Episode 182: Get More Time Off While Growing Your Consulting Business—with Ashao FreeSky
Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So on this episode, we're going to talk about how you can still grow your business while taking more time off. And I know that sounds contradictory, but I brought somebody on, Ashao FreeSky, who's going to talk about how to set your business up in such a way that it actually allows you to do that, and it allows you to have more time with your family, more time doing the things that you love. So I know this is a near and dear topic to my heart, very excited for you to hear it too. Let's get started.
Hi, I want to welcome my guest today, Ashao FreeSky. Ashao, welcome to the show.
Ashao FreeSky: Hey Deb, thanks so much for having me on the show.
Deb Zahn: So let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do.
Ashao FreeSky: So really I firmly believe that we all, especially entrepreneurs and parentpreneurs, if we have kids, it's a fundamental birthright of ours to have time freedom, to have the ability to spend time with our family or do things we love and create magic moments. So I really made it my mission to help entrepreneurs, and specifically parentpreneurs because they also struggle a lot, with building a highly effective and systematized business that they can reclaim some of those magic moments to be with their family and to create some of that balance in their lives.
Deb Zahn: You know you're singing my song. And I love this. And I'm not a parent, although I currently have 11 foster cats. So I think this applies to me, so I'm going to listen to every bit of this because I need this. So we are going to talk about how to get time back so that you can have that life and have those magical moments. And I know that a lot of folks get into consulting, and they want the freedom and they want the flexibility, and then they don't get it. Something goes awry. So what is it that you see that's often contributing to consultants, other entrepreneurs? It doesn't look the way they want it to and they're just spending all their time working.
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, totally. I definitely have seen that and heard that, basically feeling overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done in the business or stagnating with the amount of growth that they're wanting and being maybe disorganized and distracted, and that really creating a lot of stress. And they end up, like you said, being overworked more than they really had hoped. Oftentimes, they end up being kind of scattered and burnt out, which is really unfortunate. And I think one of the root causes is that they've trying to do everything.
Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah.
Ashao FreeSky: Like, there's this kind of mentality that if I could just get more done faster, then I'd be able to relax and slow down.
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Ashao FreeSky: But the problem with this, what I call the hamster-wheel trap, where you're just running on the hamster wheel trying to get there faster, but you're just going around in a circle. There's only so many hours in a day and if you're constantly trying to squeeze more in, you'll end up sacrificing either your family, or your health, or both because there's only so many things you can squeeze out of. And so the reality is just you can't do everything, there's always going to be more to do in the business than you have the bandwidth to actually do. And it doesn't matter how big of a team you have, that's always going to be a constraint. And so if you just try to fill your time with more things, then you'll end up burnt out. And so we don't need to do everything and we don't need to be everywhere, we just need to have a system for identifying and overcoming what is your current constraint in your specific business and having a plan for overcoming that constraint.
Deb Zahn: All right, I got to hear about that because what you've described, I've been there and certainly in the 12 years I've been doing consulting, I've been there multiple times, and in every job I had in the past, so clearly something needs fixing. And so what would be the first thing? So if you were talking to a stressed out person like myself who I'm staring at my beautiful vegetable garden outside saying, "How come I haven't had time to go pick my tomatoes?" What would you say to me that I should do first?
Ashao FreeSky: Great question. And before I answer it, I'm just going to kind of insert an overarching framework that we can think about. And so this is what I call installing a business operating system, and there's really three keys to having an effective business operating system that allows you to focus on the things that matter so that you can have more impact with less effort. And the three things all happen to start with E, or maybe I finesse them to start with E, but the first one is that you focus on the essential. And so basically cutting all the crap you've been told that you need to do. You need to be on Instagram, and TikTok, and all these things. And really figure out what is, like I said earlier, the constraint for your specific business? What is the top 20% of activities that are going to make the biggest difference for your goals in your business? And so we'll get into the steps in a minute here, I'm just giving you the three pillars.
And then the second piece is, OK, we've identified what's essential, now we need to do that efficiently. So you need to suck energy plucks, or I mean, you need to plug energy sucks that are-
Deb Zahn: I like the first one. I didn't understand it, but it’s kind of cool.
Ashao FreeSky: "That's fascinating. Tell me more."
Deb Zahn: Exactly.
Ashao FreeSky: And this could be like disorganization in terms of tasks and projects, it could be distractions, basically anything. And like we talked about before we got on the call, you were talking about your system for onboarding people into your podcast. That's an energy suck, that's inefficient. And plugging that is going to make your life a lot easier, right?
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Ashao FreeSky: OK. So we've identified what's essential for the business to grow. We've figured out systems to make them as effortless as possible. We've made it efficient. And the third is to eliminate as many of those tasks from your personal to-do list.
Deb Zahn: Love it.
Ashao FreeSky: And so that's getting help. So there can be automations, but there's also building out a team and delegating so that you can avoid burning out by doing everything yourself. So that doesn't quite answer your question, that was more the overarching framework.
Deb Zahn: No, I love it.
Ashao FreeSky: But the process, I have a nine-step process, which I call my business OS blueprint. And the process that we go through first we start with the foundations. And so the foundation is first, you just really need to have a blueprint for your dream business and where are you ultimately going with this? What are you trying to create? Because like a house, you can't start a house without a blueprint, that's the foundation that everything else is built off of. So you need to have that vision and you should have the vision for how that ties into your life? How's the business serving your life? How's it serving your clients? Getting that clear is going to be the foundation. It's the starting point.
Deb Zahn: It reminds me when we were looking at houses up here, and this is how a lot of people try and grow their consulting businesses. We were looking at houses up here, we looked at this old, it was like an 18th century house and you could tell they had put all of these additions on it. But they must have started not where the current house was, but where the new addition was because there were all these steps up and down that they hadn't thought about, "Well, how should this actually go together?" So they ended up with on the outside, what looked like a beautiful house. And it was this bizarre concoction of weird rooms and passageways and steps inside. And your business can look like that if you don't think, "What's my end game for both my business and life?" So I love that you started with that because I think people think, "Oh, I'm just going to be a consultant." And they don't look into the future and say, "What's my version of that?"
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, totally. And what you just spoke to is kind of what I would call a Frankenstein house.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah.
Ashao FreeSky: And a lot of people end up with a Frankenstein business where they've hodgepodge a bunch of different things together and it's not coherent and it's not directing them, it's not leading them to the life they actually want to create. And they run the problem that I ran into, which is I built a business that I didn't love and realized I don't want to be working in this business. So that's why the first step is so important.
Deb Zahn: I love that. OK, so let's say we got that, boom, I got a clear vision. I know where it is that I want to head to, I know what I actually want my life to look like. I don't see how to get there, so what do I do next?
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, great question. Glad you asked it.
Deb Zahn: Why, you're welcome.
Ashao FreeSky: So the next step would be a step that a lot of people, even businesses that are generating millions in revenue, don't have a regular cadence of quarterly planning. And this is what I call your 90-day success plan, which is really, OK, you've taken this vision and part of that vision step is breaking it down into what does that look like on a roadmap? But then now what is the essential, right? Touching back on those three pillars that we're going to revisit, what are the essential outcome that our business needs to focus on in the next 90 days to make the most progress towards whatever it is, our one year, five-year goals and our vision? And so that's really going to come down to, a big piece that's going to come down to is the constraint. I've mentioned this a few times, but there's constraints that we have in our business, and you could think of it as five different constraints that a business can have.
And the first constraint is you need to attract, so lead generation, getting people in, getting eyeballs on you. If you don't have that, then you don't have any traction. That's the first bottleneck that you might run into. The second is building trust with them, so it's like you're doing with the podcast, nurturing people to get to know you better. Third is monetizing them somehow, so what's your sales system? Enrolling them into, if that's a sales call or whatever it is, you have some kind of conversion event. And then the fourth would be fulfillment, so do you have what I call a wow sequence that's really going to delight clients, create a remarkable experience that they're going to want to talk about, they're going to want to share with their friends and refer people and come back for more and stay engaged with you for many years to come?
So that's the fourth constraint that maybe you need to work on your fulfillment, your processes for really crafting a world-class experience. And then the fifth constraint could be profitability that you're just not profitable right now and there's many reasons that it could be. Maybe it's your offers is not priced highly enough, maybe you just have too many expenses, maybe you don't have people staying with you long enough, maybe you're not ascending them to higher value offers. But it all really comes down to having a profitable business that's actually making money in the end.
Deb Zahn: So what I like about the deliberateness of this is a lot of times when folks become consultants, and this will ring true for the entrepreneurial space as well, is it's kind of two categories and a little bit in between. And one category is, "I can't imagine how anybody would hire me." And then you'd just take random actions that fulfills that prophecy that you had, but there's not a systematized way that you're doing it. Or you think, "Well, everybody's going to hire me. And I have this great network and I go out." This was my version and when I started, I had all these coffees and drinks and whatnot, but I had no systematized way of actually turning that cup of tea that I was having with them into something that would enable me to buy a lot more tea because I had a process for actually getting business and ultimately the profitability.
So it ends up being this throw spaghetti on the wall kind of version and then you have no reliable source of income because of it. So that's why I love that it's really pay attention to these things that are actually feeding your business or not feeding your business. Love it. Fabulous. What else you got?
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, so once you have a vision, you know where you're going, you know you're creating the kind of business that you want and ultimately the life that you want. And now you have a 90-day game plan, of course there's more to it. You want to break it down, what are the actual projects and habits? Those are the two things it breaks down into that need to get done. So what are the actual behaviors like binary business, I did it or didn't do it that need to get done?
Deb Zahn: I got to say I love how you're getting rid of the sort ofs because sort ofs don't actually help your business. So it's, did it happen? Did it not happen? That's great.
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, exactly. And so you're already way ahead of the game when you've done this. You have this plan, this is already going to get you a huge way there. Most people don't do this, but then now you can take it a step further and this is really going to complete the first phase, which is the foundation of having effective personal operations on how to run like a CEO and have things organized. And so this third step is what I call the get (beep) done system.
Deb Zahn: We're PG-13, so it's get stuff done.
Ashao FreeSky: Oh, sorry.
Deb Zahn: That's OK. We'll leave that out, don't worry.
Ashao FreeSky: OK. So this system is really how do you take this plan and actually execute on it? So just before getting onto this call, I had another call with someone and they had all the resources, they knew what they needed to do, but they weren't actually executing on it. And there's some emotional things behind that, maybe fear of success, fear of being rejected. And alongside that is just not having proper systems and structures in place, so this first step too was having a quarterly cadence of planning, but then now you need a weekly cadence of planning to take that and turn it into a weekly plan, and a daily cadence to break that into a daily plan where you're constantly moving up and down these layers of perspective to identify again, "What's the most essential things for me to do?" Because that's going to be the most important thing.
If you're working on the, so what he was saying, he was spending most of his time on the bottom 80% of tasks that are the least important because they were the most comfortable. So we need to be very clear that we are identifying what are the most important things for us to do this week and today. And having task and project management in place is going to help organize all that, you don't have to keep it in your head so that you can just show up, sit down to work, and you are in execution mode, you know exactly what needs to get done in what order from beginning to the end of the day. That's what the get things done system is about.
Deb Zahn: I love it, I love it. Now, you said something casually that I want you to surface because it's related to everything you just said, is acting like a CEO. And I think that's one of the traps people get into is they got into consulting because presumably one of the reasons is they like doing the actual work but don't know that they have to work on their business. So say a little bit about that sort of doer trap versus actually being a CEO. How do you help people switch into that mode?
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah. Now we're also touching on the second pillar of efficiency, so if I'm doing things in my business, am I doing them in the most efficient way possible? And again, what we just said, are we doing the things that are actually essential and going to be effective? So what this is about is elevating our level of perspective out from doer mode into more of a manager role. And so you're managing yourself at first, even if you're the only one in your business, you need to be managing yourself and observing. And so, OK, this might sound maybe vague, observing yourself and how you're working, but it doesn't have to be vague because whenever I'm doing any kind of repetitive activity in my business, I ask... Well, OK, when I'm doing something, I ask myself, "Am I ever going to do this again?" And if I am, then I'm going to document what I'm doing.
And by documenting it, now I've externalized the workflow and that next time I go to do it, I don't have to reinvent the wheel, rethink how I did it, I can just look at my steps and be like, "Oh, OK." And I could follow the steps, but now because I'm following the steps and I'm not thinking about it, I have an elevated level of perspective to evaluate, is this actually the best way to be doing this?
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Ashao FreeSky: And now I'm in the manager role, I'm improving the process of doing the activity. And so you want to start documenting these into what I call a knowledge hub, documenting all of the recurring... You can call them SOPs, just really recurring activities in your business. And start doing that from day one because you're going to constantly be sharpening the acts, refining the process, and getting better and better at it, and improving the results that you get from it.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, you're also giving your executive function a break. I know that one of the places that exhaustion and overwhelm comes from is when you have to essentially take on the cognitive load of treating everything as if it's a novel problem.
Ashao FreeSky: Decision fatigue.
Deb Zahn: Decision fatigue. And there are so many decisions to make when you're a consultant or any kind of an entrepreneur that any shortcuts you can take of that load that you can take off because you can routinize it in the way you're talking about, I love it. And I will say to folks that, so when I started using Asana, which is the project management system that I use, and we got it set up. So all I have to do is boom, do a quick status update and automatically goes to the person who needs to do the next thing, hours out of my week, I got back, every workflow gives me time back.
Ashao FreeSky: Absolutely. And like you said, with giving your executive function a rest, it's also like when you have those kinds of systems in place, I think of it as these two modes of thinking. There's like this planning mode and there's this doing mode. And when you already have these things laid out and they're in your task management software, you are not having to engage that decision making. What do I do? When do I do? What order? It's already been planned out, you've kind of batched task that thinking and now you can sit down and just stay in action mode and get it done.
Deb Zahn: Right. And it's so much faster. I love that. So I love the 90 days. I know that for folks that this is new for, it might be tough or they might do what I've certainly done before, which is I'm really jazzed, darn it, I'm going to do it this time, I'm tired of the chaos. And I get 30, maybe 60 days in and then I start to relapse back to things that are comfortable even if the ultimate outcome is painful, or frustrating, or whatever you want to say about it. This is where swear words would be super helpful, but how do you help folks stay on the plan so that they ultimately get what they want, particularly if they start to relapse?
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, that's a great question. And so if you're working with a coach, like what I do with clients, you have the benefit of having external structure that is imposed on you. Kind of like when you were a kid and your parents were like, "Brush your teeth." And you're like, "OK, I don't want to brush my teeth." And then they're like, "No, brush your teeth." And you're like, "Oh fine," you brush your teeth and then the next day you're like, "I don't want to brush my teeth." "No, brush your teeth." So there's this external structure that eventually develops an internal habit. And so working with clients, that's one of my roles is to be providing external structure, so we meet every quarter to do the quarterly planning. We meet weekly, working on weekly planning to develop these habits that they will then internalize.
Part of that also is starting small. So a big mistake people make with any kind of behavior change is they just try to bite off too big of a chunk at once. "I'm going to run a marathon tomorrow." And they go running every day for a couple weeks and they fall off the bandwagon because they haven't started small enough where they can start actually implementing that and it rooting itself into their routine and then growing that momentum over time. So that's another important factor to keep in mind.
Deb Zahn: I love that there. I think of the National Health Service in the UK defines sustainability as when new ways of working become the norm. And I love that and I sort of lean on that, which is I know that if I make the action I want to take easy to take, as easy as possible, and I just keep repeating it, eventually it would be so ingrained in how I do things that I would have to launch a campaign to get me to stop doing it.
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, that's the goal.
Deb Zahn: And that's where now it's habitual, your executive function doesn't even have to think about it because this is just what you normally do. And I want to give people hope that this isn't just, "Oh look, a program." But this is real stuff only because I know having built out some of my systems that are now routine, I don't think about them, I don't spend any time during the week thinking about them except at the moment where I am the only person that can do that task. I do it, I call it a day. And I truly, truly have gotten back hours, hours from my week because of it. So this is why I was so excited to talk to you about this because I know it's important. So what types of other either, whether it's mindset traps or other sliding activity traps, whatever you want to call them, should folks pay attention to as they might start a program like this?
Ashao FreeSky: So I just wanted to mention because I know so many people struggle with this getting things done part and we're on the topic that I actually created a perfect week checklist that is part of that third step, which is walking you through how do you create a perfect week that is going to allow you to focus on the essential things and not spend so much time? So if that's something that interests, you can go to doubleyourtimeoff.com/deb and that hopefully will be helpful for those who struggle with execution or even just planning ahead.
Deb Zahn: And we'll put that in the show notes so that everybody can easily get a copy of it.
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, great. So to answer your question about some, you're saying the mindset or other traps that people…
Deb Zahn: Yeah. What else could trip you up?
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah. Well, one thing that I kind of touched on earlier is just self-sabotage. And so those are things that might look like perfectionism.
Deb Zahn: Oh, what's that like? I wonder what that's like for people.
Ashao FreeSky: And feeling like I need to, this has to be just right before I can put it out there. And that's been an achilles' heel of mine that I've been working to overcome. And one of the ways that, kind of the mantras that I've kept in mind that has really helped me with that is 70% done is done. Because even we're trying to get to perfect, which is impossible, the only way to actually get to that refined place is through iteration and putting out an offer, seeing how it's received, gaining that feedback, reflecting on it and refining it. And so it's actually action that brings clarity.
Deb Zahn: Love it, love it. Yeah, the perfectionism one, that's an old friend. I get really creative about it sometimes, but I also go back to, I learned in school, I used to say a good report's a done report, a good test is a done test. And you got to just see how to just keep moving forward. So anything else that the first time anybody is trying this 90 day, what else should they be paying attention to that's going to likely lead in more success?
Ashao FreeSky: So a really powerful part of the 90-day process is actually reviewing the previous 90 days and evaluating how it went and extracting gems and lessons from that 90 days. So that's actually the first part of the 90-day success plan that I create with people is looking back and looking at, "OK, so what were the 20% of things that were driving 80% of the results?" And identifying what are the essential? Again, it's bringing back to what's the most important things for me to be doing? We can never spend too much time. Well, we could potentially spend too much time being a perfectionist about it, but it's truly one of the most important steps is identifying what's going to be the most impactful activities. And so reflecting back on what worked, what didn't work, what mistakes that I make that I can learn from and what maybe didn't go as well as I'd hoped?
And then asking myself, "Well, what can I learn from that?" And then now bring this forward into the next 90 days. And another question we can ask ourselves to probe that thinking is, "OK, if I look back on the last 90 days or even six months, what are the three least valuable things that I've been doing?"
Deb Zahn: Nice.
Ashao FreeSky: And that kind of forces your brain to identify three things that you could either totally eliminate or systematize or delegate to other people.
Deb Zahn: I love that, I love that. It's almost like you're suggesting that self-reflection is a really important thing for entrepreneurs to have.
Ashao FreeSky: I don't know. Maybe, maybe. It seems like it could be.
Deb Zahn: Maybe. Or people should try it and see how it goes, but yeah, it is one of the most important superpowers to have. And so if you got it, use it. If you need to develop it, that's worth spending time doing because this is the only way that I know you can build a business that lasts. So where can folks find you if they want to hear more about this and get that cool checklist?
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah. Well, so if you're interested in learning more about what I do, I do work with people one-on-one, I have a coaching program, and basically it starts off, we do a one day intensive, like we were talking about the 90-day plan. We do that together, we do dive right into what are all the things you need to be doing to have the most impact. Then I actually work with you to build a custom operating system to run your business, and then you get unlimited one-on-one access to me. And if that's something that interests you, basically the checklist is the best way to find out more. You just go to doubleyourtimeoff.com/deb. And then after you sign up for that on the next page, then you'll have the opportunity to sign up for a complimentary business audit where we'll just look through your business, identify what are the biggest opportunities that you have in your business for building a business that's highly effective and systematized that doesn't require so much of your time.
Deb Zahn: I love it. So I'm going to ask you the balance question, but I also have to give you a shout out for something really cool that you did. So I get, and I told you this, I get requests daily to be on my podcast, which is nice. When I started off, it was like, "Please be on my podcast." So I was delighted when things actually started to go that direction. And I get so many that it takes me a while to reply to them, we now have a system, thank you because I love my systems. And so it automatically goes into my customer relationship management system, but I don't always get back right away. And so people nudge, they either don't nudge me at all and then they potentially drop off the radar, they nudge me, but they do it in an annoying way, or they send me something really cool, which so far you are one of the few people who've done that.
Ashao FreeSky: Awesome.
Deb Zahn: Which is, you were so great. You had this whole sequence that was clearly well thought out, you left me a review of my podcast, you took a picture of it, and I know you were igniting my reciprocity. Don't think I don't know that, but it was engaging, it was fun, it was respectful, and it was one of probably the best version I've seen of anybody who is like, "Darn it, I'm getting on that podcast." So I got to give you credit for that.
Ashao FreeSky: Oh, thanks.
Deb Zahn: And I actually think that if you were ever to teach anything else, you should teach that.
Ashao FreeSky: Fantastic. I'm glad that you enjoyed the system.
Deb Zahn: I do. And I knew it was a system like that is a good system. So you have, I'm sure, applied this all to your own life. So what does balance look like for you?
Ashao FreeSky: Yeah, so we've been talking about what's essential in the business. Well, this is really a pillar that goes beyond the business. What's essential and truly important to me in life? And being a parent, for me that is spending time with my kids. And so this is also tying into the perfect week checklist that I mentioned earlier. Well, how do I block out time in my week to make sure that those essential things in my life are being tended to? And so in the checklist you'll see that I don't look in my week just as a week for work, but it's a week for life. And how do I intentionally block out time for the things that matter for me because otherwise it's going to get encroached upon and you're going to end up finding that you didn't have time for it because it wasn't prioritized and blocked out.
Deb Zahn: That's right. And those tomatoes will never get picked and the kids will be in therapy later, so you got to get it right. Well, I want to thank you so much for being on the show today. I did mention to him before we started that I was having a rough week and it's only Tuesday, so I love hearing this for me. And I think this can be really helpful to a lot of consultants out there.
Ashao FreeSky: Oh, well thank you so much for having me on, Deb, it was an absolute pleasure.
Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything.
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