We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
Weasels are adorable animals, but they're also sneaky. When it comes to your business, weasel work is much the same. Weasel work is all the stuff we convince ourselves we need to do, but which actually keeps us away from the hard or uncomfortable work that makes us money. For example, I've known many would-be consultants who easily spend 6 months or more working on their consulting website, writing and rewriting their business plan and mission statement, and printing up the perfect business cards (nevermind that they do no in-person networking and have no one to hand them to). At the end of 6 months, they have a small pile of expenses, but no actual income to show for it.
In an even more incredible example, I recently saw a young salesman hired on at a company in transition. He managed to go 6 months without bringing in a single new lead. 6 months! As a salesman! What was he doing? Well, he drew up long guides about what he thought the direction of the company should be (without consulting any existing employees about what customers like or dislike, so it was totally off base). He set up a CRM system to manage the (nonexistent) leads. He changed the company email provider. He tested new proposal software. He strategized endlessly. He said he was learning about sales. He hired a new sales guy to work under him. In any normal situation, he would have been fired within a month or two, but the company was in a weird place and the owner wasn't around to see just how bad he was. Last I heard, there were still no new leads, but they had a shiny new proposal template.
When is it weasel work?
Before we go any further, I want to be very clear that there are some tasks that only become weasel work in certain situations. Maybe you have crazy numbers of new leads to track, and you really do need to take a little time out to set up that CRM to track things with your team. If your website has inaccurate information or broken pages, you should fix that.
When you unconsciously avoid the things you MUST do in favor of non-critical tasks that seem easier or more appealing, you're doing weasel work.
Weasel work can be deceptively hard to spot (especially in yourself) because it's so situational. You can almost always make a case for doing these things. What's wrong with polishing up your website or creating a more organized system for handling leads? Nothing, unless you sit around doing that kind of stuff while avoiding the hard work of actually contacting people so you'll have some leads to handle.
And going back to school for another degree might help you – but if you're telling yourself you can't really get started on what you want to do until you have it, you're probably being a weasel (unless you're required to have that degree to practice, like a doctor or lawyer). These are all good things, but ONLY when you don't do them at the expense of more critical tasks, like making sales and servicing your existing clients.
Stop Being a Weasel
Don't let yourself become one of those sad wannabe consultants who invest time and money in building a business, but never actually start doing business. Whether you're just getting started or you've been plagued by weasel work for years, it's important to have an honest conversation with yourself about what's REALLY necessary to achieve the results you want.
Case in point. I've been consulting for over 10 years now. Once upon a time, I had a website. I found it unnecessary, as nobody asked for it and I had plenty of leads without it. I do have business cards, but they're not specific to my consulting business. They simply state my name, email, and the various things I do. I didn't waste a ton of time agonizing over them. If anything, people have commented that they're more memorable because they're not the typical business cards you'd expect from a consultant. I don't use any fancy CRM, and for most of my consulting life, I've used a Gmail account to correspond with clients. Yet somehow, I've enjoyed a healthy income and steady stream of clients – doing far better than many of my colleagues who honestly have a much more “professional” appearance and image than I do.
Focus on Results
I'm not saying you should never have a website or implement good systems for your business. What I'm saying is that you need to focus on results first – whether for your business or those of your clients. If you're struggling, ask yourself just how much time you've invested in the tasks that actually drive the end result you're after. More often than not, you'll find that when you direct a larger percentage of your time to those tasks, the results will follow.