Can Your Business Survive Without You?
It’s been a really tough week and I’ve had to ask myself this very question - can my business survive without me? It’s a big relief to say that 3 simple factors mean I can. Here’s the back story…
In my March wrap up, I said I wanted to hire a virtual assistant (VA). Promptly after that, I posted a callout on Virtually Yours, an Australian VA network that connects VAs with potential employers. And I found the highly recommended Leanne, who I immediately felt at home with.
I had 2 big tasks that I needed to someone else to deal with. Yes, I could have done them myself but it would take infinitely longer and be way more annoying and stressful. Stuff that. I’m earning some money now I can afford to hire some help.
The first task was to take all my templates and documents that I’ve developed over the years and put them into a client management system (CMS). Leanne suggested Dubsado, which is a program that I tried out a couple of years ago. I thought then that it was a great CMS with excellent customer service and some really good features. But I wasn't at the stage of my business where I really could take advantage of those factors and therefore justify the cost. It equates to about $A50/month which adds up when you’re a small business.
Now, I feel that $500/year to help streamline my business processes is actually a pretty good investment. And I found a promo online that got me 30% off the annual cost (yay).
The second task I foisted onto Leanne is setting up my financial management system so that everything is in place as my business grows. I’ve used Wave Apps for a very long time and it’s excellent. I also have all of my financial records and my client list and that sort of thing in Excel spreadsheets; simple but it works for me. But now I'm starting to grow my business consistently. I’m registering for GST, which means I'll need quarterly BAS statements, money set aside for tax and all that responsible financial stuff. So, I’m moving across to the more powerful app, QuickBooks.
I will write more about how Dubsado and Quickbooks work out for me in a later post. I know I will miss my trusty Wave but I think it’s important to know when to move on too.
The actual process of hiring Leanne was very straightforward and then I created a shared Google Drive folder and dropped in all my templates for contracts, quotes, briefs, pricing etc, client lists, work in progress spreadsheet and other essential documents. I signed up to Dubsado and Quickbooks, invited Leanne as an admin and then set her on her way importing documents, integrating apps and working her magic.
Fast forward to Easter and I’d taken a week off to spend time with my family during the school holidays.
I’m so glad I did because the last week has been hell.
My six-year-old daughter, Lara, developed a bacterial infection in her finger, which led to a 3-day hospital stint in Nowra during our beach holiday. Followed by a transfer to Canberra Hospital where we’ve been for the last 5 days. After much excruciating pain, misdiagnosis and a lot of treading water, today she’ll have the 3rd surgery on her chubby little hand. After that, there’s a long healing process but we’re hopeful she'll will make a near-full recovery over the next several months.
While we were dealing with the shock of discovering that Lara's little finger swelling was actually a full-blown bacterial infection that required multiple surgeries to fix, there was also the devastating Sri Lanka attacks on Easter Sunday.
It was just so terrible and senseless. And reading the news every day and hearing about people who just escaped and those that didn't has been awful.
For those of you who don't know, I lived in Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s to the 1990s, during the ethnic civil war. Reading about this feels oddly familiar and so, so sad.
Growing up in a civil war is still growing up and my childhood was relatively happy and normal. Like climbing frangipani trees to collect flowers for my mum, and climbing drain pipes when mum wasn’t looking. And rescuing wretched kittens and occasional terrapins from the storm water drains that ran outside our house. Power cuts and two TV channels that aired twice a day. The feel of the hard-baked dirt driveway under my bare feet as I played outside. Curry lunch everyday with fresh pineapple juices that my mum made in our hardy Kitchen Whiz.
And, less normal, the endless army checkpoints and soldiers patrolling the streets with machine guns. The odd but distinct boom of a not-too-distant bomb that shattered the silence of my history exam one day at school, or a semi-regular assassination that left the streets empty and shrouded in white flags.
Even as a writer, I find it hard to capture the essence of growing up in Sri Lanka in those days.
As I said, it's been a long, stressful, painful week. But in the background, however, is work and clients and deadlines. That doesn’t stop and it’s part and parcel of being a freelancer.
I've got two big contracts that I'm working on right now. I managed to finish first drafts of both new websites in the last few days before I took leave. I sent them off to the clients, which gave me a few days leeway when everything started going down.
But I still had inquiries coming in that needed to be responded to, quotes to prepare and jobs to pitch on the TCCS community. Although I couldn’t sit down to write or edit lengthy documents, design websites, or do any of my usual daily work, I always need to look for the next job. Planning and scheduling work in the coming weeks and months is just routine. Even if I’m technically on leave, I can’t disappear completely.
But 3 factors that meant that I’ve been able to take time off to be with my family and not worry about current and future work. They ensured that my business could survive without me, or with me doing the minimal amount of work. Which was a huge relief.
I had taken a week off in advance. I had prepared my clients for me having this week off by adding it to my email signature for at least a month beforehand. I had no deadlines or anyone waiting on me.
I have a stockpile of templates and documents that I’ve developed over the years - quotes and contracts; canned emails that sit as drafts in my inbox; services and prices lists - everything I need to quickly respond to those crucial initial quotes and job pitches.
And I now have a VA who is not only preparing a more efficient client management system for me but is my backup. I can shoot an email to her to prepare a quick quote using X template and away it goes. I don't need to think about it again and can just get back to being with my family, having a much-needed nap or ducking home to walk the dog or get a change of clothes.
Putting in place the systems and structures so that your business can run without you is such a necessary part of being a freelancer. The peace of mind of knowing that you'll still have clients and income coming in over the next few weeks and months. You just never know when you might need it.
And I want to ask you, can your business survive without you if you need to take time off? Do you have systems in place to push through leads, send emails and funnel through clients and work? And if you don't have those systems in place, what do you need to get them up and running?
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is a freelance SEO copywriter and web designer for businesses and organisations. Based in Canberra, she delivers smart, savvy SEO copywriting and professional Squarespace web design. She also writes an awesome newsletter on small business marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff".