It was supposed to just be an experiment. Yet it quickly turned into an incredible catalyst for growth.
Late last year, after a heckuva period dealing with a nightmare client who took up WAY too much of my time (and my team’s time), I became almost allergic to opening up my email inbox and seeing anything from this client.
For months, I was allowing them to ruin my day. And that was my fault, not the other way around.
Trying to figure out how to deal with this difficult client was a chaotic, always-evolving task on its own, stealing my time and joy out of doing what I love: helping another person succeed.
At the time, my VA was doing a fantastic job of organizing my email (she still does), making sure nothing slipped through the cracks. Yet, I was still left with that dreaded “ASAP” folder to take care of because that’s where “they” were.
But, at some point, for no particular reason, it hit me…
“Why do I have to give them control over my sanity? Why do I have to check my email every day?”
More importantly, I thought…
“If I don’t set the example for how I want someone to respect my time, then why should I expect them to do so?”
Of course, I couldn’t stop checking emails altogether. I had a business to run, after all!
But I could scale back the number of times I checked my email to just a few times a week, right?
Surely my world wasn’t going to come crashing down for not checking my email often?
That was my hypothesis anyway.
Now, this was in the middle of a very busy season for our company. We were working to complete nearly 90 projects within a span of five months.
So, it might seem that not checking my email often could be one of the worst things I could do, right?
I was about to find out…
How do I manage the projects I’m directly responsible for without checking my email?
Suddenly, it occurred to me…
The answer was simple: Delegate.
You might be thinking, “Um, yeah. #OBVI.”
Well, I should clarify “delegate”. What I mean is…
1. I was forced to embrace ‘extreme delegation’.
Of course, up to that point, I was already delegating tasks to my team.
However, I hadn’t yet delegated what I was really good at.
The thought of delegating that was scary.
In short, it was extreme.
Because when you delegate what you’re really good at, you delegate your reputation.
That’s terrifying because, in business and in life, reputation is everything.
Still, the decision to delegate really came down to this…
You either decide to trust your team or you don’t.
Now, I had developed a reputation of sorts as being one of the best in the world at what I did (marrying strategy + marketing + technology to grow emerging brands).
That’s because I only settle for excellence (unless, by contract, I’m forced to deliver mediocrity, but that’s a story for another day).
I was willing to take on the risk of delegating what I was really good at so I could regain my sanity.
That’s why I resolved to run a simple—and profoundly consequential—experiment: to check my email only 3 times a week.
Here’s what that looked like…
Saturdays and Sundays were for my family. So, no email.
Mondays and Fridays were for working on my business. So, no email.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays were for customers, clients, and business development so were the only days I checked email.
And no email after 5pm.
The rest of my tasks I delegated to my team, including reading & responding to emails.
So, what happened?
Well, over the course of the next 3 months, my team stepped up and took care of everything.
And I gotta say…
It. Was. Amazing.
I remember one period when I was gone on vacation for two weeks. When I came back, my team had not only taken care of every project & task, they had done so with excellence.
That was a turning point for me, realizing it was not only okay to entrust the best of what I’m good at to other people… It was okay to entrust my reputation to them.
And what happened inside of me was this realization that I can trust other people more than I had been.
Yes, I felt pride in what my team had accomplished, but what I felt, even more, was a burden lifted.
You see, up until that point, I could read books like The 4-Hour Workweek and understand the concept of extreme delegation.
But what always bothered me about delegating what I’m really good at was this nagging thought…
“How do I deliver the same level of quality?”
It was easy for me to delegate non-essential tasks, but delegating essential tasks required me letting go of the fear of what could happen if we didn’t meet “100% excellence”.
When I made the switch to delegating everything I was really good at so I could focus on what I was the best at, that’s when my growth and my company’s growth started taking off.
As for everything else I learned during my 3-month email experiment, here you go…
2. People began to value my time more.
Because I was setting an example that I didn’t respond to email at night or on the weekends, people began to respect my time a lot more.
After all, the impression they had of me was that my family time was sacred.
And don’t we all respect others who place family ahead of work?
I sure do.
Apparently, clients I like working with do too.
3. People began to value me more.
The other benefit to not responding ASAP to every email was that people saw I simply didn’t have the time to respond ASAP.
Why? Because I now was prioritizing my time over my tasks.
And what happens when you don’t have any more time?
You become even more valuable.
So, during that 3-month period, I was able to move away from “hourly” and project-based to monthly contracts.
As for my “per-hour” rate? Well, it went away. Yet, if I were to do the math, it quadrupled.
Also, the results my team and I were able to deliver were quantifiable, meaning we could prove a positive ROI quickly.
Not bad for a little experiment.
4. It helped me easily separate clients I enjoyed working with from the ones I didn’t.
This was HUGE.
Perhaps one of the best things that happened to me (and our team) last year was ending our relationships with bad clients.
What that also did, though, was force us to re-evaluate how we can better qualify who our ideal customer is.
Because while we enjoy helping everyone, not everyone—even those whose businesses we’ve grown exponentially—is a good fit for our team’s values and culture of work.
We prioritize family time.
We treat others the way we want to be treated.
We don’t steal time or money from anyone.
…and a whole lot more values.
And we expect those we work with to adhere to the same values.
Because of this…
5. We had to redefine our ‘ideal customer’.
When you move from one type of product or service to another, often your ideal target customer changes too.
And when clearly define your own values, you’ll realize that all those red flags that go off in your mind when you think of “that client”… Well, those flags mean something.
They mean you shouldn’t do business with them.
And this too…
Perhaps one of the toughest changes for a business is realizing the person you want to help the most might not be your ideal customer.
This was a tough lesson to learn.
Often, as business owners, we want to help everyone we encounter.
The problem is that a lot of people need to hit rock bottom before they realize the kind of help they really need.
And it isn’t my job—and it’s not your job—to help those who don’t listen to your advice, who treat you poorly, or who just don’t value you the way you know you should be valued.
Because of this—because we were forced to clarify who our ideal customer is—we were forced to shift our marketing and business development strategies too.
And while the transition was initially tough, it’s proven to be a fantastic catalyst for new growth.
So, for all those things we learned during the 3-month email experiment, it was a resounding success!
Of course, not every experiment ends in 100% success. That’s why, after realizing our amazing clients wanted a bit more communication, I started checking email again once on Mondays & Fridays.
Because if you’re not experimenting, you’re not growing!