Hitting The Hustle Ceiling
“Is it always going to be like this?”
One of my early coaching clients asked me that question. He had been in business full time for over 4 years, not to include the couple of years of side hustles while working a full time job.
Steve (not his real name) hated his job, wanted to spend more time with his young family, and fulfill a few of his dreams along the way.
He promised his wife that the evenings and weekends he was putting into learning “this Internet business stuff” would pay off.
One day it started paying off and Steve’s wife was able to quit her job while he continued to work his job and his growing business.
Not long after Steve quit his job, too. This was crazy scary for him and his wife. They had kids and a mortgage and car payments.
But it was wonderful…at first.
Steve’s business kept growing and he had 3 employees plus a random collection of contractors. Steve knew the first year or two of full-time entrepreneurship that he’d be working a lot, but he never counted on year four taking just as much time as his old full time job and his side hustles combined.
He had a far greater income than he did when both he and his wife worked, but that was the only thing he had.
His wife started complaining that he wasn’t ever available. That he’d missed special occasions with his kids. His wife would say, ”The whole point of you owning a business was to spend time with your family.”
That hurt. He was already really hard on himself though he had no one he could talk to about it. He was “successful” by many standards except the ones he had set out for himself.
No one feels sorry for a guy making multiple six figures while working from home.
He’d hit the ceiling of hustle.
This ceiling exists for all businesses, especially for those who increase their lifestyle along with their revenue.
The thinking that creates this problem is rational, but shortsighted.
Steve started his business so that he and his wife would not have to work jobs. That was his highest priority — not freedom (he just assumed that was a default setting with a business), and not family time.
Steve and his wife could have kept their lifestyle in check and bought freedom for both instead of just one of them. Their plan was 1) make enough money so wife can quit job to spend more time with kids, 2) then make enough money so Steve can quit his job to spend more time with family.
They simply assumed all their other desires would get fulfilled if those two conditions were met.
What they didn’t plan on was that businesses are a lot of work. Businesses require active management for their entire existence. No one can just put a few years into a business and then hope to cut back hours without having built a solid team first.
Steve spent the revenue from his company on his lifestyle — fulfilling the first two steps of his plan.
This caused a big problem… he had little money left over to hire high-quality, talented people.
He scoured freelancer job boards and hired low-skill VAs because he thought they were “affordable.” Some of the people Steve hired or outsourced to improved his business. Others were a drain on the company, and more importantly, a drain on Steve. The remainder of people he’d hired over the years did marginal work. Steve would hire them for 10 hours a week and increase his own work capacity by about 5 hours per week.
(Management Friction exists with every hire. I recommend hiring people who can have a 10X+ impact on your company instead of low-impact people who typically result in a 0.5-0.8X impact on company success.)
Steve, in hustle mode, hired to facilitate him doing more work. Steve thought this (and you’ve probably thought this too), that if he could offload the work he doesn’t like to do or has little impact on business success, then he could spend his time doing important work that grows the company.
There are two main problems to this thinking:
- you can only work a handful of productive hours per day no matter how much time you free up, and
- you’re limited to your ability to grow the company instead of having a team dedicated to growth.
The most hours you can facilitate for yourself in a day are 24. You can’t work more than that and physically you can only do that for a couple of days. In essence, the hustle ceiling is a maximum of 80 hours of semi-productive work that has rapidly diminishing returns.
Hiring to facilitate the founder doing more important work places an extreme limit on the company. It can not get better than the founder. The company is dependent on the intelligence, creativity, drive, and mental state of one person.
Here are the first steps I had Steve take to break through the Hustle Ceiling:
- Institute a capped salary and quarterly distributions for himself. No more taking out of the company whatever is left in the business bank account at the end of the month.
- Start meeting with everyone he had on “payroll,” both employees, contractors and vendors
- Determine who has the ability and desire to level up in his company.
- Fire anyone who doesn’t contribute at least 4X their pay in productivity.
- Start rebuilding processes with the remaining team members so that Steve was no longer the bottleneck.
When Steve came to me for coaching he thought more revenue would solve his problems, but he learned that it wasn’t his lack of increasing revenue that was the cause of his problems. Steve realized that it was his do-it-myself beliefs, and lack of investing in capable team members — not just money, but investing authority to do their jobs.
As Steve executed on the steps I gave him, he quickly gained a lot more time.
First thing Steve thought to do with this time was…
…create more work for himself!
Steve hadn’t broken the hustle habit.
He wanted to start a new profit center in his business, which was a good idea, except he was building it around himself. The very thing I had just freed him from.
I had him institute a rule for himself.
For every new profit center he had to determine who was going to run it and it couldn’t be him.
I’ve used this rule with several “Steves” over the years and it works.
To grow, you need to increase profits and a great way to do this is to expand the number of profit centers in your company.
However, you can’t put yourself at the center of each profit center or you’ll limit company growth. Don’t put a ceiling on your profit centers.
If you’re the driver of growth in your company, your company will always smash up against the hustle ceiling.
Hire or promote others to drive growth.
Your job is to prevent ceilings from being built over your company so your team can achieve your vision.