A 12-Step Recovery Program For the Fully-Booked Online Service Provider

Jean’s coaching business is small but successful. She works with 5-7 clients every day, then spends time catching up on social media, emailing, blogging, invoicing and other business matters.

Her to-do list is never-ending, but she has what everyone in the online teaching industry desires — the state of being “fully booked.”

There was a time when “fully booked” was a phrase every online business owner coveted. Whether you’re a coach, an online teacher or a service provider, at some point Michael Port’s book was on your desk, and you wanted to “book yourself solid” for months on end.

And then, because (if you’re like me) you followed Michael’s every word, you indeed experienced what the “fully booked” means: several clients a day, follow up calls, invoices, social media and email marketing (no time to train anyone to outsource those), new clients, new projects (maybe), blogging or vlogging — all in that disrupted order, running the cycle without breaks.

Let’s pause. When we look up the term “fully booked” the first illustration comes from the hotel and restaurant industry to mean “no rooms or tables available at a particular time or date.”

One thing that our “fully-booked” heros forget to tell us is that we’re human beings, not restaurants and hotels and we cannot book all available hours we have in the day and give them to clients.

I find it ironic that the technology that “frees us” from the daily drudgery of business matters doesn’t help with the “fully booked” dream with to-do lists that don’t end.

I believe there’s a better way to work, make a living, and best serve the people with whom you work — without “fully-booking” your human capacity.

In order for this to happen though we need to start with some fundamental, mindset-shifting exercises.

In this post, I offer my 12-step recovery program for the fully-booked online coach, teacher, and other service-based business owner who finds themselves in the trap of no more time available.

Step 1: Acknowledge that you’re a business owner first.

“Oh, I’m not a business owner. I’m just a teacher.” If this is you, don’t run a business — go work for a school. But if you want to work for yourself, call yourself what you are.

The difference between a hired employee and a business owner?

A business owner focuses on the system, realizing that providing the service is only a part of the entire puzzle whereas a “just an XYZ” tries to ignore the entire system, thinking that the service alone is going to be enough to make the business sustainable.

Step 2: Identify your main strength and develop it into your superpower.

We’ve all thought at some point that we can do everything. We’ve exhausted ourselves working on projects we didn’t like and we’ve wasted our creative energy without making an impact.

Niching down isn’t some basic, feel-good advice designed to make us miserable. It’s our thriving code.

In Opted Out of the *Real Job* we write, “…focusing on a real problem puts you in a position where you can solve the problem — and that’s how you opt out of the illusion of helping people and move into the reality of helping people. Which one do you prefer?”

We begin impacting clients only when we use our superpower, not our average skillset.

Step 3: Identify your dream client and connect with her only.

When I started working online in 2009 I used to think that I was skilled enough to work with anyone. I believed that if a client didn’t like me, I could change that. I believed “the client was always right.”

That mindset brought nothing but turmoil and disappointment. We’re not a “Walmart-type” business. Hence we can only work with specific clients to ensure transformative results.

Step 4: Focus your content to help your dream client solve a specific problem.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It’s easier to add to what we already have than to focus on what works, dig deeper into it, and eliminate all the confusing noise. Eliminating the noise and focusing in on what matter takes courage and security in our brand, but it allows us to offer services that make a greater impact.

Step 5: Use automated software for client work.

Some of us resist setting up automated booking buddies because we want to provide the “special human touch.” So we dig ourselves into a hole of being overwhelmed with email and client onboarding process.

I use Acuity Scheduling and highly recommend it as a one-stop solution that allows clients to book, pay, fill out a questionnaire, and get automatic reminders. The opportunities for automation are endless, really.

Step 6: Delegate before you’re ready.

We’re afraid to delegate. It’s our baby, and people can mess things up. We think it’s not a big deal. We never have enough money to delegate.

But when you do have *enough* money you won’t be able to afford to train someone and wait until she learns your process. Waiting will cost too much. So rethink your budget now. Delegate draining tasks.

Step 7: Recruit your fans.

The best people to work for you are your fans. You can find some hired workers on crowded marketplaces, but it’s likely not the best long-term strategy. The people who comment on your posts, engage in discussions, or respond to your emails — start there when looking for someone to work for you.

“When people realize that they are not a cog in a machine, an easily replaceable commodity, they take the challenge and grow. They produce more than you pay them to, because you are paying them with something worth more than money.” – Seth Godin

Step 8: Identify the 1:1 people and everyone else.

As coaches/online service providers, we think everyone needs the 1:1 format of what we offer, but it’s not true. Some may not be in a position to hire us, but finding a way to engage with and transform them in a one-to-many format is something your business can benefit from.

Step 9: Create one product/program to help your audience members achieve their goals independently.

In the spirit of the one-to-many formula, create one product to offer to people who aren’t ready to invest into working with you. Can you offer a book? A series of videos? A short online course? A program?

I love Breanne Dyck’s post on how to (finally) create a product. (It made me realize writing a book isn’t as scary as you may think, especially if you have a blog.)

Step 10: Set up boundaries to your “fully-booked” schedule.

Even though there’s no assigned rule that helps us figure out when we reach our “fully-booked” mark, I believe each one of us knows when we stop giving our best to our clients.

When you turn from a human coach into a coaching machine, or a human (insert-expertise-here) into a (insert-expertise-here) machine, you know you’ve reached your limit. Set up your boundaries that will keep you from getting there.

Remember what Greg McKeown reminded us of in Essentialism: Set your priorities, or someone else will.

Step 11: Build your referral network.

Join professional forums (editor’s note: like One Woman Shop!) to build the network you need to create partnerships and refer work to your partners. New brands will thank you for the referral, and you will minimize your overload.

Step 12: Take breaks to foster your creativity on a regular basis.

Somewhere along the way we got busy and stopped being creative. We told ourselves “we’re not the creative type,” and it became our comforting story. And yet it’s creativity that helps us find the most unique solutions to solve our clients’ problems.

So find the time to be creative. If you’re too busy to do that, it’s hard to create anything customized because customized takes creativity.

My advice to you: Become available

We don’t have to be busy all the time to feel like “we’re working hard.” We don’t have to fill someone else’s work quota to validate ourselves. We don’t need to be fully-booked on someone else’s terms to prove that our work is valuable.

I propose that we strive to become available. It’s an oxymoron for someone who has chosen to opt out of the standard, 9-5 job and its demands, but it doesn’t take us long to realize that the same standards we ran away from still rule our days.

To paraphrase Brené Brown, let’s not wear our busyness as a badge of honor. Try being available for a change. It’s the key to recovering from the fully-booked syndrome that’s stifling the sanity of coaches and other online service providers, everywhere.

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Elena Mutonono is the co-author of Opted Out of the *Real Job*: How to Build a Small, Smart and Sustainable Online Business. She helps people teach their passion online and transform this desire into a structured business that’s sustainable, and smart. In her free time, she loves a lively chatter with her family at dinner time and indulging in her introvert hobbies: read, write, color, drink tea or coffee with dark chocolate, listen to Dave Brubeck’s music, and look out the window.

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