Early in my working career—which includes over 14 years of experience consulting customers on the best ways to grow their business—I marveled to a small business owner that she could set her own hours. She cautioned, “Don’t be fooled. When you’re in business for yourself, all hours are business hours.”
That advice also has a corollary: If all hours are business hours, then small business owners need to make every one count. Of course, time-saving tips are a dime-a-dozen, but here are three we consider most fundamental:
1. Plan your work; work your plan. Many experts consider a written plan—updated at least yearly—to be critical for small business success. While planning takes time, it can actually save time long-term because it helps a small business owner stay focused on specific tasks each day that are steps toward the larger plan.
Your plan doesn’t have to be a thick, complex document, but it should list a reasonable number of goals that are “S.M.A.R.T.” That is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Under each you should list the activities you need to do to achieve those goals.
Then, depending on the date you’ve given yourself for reaching a goal, think in steps backwards to today: what you have to do each month, week and day to get there. This helps prioritize each day’s tasks around what’s routine (like counting cash in your drawer); important (working your plan); and urgent (responding to a customer request).
2. Outsource, delegate or eliminate activities that don’t focus on customers. Many small business owners get pulled in so many different directions each day that they lose sight of why they’re in business: To satisfy, if not delight, their customers—and to do so profitably.
They unfortunately trick themselves into believing they can do everything on their own. However, just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. They need to evaluate every routine task and ask if doing it themselves adds to the customer experience.
Cash logistics, for example, is critical to small business, so it’s easy to think securing, counting, reconciling and getting it to the bank is a core responsibility. Problem is, small business owners can spend as much as 20 percent of their time doing that, which is 20 percent less time spent with customers.
One solution is Garda’s CashLINK, a single-source, fully integrated, transaction-to-bank cash management system. With it, you or a trusted employee deposit cash into our on-premise, smart safe cash vault, which reads and secures each note, and ends when you view your bank deposit and key financial information into your computer. In between, a Garda armored truck picks up the cash and makes the deposit safely.
Many small business owners think—mistakenly—that armored truck services are for large chain-store operations, and the money they save by doing it themselves is profit. Fact is, cash management services can cost less than waste management, which few business owners would think of doing themselves. As for “profits lost,” owners have to think in terms of their own time, their time with customers, and the risk of transporting cash themselves.
3. Take time off. Taking time off to save time sounds ironic, but it’s not. Burn-out is all too common for small business owners. It’s also often why small business owners decide to sell or close their businesses—even if the business is successful.
One sure sign of burnout is poor productivity and irritability. “Running around in circles” and being short-tempered negatively affects employees, who often take it out on customers consciously or not. Customers can also sense it, if the owner deals directly with them.
So small business owners need to be disciplined about taking time off from their operations to recharge—including, as best they can, not thinking about the business while participating in outside interests like hobbies and community activities, in short, by deliberately not making all hours business hours.