function in a work environment where you don’t have to worry as much about the big picture. While there’s likely some degree of autonomy, for the most part you have a job that someone else tells you to do, how to do it and when.
Liken this to being a business owner with a personal assistant who manages your calendar and tells you what you need to be doing and when. Ain’t everybody got money fo’ that!
Now that you’re running your own business, you make the rules. You set the schedule, you manage the hows and the whens…whew! No pressure, eh?
This can lead to a multitude of problems, so I’ll just outline those that I experienced the most and how I went about fixing them.
This is something I struggled with even in my second year in business. I talked about what I’m doing differently in this regard over in this post! As a recap, I didn’t work as efficiently as I could because I suffered from a bit of whiplash from spending so much of my working years being an obsessive planner.
I never took the time to set up a task management or planner system for myself, and that resulted in a lot of moments where I’d be working on something, suddenly remember another thing I needed to do, and so on.
So for this one, I highly recommend sitting down and mapping out a loose version of what your next few months look like and make a plan. Pick a strategy that feels right to you, whether that be to-do lists, a software like Asana or ClickUp, or good ole’ pen and paper planner.
But once you’ve made the plan, stick to it. If you want to shut down every day at 4PM, do it. No (ok maybe rare) exceptions. And those rare exceptions should be planned if at all possible. For me, I like to take it easy in the mornings, but I make it a goal to be at my computer no later than 10AM. Then I have certain days a week that I get off earlier depending on my family’s schedule.
Bottom line is: set yourself a schedule and stick to it, and the best way to hold yourself accountable is by writing it down or putting it in some sort of planner.
You started this business for a reason. It has to work, it just has to! When I left my 9-5 my worst fear was the day that I resorted to having to go back to being a W-2 employee somewhere. So that first year…man oh man…I burnt myself out BIG TIME! But when you’re a brand new entrepreneur, the fear of failure can really drive you to put every but of energy you have into it, and leave none for everything else in your life.
I was told on several occasions that my family felt like I worked more as an entrepreneur than I had in my 9-5. Yikes!
While I agree there are seasons for putting your head down and working late/more than usual, that should be the exception, not the norm.
SAS (yup, I just made up my own acronym) manifests from a combination of desperation and the most simple concept ever: because you can.
If you’re like a lot of small business owners, you work from home. I literally stare at my couch and fireplace every day while I work. (She-shed I’m comin’ for you). It’s soooo easy to just keep on working because you’re 5 steps from your own living room.
Remember, running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. And burning yourself out won’t get you to success any faster, in fact the opposite is usually true.
And this leads me right to my next scenario…
So you’ve been burning the oil at both ends and you’re not seeing any fruits of your labor. TBH, not surprising.
There are so many things that can go wrong with starting and running a business, but the majority of new business owners fail due to some combination of these three things (while it may not seem like it directly, they’re usually somewhere at the root of the problem).
Slow is fast, fast is slow. They taught us this mantra in my military training (must be why the government literally works slower than a sloth on tranquilizers). But, it’s actually applicable to running a business.
Working more hours doesn’t necessarily translate to getting more work done. Sorry friend, if you want to accomplish more sometimes the answer is working less, just more efficiently. (Remember what we said about making a plan and setting boundaries)?
Truth is, it took me 3-WHOLE-YEARS to actually turn a profit in my business. We won’t talk about the marginal number that profit was…but it wasn’t 6-figures, ya feel me?
Again, this all comes back to really understanding what it takes to run a business, recognizing that you can’t realistically do it all on your own and expect success overnight, and setting a sustainable schedule and plan for yourself.
Friends, even if you are just starting out in your business, please don’t take every client or request that comes across your desk! This will only result in a lot of frustration and lost time for you when you could be putting it to better use.
And while we’re talking about saying no, not every opportunity, trend or strategy is worth jumping on. Sure, running a business requires some degree of stepping out of your comfort zone, but if you’re not comfortable in front of a camera, don’t make your social strategy with a heavy emphasis on video.
Likewise, if writing or blogging isn’t your strong suit, choose a different type of long form content like podcasting or IG Lives.
Decide what you are and are not willing to spend your time doing, and for how much, and stick to it.
Those passed up opportunities keep your time open for other things that could benefit your business more than making a few extra bucks.
I think every entrepreneur EVER could say that at some point in their business they sacrificed their
soul sanity and self-care at some point.
My top recommendation for this is to schedule daily, weekly and then monthly times to do something that lights you up or makes you feel relaxed (outside of work). I used to find designing templates and mood boards so relaxing that it was my go-to when I didn’t really feel like working. Then it became my full-time job and suddenly what used to be an escape was a form of work. Don’t get me wrong, I still find it very therapeutic, but I don’t consider it to be an escape anymore, it’s just an enjoyable part of my work.
So here’s what something like this could look like:
Pick a few things that really make you feel productive and ready for the day as well as those that really help you wind down. Then incorporate those into a routine. For me, skincare is super important to me, and I love getting into a made bed at night (thanks for that OCD, Nanny). So every morning I have a routine of getting out of bed, doing my skin-care, making my bed, fixing myself an iced coffee, putting some fragrance oil in the diffuser or lighting some candles and only THEN do I tend to the dogs and kids before sitting down at my computer.
There’s something so relaxing about the predictability of it all and it really helps prep my mind and body for a day of work.
Then in the evening, I normally shut down by watching some TV with the family with a nice glass of wine and some dinner. Right before bed, I do my nightly skin-care routine and that’s a wrap!
Make sure to schedule at least one thing every week that is just for you. It could be a long bubble bath, a hot yoga sesh…whatever it is that you can do for an hour or two that’s all about you. This is the time to reset and re-center on yourself before doing it all over again.
My go-to is a nice hot bath with a glass of wine and a face mask. Throw in some candles, music, my jacuzzi jets and man…I am in a peaceful state of bliss for a good 30 minutes to an hour. I usually try to do this on a night when my hubby takes our youngest daughter to dance. Our oldest is usually at work, so it’s a rare moment of having the house to myself.
It’s really a game changer!
This is where you pick one big thing that you reaaaaaally enjoy and splurge once a month. Call it a reward for a month of hard work if you want, but for me it’s a way to re-energize myself and relax. Love to golf? Go catch a few holes one weekend. Prefer to shop? Take a trip to your favorite mall and find something special or that you’ve been eying for a while. Just give yourself something to look forward to every month!
My favorite thing to treat myself with once a month is either a good massage or facial. If I could get one of those every day I would be in heaven!
It’s more of a rare treat, but it really makes me feel like I am doing something nice for myself, and that goes a long way for a healthy mindset.
Alrighty, on to my last tip 👇🏻!
I know we kind of covered this in Tip #1, so stick with me here.
I’ve talked about the importance routines have played in my daily life and business in this blog post, but we’re going to expand on that here. One of the things I have intentionally been focusing on in 2023 is organizing my process and establishing sustainable routines to help not only keep me on track with work, but also stick to my goal of prioritizing self-care.
The first step in doing that for me was taking the time to put everything into a task management system. I’ve got a bad habit of wanting to jump on the latest tools and softwares and usually end up down a rabbit hole of experimenting with plenty and ending up using none. This is just one of those things I don’t enjoy doing, so spending my days wanting to scratch my eyeballs out doesn’t exactly keep me motivated.
But alas, I knew that avoiding this was significantly impacting my efficiency and ability to get things done. So for the majority of Jan/Feb of this year, I really took the time to map out my entire year’s marketing strategy and then started the painstakingly boring and tedious task of setting it all up in Asana so I can manage my time better and keep track of what’s coming up.
As a reformed obsessive planner, I know that I function better with due dates. They allow me to triage and determine where I need to be spending my time each day. So the trick to this tip is to understand what makes you tick when it comes to productivity.
If to-do lists are your thing, go for it. Prefer using a calendar? There’s some great options out there! Or, if you’re like me and really thrive on pen and paper planners, do yo’thang! (There’s a reason I don’t use paper planners anymore even though they’re my fave, but that’s a conversation for another time).
Bottom line is, you neeeeeeeed a plan. What I really struggled with last year was content planning and creation for my community and social media. My poor Pinterest manager was constantly (lovingly) nudging me for Pinterest graphics and my VA was unable to do what I hired her to do because there frequently wasn’t any content to schedule.
So I knew I had to carve out time for these tasks regularly so I could show up consistently and not feel like I was scrambling all the time to do it.
I wrote down everything I knew I needed to do and determined that the first week of every month would be for admin and creating content for the following month. Then, I established a loose daily schedule with all of my recurring tasks and I fill it in with what I need to get done prioritized by due date.
This predictability has made such a difference for me! I feel so much more on top of things and it’s nice to have a place to go to every morning to see what I need to do for the day rather than everything being spontaneous.
Running a business can be the most rewarding and fun experience, but it comes with its own set of complications and struggles. Eliminating the stress of my 9-5 was quickly replaced by the stresses of being a full-time business owner, mom and wife.
I am constantly evolving and striving for the best work/life balance possible, and I haven’t always succeeded at it. The real success comes with recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, learning what process and systems work for you, and establishing sustainable routines to help keep you on top of things without losing your mind.
And remember, you got into this business for a reason. Hold onto that when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and fall back on what you know works for you.
As always, hit me up if you need advice or a chat!
Till next time,
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