Tips for busy small business owners
Get actionable tips to help you grow your business.
Want to grow your business, but instead of working on your business plan or launching that new marketing strategy you find yourself focusing on the same day-to-day tasks?
When you’re involved in every aspect of your business it's hard to find the capacity you need to really drive your business forward. It's easy to fall into the trap of working 'in' your business, instead of working 'on' your business.
The tasks you choose to prioritise and how you choose to spread your tasks throughout your day can have a big impact on your overall effectiveness. With a to-do list longer than your arm, you might think more time is what you need to get everything done. But research has shown that people who work long hours are not more productive than people who work less. The key is not to find ways to get more done, it's about getting more of the right things done.
We only have a finite amount of cognitive capacity each day, so if you're wasting your capacity on trying to complete a long list of tasks then you're never going to find the time or have the capacity to work on your 'big goals'. Your daily priorities should be the tasks that are driving your business forward.
First, find your priorities
Think about a typical working day for you. You can either jot down the tasks you would typically perform on an average day from memory, or single out a day this week and jot down everything you do. Now, put each task into the following categories: 'Automate', 'Streamline' 'Delegate', 'Eliminate', 'Do it Myself'.
Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else’s time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash. How’s that for incentive to be effective and efficient? - Timothy Ferris
To help you categorise your tasks you should ask yourself the following questions:
Does this task need to be done? Is it driving my business forward? Is the effort worth the outcome? If no – put it in the 'eliminate' category.
Can I do this task more efficiently? Can I simplify this task with a system, process or by training someone to perform this task for me? - If yes, put this in the 'streamline' category.
Is there a tool, system or process I can use to automate this task? - If yes, put this in the 'automate' category.
If there isn't a tool (doublecheck our list below):
Could someone else perform this task instead of me? Can I outsource this task to a person in my business or find an organisation that can do this for me? - If yes, put this in the 'delegate' category.
Place the task in the 'do it myself' category.
Now, let's take a closer look at each category -
Streamline, Automate, Delegate Categories
As your small business grows you will inevitably need to find the right people, tools and processes to handle most of the things you're currently managing yourself. Trying to do absolutely everything in your business will make it hard for you to scale and lead to serious burnout. We've put together some ideas and tips below for streamlining, automating, and delegating some of your tasks - but not all of these will suit your business or industry. If there's a task taking up a lot of your time, get creative and do a little research to see what you can do to get it off your to-do list.
Staff development & Management
You might not realise it, but some of the tasks you think waste your time, or are a source of frustration for you, could be of great interest to someone on your team. For example, replying to customers on Facebook, ordering new inventory and managing suppliers, and staff engagement and training. Delegating more of your tasks is a win-win! You save time and your team member gets another skill they can add to their CV.
"The best management style is not to micromanage or be completely hands-off; it's to look over the shoulder." - Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart.
It can be tough trusting your staff to do something you usually take care of but resist the urge to micromanage your team to complete simple tasks. This can chew up a lot of your time and stunt your business growth. You need to be able to trust that your team can do a good job without you.
Key to getting this right is creating standard operating procedures so your team knows how to handle problems or complete tasks the way you expect them to be handled. It's essential to train new staff against these standards and approach training as an ongoing key part of your staff development. Don't expect staff members to remember everything you showed them on their first day for weeks and months to come without reminder sessions and you'll need to accept that sometimes mistakes are part of the learning process.
If you're training someone to answer customer email product enquiries, copy all of your old email threads and paste them into a document. Your staff will have an exact record of how you expect product enquiries to be responded to.
Download our handy guide to help you train new staff members on using your EFTPOS terminal to include in your training pack.
Can't afford to hire someone yet? Only need someone for 1-3 hours a week? A virtual executive assistant or secretary performs time-consuming tasks like invoicing, email inbox management/filtering, booking appointments and following up with clients, managing your social media accounts, writing blog posts, updating your CRM and more on an agreed hourly rate. This is a great option for clearing off the 'delegate' or 'automate' category on your list of tasks.
Auto-responders and email templates
Do you find yourself typing the same emails over and over? An easy, time-saving tip is to look at setting up an auto-responder on your email account. This will quickly greet customers and let them know you will be in touch. If you have a website, it’s a good idea to weave in some links to your content.
Prepare templates for emails you send frequently including thank you messages, lead follow-ups, and answers to FAQs. These can simply be word documents stored on your desktop.
Apps and tools
Check to see if there is an app you can download to your smartphone or software you can buy that can automate a task for you. For example, most accounting software companies offer an app you can download to your smartphone. The apps sync up with your main account so you can send invoices, approve expenses, input receipts and reconcile your accounts – all while you sip your morning coffee or get through your daily commute.
Do It Myself Category
The do it myself category should be made up of tasks that you, and only you, can perform. These are your priorities! Go ahead and add some of the tasks you have neglected due to lack of time or capacity.
The best way to hack your cognitive capacity and complete these tasks as efficiently as possible is an approach known as the 'Pomodoro Technique'.
The Pomodoro Technique
Do you find yourself jumping between tasks a lot? Do you allow yourself to be easily distracted by your phone, emails, staff? Being reactive and letting yourself become distracted can have a serious impact on the length of time it takes you to complete tasks. This is not just because of the length of time you spend away from the task at hand, but also because it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain focus to the same level as before you were distracted.
The Pomodoro technique makes use of 'Task Batching' - where you group similar tasks together and perform these tasks at the same time, in intentional 25 minute long batches broken up with short breaks.
Here's how you do it:
- First, designate 'Pomodoros' to your to-do list. Group together similar tasks (responding to email, returning phone calls, etc) - this is one Pomodoro. Tasks that will take longer to complete should be broken into multiple Pomodoros.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus intently on completing the tasks in your first Pomodoro.
- When you've completed that 25 minute Pomodoro, take a 5 minute break - don't skip this!
- Begin another Pomodoro.
- Once you've completed four Pomodoro’s, take a 20 minute break.
Intentionally managing your time using this technique will dramatically improve your productivity and help you save more time. For more information, I recommend reading this article by Michael Hyatt.
If you want to work on your business rather than just in it, it's time to analyse what you're spending your time on. You can't grow your capacity, but you can prioritise your tasks. Figure out where you’re spending an unnecessary amount of your time and find a tool, automation or strategy that helps you tick it off your to-do list faster so you can get to work on your priorities.
See more from the series: