If you’ve owned a business, you know exactly what this article is about. Learning how to build your business when you’re busy is the only sure-fire way to grow your business and keep it consistently profitable, no matter the circumstances.
In the early days of starting out, you didn’t have the clientele to tie up your time, so you could focus on getting the word out. Then, as things started to take off, your marketing efforts dwindled, invariably leading to a lull in paid work. Of course, with more time on your hands, you could put in the effort to drum up more business; it would pick back up, and the yo-yo cycle would continue.
The problem, (as you may have experienced for yourself) is that unless you can figure out how to keep marketing and bringing in paying work while your schedule is already full, you can’t grow a sustainable business. In fact, I would argue that the inability to create a sustainable business is the single biggest reason small business people don’t make the leap from “solo-preneur” to true “entrepreneur.” As a solo-preneur, you work for yourself, and when you stop working, so does the revenue. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, creates an entity that can (partially) run itself, accrue value and be sold one day.
So how do you make the transition from owning your own job to becoming a mogul? It’s simple, even if it isn’t all that easy: automation.
Automating various portions of your business does not mean that you should take highly-specialized consulting work and write software that can do it for you (although that’s an option!). It means that you need to extract yourself from every one of the lower value tasks that you don’t need to personally engage in for them to be successful.
In fact, you MUST extract yourself from every one of the lower value tasks that you don’t need to personally engage in, otherwise, you will only ever own a job. Here’s how to stop that cycle and start on a path.
1. Schedule time for your highest level tasks every day
First thing in the morning is a great time to spend at least 10 minutes thinking about the big picture. Do it before you let yourself get sucked into the problems of the day. If you can make those 10 minutes sacred, you can make incredible things happen, because, as the leader of your business, you’ll be setting the direction, not following the problems. One week of proactive thinking adds up to 50 minutes, which adds up to more than 200 minutes a month and a full work week over the course of a year! Didn’t think you had that much time, did you?
2. Don’t get bogged down in communications
Email, voicemail, texting, phone calls, web chat… as the leader of your business, you shouldn’t be doing any of these things, unless it pays your business or moves it forward. Check email at set times, send company calls to an assistant or answering service, use your voicemail greeting to tell callers how they ought to reach you in other ways– who needs to listen to a long, slow, rambling message about anything?
Batch communications into set times so that you don’t stay in “fire drill” mode all day. If you have a team to talk with daily, hold “stand up” meetings in person, on Skype or in a Google hangout in which every lists their highest priority for the day, how they’ll do it, and what might stand in their way. People do adapt to you and your interest in getting more done, not talking so much about it.
3. Identify repeatable processes and create tools to manage them
On-boarding new clients with forms, using email tools like Aweber or Mail Chimp, setting up invoicing systems or better shopping carts… there are countless ways to make time-consuming tasks disappear.
Having run businesses that are online, and others that are offline, and some that are both, I can tell you that the time and effort it takes you to get help and make a system, is worth hundreds, sometimes thousands of times the cost, because of what it saves you over the weeks and months to come.
You might feel like you need to be involved in everything, but you would be wrong. Consider hiring a coach or operational expert to help you figure out what processes can become automatic. They don’t even need to be cool; some systems are stupid-simple, like using “canned responses” in gmail to reply to people, or a Survey Monkey form to ask clients questions.
4. Use specialists to handle your marketing channels
Pay per Click campaigns, affiliate marketing programs, SEO, direct mail, press releases, guest blogging, referral marketing… there are professionals who handle each of these things better than you. Stop thinking you have to figure it out. There are a wide array of pay-for-performance arrangements that mean you can scale the kinds of marketing that are best for your business, only pay for results, and spend very little of your own time doing it.
5. Stop doing things that don’t work
This anti-productive habit is a real creeper and very hard to fix. You might have things you “like” to do every day, or things you think are “important” to your business, when in fact, they are holding you back. You don’t need to do the bookkeeping– thousands of skilled bookkeepers are waiting to help you. You don’t need to answer the phone. You may not need to publish that ridiculously useful newsletter that you are committed to for what you claim are marketing reasons, but are really ego, and lack of imagination. The list is endless.
So many behaviors develop out of inertia and the unreasonableness of not recognizing them as choices. If that thing you do doesn’t materially help your business, or you can’t get someone else to do it while you do more important (and profitable) things, there is no alarm that will sound, no email alerts will ping you, no wise mentor will tap you on the shoulder and give you a knowing smile. Instead, your business will drift along, unable to grow and sustain itself.