How much time does running a business actually take?Welcome back to Short and Sweet Newbie Week. It’s Wednesday, and do you know what that means?

It means we answer Wednesday’s question!

Monday’s question was “how big does my list need to be?” and Tuesday’s was “do I need to be on social media?

But now it’s a whole new day with a whole new question, which is…

  • How much time does it take to build a business? Like, how many hours in a day?

This is a wise question and entrepreneurial culture is pretty divided.

In one corner, we have the “hustle culture” camp – get up at 5 am! Stop watching ****ing Lost! Copy my terrifying morning routine and you, too, can be a guest on 43 podcasts a day!

In the other corner, we have the “it happens while you sleep” camp – OMG it’s soooooooo easy! It’s practically turnkey! Bibbidi bobbidi boo, I run this business entirely while my adorable triplet toddlers are eating their organic morning oats!

I’m going to guess you’ve figured out the answer is somewhere in between.

But where in between? I’ll tell you.

To figure out how much you need to work, we need a much more granular definition of “work” than we tend to use. This is a more difficult task than one might expect. Bricklayers know how long they laid brick today. Baristas know how long they barista-ed today.

But “knowledge workers”?

The “creative class”?

Mentors? Coaches? Authors? Experts?

The lines are fuzzier (if they are in fact lines, which is debatable.)

Because, see, what I’m doing right now? It’s work. Everybody knows that.

But! Ten minutes ago, when I was finding a client email? I also saw an email from a lingerie shop, and they’re having a sale on blue stuff, and I looked at it for a couple of minutes. And then I saw a bra from a brand that I wasn’t familiar with and I googled them. And then I saw that the bra was featured on the Mindy Project and that made me think of Netflix, and that I wanted to ask Jack if he wants to watch the rest of Obi-Wan, so I made a quick note.

The whole thing took about six minutes.

Was I working during that time? I was at my work desk. I had my work mug. I was listening to work music. But was I working?

Most of us would argue that I was not.

When the lines between “work” and “not work” are somewhere between fuzzy and non-existent, how much time it takes to work is a very difficult question to answer.

So here’s my answer.

Assuming your line of work is similar to mine, and your “work” time is spent working, it should take you about three hours a day in the initial phases. Once you hit a maintenance level of revenue – for most of us, that’s the equivalent of a full-time salary – you can adjust that down for a lifestyle business, or up for growth.

How does that play out? Here are some samples based on real life.

If I have two consults tomorrow, I’m probably not going to write anything. I’ll read necessary emails and clean out junk. If I’m on social media, I’ll answer incoming queries and maybe do half an hour of networking. I’ll talk with my assistant about a few questions she has on open projects, and I’ll sign off on her proposed landing page changes. About three hours.

If I have no consults tomorrow, I’ll write for an hour and a half. Maybe I’ll be writing something like this, maybe a couple of podcasts, maybe a few sections of classes I teach. I’ll answer two in-depth client questions, and I’ll send out a quote for a brand review. Then a Hopes and Dreams call in the evening. A little over three hours.

If I’m working on expanding my coaching practice, I’ll check in on some people from Back In The Day, and spend a few hours doing active networking or doing London Blitz/Campaign Trail stuff. (Those terms are from List Explosion.) A little under three hours.

If I’m doing an active coaching push, it’ll be all email and Hopes and Dreams calls. About three hours.

If I’m working on a brand review or doing writing for a client or rewriting a sales page, that’s deep work, so I’ll do that for almost the whole time and let nearly everything else wait until a more administrative day. About three hours.

The best rule to use is to pretend you had an assistant.

If you were watching them, would you want to be paying them for what they’re doing right now?

Yes? Then it’s work, and you count it.

No? Then it’s not work, and you don’t.

Fixing the broken form on your contact page? Work.

Changing the subscription settings on your emails from Etsy? Not work.

Writing a class? Work.

Taking a class? Not work.

Emailing a prospect? Work.

Emailing an internet friend and, you never know, they may one day become a client? Not work.

Submitting a request to someone on Fiverr to edit the audio you’ve recorded? Work.

Looking on Fiverr to see what kinds of things they offer? Not work.

By that measurement, work takes about three hours a day for most people.

The exception, and it’s a very real exception:

The exception to this is if you’re on what could be called a “hustle” growth plan. If you’re running Gary Vaynerchuk’s $1.80 Instagram strategy, that alone will take three hours a day, and that’s if you never get distracted. If you’re doing this, assume three hours for hustling and three hours for normal work, bringing the total to six.

Now, what’s next?

Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how much this business thing is going to cost you, and how to bring that number WAY down.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch Obi-Wan.


In the meantime: Special note!

In honor of Short and Sweet Newbie Week – and newbies! – for this week, you can get a sweet deal on my beginners’ course, Zero to Hero. It’s designed to take you from “hi, I’m new” to “this is starting to look suspiciously like a business” in 21 short and simple lessons.

Check it out here: Zero To Hero – Full Course Details