When Hustle isn’t Helping

If you follow any media or experts on start-ups these days, one of the most common topics is the importance of hustle. The general gist is that you need to be cracking the whip 24/7 if you want to create something worthwhile.

“Without hustle, talent will only carry you so far.”

– Gary Vaynerchuk


“The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.”

– Steve Harvey

Gary V. and Steve Harvey make some pretty good points. They are very successful guys who have been there and done that. Starting anything meaningful is going to take effort – and initially it’s a LOT of effort. If you think you’re going to launch a business and skate by on a 9 to 5 type of schedule, you’re likely in for a big disappointment.

However… hustle isn’t a magic bullet for all challenges, and in fact there are specific times when you’re trying to scale your business that a hustle mentality is going to work against you.

*Note – when I’m talking about the hustle mentality, I’m talking about the idea of personally grinding long hours, putting in all of the extra effort yourself and doing what ever it takes to make something happen. Usually that means that you personally are taking the reins and driving over the finish line.

The problem with Hustle

There are a couple of major drawbacks to all of that hustle. The first one is that it’s not sustainable. There are a very few people who can operate at the red line for really long periods of time. (Gary V. may well be one of those people). But the rest of us mere mortals are eventually going to stop being productive and run a serious risk of burnout.

Talk to a few business owners who ended up shutting down their business and you will hear from many that burnout was what ultimately killed it for them.

The second, and even bigger problem with a hustle approach is that it’s not scalable. Let’s pretend that you’ve got all the energy in the world and that you can go 18 hours a day doing all of the hardest work in your business.

That’s still a finite number and at some point the simple constraint of the number of hours in a day will start to hold you back. And when that starts to happen, you’ll quickly figure out that because you built your business around yourself and your amazing hustle… there’s no one else around who can really do what you’re doing.

By definition, you’ve taken on all of the ‘hard work’ – probably because you didn’t believe someone else could do it as well as you could.

Or because teaching them would take a lot more time than just doing it yourself.

Or maybe you just didn’t trust anyone else.

Whatever the case, when the bottleneck is you, it becomes really difficult to start fixing that problem – especially when you’re super busy cranking out 18 hours a day (or whatever your equivalent is).

I talk to business owners all the time who have started to realize that they are a big part of the problem. And that they are starting to burn out. But because they are super busy and out of control, they don’t have the time to start addressing the problem.

The only thing they can think to do is to just work harder.

To hustle more.

You can see where that might not work out well for them.

A better answer than Hustle?

To be clear, you’re still going to need to work really hard to grow your business. You’re still going to need to hustle, especially early on, if you want it to get off the ground.

But you also need to start thinking about working ‘smarter’ and not just harder. What does that mean in this context?

If you want to scale your business, then you have to be thinking in terms of systems, automation and delegation.

Systems – pretty simple idea. Now that your business is up and running, what actually needs to get done in order for that business to function. You have to attract new customers (marketing and sales), you have to deliver the products or outcomes (operations), and you have to be able to support the overall organization (HR, finance, IT, etc.).

Each one of those activities can be broken down into a set of processes and steps. Start with the ones that are likely to impact you the most as you grow (imagine if your business were 10X the current size) and find an easy way to document what needs to be done. One recommendation is to use your phone and record quick videos and store them in the cloud where other employees could easily get to them.

Automation – what you can automate will depend on your business, but it’s a great idea to constantly be looking for opportunities that will take effort off your plate (or off your team’s plate). Billing, order entry, marketing… are all likely possibilities for automation.

Delegation – your biggest opportunity to get things off of your plate is to delegate big activities (and decisions). But make sure you are delegating outcomes and not just tasks – that means you have to trust someone else to truly ‘own’ something important… that’s ultimately the only way you’re going to be free.

Successful business owners who scale their business understand the need for hustle, but more importantly they also understand not counting on it. It’s counter-intuitive, but there comes a time when you are actually better off being at least a little lazy if you want to keep growing your business. (And ultimately the best businesses are the ones that can run completely without you…!).

Are you constantly hustling these days? Is it time to start thinking about hustling less? I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop us a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach