There’s honestly no better feeling than turning out for your first day “at work” when you begin working for yourself.
Whether that’s unlocking an office door on that morning for yourself, rocking up to a hot desk or co-working space or sitting at your dining table with your laptop and notebook ready to change the world.
It’s an exciting, powerful time and the feeling you get is a feeling that I believe everyone with even the faintest spark of entrepreneurship should experience at least once in their life.
The pride is insurmountable.
Thinking back to my first week as a bonafide business guy, I knew that I needed to be exactly where I was and I knew that I wanted to change the world for my clients in the very best way.
That first day, that first week, they’re about laying the foundations for the business and putting elements in place that you can build upon.
The reason I’m writing today is that very often, I work with early stage entrepreneurs who completely, and totally, waste that vital first week.
How? Well, I’ll get to that in a second.
Why is the first week of your new business so vital?
It’s important to understand why your first week in business is so important.
For the most part, your first week in business is your first week without chains.
It’s the first time, even if you have been a sidepreneur for a while, that you are free to dictate your day from beginning to end without any constraints.
And there is nothing more addictive than freedom.
And heck, rightly so.
But even though that first week in business is likely to be filled with logistical tasks that you didn’t expect, random paperwork you’ve never had to do before or impromptu visits from family & friends, it’s so very vital to make really sure that you know you’re there to do business.
In fact, the very first week you spend in business sets the tone for the second week and, in turn, the third week and fourth week…
You get the picture, right?
Whilst I believe it’s important to work how you want to work that week, it’s also vital to work in a way that sets a solid foundation for those following weeks. Those weeks very quickly become months, and as the months pass it becomes easy to see that the foundations you lay during the early days really set the tone for the results you will see later.
At this point you’re likely thinking:
“Well, hey Mark, I have my business plan or my SMART objectives — surely I just keep pursuing those and how I spend my first week isn’t that important?”
Sure, I get that.
But this first week, your first taste of life in business full-time is the beginning of your formative time within that business.
It’s the first 5 days of your 66 days to creating your new working habits. It’s the first time you can dictate your actions in alignment with your attitude and self-awareness, without a boss telling you what your actions, or overall goals, should be.
To that end, it’s easy to believe that “taking it easy”, or “just getting into it” are fine.
But at this point, from the moment you step through that door on day one, you ARE in it. Deep end, man.
Financial runway or not, you have to start generating results. No question, no option and no other focus.
Results, results, results.
Marry that with the “oh it’s just my first week, I’ll get to that” attitude, the apathy, that many early stage entrepreneurs feel when the first-week excitement takes control and you have the potential to set a foundation that is cracked — a foundation that won’t hold the weight of the pressure to create results will pile upon you.
Your first week in business lays the foundation for your attitude to the next week and eventually compounds into your attitude to your working life from here on out.
Best to get that right, right?
Screw up behaviour #1: Too much freedom = not enough work
That very first week in business has to be about finding your groove, about setting the tone for the next few months and eventually the habits that will become hard to break within your own productivity and structural bounds.
Coming from a 9 to 5, it’s hard to realise that actually you may not function best during those hours, I don’t — I focus on tasks best from 7am to 1pm and that’s why I book meetings or interviews for after 2pm.
Not realising, or should I say not accepting that it’s alright to work the hours that YOU want to work is a dangerous game.
Sure, you have to work around clients, suppliers or partners too, but if you don’t naturally perform best between 9 and 5, then you run the risk of this first week being filled with time waster tasks (see point #5!) that result in you being sat there “working”, but actually not moving forward with anything impactful.
This is so harmful as it actually brings with it two problems:
- You feel like you’ve had “long days”, after all, you’ve been sat there, but…
- …you haven’t achieved anything meaningful. You’re actually only sat there because you feel like you should be.
Although you’re “working”, you’re just not doing enough of the things that matter.
A telltale sign is when you find yourself wondering “what to do next”, even if you have a plan in place.
Clearly, your focus and willpower are ready for a recharge and if you feel like this has come too soon during your day, then perhaps you aren’t suited to a 9 to 5 working day.
In this case, experiment: start earlier, leave earlier; start later, leave later; add a long break during the middle of your day and hit the gym, or go for a walk and then head back for another punch at the clock.
USE this first week to feel out when you work best and tweak that until you find your perfect working day.
Screw up behaviour #2: Too much freedom = too much work
Maybe the previous point doesn’t apply to you. Perhaps you have a plan and you nail it, you get through it and deliver impact exactly where you need to deliver it in your business.
But, the very same 9–5 mindset that causes issues in the previous point can also go the other way, too.
After all, in your last job, there was someone to tell you to go home; you weren’t benefiting really from working longer hours; you didn’t see the direct impact of those longer hours.
In your own business, you will see the fruits of doing more of the right kind of work — of that there is little doubt.
However, as entrepreneurs, we’re all cut from the same cloth. We have a drive and desire to generate results and of course, this means that we typically love our work. So much so that it often doesn’t feel like work, we just enjoy it so how can it possibly be work?!
With words like “hustle” and “grind” adorning every single inspirational Instagram account, it’s easy to begin to wonder just how much more the people that you look up to and admire are working than you are.
And we’ve all heard the stories of the startups that work through the night for seemingly weeks on end to get the results.
That is all fine, but take it with a pinch of salt. The most surefire way to ruin your business is to burn out quickly by pursuing this ideal of “being busy”.
During the first week of your new business, take a breath.
You have a plan, right? Stick to it.
Figure out what’s important in your business. Look at how you can have the most impact and be extremely fair on yourself.
Start work at 7am? Fine, but don’t be there at 9pm.
There’s zero glory in telling people how many hours you work or how tired you are. In fact, all that this will do is put unfair pressure on you to continue that week in, week out.
There’s more pride in telling people what you’ve achieved, focus on that and if you need to pull an all-nighter as each of us invariably do from time to time, make sure it’s for a damned good reason.
It’s alright to turn off, don’t forget that. You’re setting your structure during these first weeks and even a subconscious need to be “productive” all of the time will grow into a significant problem, later.
Screw up behaviour #3: What plan?
Friday comes around quickly. And with Friday comes the need to look back upon the week that has just passed and look at what was actually achieved — what forward motion has there been and how effectively have you used your time?
Central to this is a plan. Not a business plan, rather a weekly plan and set of daily plans that push you further towards your bigger business goals.
Week #1 is the only time to begin putting this in place.
I have seen countless entrepreneurs let weeks one, two, three, four and so on pass without making any significant progress in any area of their business, citing one very problematic mindset as the reason:
“It’s only week one, let’s just get through that and then we’ll start planning on Monday.”
But of course, Monday comes around and suddenly you begin the firefighting; you start with the emails; the phone rings; the family calls around for a visit.
Suddenly, it’s Friday again and although you’ve been busy, you haven’t achieved anything.
The beauty of this is that you now work for yourself, no one can tell you how to plan your day or what you have to be doing.
Use that. Embrace it.
Figure out what the most important tasks are in your business, make a plan to achieve them or take planned actions that move you measurably towards your objectives — and then plan something fun or interesting into your days, too
The word “plan” implies heavy work, lots of formality and reeks of your old life as an employee. But without a plan, the quest to stay “busy” can easily, and quietly take over.
Plan, your way — and don’t underestimate its importance.
Screw up behaviour #4: Processes, nah!
If you’re not careful, a funny thing happens when you leave the “corporate world”.
Coming from that world conditions us all to believe that things happen way too slowly, that we’re buried under a world of red tape and that processes are there to be cumbersome, pointless “ass-covering” techniques designed to make sure that each decision maker has at least one “buck pass” in them.
And sure, much of that is true.
But just as sure as processes in larger organisations become bloated and overly complex, the lack of processes in a solopreneur venture can cause unforeseen and sometimes drastic problems later on.
During this first week of business, you have an opportunity to lay some significant foundations that will make scaling your business that much easier.
Remember, growth rarely happens when you plan it to happen and it rarely happens how you plan it to happen. Opportunity strikes and serendipity stalks you, the key to maximising these chances lies in how prepared you are to handle the stresses that can force your business to burst at the seams.
Unless you’re David Brent, it’s impossible to believe that all of your knowledge and all of the steps that you go through daily to make your business a success can be retained “up here in my head”.
From day one, the implementation of simple CRM systems, email marketing (for data capture) systems and even process mapping (I highly recommend Process Street for this, it’s free) are a truly vital part of your business.
By implementing even the simplest of processes and systems, you know that your business can be much less reliant on you running everything, thus enabling growth, experimentation and the cursed “superhero syndrome” that will inevitably hit you if you try to “control” everything.
Although it may seem like something “I’m too small for now”, believe me, 30 minutes setting up Weber, Highrise (CRM) or Process Street will save you thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours later.
Screw up behaviour #5: Doing “back patting” work
One of my earliest and most highly respected clients, John Cunningham, once told me to separate the important from the interesting, and that if I did that I’d make my business a success.
And it worked, to a large degree.
The issue that I found stemming from that is that you set your business up to do something that you find interesting and that fulfils you.
And so, I adapted this formula into a “Triple I” principle, splitting tasks into the following categories:
These are the cornerstones of my own productivity techniques and I’ve written about them in the free download “The 14 Day Guide to Cutting Your Working Hours and Increasing Your Impact” — a process that I still use to this day to maintain my effectiveness in business.
The reason that this matters is that there’s another category of tasks that I don’t talk about too much, another “I”:
Impact-less tasks have a place in your business because they are actually typically the things that we’re expected to do, but that don’t actually matter.
They’re tasks that make us feel good about being sat at our desks; they’re tasks that we can reel off at a moment’s notice in a bar to sound as if we’ve achieved something during this first week.
If in your first week you spend time setting up your Twitter profile, your Facebook page and playing with 4 different business card designs, you have simply wasted your time.
Sure, they need doing and you’d be expected to have done them — but they should have been done before you even set foot inside your business on that first day.
Because they don’t generate sales, not really in the earliest days. They don’t create any traction and they don’t move your business forward.
If your first week in business is about setting the tone for the next month and the next year, the tasks that you choose to undertake during your first week should reflect the importance of it.
Give yourself high stakes, set unrealistic targets and strive to win that first contract, make that first big sale or exceed your sales targets.
Your first week isn’t about completing “back pat” tasks that make you feel good, it’s about creating a real-life, profitable and fulfilling business.
Make sure your to-do list reflects that.
Your first week in business will never happen again. Make it count, make it fun and make sure that you look back upon it as the week that propelled you to the vision of success that you strive for.
And don’t forget, the more you expect from yourself the more you WILL excel!
Originally published at www.excellence-expected.com on October 12, 2016.