I used to be a real “fly by the seat of my pants” guy. I’d come up with a plan and that I’d execute. And then a new plan. And I’d execute. And so on. But over the past couple of years I’ve come up with a bit of a problem with this scenario. I missed a step.
I didn’t track things.
Which is strange, because I’ve always been a stats guy. I could tell you how many stolen bases Vince Coleman had in 1985 (110) or how many touchdowns Brett Favre threw in his career (508) but I did a terrible job of using those stats for anything important. They were just some facts that clogged things up. And when I started my business, I didn’t have a need (or so I thought) to track much of anything. I was building a site here and managing a social media account there but it was a truly part time experience. But lately, I’ve started to realize that I should have been tracking a lot of things from the beginning.
I’m often asked how much I charge per hour and I’m always hesitant to give a number, but likely not for the reason that you might think. The fact is that I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to do most things. I might know that it takes me 4 hours to develop a wireframe or 3 hours to develop a social media schedule or 1.5 hours to write a blog post. But other than these activities, I don’t have a lot of what I would refer to as “static tasks”. A lot of my life is spent in research mode. I’m learning about industries, reading case studies, exploring content, and playing with apps. I don’t know how long most of that’s going to take.
So instead of looking at hours, I’ve always billed things as projects. It’s going to cost THIS MUCH to build a site, or THIS MUCH to manage a social media campaign. But those things vary GREATLY. For example, I’ve create content for companies that I’m familiar with that work in industries I’m comfortable with. It’s not hard for me to write a few pages of content about social media managers or bloggers or web developers. But what about tires? What about swimming pools? What about apps that harness the physical power of your mind? But should that matter?
When I built my first WordPress site, it took me a LOT longer than it had ever taken me to build a site because it was the first time I’d even SEEN the interface. But why should the customer have to pay for my unfamiliarity with their needs? And so I don’t bill per hour because often that would entail the customer paying more to cover my inabilities. That’s not to suggest that the final product is not going to be solid but rather that it’s going to take a little longer to get there.
So what does all this have to do with the price of tea? Well, before I was tracking projects precisely, it was a lot like the movie Clean Slate. I knew I’d done this before and I knew that I SHOULD know a lot about this but when it came to scoping a project or when it came to quoting a project, I was as clueless as Dana Carvey wandering around wondering where this dog came from. But then I Bill Murrary’d it.
Groundhog Day is what you should be striving for. When you find a repetitious point of your day or your life, you should figure out a way to do it right. If you’ve never seen the movie Groundhog Day, I’m generally sad for you, but I’d also really recommend that you watch it through the lens of an entrepreneur. It’s all about hacking your day. It’s about figuring out innovative ways to get you from point A to point B but there’s a particular scene in the movie that really strikes me.
It’s when Bill Murray first realizes that the day is absolutely and perfectly repeating itself. He starts watching (and tracking) the individual things that are happening and once he knows what to expect with THOSE particular things, he starts working on how to game the system.
Track. Everything. How long does it take you to check your email? How long does it take you to manage your weekly social posts? How long does it take you to register a domain, setup up the databases and users and be READY to build? Track. Everything.
Then, when things come at you, you’ll be better prepared to manage them. You can figure out if they’re relatable to existing tasks and be able to ballpark your time so that you’re not sitting at your desk at 11:34pm trying to figure out how to get that thing done that needs to get done by the end of the day.