I regularly work with “solopreneur” and small team entrepreneurs who are building laptop lifestyle, remote-team business, often in the consulting or coaching space. And what I find is that these entrepreneurs make the same three mistakes when it comes to project management for their businesses. Fortunately, they can be avoided with the right system and team, but only once you’re aware they exist.
Mistake One: Confusing Operations with Project Management
The first mistake I see solopreneurs make is that they confuse operations with project management, and apply the same habits and planning (or lack thereof) to both.
Confused about the two? Here’s a handy way to tell them apart:
- Project Management is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service, or result
- Operations are ongoing activities you need to do every day to run the business (accounting, client management, product/service fulfillment, ongoing marketing)
For example, launching a new marketing campaign is a project. Regular social media updates are operations. Client work can be operations or project work depending on how your business and product/service are structured. The pace, skills, and requirements for these two areas can be vastly different. Yet most of the time, I see solopreneurs try to hire one person who can somehow magically:
- Manage the internal operations and day-to-day functioning (reporting, meetings, keeping CEO on task, internal ops management)
- Manage the internal projects (marketing campaign, building a new website, etc)
- Managing the external client projects (touching base with clients, doing client work)
… all while somehow avoiding burnout on a $15/hour pay grade.
It just doesn’t work.
In my Scale Fast System, I always recommend entrepreneurs start by hiring specialists, even if it’s part-time at first. So, you hire an internal project manager whose only job is to manage the internal projects. Or an external-facing Client Engagement Manager, who can help clients move through their project with a single point of contact. Or a Marketing Manager, whose only job is marketing. Or an Accounting Consultant, whose only job is invoicing and end-of-month and taxes. And so on and so forth.
You can have a business where new projects are rarely done, however you can’t have a business where there is no operations.
The ability to have one but not the other further illustrates that operations and project management are not the same function in your business. Treating both as the same thing, and then assigning those tasks to the same person, is a recipe for disaster. Which brings me to mistake number two…
Mistake Two: Reactionary as Status Quo
The second operations and project management mistake I see is that entrepreneurs act as if being reactionary is the only way to function. They’ll run around like headless chickens trying to get it all done, as if someone’s pointing a gun to their head and demanding they move faster.
Yet often, they’re the ones who make the unreasonable deadlines to begin with. I can’t tell you how many solopreneurs I talk to who say they have no time, yet when you press them, you find out they promised an unreasonable project deadline to the client they knew they couldn’t fulfill. Or they said “yes” to a project they could have postponed. Or they gave themselves some other unreasonable constraint.
#ProTip: There is no good reason to continually create no-win situations for yourself.
Instead, find time to STEP BACK and FOCUS.
For my clients, this means creating a quarterly “Deliberate Direction” plan with me and taking at least a day to plan projects in advance. It means taking time each day to work on the 3-5 tasks which are most impactful, and letting tomorrow worry about itself. (Something we achieve with my “One Page”.)
It means foreseeing problems and fixing ineffeciencies, rather than constantly fanning the flames.
Here’s the thing: eventually, this constant doing leads to profit loss (either front-end or back-end) or burnout. So it’s really, really important to find some way to get out of this rut ASAP.
There’s no reason to let things get that bad! By taking the time to step back, BREATHE, and plan for growth, you’ll finally be able to have the “work life balance” you deserve… and scale your business the way you desire.
Mistake Three: Ineffective Project Management
The third mistake I see solopreneurs make is that if they do have project managers on board, they’re wholly ineffective. The CEOs do this by:
- Hiring for inexperience. I can’t tell you how many people I see thrust into project management roles with no training or experience in that role. Often, this is their “right hand”, often an assistant or intern turned into project manager. Let me be clear: what makes a good “administrative assistant” is a very different skill-set from what makes a good project manager. This tendency usually results in sloppy processes and haphazard project documentation. (Which means, nothing gets done.)
- Dual doer and manager. The second mistake? They have the person managing the work also do the work. DON’T DO THIS. Separate the roles when you can, as soon as you can, because these are two separate jobs.
- Paying too little. See #1, and now add on that in many circles in the online “internet marketer” communities, these poor PMs are paid as little as $15 an hour. Expect to pay at least $25, if not $125, for a truly competent Project Manager. Paying $50 an hour is a good start. (Again, you shouldn’t need “full time” when you’re beginning to scale up.)
- Disregarding the Project Plan/Deliberate Direction. When I work with my clients, I have them create a Deliberate Direction document which plans out the quarter’s projects which are to be completed on top of operations and client fulfillment. The biggest problem I see is that CEOs decide last minute to add some new project… or stop another already started project… or even completely change the company vision … in the middle of a quarter. At its most benign, I see a lot of surprise changes. “Oh, we hired this person,” or “we just bought this tool”… any of which could completely change the requirements, scope, risks, and assets available. Instead, let the quarter run its course before you change plans, and let your project manager do their job.
What other mistakes do you make or have you seen being made by solopreneurs? What advice would you give? Comment below to share.