I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s.
Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.
One of the key reasons I became a small business owner is freedom. Freedom from a cubicle, freedom to choose when and where to work… and freedom to choose partners and clients I work with.
According to research by the Pew Foundation, 39 percent of entrepreneurs report experiencing “complete” job satisfaction versus 28 percent of those who work for a boss.
And yet, freedom does come with consequences. Most small business owners often wear many hats, and as a result can take on an overwhelming number of tasks and responsibilities. We often end up working more hours and have more stress than those who work for others.
Once we have our long-term strategic vision, how should we prioritize tasks and plan our day to maximize impact and productivity?
I’m currently running two very different businesses – a service-based business working with technology companies, and a product-based business in fashion. To keep myself sane, themes I focus on obsessively are Prioritizing and Outsourcing.
Here are a few examples:
1. Prioritize revenue-generating opportunities.
When looking at a long to-do list, we often want to simply cross things off our list. It’s easier. It makes us happy.
However, all things are not weighted equal. If your time is limited (it always is), 15 minutes invoicing a client so you get paid faster is a better use of your time than choosing a photo for a blog post (that builds credibility and has a flexible deadline).
Marketing, making new business calls, or researching potentially lucrative partnerships for your business should be at the top of your to-do list.
2. Prioritize your time ruthlessly.
If it’s not in your calendar, it doesn’t exist. This is one of the secrets of effective and practical time management. Once you have your to-do list, estimate how much time each task takes and then put each of those items – whether business or personal – into your calendar.
You’ll be surprised at how you’ve underestimated how much time things take and at the sametime, by focusing on things as a must-do appointment in your calendar, you achieve the “big rocks” your business needs to move forward. It sounds simple, and it is, but you’ll see it’s much harder to stick to than you think.
3. Meet procrastination head on.
We procrastinate for many reasons, but here’s how to solve it. Let’s say you put it in your calendar “write blog post” or “prepare newsletter to customers”, and you are not in the mood but it has to be done. Set a timer for 20 minutes and get going anyway.
Once you start you may be surprised at how quickly time passes and when the timer rings you may want to keep going. If not, give yourself permission to take a break (get a snack, find friends on Facebook) for 10 minutes only. Then get back to your next business-building task. Giving yourself permission to take a scheduled break makes you more productive when you are working.
4. Outsource repetitive tasks as soon as possible.
For the last few months, as I ramped up a new business, I’ve been doing almost everything myself. I wanted to learn the inventory system, logistics management, how to update the shopping cart and a thousand other things. Why? I needed to know how things worked in order to hand it off properly.
However, everything that takes five minutes here and there adds up to many hours in a day. An entrepreneur should be focusing on strategic activities only they can do. Everything else, especially repetitive tasks, should be outsourced.
To have a successful team, create a precise manual. I use Screenflow to create tutorial videos, supplement it with word documents for written instructions, and then upload it to a shared folder in Dropbox. For documents that should always be current and can be updated by a team, we use Google Drive.
5. Make backups effortless.
Nothing can ruin your day and impact weeks of productivity more than a lost, stolen or damaged laptop. It’s one of the top tools we need for any business. And yet how many of us have backed up our data in the last week? Or last month? It’s another thing on our to-do list that we tend to procrastinate on.
One of the best investments I’ve made is using Carbonite, which backs up everything on my laptop wirelessly. I never have to worry about it and I can even access my computer files and data from an app on my smartphone.
These are just some of the strategies and technologies I use to stay organized to thrive.
What about you, how do you prioritize or outsource in your day-to-day operations?
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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