OVERWORKED! The plight of the small business owner.

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Here is a seemingly incomprehensible fact of life:

How is it possible for the owner of a small business to be so overworked, so involved and so busy… and still not make the income they need?

How is it that an intelligent, educated and hard-working person can devote hours and hours of their time, sometimes working late into the evening, with stress that they bring home to their family, and then not even make the money they really should be making? It seemingly violates natural law! How can it even be possible?

A business owner can have all kinds of brilliant ideas; consultants can provide them with stellar advice; seminars, webinars and classes can tell them all sorts of things they ought to do…and maybe they should do them. But who has time for it all? A business owner is typically so busy just handling what they’ve already got on their plate that there is just no time to do anything else. And the overwork can be unbelievable! For most, try as they might, they never seem to be able to get on top of it all. It’s sort of like a treadmill that is going ever-so-slightly faster than they can run.

The “to do” list mounts up and, though the business keeps going, the amount of work required can be enormous. The effort expended by a small business owner is Herculean at times. They are the unsung heroes of the American economy. What the average small business owner goes through just to keep their business running would make others quail and close the doors their first week. If there is one common denominator of small business owners or practice owners, it’s the fact that they work hard—continually

However, there is another side to this. When speaking of hard work which doesn’t get you anywhere toward your goal, this is OVERwork. When a person is working and working, yet isn’t winning the game they set up for themselves, this isn’t about being a hard worker. This is about being overworked and overwhelmed.

But do they have to work that hard? Can it really be true that they have to do all of this hard work, devote their life to it and then in the end not really get ahead?

One is apt to just sum it up with, “Life is like that” or “Well, that’s how running a business is” or just “You take what you can get.” After years of trying, years of working 50-plus hours a week, pouring heart and soul into the business, one tends to “face the facts” and “get real” about things.

But what if this weren’t the way it really is? What if there were another answer?

There is. It lies in the field of organization.

To understand overwork, one has to understand organization.

All business owners tend to know their particular field pretty well. A dentist generally understands dentistry. A veterinarian can handle animals. A mechanic can fix cars. This isn’t the problem. For them to be in business at all, they normally have to be pretty decent at it. So where do they get bogged down? On the business end of things. They never really had any formal training in organization or management. Everything they do is through trial and error. Therefore that’s the part of their life that gives them the most trouble.

Does the dentist worry about root canals? Does the veterinarian worry about spaying a dog? No! These are fun for them. These can even be relaxing at times, compared to finance and business issues. That’s because these are the areas that they were trained in. These are the areas they are certain of. This is what they’re skilled in.

Their entire trouble lies in the fact that they never learned HOW to organize. They never learned HOW to manage. There are procedures of organization. There are methods and skills involved in managing. One doesn’t just open up a business and start banging around any more than a person opens up the hood of a Cadillac and starts banging around. Every specialized field has its own knowledge and skills—running a business is no exception.

Being overworked in a business is not a symptom of having too much to do; it’s a symptom of too little organization to handle what’s going on! Almost any volume of work can be handled comfortably so long as it is properly organized. It all depends on having an owner and a staff who understand organization and management—and these subjects can take some real work to learn.

Thus, the “overwork” of any business owner is actually “under-organization.” The specific skills and tools of management just aren’t known, so any time the traffic gets too high, it exceeds their know-how and overwhelms them. They become overworked and don’t know what to do to get out of it. They need to make a good paycheck, so they have to keep the traffic coming in. Unfortunately, they are actually running their day-to-day operation well above their real knowledge and ability to organize! The work stacks up around them, they get backlogged and they just stay there…for years. Now that becomes “just how their business runs.”

One has to get the real picture of what’s happening here: the business and its employees are actually creating the “overwork” by not really knowing how to handle that flow of traffic. The “overwork” is actually an illusion. This isn’t a natural part of life. It’s CREATED. The reality of what’s happening is that the business needs X dollars to survive in any given week or month. Therefore, they must flow X volume of production and traffic through the place. In truth, this volume of traffic isn’t overwhelming; it could be smoothly handled. It isn’t natural that it has to be more than that business can comfortably deal with. However, lacking proper organization, the office staff mishandle the customers, the materials and the accounts. They neglect what they are supposed to do, there was never a system set up to handle it correctly, or the employees never fully learned the workable systems that are in place. One or two staff members then end up doing everything to keep the place running. This creates overwork.

Did you ever wonder how certain people are somehow able to do an extraordinarily large amount of business? You know, the dentist that is doing $6 million a year comfortably, when all his peers are doing $2 million…. There are always a minority of people around who just seem to be able to run a bigger show. They have more going on and still have time to do other things in life. What’s the difference? Are they better? Smarter? Have more ability?

No. They’re better organized. Somehow—through training, natural intuition or something else—they have an ability to correctly organize the traffic and production they handle. Thus, they can handle a ton of it with no strain.

Then there are others who are overwhelmed and trip all over themselves if one customer walks through the door. The customer waits for a long time, is told the wrong price, and then it turns out that the office staff had the wrong file…the customer needed a different product. Whoops.

Every business is somewhere on this scale. At the low end of the scale we have an office that falls all over itself and bumps into walls when one person walks in. They can hardly handle any volume. No need to promote or drum up additional business…if anyone additional walked in it would just swamp the place. At the high end of the scale we have a business that can handle huge volumes of people, incredible production volume, tremendous numbers of jobs. The place is efficient, busy and full. Even if there aren’t a large number of employees, somehow they can handle it all and no one is under serious strain.

The “ceiling” on any office’s production capabilities is its degree of organization. In other words, every office has an invisible limit to the amount of work and production they can do. This is determined solely by how organized the place is. If you try to push an office beyond its “ceiling” this results in overwork. If you push the production very far past this ceiling, it creates chaos for the business owner, whose only solution is to simply work later into the night and skip meals.

Every business has an invisible production ceiling. Where is yours? Take a look. See if there is a line that you can’t really seem to get past. Feel stuck at a certain level? Never can get your collections above a certain point? That’s because there is a line that, above which, you can only reach by raw effort and chutzpah. Business owners instinctively know that they can handle X dollars in collections and production. However, trying to push it higher than this, well….

If you notice an invisible ceiling in your practice, just realize that you’re looking at the limit of your business’s organizational skill. It just isn’t set up to handle—or generate—more traffic than that. It will coast along in that fixed area, getting a bit better or a bit worse, but won’t move into a different range.

The solution is to organize the business. Locate the jammed up internal flows, locate who is overworked, discover who doesn’t know their jobs or company policy. Find out who has all of the work landing on their desk. Chances are, you’ll find out it’s the business owner.

Now that you know what the problem is, you can do something about it. Restructure your office duties. Delineate more clearly who does what. Train your staff on the underlying laws and principles of organization. Teach the staff their jobs better. Switch the physical traffic flow in your office so it doesn’t all pile up in one place. Change the schedule. Put your best staff in charge, getting someone else to cover for them. Teach the new person how to do the jobs your other one was handling. Track the office production. Find out what caused more new patients and do that. Locate what made the production to go down. Remove that. Little by little you can organize your office and turn it into a smoothly-running, highly effective machine. And quality of work will only get higher, your customers happier and the products you deliver, better.

The Hanses Management Team

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3 Responses to OVERWORKED! The plight of the small business owner.

  1. Stan Dubin says:

    Excellent article! It is sad to see so many small business owners working, working, working and not getting the returns on their efforts. Some blame it on the economy; some blame it on the competition; some even blame it on their staff. There are other excuses out there, but when the business owner learns to skillfully manage his/her business, none of those excuses matter.

    Glad you’re out there Hanses Management team. A lot of folks need you!

    • Dear Stan,
      Your support and keen insight is appreciated. Your comment points up some very interesting facts about the wrong reasons people usually assign to why their business isn’t doing as well as they’d like. Great information and the only truly workable viewpoint one could have.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Hanses Management

  2. Pingback: The Importance of Work/Life Balance to Store Owners | Thrive Software

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