Remember the old Eagles song 'Life in the fast lane, everything all the time"?
People planning to start their own business, and in fact many small business owners, think that they need to do 'everything all the time'. They think it's more cost effective and efficient to be the accountant, business planner, engineer, IT specialist, HR lawyer, bookkeeper and motivational leader. And what happens? Mistakes, inefficiencies and deteriorating customer service. It's neither possible or practical to try to do it all.
So how do you decide what you should do, and how to buy or delegate the tasks you shouldn't be doing? These Rules and Tools will give you a start:
Rule Number 1: Do what you love. The early days of a new business is almost always a labour of love. If you don't love it, you won't want to invest the time and effort needed to make it a success. So the jobs you keep for yourself are the ones that get you inspired. However, there's a qualification: if you love it but you're not good at it - forget it - you will only succeed if you're better than your competitors.
Rule Number 2: Keep your customers close. Many people with great business ideas are not good at sales and marketing. So they hire sales people, and those are the people who build relationships with your customers. The risk is that staff hold your most important relationships entirely in their control. If they leave (or take your idea and run away with it), the customer trust follows them. So it's a good rule to manage your key customer relationships yourself. However if your social skills make Sheldon look like a PR expert... well this is where tools might be handy.
Rule Number 3: Focus on adding value. Keep asking yourself "Am I the best person for this job?". Even though you might enjoy a mundane task identified in Rule 1 (such as tidying the office, or doing research) you should be continually looking for ways to systematise, or hire cheaper help to do these things. Your role is to develop the business idea, identify and improve systems and efficiencies, and to oversee strategy and finance. As the business grows, everything else (including systems and efficiencies) can be done by someone who is paid less and is more skilled than you.
"Nice theory!" I hear you say, "There's only me and I'm already overworked". OK, so what tools can help?
1. Keep track of time: Use coding on tasks in your online calendar so you know how much effort is going into each task. Then you'll know how much time you need to 'buy' from other people to do the same work. For example, you might find that you spend 8 hours a week on bookkeeping. A good bookkeeper could probably do this in half the time and it might only cost you a couple of hundred dollars. That gives you more time to work on the business, or to have Sundays off so you are refreshed and ready to go each week.
2. Love your customers: What's the best way of showing love? Communication. Remember I spoke about tools for overcoming Sheldon-like social skills? (It works for everyone else too.)
The answer: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Not only can you schedule when you need to talk to people, automated systems can do the work for you - generating emails, text messages and social media posts.
Have you ever bought something from e-Bay? If so, think about how many communication points they use: questions to the seller, comments on the seller, notification that your payment has been received, notification that the seller has received the order, notification that your order has been shipped, and then (if the seller is good) a nice little note in the package to say thanks. That's six opportunities to build the relationship, and none of them require face-to-face communication. Now think about how customers 'order' in your business - are they feeling the love?
3.Manage the money: A business without a good financial system is just an expensive hobby. You don't need to invest a lot of money, but you need to know, every week, how your finances are tracking. There are some very good, low cost tools (the image here is from Xero, but there are many others) that are easy to use - and can be delegated to your bookkeeper (see Tool #1).
4.Have a plan and stick to it: The old adage "if you don't have a plan, you plan to fail" is very true. One of the biggest dangers in a new business is when the owners have a 'scattergun' approach, jumping at every new opportunity because it looks good.
While there's an element of trial and error in business, it's far more important that you know where you're heading and how you're going to get there. That way you only jump at the opportunities that support your plan, and you don't waste valuable time and effort on things that will take you in the wrong direction.
5.Anywhere, anytime: Storing your files, contacts, emails and notes in cloud-based systems means you can access them at any time, anywhere. While this might not sound too attractive in terms of work/life balance, it means that - provided you maintain a good password system - you can access your vital business information on any device, anytime. So there's no downtime when changing equipment, and you can work when it suits you.
Cloud-based tools are generally inexpensive and flexible. While we should always recognise the potential risk of having our data held by others, the low cost, reliability and security of these systems - and the increasing availability of the internet in all corners of the globe - mean that there's a cloud based system for most business applications. Compared to doing business a decade ago, when software was expensive and site-bound, the contemporary business owner has better tools at their disposal - so they can focus on growing the business.
So you can have 'everything all the time' but you don't need to live in the fast lane to make it work.