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Karl Sakas: Work Less, Earn More: How to Become Increasingly Optional in Your Business

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
3 min read

About This Talk

This talk is by Karl Sakas and was recorded on October 14, 2020. You can learn more about Karl by visiting his website:


0:00 Intro
4:10 Why You’re Burning Out
8:05 The Keys to Earning More While Working Less

Why You’re Burning Out

Most agency and firm owners work way too much. They’re underpaid, they’re operating the business on the fringe of profitability (or bankruptcy) and they don’t make as much as they would if they had a regular ol’ job. They can’t go on vacation, and you can completely forget about maternity or paternity leave.

This isn’t a sustainable strategy. If you’re in this situation, you’re burned out, or you’re going to burn out soon. What you need is a break, and permanently reduced workload.

The key to reducing your workload is to “be needed but not necessary.” There are four stages to reaching this place, and you can build on them one at a time. As you read the stages, take a mental note of which stage you’re in now, and which you’d like to eventually reach.

Stage 1: You’re Mandatory

You can’t get away for a day without something going wrong. You can’t take a real vacation, and you’re getting interrupted all day long. You’re constantly dragged into client work, you’re underpaid, and your company probably isn’t profitable.

Stage 2: You’re Necessary

You may frequently get called in to troubleshoot issues. Your team can handle day-to-day work without you, but they rely on you to make important decisions. You may be able to take a long getaway but not a full vacation.

Stage 3: You’re Needed

Things are feeling better now! When you’re needed and not necessary, your team is making good decisions without you. You may have some trouble taking maternity or paternity leave, but you can take a one- or two-week vacation. You’re running a profitable business, making market-rate compensation, and you’re running at a rate of 20% or more profit.

Stage 4: You’re Optional

Karl had a client last year who was able to take a 5-week honeymoon, and when she returned, she realized that she wasn’t needed in the business anymore, and wanted to move on to something else. When you’re optional, the entire business can run without you, and you’re well paid, profitable, and receive income that starts to look more and more passive because of your reduced involvement.

Improving Your Quality of Life

Moving from one stage to another means you’re drastically improving your quality of life. You can finally get off the hamster wheel, and instead focus on the work and personal activities you love.

Karl’s process involves mandatory steps to get from one stage to another:

Swim Lanes: Defining Roles In Your Company

What can you delegate? Defining swim lanes is all about articulating what the different roles are within a services firm. Karl’s found 6 roles, based on working with over 400 agencies. Those six roles are:

  1. Account Management
  2. Project Management
  3. Subject Matter Experts
  4. Strategists
  5. Business Development (Marketing + Sales + Partnerships)
  6. Support

Which roles exist within your firm? If you haven’t already, take the time to closely define all of the roles and what needs to be done in each. In the beginning, some of your team members may be in multiple roles, but eventually, you’ll have the clarity to keep people in dedicated roles with clear responsibilities and boundaries.

Value, Goals, and Resources

Values are how you choose to operate. Goals are where you plan to go. And resources are the tools and people you have in place to help you get there.

Each need to be documented and understood by your team to ensure that they understand all of the tools at their disposal.

Hiring and Coaching

You need the right people who know and do the right things. That’s the purpose of hiring and coaching, and it’s the last step in the process to making yourself optional to your team. Eventually hiring and coaching will become a core competency for you because it’s required in order to hire someone else to replace you.