Q. Is there a difference between “having a lot of work” and “building a business”?
You can have plenty of work and never actually build a business.
In fact, if you’re chronically on the edge of burnout or frazzled, or if you feel like you work faster and faster without moving forward, then this is probably exactly what’s happening.
So let’s make this clarification once and for all:
Having a lot of work, even if it’s work you love, is not the same thing as building a business.
Having a lot of work without building a business winds up becoming what I affectionately refer to as the “Juggle-n-Struggle Method” of working. It looks something like this:
Do the client work. Rush a promotion out the door in a mostly haphazard way because you know it’s time to fill the pipeline. Do some edits to your email automation sequence while thinking, “I should really sit down and put together a better strategy for this someday.” Do some more client work. Lurch forward on your writing with a big creative sprint that leaves you feeling creatively depleted afterward — but you have to do it that way, because when else do you have time to fit it in? Do some more client work…
When you’re in this day-to-day struggle-n-juggle mode, it doesn’t feel like you’re running a business. It feels like you made a job for yourself.
Juggle-n-Struggle is caused by juggling All The Things as individual items.
Every time you get more client work, that’s another ball in the air. Every time you create new content, that’s another ball in the air. Every time you create or implement a promotion, that’s another ball in the air (or possibly a whole slew of 'em).
And so on.
When you’re in juggle-n-struggle mode, you’re forced to juggle faster and faster to keep up with all of these individual demands, but none of them ever really form any long-term stability or momentum for your business.
As soon as you’re done with one of the items, you set it down, and something else takes it place.
You’re perpetually juggling faster to try to keep all the balls in the air, but no matter how much faster you juggle, you’re still in the same place.
And, because no one can juggle-n-struggle at an even pace indefinitely, you’re eventually going to get exhausted. At which point, all those balls are going to start dropping all around you.
This, my friends, is the inevitable result of juggle-n-struggle: the drop-n-stop.
And after all that time and energy you spent busting your ass to keep things going, when the drop-n-stop happens, it feels crushing.
Especially because you know: you now have to pick all of those now-static balls up, and start all over again, and work your way back up to where you were before.
Juggle-n-struggle, drop-n-stop, feel soul crushing defeat, and then repeat.
(So delightful! Why isn’t EVERYONE in business for themselves?!)
The alternative to this cycle of juggle-n-struggle and drop-n-stop is simpler than you think.
The reason the juggle-n-struggle method of work is so damn hard is because you’re treating all of the pieces of your work as individual and discrete.
And they’re not.
And your life (and business) become much smoother, more stable, and more resilient when you start working with them as elements of a holistic system.
Which, after all, they are.
Here’s a wildly oversimplified way of thinking about it.
This is you in juggle-n-struggle mode, where all the pieces are treated as individual and discrete:
Notice how every single ball requires individual energy be dedicated to it and it alone, and the energy given to that ball won't do a darn bit of good for any of the others, because nothing is connected.
In contrast, this is what happens in Streamlined-n-Stable mode (notice the professionally crafted photoshop pen work there, thankyouverymuch):
Notice that you’ve created connections between what you’re doing on each piece, so that when you put energy onto any one piece, it moves everything else forward too. This is what you want. This is a good thing.
The more you streamline and create connections between the pieces of your business, the more stable and resilient your business becomes.
It’s not just that your day-to-day business life gets less frantic when you create this type of business architecture.
Your business also becomes more stable and resilient.
In juggle-n-struggle mode, if a couple of balls get knocked out of rotation, that totally alters your rhythm.
You have to scramble to figure out how to get your shit together again, and try to do so without everything else crashing down around you.
But in streamlined-n-stable mode, you can knock a couple of balls out of the loop without disrupting everything else.
The architecture you’ve got in place helps absorb the shock of pieces changing, coming, and going, and makes it much easier for you to make quick adaptations without everything falling apart.
These differences are why some independent business owners seem to stay frantically, chaotically swamped with work without ever truly building a business.
Because there is a difference between having a lot of work and building a stable, consistent, and resilient business.
And the difference is not always just in income. (Though stable, consistent, and resilient business are a hell of a lot easier to scale.)
The difference is often easiest to see in the business owner’s quality of life.
In how to close to burnout and creative depletion you are.
In whether you feel wrecked by the time Wednesday rolls around, or whether you can consistently make it through your work weeks feeling generally content and well.
In how often you feel a “Yep, can do” gut reaction when you need to make some adaptations, versus a “SWEET MOTHER OF BISCUIT, WHHYYYYY?” reaction with an icy sinking feeling in your gut.
It’s absolutely possible to have a lot of work without ever building a business. And it’s possible to build a business without ever having any work. (Plenty of people do that, too.)
I wouldn’t recommend either.
The bottom line is this:
Having a lot of work becomes much more manageable with much more stability and much less stress when you build an effective business.
You will always have work to do.
Building an effective business is how you make sure that the work you’re doing is creating stability, resiliency, and increased momentum…
… instead of just creating a more impressive juggling act.