When we sent out our small business survey earlier this year, we asked our retailer community about the biggest challenge they’re currently facing: Brexit, the pandemic, or other.
Brexit came out on top, closely followed by the pandemic. But of those who selected ‘other’ a large number of you said you struggle with a lack of time, and sometimes a lack of focus, or procrastination.
This totally makes sense given that a lot of you are one-person teams, and many of you are fitting in your own business around other responsibilities, or even a full time job. So as the new year approaches, and we leave the hectic Christmas period behind us, we wanted to give you some tips on where to win back your time in the year ahead. Because your time is precious, finite and valuable!
1. Schedule as much as you can
While it’s nice to stay reactive and in-the-moment on social media, we’re big fans of scheduling your content for the week ahead in one batch where possible (or at least a big chunk of it). It’s more effective to get them all out the way in one go, rather than dipping in and out on a daily basis. The same goes for emails, too.
2. Automate where possible
The second you find yourself doing something that’s time consuming and manual, ask yourself; is there a better way?
If you’re doing a lot of manual data analysis or tracking in spreadsheets, is there a formula that could help you out? If you’re having to sync your online inventory and your in store inventory, is it time to move to a POS system that will do that for you?
These are just examples, of course — but having this mentality is going to help drive your business forward, no matter what’s taking up your time.
3. Outsource what you don’t like
…or what you’re just not good at. We tend to devote a lot of energy to minimising our weaknesses; whether that’s trying to learn a skill we don’t have, or gain a personality trait that doesn’t come naturally to us.
But what if we invested that energy in our strengths instead? Instead of being okay at everything, we’d become brilliant at just a few things.
Of course, a small business owner needs to have a reasonable understanding of all areas of your business. But outsourcing what you’re not confident in, or passionate about, is going to mean you get to focus on the areas where you can make a real impact. You’ll save time, and also enjoy your work more.
4. Streamline and prioritise your tasks
At any given moment, there are probably fifty different ways you could be improving and growing your business. Actually, there’s probably many more.
It’s an exciting but daunting prospect. Without a way to prioritise, you may feel overwhelmed, and find yourself flitting between tasks without being effective, and getting any of them over the finish line.
There are several different schools of thought on how best to prioritise your workload. We quite like the simplicity of the ‘Urgent-Important Matrix’, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix after its creator.
To make your own ‘Urgent-Important Matrix’, divide your page into quarters. The horizontal line is urgency (non urgent to the left, urgent to the right), while the vertical line represents importance. Write all your tasks within the matrix depending on how urgent and important they are. Urgent tasks normally involve things with deadlines, or things that are broken. Importance generally relates more to ‘growth’ measures. Anything in the non-urgent unimportant quarter can be postponed, while anything in the urgent and important quarter should be prioritised. The tasks in the important but non-urgent quarter are what will help your business grow (and is what you should be spending most time on), and the urgent but unimportant stuff is what you should ideally look to outsource.
5. Invest with confidence
When your business is new and isn’t yet making a lot of money, spending money can feel quite uncomfortable. And while it’s right to be a little cautious, the phrase ‘speculate to accumulate’ comes to mind.
Let’s say you need to build your first ecommerce website. A custom made design is going to be a few thousand pounds. The cheapest option is a budget website builder for £10 per month, or there’s the option of a much better one for £30 per month — the designs on this one are much better, and the backend is much easier to work with, saving you time as you upload each product, and ship each order.
This is a very basic example, but in this situation we hope you’d go for the slightly more expensive website builder. There’s no need to go for the custom design just yet; test the water, and learn what works and what doesn’t. But equally, allow yourself the better ecommerce website builder — you’ll get a better end result, free up more time, and won’t have to migrate in a couple of months because you’ve outgrown it.
6. Find a way of working that works for you
Building a successful routine doesn’t mean leaping out of bed at five in the morning to jump on the Peloton, or half a grapefruit for breakfast. It just means knowing yourself, and what you need to do your best work, and when.
Many people find the morning their most productive time. Given the opportunity, this is when they’d do their ‘deep work’ (the kind of stuff likely to be found in that important but non-urgent quadrant), whereas the afternoon they’re happy to pad out with calls, meeting, and the portion of their ‘to-do list’ which requires the least brain power.
For some people, the reverse is true. For others, simply having a routine at all doesn’t work for them, and they need variety.
If you run a brick and mortar store, you’re of course pretty tied to needing to be in the store while it’s open, but don’t feel you can’t make changes here either. Keep an eye on footfall, noting times that are particularly slow week in week out. Could you open later on a sunday morning? Or close up earlier on a Monday evening?
7. Set clear goals
Setting clear goals for yourself, and for your business, is one surefire way to tie together all of the above points. By setting a clear direction, you avoid choice paralysis, and can concentrate on achieving the things that matter, rather than spending all hours trying to achieve everything.
Every goal you set for yourself, and your business, should be SMART; that’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. So rather than ‘Get some good PR’, you should say how many pieces of coverage you want to achieve and by when. And what exactly does ‘good’ mean — do you have a list of targets in mind?
There probably isn’t anything on this list that you don’t know already, but we think it’s good to have it all captured in one place to help you stay on track as you plan for the year ahead. As always, we would love to hear the practices you have in place to get the most out of your time, and prevent yourself from burning out. Please drop us a comment at the end of the post with your suggestions!
As we turn our own thoughts to goal setting for the year ahead, we’d also love to understand what we can do to support you as you grow your businesses. Whether it’s teaching you a new skill, or saving you time, please also comment below with any suggestions, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.