Do Fewer Things, Better: New Tools for Getting Your Business Unstuck

Three years ago, I started The Jill James (formerly Sif Industries) out of necessity. I was the COO of a fast-growing, venture-backed business. But as I prepared to become a mom, I didn’t see a path to doing meaningful work, getting paid well, and having flexibility.

I decided to try fractional COO consulting for early stage businesses. My approach to providing executive support to up to five start-ups at a time has taken off. My consulting business has been focused on helping entrepreneurs and general managers go from “idea to invoice.” (Thanks, Joanna Bloor!) Many entrepreneurs have an audience or a product, but don’t have the operating background to build a healthy business. Sometimes, you need the support of a C-level partner.

But for all the businesses I can help, I have to say no a lot. And when women founders ask for help, it’s hard to say no. As I thought about how to expand Sif Industries, it came down to three things:

  • I want to support more women in work and life. 46% of women without children want to have them. 41% of those say they don’t know how they would balance and support a family as a business owner. I want to start saying yes to these women so that they can say yes to their own balance.
  • The “X for Women” start-up trend isn’t solving women’s problems, yet we control $18 trillion worth of spending choices. We need more women to think about what isn’t working for us, from grocery shopping to government services to car purchasing to bank accounts to child care. We need more women to start and operate companies that solve these problems. The bonus: more female executives with leadership and P&L experience.
  • I truly believe self-employment is the path to a life that you choose. I want to keep living that goal I set three years ago: having choices for myself, my family, and my work. I’ve realized that ownership is the real path to independence, meaning that you control your options, choices, and balance.

With my clients, here’s where I see the breakdowns:

We must respect the limits of our decision-making power. Our brains lock up after making a constrained number of decisions per day. The quality of our decision-making erodes as we get tired. As an owner, you can decide and execute on one or two big things per week. So when we have team members, customers, vendors, kids, and partners asking us to make decisions for them (and remember the contents of every backpack and refrigerator), it reduces the amount of available space for quality thinking. Instead of being frustrated, let’s embrace that limit.

Big things are made up of smaller tasks. Most entrepreneurs need my help with two things: decisions and resources. They want to make stuff and engage customers, and all this pesky business stuff gets in the way. (Or, as an owner said to me recently, “You do all the stuff that sucks.”) My job over the past five years has really been to organize overwhelming to do lists into smaller sets of tasks that can be fully accomplished, start to finish. Especially in a new business, you’ll need to make a lot of decisions about incorporation, bank accounts, software providers, bookkeeping, what to pay for, what your company needs right now, etc. That sentence alone might have hurt your head. It’s a huge distraction outside of most founders’ comfort zones.

We need support to keep going. Starting and running a business is an intense journey for which you have not been trained. Most women quit after about two years. It takes hard work, smart work, and persistence to break out of an employee mindset. Failures are inevitable. If you are used to being “right” or “the smart one” — the fixed mindset of the American education system — this journey may be painful for you. And I don’t want you to quit. So we’ll balance making technical decisions with developing your growth mindset.

Here’s how we’ll do it:

Starting on May 14, Sif Industries is launching a set of services to support moms (or aspiring moms) who want to start or grow a business. We want to support you in evolving from idea to independence. There are already a zillion “be empowered!” resources out there. We’re going to focus on giving you the operational thinking to run a business. Our initial tools are:

  1. A daily newsletter. We’re going to test a daily newsletter that breaks down business operations choices — the places founders get stuck — into one choice per day, Monday to Friday. The first newsletter run will be 10 weeks, with a mix of text and video. Each week, we’ll capture and post a summary on the Sif Industries blog. (Non-mom humans are welcome, of course.) If we can reach 5,000 subscribers in 10 weeks, we’ll make the investment to build out an ongoing program. Sign up on our home page.
  2. Spot coaching. We’re adding single session and packaged coaching services in 45-minute blocks. This addresses the #1 thing I’m asked: I’m stuck on this one thing, can you help me? Now, we can give an emphatic YES to those requests. We can help you break down those “stuck” decisions for about the cost of a blowout and a mani. Go do the work, come back for the next thing when you’re ready. We’ll be adding more information, pricing, and self-registration to the site soon. If you’re ready now, email us.

If you’re feeling inspired, you are welcome to share the newsletters with friends, followers, and your own lists!

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