“I want to code!”
It’s the little voice in your head, constantly pestering you to get productive. Replace code with any technology-related hard skill and you have the tech person's productivity dilemma.
But what does it mean to be productive? What does it mean to be productive as a solo professional?
If you’re a freelance developer and you don’t code, you might feel like you’re not doing the right thing. You might feel like you’re being unproductive. But that is not true.
Being a solo professional, on your entrepreneurial journey, is not just about your actual job, as I’ve come to learn from reading The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, and mapping it to my own experiences. The hard, technical skills you have are only part of the skillset you should have and use, to contribute to your business.
Being a solo web developer, for example, is more than just writing code for clients instead of an employer. It’s about managing your skills, promoting your skills and making sure they’re as sharp as they can possibly be. To top it off, although your technical skills are important, it’s what you do with them that counts. Being a great web developer is worthless if you don’t have clients to work for and to put those skills to good use, hopefully also making money in the process.
Many of my peers suffer from the same problem. They tell me it’s hard for them to go and do marketing, or write articles because it’s not their thing™️. They would rather spend their time reading through an API documentation, or code for 12 hours straight, instead of writing a blog article, or submit a couple of talk proposals.
I understand them, I’m fighting the same impulse everyday. It’s hard to step out of your competence zone and do things you’re probably unqualified to do. And you know what’s even more interesting? The more experienced you are, the better you are at your craft, the harder you will find it to do marketing and blogging and other activities which make you feel utterly incompetent, downright clumsy.
The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be.
— based on Ronald Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection
But this is wrong!
You not only need to work in your business, using your technical skills, but also on your business. You need to continuously develop and evolve your practice, and you do that by managing invoices and clients who are late to pay, doing business development and getting more or better paying clients. You also need to do marketing. You need to promote your personal brand, a critical step in running a small technology shop, in our day and age.
Being productive also means getting that market research done, even if it only means you have to spend your time reading stuff on the Internet and filling up Excel spreadsheets.
Answer yourself this: Who else is going to do it if I don’t do it?
If the answer is “nobody” then schedule that in and start cranking at it. Unless you have people doing marketing, business development or research in your stead, then all the employment contracts for those positions should have your name and signature on them. All activities specific to each position are part of your job.
So next time you are tempted to jump in, head-first into code or whatever your technical skill may be, don’t. Stop and ponder for a bit.
Are you building a product? Go and do your market research so you don’t end up wasting your time building an MVP for a product with no market.
Remember: no paying customer, no business.
Are you selling yourself as a professional? How about you write a couple of articles and social media posts to keep top-of-mind with your clients. You need a personal brand so you can get clients in the future. It doesn’t matter that you’re doing O.K. now.
There are many amazing books on entrepreneurship, and I’ve read a few of them, but the one I keep turning back to, which also inspired me to write this article, is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. I keep seeing parts of this book rolling in front of me, from time-to-time. It is a great eye-opener.
I also received a recommendation to read Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup, by Bill Aulet, which is also packed with practical advice. In fact, the whole book is structured as a strategy to help you take your idea out of your head and into the hands of your clients. After I finish reading it I will post a follow-up article with a short, highly distilled review.
Keep an open mind.