Is your planning routine broken?

How to Plan So You Can Grow Your Freelance ESL Business

Your planning routine could be a reason why you’re not seeing the growth in your freelance ESL business that you’re looking for.

Pinable: How to fix bad planning

What broken planning looks like:

  1. I make a daily to-do list and work to complete each task. Hello, my name is Aaron, and I’m a recovering ‘to-do listaholic.’  To-do lists are wonderful to help you get things done. They are rewarding too, because it feels great to see your pending tasks get crossed off as you complete them.  The problems with to-do lists are that you don’t have a time limit to accomplish each task on your list – just sometime today, right? And you tend to only focus on the NOW. The urgent. The top-of-mind activities. To-do lists tend to be TACTICAL or day-to-day grind oriented. What happens to big picture or future planning, like say: how will I grow my teaching business? The answer: nothing. That’s broken.
  2. I only plan my lessons. You need to plan your lessons, that’s obvious. But when that is the only planning you do, you’re setting yourself up to fail because your only focus is on the clients you already have, not on bringing in new ones. I have done this too. While planning and developing great classes is vital, and may lead to more business through happy students referring you, you must make time to actively reach out beyond what you have now to bring in more clients.  Planning that only serves your existing clients is broken.
  3. I have no big picture. If you are struggling to just get by, chances are your sense of a positive future is wounded – maybe even dead. I have found that intense struggle tends to trick me into looking inward and downward instead of outward and forward. Have you ever felt like that? But no matter how hard things are for you right now, you have to tell yourself that this will not last. If you keep walking, you will see your situation change. But where are you heading? King Solomon once wrote to ‘give careful thought to the path of our feet so that we can be established.’ (Proverbs 4:26)  The thing is, the path our feet walk on everyday will eventually lead us to our destiny. Have you noticed where your walking today? If you’re only looking down, and not to WHERE your path is taking you, chances are you are going to end up somewhere you don’t want to be. Not looking outward and forward is broken.

Start fixing your planning strategy.

Power up your Planning – To-do lists are great if they have specific time limits and balanced focus to them. Consider adding:

Themes: You are not just a teacher. You are also business manager, and an entrepreneur. You MUST create time in your planning each day so that you spend time in each of these categories:

Entrepreneur: try blocking off an hour or two each day to think big picture thoughts about your business. Where do you want to be in a month? 3 Months? 6 Months? A year? Start developing growth goals, and imagine how your life will be as you accomplish each one. Write these things down, and start working towards your goals each day by asking: what do I need to do today to move me closer to my 1 month, 3 month or year goals?

Included in the entrepreneur theme is the role of salesperson. If you want your business to grow, you need to not only focus on serving your current clients, but you must also promote your services, and spend plenty of time networking. The trick: if you’re not making time in your schedule to do these things on a regular basis (like daily) you won’t see your business grow.

Business manager: What systems do you need in place to help you control and manage your business as it grows? Do you have an effective, written process  to accomplish things like: attendance keeping, billing and collections, creating and issuing user agreements for new clients, curriculum development, tracking where your students are in your course, and when they will finish? What systems will you use to help you provide regular evaluations and reporting? And what about customer service?

You have to create time each day to manage your business, and create processes to follow so that when your business grows, it will not run away from you and fall into confusion or disorganization.  Again: you have to make regular time for this, it won’t just happen.

Set time limits. This is the power move to planning. Instead of just writing out your to-do list, which now includes themes, you should consider adding a time limit for each task. You can do this a couple of ways:

On your computer/mobile device – open your calendar app and move your to-do list there. Set a time block for each item. Example: if you are setting time to prospect for new clients each day, and you should be, set a time limit to the task.  Maybe block off your prospecting time from 8:30a.m. to 9:15a.m. When you set up your next to-do list item after your prospecting time block, add an alarm to the calendar event so that you get a message or a sound to tell you it’s time to move to the next item on your list.

At first, you will feel like this is boxing you in, and for good reason: it is! You will find that giving yourself a time limit to accomplish your tasks, will help you sharpen your focus as well as help you to work faster. That’s what I’ve been discovering as I’ve been implementing this planning system in my own business. So make sure you add time limits and alerts to each of your tasks.

If you prefer pen and paper planning, that works too. To add the time limit feature to paper planning, get yourself a cooking timer, or some other method that keeps time and has an easy to set alarm, and set your time limits that way. I’ve done this too, and it works wonderfully.

Over to you: How are you planning to grow your freelance ESL business today? Is your current planning strategy broken?

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What to do when you fail as a freelancer

Failing as a Freelancer – what to do when you crash and burn.

One of the hardest things to experience as a freelancer or solopreneur is failure. We try our best to avoid it, and when it happens, we feel like we should keep silent about it. Society says failure is shameful! So we silently wrap ourselves with it, and instead of failure being an experience – something that has a beginning and an end, it becomes who we are, and that is dangerous.

I am digging out of a failed business, and I want to share some things with you that I’m learning about.

In August 2005 I started my own ESL consulting company. Let me rephrase that, because it sounds like it all happened on purpose with careful planning and preparation. My foray into entrepreneurship came about because the school where I was working as a freelance ESL teacher lost its contract with a major client. In short: I was out of work, and had a family to feed. It was sink or swim.

I started off looking for private students by advertising my services as an ESL teacher on online classified websites. I also got referrals from old students who I used to work with. Before long, I had my entire schedule filled with students. I was doing it! While I never considered myself as such, I was a successful solopreneur. I was helping people, and earning enough money to feed my family and pay my bills.

Then opportunity struck. A former student connected me with the CEO of a startup insurance company. Their company had 150 employees and counting, and a year or so later – after much hard work and patience, my small business was born! I had close to 60 students to begin with, and over the next 10 years, I had the great privilage to grow to have a team of 10 teachers working with me.

The smoke. Sadly, there were small fires burning in my personal life which would eventually cross over to my small business and cause it to go up in flames.

The biggest fires were poor money management and debt. My wife and I had never been good at budgeting. In fact, we never or rarely talked about money except for when we were trying to figure out where it had all gone, and how we were going to make it when the money ran out faster than we had thought it would. There was no plan.

We also had credit cards, and only paid the mínimum payments on them. This meant we usually spent more than what we were making, and got to pay interest on it.  Stupid.

As my business bank accounts began to grow, I was offered platinum and gold level credit cards with huge credit limits on them. Thinking I was bullet proof, that my business would always pull in enough money to make mínimum payments on everything I owed, I happily took on the extra cards. Extra debt. Steeper monthly payments.

No financial plan + heavy debt was a disaster waiting to happen. You can see that now as you read this, right? It’s obvious. Painfully obvious as I reflect on it, but you know something? Right when you’re in the middle of it all, the obvious is not so easy to see especially if you aren’t thinking about what would happen if the worst happened.

Disaster Strikes.  In 2012 financial lightning struck. Twice, and in the same spot! Two of our biggest corporate clients suddenly cut their training budgets in response to the recession. And within 30 days my company lost half it’s income.

That’s when my whole foolish lifestyle was suddenly right there for all to see. While my income was suddenly half of what it used to be, my bills remained the same. We struggled valiently to pay, and for a few months we were able to somehow, but eventually we started falling behind. It was impossible to keep up.

Collectors started calling. Every. Single. Day. From dawn to dusk, we lived in fear of the telephone. Our mailbox was filled with horrible collection noticies – You’re overdue! You’re overdue! You’re overdue they all seemed to shout.

It was terrible. And today, 3 years later, we are still working to dig ourselves out of the mess we created, and we are about to do it but by selling our home to pay off everything we owe. So if you have read this far, it means you’ve likely been through failure yourself, maybe even a similar experience to mine. Or maybe you’re experiencing failure now.

If that’s you, if you’re walking through failure, my hope is that I can encourage you a little today by sharing some of my story with you. You aren’t alone, my friend, even though I know you feel like you are. I also would like to share a few things I learned that have helped me move on. Maybe they will help you too:

Pray – connect with God. I believe we all need God. The experiences I have had have often left me feeling crushed, vulnerable and quite powerless. There is a limit to what we can do, but you know what? There is nothing God can’t do. Psalm 119:105 says: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  My experience has been that even through the darkest times of my life, God has always been there to give me hope and help.

 “Failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar  Failure has a sneaky way of making you think YOU ARE the failure. Reality is different. You experienced a failure, and it may take you some time to move through it, recover from it, and learn from it, but YOU are not that failure. I had to learn how to see the difference. Have you?

Budget! “Learn how to tell your money what to do, or you’ll wonder where it went.” Dave Ramsey. I’m still learning how to do this with my family, but budgeting and being on the same financial page as your spouse (if you’re married) is powerful. If you’re single, you still need to tell your money where to go on paper, or you will find it very hard to make financial progress. Try checking out http://www.daveramsey.com – the podcast is well worth your time. It is filled with people who are working through their finances too. HOPE!

“Debt is dumb.” Dave Ramsey. Lots of people say there is such a thing as good debt. They’ll tell you to invest in a house or a property or a thing that generates money for you. They’ll call this ‘good debt.’  I’m no economist, and I’m no financial advisor. But here is what I think: If you don’t outright own the thing or property that generates money for you, you own nothing but risk. Everyone is vulnerable to bad things happening. If you don’t own it….you have a risk on your hands.

Connect with others. I felt ashamed to show others that I had failed…at first. Then, little by little, I started opening up to SAFE people. My wife. My father. My brother, and a small online business community I was a part of. The support and input I got back was life changing. Not only did I find out that many I shared with ALSO had experienced similar troubles, but I also found amazing advice on how to navigate forward again. Start looking for safe people to share your trouble with today!

It’s your turn! Have you experienced failure? What have you learned from it? I would love to hear from you – why not share a comment below? And if you are walking through failure, and you feel alone – reach out! I would love to be your friend through this hard time. Don’t be shy!