Every Overworked Entrepreneur Should Try Reverse Problem Solving


By Brooke B. Sellas, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Scale! Growth! Revenue! Projections!

These words are hurled at every entrepreneur like poison-tipped darts.

I say poison-tipped because these words can be toxic for overworked entrepreneurs.

If you feel yourself getting drowsy from the contamination of “hustle pressure”, keep reading.

Reverse problem solving may just be the antidote you’re looking for.

Growing Pains

Not too long ago, I boasted that I don’t play the “I work harder than you” game with my friends.

My dirty little secret is that I play it with myself. I take on ALL THE THINGS in order to hit my (totally made up to pressure myself) goals.

This year, I begged my CFO (who is also my husband) for help for myself. I’m the CEO, the sales department, the marketing department, and the COO.

By the end of Q1, our growth was trending by more than 100% for the year. Which sounds fantastic, right?

But my days are filled with back-to-back pitch meetings, which means operations, marketing, and other things are taking a back seat.

I’ve been dropping the ball here and there; five minutes late for a meeting, three days to respond to an email, and “where are those notes on that new closed account?!”

My husband, being the no-nonsense accountant he is, gave me a monthly revenue goal to hit before I could hire an internal person. His reasoning made total sense … since this person isn’t directly tied to ROI, we’d need to hit a certain number so paying her didn’t eat into the bottom line.

Fast forward two months of eyeing the “prize” and I broke out into hives.

The pressure and stress were unbearable.

I was so caught up in thinking how much I needed to get some sanity back that I didn’t think about how much sanity I was losing focusing on revenue.

They don’t call it “growing pains” for nothing. Growing is painfully hard, especially when you run as lean as we do.

There was a cost to my “hustle mode” mentality. And that got me thinking about costs …

Shift In Focus

Where do we entrepreneurs learn how to put so much emphasis on growth and revenue? And so little on costs?

What if we all tried reverse problem solving instead? What if we switched out revenue with costs and instead asked ourselves, “how can I limit costs to increase revenue?”

A penny saved is a penny earned, right?

So I went in and looked at our time-tracking tool, Harvest, to see where the majority of time was being spent.

And guess what, my own company was sucking up a LOT of time!

reverse problem solving

As I drilled in to see which tasks were taking the most time, I noticed that “email management” was out of control.


Suddenly, things don’t feel so daunting.

I think back to 2017 when reverse problem solving saved me from bleeding out. “Team meetings” were gobbling up hours, and I noticed we were getting billed for meetings that lasted an hour or more (and for several team members at once, meaning I was paying for that meeting for each person!).

We cut the number of meetings and requested that all meetings be kept to 15 minutes or less. Any longer meetings needed to be approved by me.

And guess what? We cut costs by thousands of dollars in only a couple of months.

I had used reverse problem solving to stop the bleeding once, and now I’m out to do it again.

The nitty gritty of my problem isn’t my point, so I won’t go into much more detail. However, I do think we get so caught up in the hustle that we lose sight of the truth.

Reverse Problem Solving

My ask of you is to dedicate one month to reverse problem-solving and focusing on costs instead of revenue.

Focusing on costs savings instead of revenue gainings has led to many wins.

  • We cut out unnecessary and costly meetings
  • We found out who our “star players” were (and who they weren’t)
  • Better, more cost-effective tools were purchased
  • Prices were raised for services that were more time consuming

Think about it: businesses don’t usually go under because of revenue problems. Their cost problems bring them to their knees.

Sure, money in is what pays the bills and allows our team to keep growing as we take on more clients. But there’s more than one side to a coin.

Keeping costs low and continuing to run lean can help me reach my goals, too.

So the next time you find yourself breaking into hives from over-hustle, try reverse problem solving (or as some call it, reverse brainstorming).

  1. Clearly identify the problem.
  2. Flip the problem on its side. For example, instead of asking “What will help?” ask, “What will make it worse?”
  3. Make a list of all possible reverse solutions.
  4. 180 your reverse solutions to create real fixes for the real issue.
  5. Move forward with viable solutions.

Have you used reverse problem solving to help you get unstuck or to give revenue less power? Let me know in the comments section below!

Brooke Ballard for {grow}Brooke B. Sellas is a done-for-you social media manager & owner at B Squared Media, blossoming blogger, and a purveyor of psychographics. Her mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout on Twitter.


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