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Typically business owners try to do it all themselves. When you start out, that’s par for the course, but if you’re still doing it all two years down the line (or more), then you are probably feeling a bit frazzled or burnt out.
And your business possibly isn’t growing as you’d like it to.
Even if you’ve tried to improve how you’ve worked to be more efficient and it’s not er, worked, here’s another way to look at your tasks to identify what you can:
- Keep doing
- stop doing
- make more efficient or
- give to someone else to do
The diagram below covers most activities a business owner does day to day.
Diagram 1 – What you should 'do, ditch, delegate or diminish'
I’m betting that most people will be spending not enough in the ‘Important but not urgent’ section.
Would that be fair?
I am guilty as charged too!
I’m bang on with client delivery and doing all the admin tasks but it’s too easy to get distracted by Q4 activities (even if I pretend it’s research for Q2 activities).
The ideal is that you spend a decent amount of time working on your business – i.e. sitting firmly in Q2 above. Some experts say you should be spending 75% of your time here. Which is all very well if you have employees who are involved in the ‘doing’. But let’s be realistic until you get yourself to that point, it’s not feasible. But do try and aim for the equivalent of a day a week. More on how to achieve this below…
How much time do you spend in each quadrant?
My challenge to you is to calculate how much time you spend a week in each quadrant. And be completely honest with yourself. Use a timesheet to mark down all your activities – all of them! And then categorise them into one of the four quadrants above.
Are you shocked at the results?
Let’s look at each in turn and see what can be done to try and rebalance where you spend your time
Q1. Important and urgent
These are actions that have a deadline, or are a crisis or emergency that you do have to deal with, or may help towards achieving your long term goals.
These could be client delivery activities, dealing with an angry client or prepping for an important meeting.
These you have to do.
Q2. Important but not urgent
This is the most neglected area for business owners, yet is the most important one.
These are the actions that are due later but don’t have a deadline and that will definitely help you achieve your long term goals. They include things like strategy and planning for your business, creating a lead magnet to attract prospective clients, or writing a proposal or on-line course.
Because they don’t have a deadline, they are very easy to put off. A client phones or you get an email and that’s it, you’re distracted. And let’s face it strategy can make people feel quite faint, so it’s easy to drop in favour of something more enjoyable.
But stop!! This is the area where you should be spending more of your time if you want your business to grow.
Ah yes, Karen, but what if a client calls, surely that’s more important?
More important than your business? Seriously? When my clients tell me this, I ask them if they were with a client and another client called them, would they drop the one they are seeing to deal with the caller? No, of course they wouldn’t, and neither would you, not unless it was critical.
You’d quite happily tell them you were with a client and could you call them later and they would be happy (and probably very apologetic for disturbing you) to wait.
So why can’t you do this for your business? Treat it with the same respect as you do your clients. If you find it difficult to do, then I suggest you lie – tell them you’re with a client!
Have I made my point clear on this? Good, let’s move on…
So what can you do?
- Allocate time in your diary every week and honour it
- Get yourself an accountability partner
- Put a timer on and get your head down to do that difficult work until the alarm goes off and then treat yourself to a break
- Organise a JFDI day with colleagues where you spend a day working on business development activities, but dial into one or more other people to share what you’re doing and commit to doing it
This is all the day to day stuff that usually has deadlines, but doesn’t really move you towards your long-term goals.
This includes your invoicing, doing your accounts, putting your business cards into your CRM and the other myriad of ‘stuff’ that you get distracted with. These tasks make you feel like you’ve had a busy and productive day by doing them, but you haven’t actually moved your business forward.
This is the stuff you need to diminish, delegate or develop systems for.
Let’s look at diminishing or delegating first – what actions can you take?
You don’t have to employ people full time at the beginning, but you should, at a minimum, have an accountant and if you have a high volume of invoices, a bookkeeper (who can also do your VAT return for you).
If you haven’t got a VA (virtual assistant) yet, why not? They cost £20-£25 per hour and even a few hours a month can pay dividends.
Here’s a quote from someone who attended my talk on how to increase the profits in your business without increasing your sales:
‘Karen, because of you, I hired a part-time book-keeper/admin person and someone else to look after some customer success ‘stuff’ and to be honest, it’s been transformational. Seems silly to say, but I was getting way too clogged up on minutiae.’
This doesn’t have to be complicated – here are some examples:
- Have repeat calendar entries for standard meetings and activities
- Automate monthly retainer invoices
- Automatic credit control (your accounting package sends out overdue invoice reminders rather than you having to do it)
- Using the functionality of any systems you have e.g. automated email funnels that get sent out automatically when certain actions are taken e.g. someone signs up to your newsletter.
- Setting up workflows in your CRM system to remind you of tasks, so you don’t have to think about them
Or the time-wasting/procrastination quadrant as I like to call it.
None of the stuff here helps move your business forward, or it’s due much later, if at all. It’s all just distraction and fluff.
It’s those webinars you watch that claim they are going to change your life (they aren’t, I promise). Or those useful ‘must read’ articles on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn that lead you down a rabbit warren of other interesting articles until suddenly you discover you’ve lost two hours.
This is where a lot of time gets wasted which should be being spent in the Important, but not urgent quadrant.
This is the stuff you need to dump, delete or diminish substantially.
I’m not saying give it all up, but I would recommend no more than an hour a day if you must.
Other actions you can take:
- Unsubscribe from all those emails you get because you gave an email address for a lead magnet and now you are bombarded daily with the latest (not) ‘life-changing’ offer
- Close all non-relevant tabs on your laptop so you’re not tempted by the ping of a notification
- Switch off the internet for a period of time so you can concentrate
- Turn the volume of your phone down, or put it in a different room
Do you have enough money in your business for it to survive should you be unable to work?
You never know when life is going to trip you up or cause a temporary derailment to your business.
I have two clients who have had to take time off work because of parents being ill or needing additional support. And as we get older, that's a problem more and more of us face.
Then I was really shocked and saddened to read a post in a group I'm in on Facebook about a well-known marketing expert who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
She's been undergoing major treatment and will be off work for a considerable time.
As she says on her crowdfunding page she doesn't have critical illness cover and she is the centre of her business. And she is naturally worried that there will be nothing to come back to once she's recovered and ready to pick up the reins again.
My clients are also the centre of their business and without them, there is no business.
Her story really made me think about how perilous our business life can be and what steps we can take to protect ourselves should something come along that stops us from running our business and potentially taking away our livelihoods.
What you can do to protect your business
1. Build up reserves
This is such an important one for me and one that so many business owners don't do.
Fortunately, my clients have built up reserves to see them through quieter times.
You should aim for at least three months of running costs. I have three accounts for my business:
- My current account.
I only keep in here the money that I need to pay my costs each month
- A VAT and tax account.
Every time an invoice is paid, I put away 20% for VAT and 20% for tax into this account. This has two benefits. Most importantly, I know I will have the money to pay my VAT bill. And secondly, my business owes me a lot of money from when I bought a franchise, so at the moment, until I pay that back, my tax bill is pretty small. So it acts as a savings pot, but it's a good discipline to get into.
I absolutely insist my clients have and use their own VAT/Tax account. It's not our money to spend, so put it away.
- Profit account.
No matter how little I might earn in a month, I always salt some money away into this account. Anything that's over and above my monthly running costs goes in there once I've put away my VAT and tax money. Even if it's only £20. Every mickle makes a muckle as we say up North.
By putting the money away each month, gets you into a saving habit. And psychologically you're far less tempted to make (rash) purchasing decisions if you see a healthy amount in your current account.
Having that money saved gives you options:
- As a buffer to cover the peaks and troughs of monthly revenue or
- to allow you to take your foot off the pedal if you need to and
- is a source of funds for when you need to invest in your business.
2. Work on ways to remove yourself from being the centre of your business
I bang on all the time about outsourcing so I'm not going to go chapter and verse about it here.
I'm doing some research at the moment and a key message that is coming through is 'I wish I'd hired sooner'.
Whatever you may think you are not the only person who can do your work unless what you do is so niche that there really isn't anyone else who can do it. I'm thinking tadpole nanny, gerbil milker, jedi, Star Trek transporter engineer.
There are of course sensible exceptions to this rule - Maria Forleo being one of them. But she has made an informed decision to be at the centre of her business. She does, however, surround herself by a team to support her and has online courses that will generate revenue even if she's not working.
I have written a book ‘The profitable business – How to create a business that works for you in seven short(ish) steps; is based on the premise that everyone should create a business that is sellable, whether or not you want to sell it. And there are eight factors that make it sellable. One of them is to remove you as the linchpin.
A brilliant book to help you on that journey is Clockwork - Design your business to run itself by Mike Michalowicz
I highly recommend you read it - my clients love it.
3. Consider critical illness cover or keyman insurance
These types of insurance pay you if you are ill or need to be off work. I'm not an expert on the subject, so I recommend you talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about – such as an insurance broker