Managing and growing a business is one of the top challenges for any entrepreneur. So many things need our attention and it can get confusing as to which task to focus on in any given moment. There are, however, some ways to effectively manage and grow your business without necessarily having to hire more staff or invest more money.
Below, I’ve put together 6 tips that have worked well for me, as well as other business owners I’ve come across.
Some of these steps will actually require some upfront work and you may be reluctant to change the way you currently do business. But if you take the time now to implement these strategies, the net result will be a business that is streamlined and focused, which becomes a catalyst for growth.
Prioritize by Creating Lists and Ranking the Items
A lot of things want our attention each day—from text messages that pop up on our phones to the ads we see before we can watch a video on YouTube. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
This is especially true when it comes to our businesses. A million things need our attention. But since there’s only so many hours in a day, we have to choose. But how?
The answer lies in the good old-fashioned art of making lists.
Real estate mogul and Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran is known to do this. She makes daily to-do lists, ranks each item with the letter A, B or C based on how important it is for that day and how much it contributes to growing her business. She then focuses on the A items first. If she gets through those items, she will move on to the B items and so on. She credits making these daily lists as a big part of her success.
I tend to make weekly lists. Every Sunday night I will make a list of important to-dos for the week. Then I rank them in order of importance. I focus on the most important items at the beginning of the week and then work my way down. Sometimes, though, I will also make a to-do list for the day, putting on that list only two or three items that are important to get done for that day.
The importance of the list is that it helps keep you organized both physically and mentally. It can be easy to get confused and lose sight of your goals when there are so many distractions. It’s also easy to spend time on items that aren’t moving your business forward. Lists provide clarity.
Think of it this way: If two people go to the store and one person has a list of items he or she needs and the other doesn’t, who’s going to get exactly what they want and in the least amount of time?
Group Items or Services Together
People love packaged deals. It gives them more for less.
For example, let’s say you own a tutoring business. You could create a bundle that includes 6 sessions, a math book and flashcards for a special price for new customers. This becomes a great introductory offer that pulls people into your school, gives them something for “free” (the math book and flashcards) and allows them to try out your business without a huge upfront financial commitment.
Of course, the same holds true for products. Selling dog toys online? Create a package of toys for a discounted price that Fido’s owner can purchase. Selling skincare products? Bundle two or three products together and put them in a nice kit.
Bundling also helps to streamline the process (because you can process one larger transaction instead of multiple smaller ones).
In the article “Bundle Pricing Strategy” from smallbusiness.chron.com, author Kimberlee Leonard wrote “Offering products in bundles provides benefits beyond simply getting more revenue from each customer. It simplifies production and reduces errors.”
But it also makes it easier for the potential customers because they don’t have to mess with multiple transactions either—which will make them more willing to buy. For example, isn’t it easier to have your homeowner’s and auto insurance with one company instead of having to deal with two?
When you make it easy for the customer, it makes it easier for them to part with their money.
Have a Simple System in Place
Do you have a system or process in place to sign up new customers? To train your employees? To keep track of your business expenses? And if you do have a system in place, is it easy to understand and implement?
Brian Scudamore, founder of 1-800-Got-Junk, Wow 1 Day and You Move Me has credited his mastery of creating the best systems in his businesses to his success. He did this by collecting information for every aspect of his business, deciphering the information to see what was working best, and then standardizing a process that franchisees could replicate. Each process had to fit on a single sheet of paper. If it didn’t, he modified it until it did.
Even if you’re never planning to franchise your business, his “one page” tip for creating systems can help you streamline yours. Think of these systems as a template that another person should be able to use and easily understand. The language should be clear and concise and have visuals if necessary.
You’ll want to have a system—or “how-to”—for each major process in your business, such as billing a customer. This keeps your business organized and reduces confusion. Once trained, each team member will know exactly how to complete a task.
Systems are invaluable because they keep your business running like a well-oiled machine. In the long run, they will save you time, energy and money.
Focus On Quality Instead of Quantity
Quantity can work in certain situations—for example, Wal-Mart selling tons of low-cost items that add up to huge profits—but for most businesses, focusing on quality instead of quantity is a much more profitable and easier path. That’s because the profit margins for higher-quality items are usually greater, which means you can sell fewer items or services yet make more money.
I did this when I owned my education business. I focused on getting quality contractors, having a top-notch program and website and offering in-home service. This allowed me to charge some of the highest rates in the industry. Occasionally, I would raise rates. Inevitably, a few would drop because of the price increase but my business would actually pull in more money but I would have less to manage.
You create quality by adding value—and you add value by giving your customers exactly what they need or want for a given scenario. You can create value by:
- saving them time, money or even one of their relationships
- reducing their stress or worry
- increasing their enjoyment or overall well-being
- making their lives more convenient
Once you hone in on the type of value your business offers to your potential customers, let that be the focal point of your business. Be sure to let anyone who comes across your website or marketing material know what benefits they would get by using your product or service and why you’re better than any of your competitors. Then charge more.
Focus On the “Golden Three”
What should you, as your business’s leader, focus your energy on? The answer lies in what I call the Golden Three: What you like to do, what you’re good at and what will increase your skills as a leader.
For day-to-day operations, you will want to focus on the first two: What you’re good at and what you like to do.
If you’re a little fuzzy on how these two overlap, try making two lists. (Yes, we’re implementing list-making again to help clarify your goals!) The first list should consist of the tasks involved for your business that you find you’re good at. (If you’re not sure, ask an employee, business partner or even get feedback from customers.) On the second list, write down the day-to-day tasks you like to do in your current business.
Cross-reference these two lists. These are the two things you should focus on in your day-to-day operations. If your business can afford it, outsource all other tasks.
In some cases, you could find a way to improve on things you enjoy doing but aren’t very good at. Need to take a class? Need to read a few more books or watch some videos? Need to find a mentor who can guide you? If you enjoy doing something but need to improve, take action.
On the third list, write down what you can do to increase your skills as a leader. For example, you could take writing or public speaking courses so you can communicate better. Or perhaps there is a new technology that you need to familiarize yourself with that will help streamline your business. These are personal goals you will need to do yourself and that no one else can do for you.
Keep your focus on the “Golden Three” and continue to outsource the rest as your business grows. If you hate doing something, or aren’t ever going to be good at it, then let someone else do it so that you can concentrate on what you do best.
This will also give you some time to increase your own personal value as a leader which will, in turn, increase the value of your business.
Lose the Distractions By Using Time Points and Blocks
As business owners, it’s easy to let ourselves be interrupted. Everything seems to need our attention. But if we don’t lose the distractions, we diminish our productivity and focus.
According to a study conducted by the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully refocus on a work-related task after being interrupted. If you’re interrupted multiple times a day, that’s a lot of wasted productivity!
Creating lists (as mentioned above) can help you stay focused on the most important tasks. But setting up boundaries via time blocks and schedules can help as well. This helps prevent the stop-start cycle of tasks that wastes time.
To do this, pick points in the day to check all messages—including voicemail, email and texts. For example, instead of reading every email as soon as it comes in, you can ignore all emails until your scheduled time points. These time points can be as often as needed. If you get a lot of emails, then on the hour might work best for you. Don’t get more than a handful a day? Then checking them twice a day might suffice.
The same strategy can apply to our phones. Whether the messages are personal or business-related, glancing at our phones every ten minutes to read the latest text generally isn’t productive. Set up reasonable time points to check your phone, such as every 30 minutes. You can also put your phone on airplane mode until then.
Also, consider having two different cell numbers—one for business and one for friends and family. I’ve had two numbers for years and this has allowed me to ignore any calls or texts on the personal line when I want to focus solely on the work I’m doing.
Once you have these time points set up, you now have created blocks of time for yourself to be hyper-focused on what needs to get done. This is when you become unavailable to anyone not directly related to the current task at hand. Depending on the task and the nature of your business, these time blocks could be anywhere from ten minutes to hours.
It will be up to you to find that balance between having time to focus on what you need to do as a leader and still being accessible to certain employees and contractors. You don’t want those who work for you to feel like they don’t have a leader and, if you have a manager, you’ll need to be adequately available to him or her. On the other hand, if you’re too available, the distractions could be endless.
Of course, if your business can afford it, having a manager or director of operations and an assistant (or two) helps free up your time to focus on the bigger picture of your business, which is where you will add the most value.
Lead Well and Trust Your Team
The last tip is to trust your team. If you haven’t already, you should have a system for hiring good staff—the personalities that work well with your company, how the interviews are conducted and how new people are trained.
Once your system is in place on how to find the right people, you’ll have to put some trust in them. Let them do their job so you can focus on the bigger picture of what will help your business grow.
This will help you stay “on your business” instead of “in it”–meaning, your job as the captain of your own ship should be assessing the landscape and knowing how to stay on course despite any treacherous obstacles. Your team is looking to you for guidance. Keep your eye on the destination ahead, and, in the meantime, let them take care of everything else.
And if someone just isn’t working out, don’t wait. Let them go as quickly as possible. I agree with the business adage, “slow to hire, quick to fire.” Getting rid of “dead weight” is like a ship dumping unnecessary cargo into the sea: It keeps you light, mobile and moving forward.