Lessons Learned Taking Parental Leave as a Solo Entrepreneur

My wife had our new baby 7 days ago, and I am currently on leave from work. Except I work from home so I’m not sure I can really call it “leave.” But you get the idea.

My time off consisted of 3 days completely disconnected, and then about 30 minutes each day of email and maintenance (easy to do when everyone’s asleep). Lucky for me there aren’t any tasks that I’m required to do in a given time-frame. This is the time independence I’ve talked about in the past, and the beauty of being a Micropreneur instead of a consultant. No clients busting my chops.

I’ve viewed this time off as a test of the Micropreneur approach; to see if I could really pull back from work and let things run on auto-pilot. This is helpful to do periodically, as it always exposes potential improvements I can make to my processes.

Discovery #1
I really don’t need an email notification every time I make a sale. Although it gives me a good feeling to get a “you’ve got cash!” email during my normal workday, my apps make enough individual sales that these emails really pile up.

I make a car payment to PayPal every month in commissions…that’s a lot of individual sales that I’m getting notified about, and a lot of emails I’m deleting. Waste…of…time.

Discovery #2
My income has not been impacted in the least. It’s only been a week, but if I were consulting I would be several thousand dollars down by now. A nice testament to having income tied to products instead of hours worked.

After a couple years of Micropreneurship, it’s still difficult to accept that there are enough systems in place that I’m able to make money without working…at least for a period of time.

Discovery #3
Not a single email has been do-or-die for any of my businesses. I’m confident I could completely walk away from email cold-turkey without giving notice, for two weeks. I’d just have a pile of email to sort through when I returned. I’ve also realized that I could run at this “30 minutes per day” pace for a month pretty easily. Maybe 6 weeks.

If I adjusted my current processes and outsourced a few more things (see below) I think I could pull off between one and two months at this pace (three feels like it would be pushing it). No need to do that now, but it may be something I attempt in a couple years once my kids are older and we take a (currently theoretical) trip to Europe.

Discovery #4
I’ve made the painful and extremely helpful discovery that over the past six months since I last ran this test, that I’m handling a lot of emails that I should be outsourcing to my VAs. When you only have 30 minutes a day to take care of everything on your plate, it becomes apparent right away what you should not be spending your time on.

Within 48 hours of this experiment I realized that all the “little” email support tasks I’m handling need to be outsourced. I have a VA who can handle these emails better than I can. They’ve got to go.

Rest assured they will be off my plate within two weeks.

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14 comments ↓

#1 Ryan on 07.15.10 at 11:03 am

Congrats on the little-un!

Can I ask what sort of tasks go to the VA and how you found a good one?

I see on the t’interwebs a constant stream of encouragement for VA’s and outsourcing but very little concrete, actionable advice. (Yeh Tim F – I am looking at you and your self indulgent hot air blowing!)

I have to say that outside a few specialised domains such as graphics I’ve always been disappointed with the results.

#2 Rob on 07.15.10 at 11:46 am

I have a lot to say on this topic, and I devote an entire chapter to this topic in my book: http://www.startupbook.net.

But the short version: I assign nearly all tier 1 email support to VAs, as well as research tasks, and “data maintenance” tasks for websites that need to be updated on an ongoing basis with new information (not content, but things like job listings). I also use them for audio and video editing, and transcription.

For a startup, I’ve found the optimal time to use a VA is as the idea is forming (for research), and after you’ve launched (for email support and maintenance). I’ve used VAs a small amount for marketing, but I tend to handle the major tasks myself as I want my marketing to be top notch.

I’ve found VAs on elance, oDesk, Google and Manila Craigslist. I’ve had varying luck with all options over the past two years, and my favorite has changed. These days it’s oDesk.

If you’re interested in more specifics, check out chapter 6 of http://www.startupbook.net.

#3 Dan on 07.15.10 at 1:30 pm

Looking forward to reading the book. Also, VAs in detail could make a good topic for the podcast.

(my 2¢)

#4 Scott on 07.15.10 at 7:35 pm

Hi, congrats on the new arrival.

If it’s possible I’d love to grab a kindle copy of your book. The pdf one doesn’t view well on mobile.

#5 Rob on 07.15.10 at 8:05 pm

Scott – I’m actually emailing with a company today who does these kinds of conversions. Hope to have a Kindle version out in the next few weeks. It’s turned out to be more difficult than I expected.

#6 Denis on 07.15.10 at 11:01 pm

Patrick’s endorsement sold me on the book.

#7 James on 07.17.10 at 6:16 pm

I have a sony reader and would love to see an epub version as well.

#8 Rob on 07.17.10 at 6:24 pm

I’ve engaged a firm who specializes in ebook conversions.

I expect to have a Kindle and ePub version available to the public within 2 weeks. It would be sooner, but I’m on parental leave right now 🙂

#9 Colin on 07.18.10 at 3:19 pm

Congratulations. Ironically, we had our first back on the fifth of july so I feel your pain on getting work sorted out. I too was spending some time as others slept answering emails and can register to some of your conclusions. Chief among them is the idea that things you think are important really aren’t. As a business owner, you want every customer to feel important so the tendency is to dive through hoops for every request. Bit in most cases, the customer has much more patience then you might think and the good will gained in a five minute delayed response to their needs isn’t any different then the good will created in a thirty minutes delayed response.

I too found the need to differentiate urgent tasks from important tasks, which is something many people never realize.

Contracts again . Best to your family.

Colin

#10 John Wright on 07.20.10 at 12:05 am

Congratulations and thanks for the insights!

#11 Noah on 07.21.10 at 9:27 pm

Congratulations not only on the new addition to your family, but on creating such a stable income stream!

#12 Robz on 07.28.10 at 1:07 pm

Dude. You are so where I want to be. I just stumbled upon this and you have definitely moved forward with everything I’ve read in 4HWW. Awesome!

Subscribed.

#13 Rob on 08.05.10 at 3:48 am

If you have already purchased the PDF version you should receive an email within 24 hours with a link to download an ePub version for free. If not, you can purchase both versions for the price of one at http://www.StartupBook.net.

The Kindle version will be online within 48 hours.

#14 Why Startup Founders Should Stop Reading Business Books | Software by Rob on 08.05.10 at 6:47 am

[…] was on paternity leave a few weeks ago and I had time to catch up on reading a long list of books that have sat stacked on my desk for […]