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The 80/20 Rule - Focus on What Really Matters

One of the most beloved pieces of business bullshit is the “80/20 rule”, officially called the “Pareto Principle” or the “Law of the Vital Few”. It states that, "for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes". Equating that to art, you can say that 20% of the brushstrokes define 80% of a paintings impact. It's the broad strokes and the big shapes that make all the difference.

20% of the input, creates 80% of the output

In art, cutting 80% of the work from a painting to create more broad, gestural style is unlikely to be the right choice for you. The 80/20 rule is not an argument against creating intricate work. However, it does make a case for making the most out of your time, especially in business.

Business people love this rule because it’s a great shorthand to talk about efficiency. Assuming that the vast majority of your money is made from only a small but vital piece of your efforts, it becomes tempting to look for the 80% of the work that can eliminated with little recourse. Sure, you’ll lose 20% of your income by applying this principle, but you’ll regain 80% of your time. Considering that the path to success as an indie often relies on multiple income sources, properly culling inefficient work can be ESSENTIAL to running a multi-armed business operation.

Here’s some questions you should ask yourself to find places to make cuts:

Conventions

  • Are 80% of your profits come from 20% of your shows?
    Cut the bad shows.

  • Are 80% of your sales coming from only 20% of the things on your table?
    Eliminate the underperforming items.

  • Is 80% of the work your prep time only producing a 20% better booth?
    Leave finicky displays and small items at home.

Online Sales

  • Are 80% of your sales coming from 20% of your SKUs?
    Discontinue your unwanted listings.

  • Is 80% of your income coming from 20% of the time your store is online?
    Restrict your online sales to special events only.

  • Are 80% of your sales coming from 20% of your customers?
    Focus on promoting to and rewarding your super fans.

Freelance

  • Are 80% of your invoices coming from 20% of your clients?
    Cut the bad or unreliable clients.

  • Is 80% of your exposure coming from 20% of your projects?
    Cut the projects that aren’t pushing your career forwards.

Take a long hard look at what you are REALLY spending your time on. It's likely full of stuff that you feel obligated to do because it holds SOME value but not enough to justify the massive footprint it leaves in your life. Drop the clients. Cancel the shows. Discontinue the items. Delete. Delete. Delete.

Hearing advice on what to cut out of your business might be something you are experiencing already, but have tuned out. People might be dropping hints that you should stop selling something or stop working for someone. Those sorts of messages tend to go in one ear and out the other. It's hard to hear these sots of suggestions without automatically fighting back. Our brains are wired to avoid loss, especially if it’s something we invested heavily in acquiring. We have to recognize that bias. That way, when some new info comes along, you'll be ready to assess the true merits of that suggestion.

Eliminating work is absolutely essential to the process of growing a business. Just like pulling weeds is an essential process to gardening. Removing low value work from your life will give you freedom to improve your life as a whole. Value your time. It’s a hard problem to stay ahead of, so even if you think you’re doing pretty well, take a moment to assess where you are really at. I can tell you that as I write this blog, I am feeling the weight of the 80% crushing down on me. Stuff creeps in through the cracks all the time. Being mindful of it is the only way to fight back.

 

Best of luck!

-Pete