6 Lessons to Work Smarter, Not Harder

Many entrepreneurs have seen (and heard) from our parents and others that success requires a lot of hard work and long hours. I used to be frustrated with the whole “work smarter, not harder” concept because I saw my entrepreneurial parents embrace the hustle. I thought to gain success, you had to do anything and everything and work 80-100 hour weeks.

But you eventually reach a point where you just can’t work any harder! So how do you get to that next level of success? Working harder for it clearly isn’t the answer. You need to shift the way you think about your relationship with work. So in today’s episode, I talk about six lessons that will have you working smarter instead.


On this episode of Promote Yourself to CEO:

3:48 – When you do this, you get an exponentially higher return on your time and energy. So what’s lesson #1 and how have I practiced it in my business?

7:12 – What does the E in CEO not stand for? I learned this lesson the hard way!

11:46 – You’ve probably heard this phrase before, and there is some truth to it. I’ve had to follow this lesson whenever my business crossed another threshold.

17:03 – So many entrepreneurs, especially creative ones, find lesson #4 challenging to implement. But not doing so can eventually sabotage you.

20:41 – Don’t love the idea of going into debt to invest back into your business? Here’s what I did early on in my business for lesson #5.

25:32 – You can’t implement the final lesson through Google. You’ll face rites of passage in your business when you’ll want this in your corner instead.

Mentioned in 6 Lessons to Work Smarter, Not Harder

Do you ever get frustrated when people say that you need to work smarter, not harder? This is one of those concepts that used to frustrate me so much because I was raised by two entrepreneurs who worked so hard. They really embrace the hustle to start and grow their businesses. I thought that success meant having not just a strong work ethic but a work ethic where you are willing to do anything and everything, you are willing to put in 80, 100-hour weeks. I think I'm not alone here. I think a lot of us saw, as an example, that success required really hard work and really long hours.

But as entrepreneurs, at some point, there's this point where we just can't work any harder in our business. It's almost like we hit a point where we have now become the bottleneck. There is a ceiling to how much growth we can achieve. How do you get to that next-level success? What does it actually take? Working harder is not the answer. In this episode, we're going to talk about six ways you can work smarter.

Are you ready to grow from solopreneur to CEO? You're in the right place. I'm your host, Racheal Cook. I've spent the last decade helping women entrepreneurs start and scale service-based businesses. If you're serious about building a sustainable business, it's time to put the strategy, systems, and support in place to make it happen. Join me each week for candid conversations about stepping into your role as CEO, the hard lessons learned along the way, and practical profitable strategies to grow a sustainable business without the hustle and burnout.

Hey there, CEOs. Welcome back to another episode of Promote Yourself to CEO. If there is one thing I have really tried to share in this podcast over the years, it is that you don't have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of hustle and hard work in order to have a successful business. I have shared over and over again in so many different episodes that I only work 25 hours a week. I intentionally designed my business so that I could have a beautiful, full, rich life. People sometimes think that that's some magic trick when I tell them that I'm only working 25 hours a week, and still, my business has reached this level of financial success where I am able, as the sole provider for my whole family, to bring in my personal income multiple six figures and I'm able to support all these incredible people on my team. That is one of the most amazing things that we've been able to create. It didn't happen by accident. It was all very intentional.

When I show up and share ways that you can work smarter, not harder, I really am advocating for a huge mindset shift, a huge shift in the way we think about our relationship with work, our relationship with time, our relationship with how we think that in order to deserve the outcome of a successful business, we think we have to just sacrifice ourselves, burn ourselves out, and hustle and grind so hard. We don't have to. But this is contrarian thinking compared to the way most of us were raised, in the way most of us saw work. Here are six ways that you can start to work smarter, not harder.

First up, do less with more focus. Do less; that might sound so opposite of what many of us think we need for success, especially because we are in a world where we are told we have to do all the things. We have to show up everywhere, we have to try every marketing strategy, we have to have all these different things happening in our business. But I'm here to tell you that when you do less with more focus, you get exponentially higher return on that time and energy. As I've shared, when I started this business, I only had 25 hours to work a week and that was because I had small children. I had newborn twins at home and I knew that I needed to maximize those hours.

For me, I wanted to make sure that when I was at my desk doing work for the business, I was focused on the things that would have the biggest impact in my business. I was looking for the tasks, the strategies, the activities that were going to get the best result for my business, not the things that were just going to give me a bunch of busy work. In fact, anything that started to feel like busy work, I said no to it. I think a lot of times when people think about productivity, they think that it's all about learning to get as much done as possible, to work as fast as you can, and it's about just doing more things in a shorter amount of time. To me, that is the opposite of how I want to spend my days. I love having a relaxed pace through my day. I love feeling like I'm never in a rush. I love feeling like I can be in the flow with the work that I'm doing. I'm only able to do that when my time and energy is invested in activities that lead to the best results for my business.

How does this practically show up? One way that I do less with more focus is I have a signature offer. That is where the majority of my energy goes; to The CEO Collective. You will not find a ton of other offers that we are promoting. This is the primary thing that we are focused on. You can sign up for a CEO retreat once a quarter or you can go to our website and buy a CEO planner where most of my focus is on The CEO Collective. I also do this in my marketing strategy and my sales strategies. I am not trying to be everywhere. I am not trying to do all the things. I'm focused on the things that I know work really well for me. The podcast is a great example of this. Once I landed on the podcast—being my favorite way to share information, my favorite way to share content—and I realized that it really connected with you, my listener, I was like, “Okay, I can let go of a lot of these other things I felt like I should be doing and I can just stay focused on this.” Think and ask yourself what are the things that get the best results for you that you could laser focus on and let go of all the rest.

The second big way to work smarter, not harder is to remember that CEO does not mean Chief Everything Officer. This is a lesson I learned the hard way because, again, when we are type-A perfectionists, feeling like hard work is the answer to everything, we might have a hard time letting go of control of things in your business—I'm sure that doesn't resonate at all with any of you—chances are you're shaking your head right now like, “Yep, I'm also a slight control freak. I want things the way I want them. It feels easier to just do it instead of explaining how I want it done.” Then you find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed. You're working too hard because you can't let anybody support you. You can't allow help to happen. You have to remember that your role as CEO is not to do all of the jobs. It is really to fire yourself from all of the jobs that are not the ones you are the best at.

I look at this as it is all about, as CEO, how can I build a support system in my business and allow other people to fill in the roles, to take over the strategies, to own these different areas of the business, and get out of their way so they can do a great job? When I first started hiring for my team, I knew one of the most important things I needed first, one of the biggest areas I needed to get off my plate and was the day-to-day busy work that wasn't where I needed to be putting my time and energy, was some of the admin and customer service. I knew that I needed someone to manage my inbox. I needed someone to manage my calendar. I needed someone to make sure that client invoices were paid and we were on track of how many sessions somebody had left. I needed someone to do some basic administrative customer service types of tasks. These are the types of things that for a lot of us, it's not that it's hard, it's just that it's time consuming. This is really the day-to-day busy work. They can quickly take over our time and it can take up a lot of time on our calendar. I knew that was the first area I needed to reclaim my time so that I could spend it on the most important things that only I could do in my business.

The next area that I decided to get off my plate—and this was such a huge bottleneck for me—was I needed to get some of the techie stuff handled. Have you ever run into tech problems in your business? I know I have. I joke with people, I am just techie enough to get into trouble where my team now knows, if they see me inching towards the back end of the website, they're like, “Nope. Get out of there. Please don't play with that,” because they know that I know my way around it just enough to do the basics, but if I get going too hard, I will probably mess something up, lose an integration, or do something wrong. I realized that I was wasting way too many hours trying to figure these things out myself, especially in the early days. I realized that if I just hired somebody who knew how this stuff worked, it would save me so much headache and it would save me so much stress. Again, I could go back to doing the things that only I could do in my business.

Getting support, building a team, building systems, streamlining things, putting the right technology in place, these are the things that will really allow you to work smarter, not harder because you're not doing the busy work and you're not fighting against things you don't really understand how they work very well. I don't need to go out and become an expert in all the technology we have in my business in order for that technology to work. In fact, me going off and becoming an expert is the opposite of what I need to do. I need to be an expert in what I actually am an expert in. This is one area where I feel like if I can save another person 5 or 10 hours a week because they hire some support behind the scenes on these admin, customer service, techie-related things, even hiring like five hours a week of help could really pull you out of the weeds and give you back five hours to work on the higher level activities in your business.

Third, what got you here won't get you there. This is something that you've probably heard before. This is such a typical little phrase that people say over and over and over again. There is some truth to it. This is a big thing that I've had to go through once I find myself crossing another threshold in my business and things have to shift in order for us to reach that new level of growth in the business. You've probably been through this. I feel like there are certain times in your business when you cross the six-figure mark, you cross the $250,000 mark, or you cross the half a million dollar mark, there are certain breakpoints here where something has to shift behind the scenes for that to happen. There's now some capacity challenge somewhere where we have to shift things around. When I wanted to go from six figures to multiple six figures, a big shift for me was I needed to go from working one to one to having some more leveraged offer.

Before I decided to take my business more online in 2011—which seems like forever ago now—but prior to that, the first two or three years of my business, I was consulting in person. This was how I had been consulting when I was in corporate. You actually go boots on the ground into somebody's office and you're meeting face to face with people. That business was very referral based, it was very word of mouth and organic, which is a fantastic way to start a business. You know I love referral based, high-touch, word-of-mouth businesses. It's a great way to get started. But eventually, there comes a point where you've hit a capacity. You can't work more hours, you can't really take on more clients. You could just continuously try raising your prices, but there fundamentally is a point where you can't even do that anymore to see the big shift that you want in your business.

If you're running into that, if you're finding yourself realizing, “Okay, I really can't raise my prices much more. I'm at the top end of the price range for this type of offer. I don't have any more bandwidth. I know I need to really shift how I'm doing things,” that's when you have to start thinking about “How can I go from one-on-one to one-to-many? How can I create something that's a little bit more leveraged?” That's when I created my first online program. If you've also been somebody who has been growing an organic, referral-based, word-of-mouth business but then you get to the point where you realize that you want to grow beyond that—so you don't just want referrals to be the only way you're generating potential clients, you want to have other marketing channels that are bringing those potential clients to you—then, that's another shift. That means we probably need to start really building out a marketing system and a different path for people to become clients.

This was one of those pivot points where I realized that I couldn't hope that organic, referral, word of mouth was going to grow the next stage of my business. I knew I needed to add in more marketing channels and do things other than referral. I also knew one-on-one wasn't the way. I was going to have to create a more leveraged offer. I had another tipping point when I was crossing about $250,000 a year where I realized, “Okay, I need to hire more support.” Even though I was seeing some growth and seeing things happen, I found myself going through this period where I was really nervous to hire more support and step even more into the CEO role and let go of some of the tasks that I was still doing. That was a big shift for me. I knew that I could no longer stay where I was. I needed to let other people take ownership of these things in my business and I needed to get it off my plate. Every other stage where I've hit a tipping point, there's some big thing that happens that shifts the way that I work, shifts the way we look at the business, and it's something that happens every few years.

I remember even about 2018, when we decided to completely shut down one program and launch another program, it took us a couple years to decide how we were going to design and develop The CEO Collective. It was scary and we had to approach everything differently and think about things completely differently. Just remembering this for yourself is really helpful. There are points where if you're starting to feel like it's not working anymore, if you're starting to feel like you can't get the results that you're looking for, if you're starting to feel like you are just reaching some level of capacity or things are not flowing the way they should be, then you might have to be thinking, “Okay, what got me here isn't going to get me there. What do I need to change up?”

Fourth way to work smarter, not harder is to embrace rinse and repeat. I think this is one of the things that so many entrepreneurs find challenging because a lot of times we start businesses because we are that visionary creative person. We love coming up with new ideas. We love experimenting. While that is amazing to get that energy behind us and get a business up and going, it can also sabotage you down the road because if you're continuously recreating the wheel, then you're always starting over instead of building systems in your business that do the hard work for you. I know this might sound like I'm now giving you a completely opposite thought of the previous one which is what got you here won't get you there, where you do have to change sometimes, that's about when there's a reason to. This is about not just changing things because you're bored or not just changing things because you have a new idea.

One of the things that gives me so much freedom is that I have assets in my business. I think of all these systems that I have in my business as assets. I have a marketing system. I have a sales system. I have a delivery system for all of our offers. It means that if you have an asset, you do the hard work up front, you do the hard work once, and then that hard work pays off for you again and again and again. An example of this is if you have a signature offer. A signature offer is something that you put all the hard work into designing up front and then instead of creating the program over and over and over again, you can focus on the marketing and sales of that program. Now you have something you can sell again and again and again.

Even in the sales process, you can build assets around that. Every time we go to enroll for The CEO Collective, I don't create a whole new sales page. I might tweak a few things but I don't create a whole new sales page. I don't create a whole new launch strategy. We pretty much follow the same launch strategy over and over and over again. We might tweak a few emails but it's not recreating the wheel. We have a system that works. Eighty percent of it is there. We might adjust 20% each time we go to enroll. The marketing system is so rinse and repeat. If you were to look at my 90 Day Plan, you'd be like, “Oh, my gosh, you just do the same thing over and over and over again.” Absolutely. Every week, you get an episode of Promote Yourself to CEO, you get a newsletter announcing it. I have certain assets in the business that are growing our list. I'm actively going out there and being interviewed on other podcasts. It is all super rinse and repeat.

The beautiful thing about it being so rinse and repeat is the systems are fine-tuned, the systems work really well, people in the business know exactly how things work. Even if I have to step away from the business for a little bit, like I did last year when I had to take on helping my mom in managing her care for several months, the team was like, “No worries. We got it. We can keep these systems going.” That was magical. That was absolutely amazing. One of the things I'm just telling my clients all the time in The CEO Collective is, “Hey, once you have built the system, don't recreate it each time. If it's working, then you want to optimize it but you don't need to recreate it each time.”

Fifth way to work smarter, not harder: create the money you need to invest back into you and your business. Now we have talked a lot about investments in your business over the past few episodes. I talked about The ROI of Thinking Like a CEO, I talked about how to make the most of your investments, so this is tagging along with that. I will say that when I got started in my business, I was somebody who did not like being in any debt. I do not like debt in general. I had zero credit card debt. I didn't want to go into debt starting my business. I had just heard so many horror stories of people who went into a lot of debt in order to get their business off the ground. Now my relationship has changed a bit and I've learned how I can take other people's money, thank you so much, from the bank, and get a line of credit. I might pay a small interest rate on that but my ROI is so much higher, which is amazing.

But one of the things that I really, really know needs to happen is I have to invest back into my business and I have to figure out how to make that happen. If you are like me and you don't necessarily love having a bunch of debt, and maybe you started your business and you don't have a massive savings account, you don't have a trust fund, or you don't have a partner who is funding all of your lifestyle so you don't have to pay yourself anything right away, those are all amazing privileges that I didn't have. I knew early on in my business that I needed help and I needed support. I knew that there was a point where I didn't need another course to teach me how to do something. I didn't need to spend so much time on Google trying to figure out how to do it. I just needed to invest in getting the answers because that's the fastest way to get the answers, is to invest in the support or hire the expert so that I can move forward.

I started really working on my mindset around this and I started shifting my mindset. Instead of thinking, “I don't have money for this. I don't have money in my savings account. I don't want to go into debt for this,” I started thinking, “I can create the money for this.” That was such a huge shift for me. I started looking at new investments and realized, “Okay, if I need to hire this person to implement this thing in my business, I need three clients to pay for that.” I realized I could create the money I needed to invest into my business. We all have to keep in mind that there are investments we're all going to have to make in our business, there's no business that I know of that operates without some level of investment. We all need to continuously work on ourselves as the CEO of our business. We have to work on our skill set, we have to work on our leadership, we have to work on our mindset. There's so much we have to learn.

I can make a whole nother episode just about the mindset shifts you need to go through, but honestly, one of the biggest challenges that we all face as an entrepreneur—and I've seen this over and over again—where people let things throw them out of the game of entrepreneurship is because they're not changing the way they look at their relationship to money and the way that they're looking at investing into their business. If there's one thing that I have learned over and over and over again, it's that when I choose to think differently about money and investments into my business, when I choose to look at what's going to help me buy back my time, what's going to make this easier for me and the team, what's going to help us leapfrog over this learning curve because it's the right tool, the right technology, or the right strategy, when I start thinking differently and stop thinking of these things as expenses, and instead, really think about them as investments, everything starts to change. When I really started paying attention to, “Oh, I can create the money that I need in order to make that investment,” then I stopped cutting into my cash flow which ultimately meant cutting into my own personal take-home paycheck, which I didn't want to do. When I was able to shift from trying to squeeze money to invest in these things out of existing cash flow and instead focused on how I can make the money to make that happen, everything changed.

The sixth big shift to help you work smarter, not harder is to find a mentor and find, join, participate in a mastermind. This is such a hard lesson for a lot of us because I think a lot of us just have this belief that we should do it all on our own; that if you are in business for yourself, you have to figure it out yourself, and that asking for help is somehow not okay, that you should know how to do it. I'm here to tell you none of us started knowing everything about what being an entrepreneur was going to be like. I have an MBA in entrepreneurship and small business and I didn't know what being an entrepreneur was truly going to be like until I started going through it. I found over and over again that when you are in business for yourself, you are just going to come up against so many questions, so many scenarios, and so many situations where you have to figure things out. You could spend a ton of time trying to figure it out yourself, you could Google to your heart's content trying to find the right answer, but you can't really Google your way to success.

There are too many things out there that are going to pop up on your journey that you really need people that you can talk to. You need people who can see you, who understand you and your business, your strengths, and what you're about, your vision, your values, who can help you along this journey. We need those people in our corner. I think that's why having a mentor is so powerful because they know what you don't know. Most mentors are either subject-matter experts or they are further along in this journey. They know other things that you probably don't know yet because you haven't gone through them before.

There are a lot of things that are rights of passage that we all are going to go through and we don't know how to handle until we get there, like the first time you have a client who asks for a refund, or the first time you have somebody who's copying you and you have to send a cease and desist letter. There are so many things that happen that are just these random things you couldn't ever dream up when you sat down to become an entrepreneur. Having someone who's been there and done that is a game changer. Having someone who you can talk to, who can help you to navigate the future, that is huge. They really shine a big light on what you don't know that you don't know. They can really help you see the big picture and all the blind spots you might have because you don't have that experience.

A mentor might be paid, they might be free. I have a lot of people who are mentors and they don't necessarily know they're mentors of mine but I follow along with a lot of what they put out there. There are people that I learned from who have no idea I consider them a mentor but I read their books, I listen to their podcasts, and I've attended their conferences. They have given me so much incredible value. They have given me so much clarity and so much insight. Then there are people who I have invested into mentoring me. I've invested in coaches. I've invested in consultants and experts, people who are actually going to get to know me personally so that I'm not just getting one size fits all feedback, I'm getting something specific to me, which is just incredibly valuable. You can have a paid mentor. You could have mentors who don't realize that they are mentoring you but they are. It will help save you so many mistakes and so much time on this journey that you would probably spend years trying to figure out on your own.

Along the same lines here is surrounding yourself with a mastermind; finding people in your corner who are going along this path same as you are, who are navigating the same challenge as you are, and who can be peer-to-peer support. If you haven't participated in a mastermind—again, these could be free, they could be paid, they could be formal, they could be informal, they could be one time, they could be ongoing—there's so many ways to mastermind with other business owners, but I find over and over again that the beauty of having people in a mastermind, who get to know you and who get to know your business, these are the people who, as they get to know you better, they can tell you what they feel is a great idea or what is a distraction. They can call you out when you are hiding. They can tell that you are playing small or you're avoiding something.

These are the people who are going to pump you up when you just feel the worst about your business, because we all have those days where we are just like, “We're done. We want to throw in the towel. We hate everything. We hate everybody.” You need these people who you can text and be like, “I hate everything,” and they'll be like, “Right with you, sister, and I'll get back to work.” We need that. We all need those people in our corner because they will help us to problem solve, to hype you up, to give you feedback, to give you love, to give you support. These are two of the most important ways I think you can work smarter, not harder is having a mentor and a mastermind.

Now I will say one of the biggest challenges that a lot of people have is they try to get feedback from the wrong people. I want to be clear here. When I say mastermind, I don't mean going to get advice or feedback from just anybody. I mean, getting advice or feedback from the right people; people who understand you, who understand your business, who are also—as Brené Brown says—in the arena, who are doing the hard things, who are putting themselves out there. Those are the people you want to get feedback from. Those are the people you want to mentor you, the people who are actually doing the thing, not just people who want to get together, brainstorm, and talk about doing the thing.

That is what we do inside of The CEO Collective. I have to say if you have enjoyed this episode, then I hope you'll come check out The CEO Collective because this is a 12-month experience where we help women entrepreneurs to really embrace this whole work smarter, not harder mindset. If you've seen some success on your own and you know that you need a mentor and a support system, a mastermind to help you get to that next level of success without the hustle of burnout, make sure you come over to check out The CEO Collective.