Running a small business takes a lot of work.
No wonder you’re always focused on the little things – like checking your email, paying bills, and posting on social media – even when you’re technically “not working”. There’s just SO much to do, and life can feel like a constant struggle to increase your own productivity.
You’re filling every role in your business, right?
One minute you’re reviewing last month’s sales and strategizing about the future of your business. The next you’re uploading blog posts and sharing a photo of your work on Instagram. On the weekend you’re balancing time with your kids and your overflowing email inbox.
How can you stop the crazy? Before you start thinking about hiring a little help – like a VA, project manager, or support person – take a look at your systems. There is a lot you can do to increase your productivity without expanding your team. Plus, there’s a hidden bonus here. The work you do to automate now will actually make it easier for you to delegate later.
Now, I know the things I’m about to recommend actually aren’t super sexy and exciting. But, trust me… taking these steps now will pay off for you immediately and in the future.
Action step: Select and implement a project management tool
It is time to face reality. The sticky note system you use to manage your task list is not as effective as you might like to believe. The mish-mash of information scribbled in your planner could be more efficient too. And, that habit you have of remembering everything without writing it down? Well…. That’s a disaster in the making.
You’ll be amazed at how efficient you become when you start using a project management tool like Asana, Trello, or Evernote to help you run your business. Sure, it takes a little time to find a tool that suits you…and a little more time to transfer your sticky notes and scribbles to the system… but the investment is well worth the effort. You’ll quickly become more organized and you’ll have the information you need about each project within easy reach.
In addition, a project management tool will allow you to start documenting the normal way you do things. These “systems” are the the foundation you’ll need to delegate once you add someone to your team.
A good project management tool will also help you track progress on projects and check in with your team easily. You won’t have to micromanage (something we all struggle with at first) because you’ll be able to quickly evaluate your team member’s results.
Action step: Automate the key processes in your business
When you are the only one performing key tasks in your business, you become the bottleneck. Every task requires your time and attention, and all the knowledge required to get things done lives inside your head (or on your sticky notes). Adding a project management tool begins to solve this problem, but it is just a first step.
To truly become more efficient, you need to automate wherever you can. Here’s where I recommend you start:
- Automate payment processing. You need to get paid, but you don’t need to generate each transaction directly. Use e-commerce options, “buy now” buttons, and automated recurring payments to replace the need to generate invoices for every sale.
- Automate scheduling. Time is important for both you and your customer. Eliminate the useless back and forth email routine and give your customers an automatic scheduling option. Tools like Acuity, Calendly, and many others merge with your electronic calendar, allow you to make rules about availability, and allow customers to book themselves. Some of them even connect to a tool like PayPal so you can take payments when the appointment is booked for double the efficiency!
- Automate customer support. People ask the same questions over and over, right? You can eliminate a ton of needless email just by creating an FAQ page for your website and finding a creative way to present how you prefer to work. Then – using a few standard email templates – you can respond to questions with a quick email and a link.
In addition to automating systems like these, think about ways you can systematize key tasks using tool such as checklists and tip sheets. These resources are super helpful because they allow you to quickly move through repetitive tasks. Once you’re ready to expand your team, these resources become the systems you’ll need to delegate.
Action step: Allow your systems to manage your workflow
One of the biggest challenges to running a business is finding the mental energy needed to move quickly between tasks and challenges. It takes time to mentally shift gears from operations to strategic planning to financial matters, and the process can be incredibly draining.
That’s why I recommend allowing systems to manage your workflow wherever possible.
Allow the checklists and tip sheets you created guide you as you move through your day. Group like tasks together where possible, and yield to the system you’ve created. Save your mental energy for creative or strategic work, and let the resources manage your workflow the rest of the time.
Not only will you become more efficient, you’ll prepare yourself to profitably manage a team in the future. One of the biggest challenges to managing a team is giving up control and trusting others to deliver results. It’s so tempting to step in and manage every action a team member takes in an effort to maintain control.
The solution to this common problem is actually pretty simple. Use systems to manage workflows, and allow your team the freedom to work independently and efficiently. Following a simple checklist for invoicing now, for example, will give you the confidence you need to step away and let that same checklist guide a team member.
Taking action to increase your productivity now will deliver results well into the future – even as you build your team.
Whether you’re planning to add team members in the next few months or simply hoping to expand your business in this way sometime in the far off future, carefully consider the action steps I’ve shared here. You’ll be glad you did!