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An Entrepreneur Wears 100 Hats and Has 1000 Bosses -- Finding Solutions to the "Too Many Responsibilities" Dilemma
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Something start-up entrepreneurs are warned of and all people who've started their own businesses learn is that the smaller the business, the more functions you have to perform yourself. Another thing you learn simultaneously with the "wearing many hats" discovery is that you may be your own boss, but you also have many other "bosses." You may call them clients, customers, spouses, children, government regulators, advertisers or a host of other names you may use to describe the many people who vie for your time, attention and service.

That may sound like "bad news," but there's good news to be found in the many ways successful solo entrepreneurs and micro business make it easier, faster and quite manageable to take on the numerous responsibilities of having your own business.

First consider the "too many tasks" problem.

Your business person's hats may include:

1. Your business functions -- whatever it is you earn $ for and the tasks directly related to it: your product and developing it, your services, marketing, website development, packaging, shipping etc.

2. Your administrative functions -- bookkeeping, record keeping, compliance with laws and regulation, secretarial tasks.

3. Your personal functions -- if you work from your home in order to provide care for your children, you have the mommy/daddy function, the cooking and cleaning function, the chauffeur function and more. And if you don't work from home but have your own office, you'll still be considered to have time to take personal calls and run errands. ("Honey, the boss says I have to work overtime. Can you go out this afternoon a pick up the dry cleaning?") Your mother-in-law may suddenly decide that since you don't work under someone else's supervision, it's alright to call you in the middle of the day for an hour's chat.

Now, consider your bosses.

Sam Walton said:"There is only one boss-the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."

1. Your customer/client bosses -- In actuality, it's worse than what Sam Walton said. You don't have merely one customer or one client. If you are earning a living, you have many customers or clients. And you have to cater to each of them separately as if they were your bosses.

2. Your government bosses --Moreover, your customers or clients aren't your only bosses. If you think about your many hats, you'll realize that compliance with governmental regulations puts a number of other kinds of people in charge of your time. You have to file all sorts of tax forms, including your own and those for your employees and contractors. They must be done in particular ways, with particular back up documentation and by specific recurring deadlines. Does that sound like a work assignment to you? How about your assignments from your state and local governments for business licenses and permits and the supporting documentation and continuing reporting requirements?

3. Your other bosses --If what you have to do to operate "legally" isn't enough, think about the work you have to do to comply with the terms and conditions of your suppliers, landlords (if you rent outside space), bankers, and publishers (of your advertising). Even the people you pay for what they offer make you do sometimes extensive work to get them to work for you.

You might think from the foregoing that these are time management issues. Indeed, you can resolve some of these issues with time management techniques. But to a large extent these are people management issues; that is, the management of other people's unrealistic expectations and behaviors in relation to you.

In terms of time management, we usually say that you manage what you have to do by deciding whether to delete it, delegate it, automate it, pend it for a better time, combine it with similar tasks, multitask it, or do it now. A complete discussion of time management techniques is better covered in a different article. Or several different articles.

In the case at hand, it's mostly a matter of understanding that you can't actually do all of the tasks presented to you by your "bosses," and you can't actually wear all the hats you think you must.

Here's what you can eliminate:

1. All the stuff that you can get pre-packaged for a reasonable cost (sometimes free!) and that would take too long to learn to do well. For example, if you think you have to be your own webmaster because webmaster services are too costly, you have been misled. It's not an either/or proposition. You don't have to know html, css. javascript, php, Dreamweaver or design skills. Learning how to use a simple blogging system with free hosting is relatively easy and quick. A blog on Blogger or WordPress is a real website and costs you nothing but a little time to learn it. It doesn't need a lot of maintenance.

Or how about the assumption that you need to buy and learn to use expensive, complicated software for keeping books, doing invoicing, making presentations, producing spreadsheets, writing and managing documents, etc., etc? There's an online service called that has simple versions of such utilities and more for free use for the single user. For that matter, most folks can do just fine with GoogleDocs. Whichever you use, the services make your chores easier and faster because they are so easy to learn and use, and they're all organized in one place. Oh goody. Fewer file cabinets. And free is always such a good price.

2. Unreasonable Customer Demands (And Unreasonable Customers). Yes, you heard me. You can and should say "no" to unreasonable demands and you should fire unreasonable customers.

The earlier quote I cited from Sam Walton isn't to be taken literally. You do need customers. You don't need every customer. In fact, the Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) works very well in terms of customers: about 20% of your customers will give you 80% of your income. About 20% of your customers will also give you 80% of your headaches. Fire them. You don't learn anything profitable and you don't profit financially from unreasonable customers.

Furthermore, you will have some otherwise good customers who will occasionally make unreasonable demands. If you say yes, you probably won't be able to satisfy the customer, or if you do satisfy them you'll probably lose money on the deal. You certainly will end up spending a lot of time you really can't afford on the proposition. Learn the skills for saying no and giving a good enough explanation that the customer will be glad you said no.

3. Unreasonable Personal Demands and Expectations. One of the most difficult areas for entrepreneurs and micro business owners to deal with is the demands and expectations of their families and friends. The common complaint is that family and friends seem to think that because you now get to choose your work time and schedule, all your time is free time.

You know that in fact, you have less time available than if you were working as an employee. You can't afford to drop what you're doing to have lunch with a former colleague. If you stop what you're writing to help your wife "just for a minute" by changing the baby while she cooks lunch, you lose your train of thought and it can take you a half-hour or so to get it back. Often, you can't get it back. You've lost the inspiration behind it.

If you don't have a job with a regular schedule and commute, everyone seems to treat you as if you don't work anymore.

It's best to set the limits from the beginning, but if you've let this go on for a while, you will have to deal with resistance and hurt feelings. This is another category in which you must learn to say "no" until people behave better. No, you can't run that errand on your lunch hour -- you don't have a lunch hour, but you do have a deadline. No, you can't chat on the phone right now; you have to leave for an appointment with an essential supplier. No, you can't quit at 3 p.m and take the kids to the park; you're expecting a potential new client to phone you.

You may be self-employed, but you are employed. And you have to have time to do your work.

So, you may have to wear many hats and tolerate numerous "bosses," but you have a lot of choices and wiggle room. Bring back the "self" to your self-employment.



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