When was the last time that you made time to work on your business, not in it?
In other words, when did you last think about the big picture stuff like your goals for the next 12 months, your marketing strategy, or planning a new product launch?
When you’re an entrepreneur, one of the biggest hurdles is finding time for planning, strategising or building your business.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of running a business. Especially if you work alone or only have a small team to support you. Tasks like updating your social media, talking to customers, doing your bookkeeping, writing blogs, updating your online shop, etc. can all leave you so busy that you don’t have a minute to think about what it’s all for or how you can grow your business.
Actually, the thought of growing your business may send you into a cold sweat right now! I mean, how can you take more on, when you barely have a moment to yourself as it is?
This can be a wake-up call for solopreneurs and small business owners.
When you decided to grab your career destiny by both hands and go self-employed, I bet it was with a vision for a better future – of having a great work/life balance. Not one where you essentially end up doing a low-paid, never ending job where you are your own nightmare boss.
If you’re not spending time to work on your business, then something has to change. Otherwise, what you have is a job (and a pretty thankless one at that), not a business.
That’s easier said than done, I can hear you say. How can I spend more time to work on, not in, my business when there is always something that needs to be done and I’m the only one who can do it?
I totally understand these questions. It might feel impossible to free up time for the big picture stuff right now. But I promise that, if you do, it will give you back more time in the long run.
You might just need to take a leap of faith.
Don’t worry – I’ve got your hand. I’ll take the leap with you.
Here are some tips that I’ve found work for me and my clients:
Put an appointment in your diary
When I set up my first business, I realised that it’s incredibly easy to push aside working on your business. Especially when you have other tasks to do in it.
Eventually, I found that the only way to ensure that my business kept growing was to book time in my diary every week when I focused entirely on looking at things like my short- and long-term goals. As well as strategies, and planning.
I treat this time like I would treat an appointment with a client. It is a fixed commitment, non-negotiable, something for which I need to do the preparation and show up fully focused. It might just be an hour a week but, during that time, I put all of the day-to-day stuff to one side (including silencing my phone and closing my inbox).
In the grand scheme of things, what’s an hour? Even if you’re running horribly behind on a deadline, is an hour really going to make much difference?!
Think about your strengths and weaknesses
My belief is that if you’re stuck, your business will get stuck too.
All entrepreneurs find, at one time or another, that in order to grow their business, they need to grow first.
One of the key questions is, “Who do I need to be to grow my business?”
For me, this comes down to thinking about your strengths and weaknesses. In truth, one of your strengths is making your products or selling your services. You’re an expert in those things. But you may not be as confident about marketing, financial planning within your business, or creating a sales pipeline.
It’s important that you can be honest with yourself. If you think about what you need to do to grow your business, I bet you’ll feel a shiver of discomfort (and even blind panic) at those things that sit outside of your current comfort zone.
“Build the skills that will let you move forward”
In my experience, it’s the things that make you feel uncomfortable that you usually need to work on as an area of self-development. You need to build the skills that will let you move forward. The alternative is that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.
Tackling the big picture stuff can feel uncomfortable and daunting and even a bit nausea-inducing but that’s usually a sign that you’re on the right track. Self-growth is usually the catalyst for business growth.
I recently read a great analogy that stuck in my mind.
Imagine that your business is a hot air balloon that’s tethered to the ground. The day-to-day tasks where you are currently spending all of your time are the fuel filling the balloon.
But the thing is that you can burn as much fuel as you want but the balloon won’t go anywhere while it’s tethered.
The ropes tying the balloon to the ground are the plans, goals and strategies that will lift your business up.
The tethers could be your weaknesses too, the challenges that are holding your business back. For example, you may be struggling to turn new enquiries to sales. Instead of focusing on how to generate more enquiries, your challenge is to figure out why people who are interested in your offer aren’t buying. You may need to develop your sales skills in order to release that particularly tether.
If you can develop the skills you need to untie all of the tethers and bring them into your basket, then the sky really is the limit.
The balloon will take off.
Automate, delegate or outsource
One of the best ways to claw back some time to work on your business and not in it, is to review your business systems and processes to see whether you really need to be doing them.
Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that they are the only people capable of doing specific tasks within their business.
Working on your business is about becoming and effective leader and letting go of some of the micromanagement.
If you have employees, are there tasks that you can delegate to someone else?
- If you don’t have any employees, are there any tasks that you could outsource? There are people like virtual assistants, bookkeepers, social media marketers, graphic designers or copywriters who could take on tasks such as creating and sending out e-newsletters, writing your blogs, doing your monthly accounts (including invoicing), or posting on social media. Outsourcing just one or two tasks could give you time to be implementing strategic changes that will make your business more profitable. It’s the old adage about spending money to make money.
Have you considered what tasks you could automate within your business?
For example, you could batch schedule social media posts. Use accounting software linked to a customer relationship management (CRM) database to streamline doing quotes, invoices or bookkeeping. Automate your email marketing campaigns and autoresponders. These might take a while to set up but, once in place, could give you hours of extra time each week for the big picture stuff.
Take financial control
How clear a picture do you have of your business cash flow?
Can you pinpoint which products or services are profitable and which might be costing you money? Do you know who your best customers are in terms of orders and timely payment of invoices? Do you constantly feel like you’re riding the feast and famine rollercoaster?
It’s surprising how many solopreneurs don’t have a grasp on the financial health of their business.
Within the time you’ve earmarked for working on your business, one of your priorities should be to take financial control.
If there is a customer who always pays outside of your invoice terms, then maybe you need to charge them upfront instead. Or you could ask for a 50% deposit to improve your cash flow. If you offer a service that isn’t financially viable, you could look at withdrawing or restructuring that service.
Again, this sounds time consuming now but, once you make decisions backed by actual data, you can begin to streamline your own activities and grow your business in the best direction. This will create time.
Cherish your existing customers
Depending on what study you read, it’s estimated that acquiring a new customer is 5-25% more expensive (and, I would argue, time consuming) than selling to an existing customer.
One of the ways to find time to work on your business is to nurture the relationship you have with your existing customers. If you can prioritise giving them a fantastic experience of your brand, they are likely to buy again and become ambassadors, promoting your business by word of mouth.
Also, by understanding who your existing customers are and what motivates them to buy from you, you can turbo charge your understanding about who you’re marketing to and how to reach them, as well as what to say.
Take time out
I know it sounds counterintuitive when you have a million and one things to do every day but it’s so important to take time out from your business on a regular basis. This might mean promising that you won’t work beyond a certain time in the evenings or that weekends are family time only. Only you know what will work for you.
I often find that it’s when I’m out walking or watching my girls play in the park, that inspiration will strike. It’s like I need to create a space in my head that I can’t get in front of a computer screen. That’s when I can let my mind be more creative about visualising the future.
Reach out to your network
When you work alone, I think it’s even more important to have a network or community of other business owners to turn to. After all, they face the same issues around working on and not in their businesses. Different people may be at different stages on this journey so they can share their knowledge with you.
In each of these scenarios, it’s so empowering to get a fresh perspective on my business and the kind of steps that I might take to become an effective business leader.
How important is it to you to work on your business and not just in it? Do you prioritise the big picture thinking or are you caught up in the practical daily tasks of running your business? I’d love to hear your thoughts.