How to Manage Your Time As a Small Business Owner: 7 Simple Steps to Maximize Your Schedule

As an entrepreneur or small business owner/operator do you often feel that you aren’t able to accomplish your daily tasks effectively? Do things seem to snow ball until the back log becomes overwhelming? Is being focused and staying on task a challenge amid the day-to-day distractions common to all small business owners?

Do you find that you end up sacrificing personal and family time to sneak in a few more hours at the office, in the field, or on sales calls? Do you ever find yourself exhausted, irritable, and unable to cope with little things that may pop up personally or professionally on a routine basis?

Have you ever wondered if this is what owning and operating a small business is all about? Is there a better way?

What I have concluded from personal observations is that for many entrepreneurs, small business owners and independent professionals there is a condition of insufficient – or even a complete lack of – scheduling.

Scheduling is a system for completing crucial tasks before they become critical. A proper schedule contains a beginning, middle and end. It is not a to-do list nor is it proper time management, though it can assist with both. Creating an effective schedule and routine assures you align your business with your life, the people you work with, and the family and friends that you love.

Without a proper scheduling system and routine many entrepreneurs will experience overwhelm and burn out. Many a friendship, relationship, and marriage has been negatively impacted by a business person that was unable to balance work load with personal relationships. Without proper balance in life what is the true purpose and intention behind owning your business? You business is to be a part of your life that is fulfilling and serves a purpose in the marketplace for others; it is not supposed to be an all-consuming entity that drains the lifeblood of those associated with it.

Many entrepreneurs I have consulted with have many “reasons” for not having a well-maintained schedule. In my opinion if you find the need to have a “reason” you are just making an excuse for a bad habit. A few of the most common “reasons” I have encountered.

“I have a great memory and don’t need to write things down.”

“I work better under pressure and like to handle things as they come.”

“Scheduling just takes more time away from actually getting things done.”

In my experience, these are excuses entrepreneurs use because creating and maintaining a schedule is foreign to them. Can you imagine an all-star athlete with no training schedule, relying on their memory for everything – and randomly practicing when they feel like it?

Many small business owners started their business as part of a “quest” for freedom, and adding a schedule just seems like another burden that really isn’t necessary. The exact opposite is true. Without a proper schedule most business people find themselves enslaved to the very thing they thought would give them freedom in their life.

So what can you do to take back control of your schedule and conserve your most precious asset (time)?
Have a clear vision and mission for what your business truly provides as a service to others.
For example, one business I am aware of was founded “To provide single moms the opportunity for financial freedom.”
Share your vision with others and invite them to share theirs with you.
Determine the necessary tasks to be completed as part of the following (3) categories:
Activities – what are the most important single tasks or procedures required of you in your daily business interactions.
Routines – what combinations of activities repeated consistently (weekly, monthly) will lead to your greatest results.
Practice – what strengths and skills, if improved upon, would most impact your business and personal life.
Have and use only 1 calendar. If you have a paper-based calendar seriously consider going digital and syncing it with your iPhone/Blackberry. Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook are great options.
Eliminate the habit of working from a “to-do” or task based list.
Transfer all of your tasks in to your schedule with the exact time it will take you to complete it. If you can’t find enough time for all of them, prioritize the critical ones and see if you can eliminate the items at the bottom of your list. You will find that many of the task on your “to-do” list are actually not supportive of you or your business and have no real effect on either.
Leave 15 minutes between every appointment. This will account for distractions and interruptions and allow you to debrief from each activity.
Schedule sleep, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also include time in your calendar to spend with family, friends, exercising, and yes – personal time for having fun or as funny as it sounds – being spontaneous.
Keep notes throughout the day as activities come across your mind. Create a daily list and at the end of the day review the list to determine if any of the ideas warrant time on your schedule. If so – reserve the time in your calendar. If not – delete and move on.

In closing, creating and maintaining a schedule isn’t another task you have to complete in order to be successful. Proper scheduling is “A Way of Life”; a habit consistently used by the most productive and successful people I know.

Take time to master your schedule now, you’ll be amazed at the transformation your life and business will undergo.

As one of my mentor’s Keith Cunningham puts it, “Simple things done consistently lead to extraordinary results.”

The Four Phases of Small Business Strategy Planning

There are a host of definitions for strategy. Rather than trying to be comprehensive or creating a definition that tries to be the authoritative source, I’ll use a simple definition of strategy for my purposes. Strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve outcomes. That’s it. This definition is loyal to best tenants of strategy as well; be flexible, nimble and leave options until you reach the appropriate time or level to add further definition.

The process of defining the desired outcomes is usually incorporated into the concept of strategy planning. In an agile and well-led organization, execution is also wrapped into strategy so that the plans can stay flexible, updated, and resources can be used to increase success.

The best, most refined, and most successful strategy model has evolved from ancient China, was updated in Prussia, and has slowly been creeping into the business world. There are four steps to the process and I prefer to keep them all under the strategy umbrella to help leaders reach the planned outcomes. The iterative sequence is: setting goals, planning, actions, and outcomes.

In setting strategic goals, you must consider what outcomes you desire for your business. Assuming that you are in business to earn revenue, you must link your outcomes to needs that your customers have in order to capture that revenue. The best source for setting goals is your business mission, values, and vision statement. Provided you have a well thought out statement, your goals should flow directly from your mission and vision. What do you desire? What outcomes are you seeking? Where do you want your business to go? These are all important questions to ask. Additionally, you’ll want to conduct analysis and hypothesis testing of your assumptions to ensure you have goals that have a reasonable chance of success.

At the business level, goals should be general and short. For instance, you might set a goal of establishing a presence in a new market and capturing $2M in revenue within 2 years. Then you might develop a new layer that adds more strategy and assigns responsibility to different segments of your organization. In the above example, you might divide the revenue responsibilities between two business units and also assign sales and marketing targets. Each of these units might then break their sub-goals down further to responsible units or people. At each decomposed level, they would be informed as to the goals of the parent organization and overall business so they understand the overall context of the strategy.

When strategic goals have been formulated and assigned, planning begins. The business conducts an analysis of the environment, competitors, their own capabilities, their customers, and any other areas critical to the goals. They also assign resources to the different sections and identify people that will be responsible for achieving the outcomes defined in the strategic goals. They might also place constraints on the same, for instance certain segments of the market might be defined as unattractive.

With the goals, analysis, and resources/constraints in hand, the units and people responsible for the outcomes begin planning how they will reach the goals. The planning at the business level will be high level, as were the goals. As the planning cascades down through the organization, the plans will become more detailed at each level. Care must be taken in planning to ensure that only enough detail, not too much, is built into the plans.

As each layer of plan is created, there is a back and forth communication and evaluation of the plans until a level of confidence is reached. Care must be taken that planning doesn’t become such a long process that opportunities are missed while creating the perfect plan to take advantage of them. The old adage: a good plan executed now is better than the best plan executed too late is even more valid today given the speed of information in our society.

The final component of planning is establishing how to measure success. Using key performance indicators (KPIs) is a useful manner to track progress towards goals and helps leadership avoid micromanagement. When using KPIs, typically only three to five will be chosen at each level. They are selected because they are the most critical indicator to success. For instance, and airline trying to raise its customer satisfaction ratings and rankings identified one KPI, aircraft departure timeliness and subordinated all actions to ensuring that they could meet that goal. It’s also very helpful to have few KPIs as it keeps managers from trying to micromanage every detail instead of leading.

When the plans have been cascaded and completed, the flow moves into action. It is in the action phase that the outcomes and goals are reached. The plans come to life in the action phase. It is also the action phase where the plans begin falling apart. When you are writing your plan, conducting your analysis, creating goals, cascading the process, etc. it is easy fall into the assumption that when you launch the plan, it will proceed as written. Wrong. In the military, it is assumed that no plan will survive the first contact with the enemy. What that means is that when you’re planning, you are making assumptions and even though you’ve conduced a robust analysis, it won’t be perfect. In business, your clients, partners, competitors, economy, technology, and any other variable won’t behave as you’ve predicted. Some may be close, but there will be wrenches throw into your machine.

The natural reaction to this chaos is to manage more intensely, which is counterproductive and won’t produce the results and outcomes you are targeting. Instead, you need to build a flexible business that has well-trained employees who are making decisions at the lowest level possible. The people in direct contact with your customers are frequently able to make great decisions in the context of achieving your goals. But, to make those decisions they need to be empowered with the authority to act and also know that they are allowed to mistakes as part of the learning process. Anything short of this and you’ll have a much more difficult time succeeding.

The actions taken will lead directly to the outcomes. Outcomes are what you’ll measure against your goals to determine success. The more frequently and accurately you are able to measure progress without interfering with actions, the more successful you’ll be. Here is where choosing correct KPIs will pay dividends. When monitoring progress towards goals, leaders will be able to adjust, add or subtract resources, spread lessons learned, and take any other necessary actions. At this stage, you’ll also be leading another cycle of planning.

These four phases are continuously ongoing and spiraling through the organization. Each level goes through the phases and also links with other levels at each stage. While it seems complex and only suitable for large organizations, small businesses can start using this method as soon as they have more than one person. By starting with a robust, simple, and structured method of strategic planning and execution a small business can scale the process as they grow and have a competitive advantage as a result. Businesses that can’t plan well, are weak at analysis, micromanage, and set unreasonable goals face a challenge to stay in business. Lack of a strategic plan is the most cited reason for small business failure, but it might be more insightful to say that lack of a strategic plan and execution methodology is the root cause of those failures.

The Real Secrets to Smart Small Business Advertising

Small business advertising seems to change in some important way almost every week. As the economy remains tight, making smart choices about advertising becomes increasingly important. The rate of technological change, and the increasing affordability of electronic devices, continually alters the advertising landscape.

Smart small business advertising must weigh in the balance a number of considerations before locking into a plan. These include:

  • The struggle of print media to remain viable
  • The continuing popularity and importance of social media
  • The proliferation of new communication devices
  • The equally rapid proliferation of new ways of communicating with these devices
  • The growing importance of video
  • The shift from such traditional standards as the Yellow Pages to online search

These are only a few of the changes businesses must learn to deal with when planning marketing and sales efforts. At the very least, smart small business advertising today must include far more than traditional advertising, even if the ads are moved from print to electronic media.

What is Smart for Small Businesses Advertising Today?

In the digital age, smart small businesses’ advertising must invest the time in understanding the advertising and marketing channels available today. Even more important, they must learn what makes these new channels different, how they are used differently, and which channels are most likely to reach their target customers. Then they must make choices and decisions about how to use each channel most effectively and most cost-efficiently to meet their goals. These are the critical tasks in smart advertising.

The flat space ads used in newspapers and magazines will attract only limited attention online unless it is very special. Today’s ads need to move and speak and interact with potential customers. Even a banner ad on a website really needs to do more than just sit there. Small business advertising has changed in important and far-reaching ways.

Smart small business advertising must also note that a website must also be more than a three or four page brochure. Every page must be designed and written to grab the attention of the visitor in as little as 1.5 seconds, or that visitor is gone. Every page has a job to do. Moving people from page to page until they are asked to make a decision is what converts a visitor into a sales lead.

If you operate a brick-and-mortar store, you have the opportunity to take advantage of some very exciting small business advertising tactics to get people into your store, but you must figure out not only the right message and the right offer, but also the right medium, the right device and the platform used by that device. You need to be ready to use location-based email and on-the-spot coupons and special offers delivered by text message when someone is outside your store or in a place where your beverage is served.

What is smart for small business advertising today is discovering the right mix of lead generation tactics, the right amount of advertising, the right focus on providing information and benefits your target market wants, and keeping everything within the budget. When you find the people who can do each of those things for you will be ready to construct a viable advertising campaign.

The Sports Event Every Small Business Owner Should Watch

Can you imagine leading a pack of 12 Siberian Huskies across 1,000 miles of freezing cold (and brutally tough) Alaskan terrain?

I can’t.

Sleeping as much as you can in a paper thin tent…

Eating rock hard beef jerky whenever you get a chance…

And being blasted by Mother Nature.

And while many would argue that the Tour De France or the Kona Ironman are the toughest endurance events on the planet, I say it’s the Iditarod dog race.

Why?

Because anyone who’s willing to lead a pack of 12 dogs for 20 days while Mother Nature is doing her best to CRUSH this person, is someone with a boatload of mental toughness to do darn near anything they set their mind to.

And here’s something else to ponder:

The Iditarod participants get next to no chance to rethink… re-strategize… or change course because the clock keeps on ticking. So they have no choice but to go balls to the wall hoping their original race plan is enough to win.

Sound familiar?

Everything about this race reminds me of how business is done in the 21st century.

You got all kinds of competitors dying to eat your lunch.

You got all kinds of customers price shopping you on the internet.

You got all kinds of government regulations strapped around your neck.

And despite all of these roadblocks, you have to find a way to lead your business (as well as your team if you have employees) over, around, through and under every single obstacle that stands in your way.

So what?

What’s the big lesson here?

Now that I think of it, the lesson here is the fact that business is tough. Business is hard. Success does not come easy no matter how many times we’re reminded about that one-in-a-million overnight success.

Sure, you can certainly have a big breakthrough in business.

But more than likely, you’re going to have days, weeks, months and maybe even years where the going is slow like the Iditarod dog race. And if you are truly committed to success then you have to keep plowing along… making slow and steady progress until you lead your pack of dogs across the finish line.

The irony in business is the fact that the finish line never comes.

Huh?

Yeah, because once you achieve one goal there is another goal looming on the horizon.

This is also why you have to celebrate your success (when you cross that finish line) so you don’t burn yourself out.

So there you have it.

The sporting event you should follow if you own a small business and are serious about making it successful.