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Working too hard for too little. We all do it sometimes. We anticipate, on some level, that building and growing our businesses will mean sacrifice, long hours, and, for a time, little pay.

Yet, what happens when the “time of little pay” keeps going on…and on…and on?

I had a conversation with a bright and wonderful potential client earlier this week. It went something like this, “I’ve been doing this for 8 years. I’ve built up a list of 9,000 people. I have pretty decent website traffic. But I’m earning less than $30,000 a year.”

When I asked about pricepoints for her services, they seemed reasonable. So I knew that the challenge was in either the types of offers she was making or the frequency of offers she was making.

Presumably, she’d built a list of 9,000 at least somewhat interested people. But the lack of conversion was somewhat surprising. So while she came to me, originally, for help growing her list, what we actually ended up looking at was how to get more from her existing list.

She’d been working too hard for too little for a long, long time. No wonder she was burnt out and perpetually stressed.

Anyway, this example clearly illustrates a few things:

1) We are sometimes so close to the problem that we can’t figure out what’s wrong. In this client’s case, she knew, by how she felt, that something didn’t seem quite right in her business. But she couldn’t actually identify what was not working- so she didn’t know what to fix. She came to me for what she thought was a capacity problem (not enough people in her database) but it actually is truly a conversion problem (not enough people buying.)

2) More is not always better. We can sometimes feel seduced by the idea of having a list of 10,000, 15,000, 20,000. But if you don’t fix the conversion side of your business equation, your actual list size doesn’t really matter. You can have 100,000 people on your list, but if nobody’s buying, it is the same (or maybe even worse) than having just 1 or 2 people on your list. The goal is to have a responsive list, not just a large one.

3) If something’s not working, we need to try another way. Pretty soon. It is too easy to become mired in unhealthy business practices, where we know something isn’t working, but we’re not able to change. In cases like this, most of us tend to contract, isolate, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to ask for help. The best stance, I’ve found, is to let a problem unfold a bit, and then try out, flexibly, a number of different solutions. It’s better to do this sooner, so we don’t get too accustomed to how things are.

4) Success leaves clues. If we look into our business data, we can often find breadcrumbs of what has successfully worked before. In my experience, breadcrumbs often lead to a loaf of bread. So if you can look back at times where you brought in more money, or had more clients, these can often give you clues about where you want to focus more of your time and energy to solve the challenges you’re currently facing.

5) You might not want to go it alone. As I mentioned already, in times of stress, most of us tend to isolate or contract. It’s far better to try and overcome this tendency, and, instead reach out. Sometimes even just hearing yourself speak aloud the problem can help you hear it and then perceive it in a different way. Sometimes, just a slight opening or shift in perspective can make everything different.

If you’re currently in a place of struggling with some aspect of your business- some place where you feel you are working too hard for too little, please do reach out for support and help to see this problem differently. By getting a clear view of the problem, you’re on your way to finding the solution.

Your work doesn’t have to be difficult to be meaningful.