Managing a small business is a complex juggling act, and not without it’s difficulties. Some days you might find yourself yearning for the security of that steady pay cheque, sick leave, and paid holidays. Not to mention that you’re constantly on the boil because you have the world’s toughest boss – you.
But while it’s always going to be a challenge, it can also be extremely rewarding. The trick is learning to give yourself a break to enjoy it without sacrificing results, and that means learning to manage your time in the best way possible.
Maria Cook is CEO of the Business Enterprise Centre in the St George and Sutherland Shire in Sydney. She says one of the biggest challenges facing small operators is keeping momentum when there’s no one to push you.
“Frequently owners have come from an office environment, but now they are the full team. You’re now the boss, and you’re only responsible to yourself,” suggests Cook.
Without the pressure of upward accountability, it is all too easy to become complacent towards daily operations.
“I often advise businesses in this situation to build time into their diaries to go out and meet with other small business owners,” she adds.
Think about it like a weigh-in on the television show The Biggest Loser. Psychology tells us you’re more likely to stick to something when someone’s watching.
“It’s like a buddy system where you become responsible to each other,” Cook says. “You both establish what your goals are, what you want to achieve, and you then have to verbalise whether you did something or didn’t.”
But of course, there’s no point pushing forward unless you know where you’re going. Another common time sapper is failing to maintain focus on the right task and in the right order.
“As the saying goes, time equals money, and this is where so many small business owners fall down,” says Faye Hollands, director of career and life coaching firm Outshine Consulting. “They waste precious time on tasks that aren’t critical to their business, and, as a result, lose revenue and clients because they aren’t being as productive as possible.”
Hollands says the risks to business when time isn’t managed appropriately can be huge and spending too much time on the wrong things can lose you clients, ruin business relationships and ultimately cost you and your business quite significantly.
“This might sound dramatic, but if you can’t manage your time well, respond to clients in a timely fashion, or pay your suppliers on time, then the impact of your action – or lack of – can be significant,” she warns. “The key to smart time management is to know exactly what you are aiming to achieve in your business on a day-to-day basis.”
According to Hollands, once you are clear on your objectives, you can break down the steps required to reach each goal into bite-sized chunks.
“This needs to be done with military precision,” she says. “Physically write the time slots into your diary, and stick to them as if you were meeting with an important client. Be realistic with the amount of time you give each task, but also stretch yourself to get it done more quickly and don’t procrastinate.”
Do away with long to-do lists and instead focus on two ‘mission critical’ tasks per day, Hollands suggests.“These tasks should contribute directly to your key goals and objectives, and should give you a sense of satisfaction when finished. That way you get the important stuff done, and end the day on a high knowing that you did something productive.”
Fay McLean, business designer with The Aussie Business Coach, says scheduling weekly or twice-weekly meetings with key staff to touch base can be a massive time saver. By allocating time to meet, you can cut down on constant badgering about non-critical issues.
McLean suggests investing a reasonable amount of time in developing standard procedures or templates for dealing with regular business tasks. This could be for customer complaints, administration or even travel arrangements, and allows the business owner to step back from micromanaging every chore.
“You’d be amazed at how much this will free you up to be more productive and open to new opportunities to increase your income,” she explains.
McLean says allocating a specific time to debrief yourself, and assess what resources and support will be required for each upcoming event, helps convert plans into action. She believes it is a lot less time consuming than dealing with each issue as it arises. It also helps answer the question of when to add more staff.
“I advise business owners to make a list of how their time is used each day for a week,” McLean suggests. “At the end of this time, review each task and ask, ‘could someone else have done this job just as well if they knew how?’ If the answer is yes, it’s a task that should be delegated so the business owner can focus on other activities.”
Outshine Consulting’s Hollands says an easy way to figure out whether you can afford that extra head is to consider the average hourly rate in your field, and whether you’re wasting time on other unrelated tasks that could be charged at a lower rate. This is important because most small business owners don’t factor in the cost of spending their time.
“If you can get $50 per hour for what you do in your business, but you’re spending half your day doing tasks that you could hire someone else to do at $25 per hour, then it’s time to either outsource or hire new employees,” she says. “You need to focus your time on the high-end tasks that bring in the most revenue to your business, and that way you will increase your productivity and revenue.”
Time saving tips
- Build a diary, digital or physical. Keep it comprehensive and up to date. Colour-code to help keep track of different tasks. Give each task a realistic amount of time and stick to your plan.
- Get rid of long to-do lists. Focus on two critical tasks per day.
- Schedule staff meetings once or twice a week to reduce interruptions to your daily flow.
- Schedule regular business development time to reassess your business goals and lay plans for moving forward.
- Group tasks of a similar nature (for example client meetings, phone calls) into the same time slot in your day.