The Escapades of a Mad Hatter

by HCHC on January 11, 2012

As women, we’re expected to be natural multitaskers. Just ask any mother about her average evening – helping the kids with their homework while she cooks dinner, exchanging news of the day with her partner, caring for an aging parent, feeding the pets, refusing telephone solicitations, opening the mail, and getting notes ready for her presentation at the next day’s meeting.

I should know…this is what my average evening looks like! I always feel like Dr. Seuss’ Cat In the Hat, swapping off one hat for another at a nanosecond’s notice. Teacher – swap! Mother – swap!  Spouse – swap! Caregiver – swap! – and all the rest…

Sound familiar? It’s all in a day’s work; we do it without even thinking about it. Oh, occasionally we get overloaded and forget to turn on the oven when we put the chicken in, so at dinnertime we’re faced with raw bird and the need for an emergency Plan B.  By and large, though, we manage to swap one hat for another without even breaking stride.

So you’d think, when it comes to multitasking as solopreneurs, women would be primed for success…right?  Truth is, most of us go in with that expectation, and quickly find the reality is very different.

For me, the realization didn’t come until I’d taken a step beyond my private shiatsu practice and my teaching schedule at the Baltimore School of Massage to create the Howard County Holistic Center. Then, finally, I understood that I had just added a towering pile of hats on top of those that were already teetering on my head. I could feel them threatening to topple over at any moment.

Not only was I the chief cook and bottle washer for two businesses – keeping the books, scheduling appointments, running the office, buying supplies, doing the marketing and networking on top of my teaching and the shiatsu services I was providing to my clients – but I was doing all of this on top of my family responsibilities!

What to do? The Holistic Center was a small startup; I couldn’t afford to hire an office manager, accountant, marketer, administrative assistant, and all the other support staff I needed! So I gritted my teeth and decided: somehow or other, I would make this work.

If you’ve ever been in that position – or if you’re facing that challenge now – you know the feelings.  They cover the spectrum from anxiety and obsessive list-checking (Did I scrub the toilets? Order new needles? Pay the bills? Check the next day’s appointments? Practice my talk ready for tomorrow’s workshop?), all the way to sheer overwhelm (Where am I going today? What am I doing in this room? What day is this?).

In a healing practice that required me to be grounded and centered, I was a one-woman vortex!

When I spoke of this challenge at On Purpose networking meetings, other women would tell me, “It’s cheaper to pay an expert than to have an amateur do it for free.”

It was all based on the old axiom: Time is Money, they said. For example, if you and an office manager each charged, say, $75 per hour, and you each spent the same amount of time to organize your office, you would have exactly equivalent values being spent and received.

Now, let’s say you had no aptitude for accounting, and it took you 16 stress-filled hours to run your quarterly tax report, when it would take a CPA two hours at $125 per hour. In this case, you would lose nearly $1000 (not counting the cost of Tension Tamer tea, massages, and other anxiety-reducers) by attempting to do it yourself!

But what about low-paying “service” tasks such as cleaning? The same principle applied! If you spent four hours at $75 per hour to clean your business property when a cleaning service would charge $35 per hour for the same length of time, you would lose $160 for that half-day. Actually, when you consider that you could not see clients during the time when you were cleaning, you would lose $460.
Either way, my fellow solopreneurs told me, I lost money by trying to do all of the jobs involved in my business.

In theory, I could understand their point. But the simple fact remained: given the amount of income the business was earning, my budget could handle those losses better than it could handle the up-front expense of professional support. So I continued my whirl of frantic activity.

Finally, I whirled myself into such a frenzy that – as the Recovery folks would say – I hit bottom. I realized that not only was my frantic activity costing me time, sleep, peace of mind, and money – it was also costing my clients. I was missing appointments because I was double-booked, and even when I was physically present, I wasn’t giving the client my full attention …or the best treatment I was capable of giving.

That was the breaking point. Personally, I was willing to pay the price of my macho “I can do it” compulsion – but when it started hurting my clients, something had to change! Indeed, it was cheaper to pay an expert than to do it myself.

So I changed my ways. I set up a crackerjack team of gifted experts with plenty of experience in their fields: Amber Lee Scott of TrueUVoice.com for social media marketing and project coordination; Karen Brand of WingsOfTheSun.com for website design and development; Phila Hoopes for copywriting; Josie Thompson of JosieDesigns.com for design of print collateral, and Debbie Barry of Design4TheSoul.com for administrative assistance and Feng Shui.  (anybody else? –Accountant? Cleaners? Others?)

We sat down together, planned our strategies, and suddenly I felt my bowed shoulders straightening. I could lift my head; the weight of (how many?) hats was being gently lifted and redistributed around the conference table. I didn’t need to worry about mustering up the energy to do everything in addition to treating my clients and holding the larger vision for the business.

Finally, by trusting others to do their jobs for me, I was free to do my job!

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