Why You Should be Selfish

June 26, 2012

Selfishness is never an attractive quality. Whether it’s a room full of toddlers fighting over the same toy or a friend who dumps you for her new boyfriend, selfishness is repulsive… or is it?

Sure, the word selfish has negative connotations, but today I want to encourage you to remember that it’s not always a bad thing to look out for number one… and especially so when you’re trying to run your own business.

David Allen, a work/life management system guru and author of ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’ once said “You can do anything, but not everything”. So often when we’re working for ourselves we want to be the biggest, the best, the most popular, the most sought after… we don’t want to be left behind, we want to get all the best clients, we want to win the awards and be recognised for what we do… and that’s great, but what does this mentality make us do? Take on too much and try to do it all, that’s what!

This doesn’t benefit anyone and taking this chaotic approach will not only dilute your product and the service you offer your clients (you can’t physically give the same level of service to 100 clients as you can if you only had 1) Cutting down commitments and allowing yourself to focus on a few things, and do them really well, is paramount to success.

You know the drill. It’s 9am Monday morning. You log in to your computer and you have 75 new emails. Your phone rings. It’s a client with an ‘urgent’ enquiry about her order for her wedding in 12 months. You have to pop to the post office to ship orders for next week’s weddings. You have a meeting at 3pm with a potenial new client… which, oh yes, has to be done by you… and definitely in person. You miss lunch, you’re late picking the kids up from school (again) and you forgot to pick something up for dinner. You’re overworked, over-commited and overwhelmed. ARRGH!

According to Allen, this is one of the biggest ‘silent traumas’ of workers everywhere. Plus, it’s got to be a million times worse for someone running their own business, where everything you do has consequences to how much money you have to feed your family. “We inhabit a world,” he says, “where there are no edges to our jobs and no limit to the potential information that can help us do our jobs better”. What’s more, in a highly competitive market like the wedding industry, that’s continually being reshaped by the internet, we’re even more tempted to take on more than we can physically handle to stay ahead of the curve. So how on earth do we know when to stay enough’s enough!?

I’ve had a few people email me recently asking about how I manage my time. While, sure, I’m a busy bee, I am not always running to keep up with myself. I have time off. I watch crap TV. We go out for dinner. I have regular nights out with my friends. I go shopping. I take day trips to London. How? Well it’s actually quite simple. I’m streamlined, I’m strict with myself and I turn things down regularly. I’m totally selfish with my time.

Allen agrees, and argues that the real challenge is not managing your time but managing your focus. “If you get too wrapped up in all of the stuff coming at you, you lose your ability to respond appropriately and effectively”, he explains. “Remember, you’re the one who creates speed, because you’re the one who allows stuff to enter your life.”

After I’d been blogging for a few years, external (and granted, at the time, very exciting) offers started to come in. “We’d love you to write a column for our magazine…erm…no sorry we can’t pay you but it will be great publicity for you!”, “Oh we’d love for you to come as a special guest to our event… we’d love you to take photos and write a report for your blog. Hey, you could even do a talk if you liked. No, we can’t pay you, but it would be great for all of us!”, “I’d love to have an advert on your site… How does a £50 voucher and a free pair of shoes sound?”

And no, I’m not making any of those up. And yes, at the time I accepted all these offers with an excited glee and a thrill to get started on my ‘exciting new project’. In time I realised the unpaid magazine articles were actually taking me at least a day to write, often more with the emails flying back and forth and last minute changes to briefs and deadlines. The ‘free exposure’ I was getting from attending swanky events was reaching a smaller number of people than my blog does in a day. And the advertisers who wanted to pay as little as possible were the biggest pains to deal with!

Cutting down my commitments (and erm… putting my advertising prices up massively!) has been paramount to how I’ve progressed my business over the past year or so. I work with less people, I earn more per project and I have more time to focus my energy on the things that matter to me and my business. The people who will pay for my time and services are the ones I really want to be working with… not just because they pay my bills, but because they really value what I do and they want to work with me over anybody else. I’m never going to apologise for what I charge because I know I do a bloody good job for the people that choose to work with me (as a side note, there’s an excellent guest post from Lisa Devlin about what to do when clients try to barter on your prices, going up on Friday).

I’ve let go of the guilt of saying no to people (which gets much easier to do when you realise how huge the benefits are). By turning down things I’ve been able to really knuckle down and focus on the things I want to do for my business… More travel, more shoots, workshops, brand campaigns, a print magazine, paid freelance writing, the green room… would I be able to do all of these things if I was still committed to everything I was 12 months ago? Would I heck!

I’m not saying you should never work for free and I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t help other people. Especially when you’re first starting out, collaborations or working for exposure can be hugley beneficial, and helping someone with something for no other reason than to be selfless can, and usually will, come back and reward you in the long term.

But I ask you, what have you done to be selfish recently?

All Photography Credit: Billy Rood via bentrovatoblog
Shoes by Gasoline Glamour