High Clarity Accountants

10 essential time management tips for small business owners

⏰Time is truly democratic; it’s 24 hours in a day for every single person on the planet. Managing your time well can help you improve your small business and can ultimately lead to accomplishing key goals and create the business that you desire.

Yet some people accomplish a vast amount in a day while others go to bed at night wondering where the hours went and why they’ve achieved so little. In our guide, we discuss the meaning of time management, why it is important and 10 different ways you can both improve upon and grow your small business. 

So here goes…

1️⃣ Accept that you can’t do everything – This is the biggest stumbling block for many small business owners. If you’ve started from scratch and built up every client relation and every penny of profit yourself it can be very hard to let go of any of it. You know it inside out, upside down and back to front; nobody else ever will. But the truth is that nobody else will ever need to. Your business isn’t a dream or a plan anymore, it’s out there in the world and it needs to be run effectively and efficiently by capable people. Your role now is to do only the things that only you can do, the things you are uniquely good at – the rest you can delegate.

Changing your mind-set in this way can make a huge difference to how you spend your time and to the success of your business. Once you accept this, things can start to change. So take a deep breath and let go…

2️⃣ Delegate like mad – If you want to do a few small things right in your small business, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.

The secret to delegating work lies in good leadership. Good leadership empowers employees, motivating them to giving their all. Trust your employees and they will pay you back with loyalty and higher productivity. When you learn how to delegate effectively, you develop more well-rounded employees. Showing confidence in your workers also strengthens relationships and helps boost morale.

Let them feel free to share their ideas and bring out the best in them. Give them a sense of achievement and direction in their own careers, at the same time increase productivity at the workplace.

3️⃣ Start systemising your processes – If you’ve ever read those success stories of small business startups who turned a garage venture into a hugely successful business. You must have always wondered how they found the time to deal with customers, fulfilling work requests, marketing, collecting dues etc and then being able to effectively work on developing the business.

The answer is systemisation. A systemised business is one that has defined processes in place to maximise efficiency. It’s all about finding the most efficient balance between human input and automated systems.

By systemising your business, you can put processes in place that generate a higher volume of leads and increase your customer base. But, crucially, you can also put processes in place that allow your business to actually handle growth as the customers roll in.

4️⃣ Run an 80/20 analysis on your customers – Across all kinds of organisations the 80/20 principle holds true, i.e. that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. So 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers and 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers (unfortunately these may not be the same 20%!). The key is to know which customers fall into which category so you can focus your time and energy where they are most effective.

To do this you’ll need to list all your customers in descending order of annual sales, then work out the profitability of each account by analysing sales prices, discounts, payment terms, labour costs, overheads and so on.

Some customers are much more expensive to serve than you might think because, although the product they buy has a high gross margin, they only order it in small quantities. If you were to properly factor in the delivery costs, the labour costs and the costs of raising an invoice and collecting the debt, those costs in some instances can completely eliminate the notional profit that a crude customer profitability analysis suggests. You need to properly drill down, look at all the costs within the business and apportion them accurately so that you get a true insight into which customers are genuinely profitable.

When you carry out this process, you may well realise that some of your customers aren’t profitable at all, that in fact they’re loss making. Most businesses have this experience when they run an in-depth analysis. Because the sale price was more than the labour costs they appeared to be a profitable customer, but once all the other costs of serving them are factored in – delivery, raising invoices, dealing with complaints, handling their idiosyncrasies and so on – their true value is revealed. So the top 20% on your customer list may not be the ones you expected.

Once you have your list, you’ll know which customers deserve your time and efforts.

5️⃣ Run an 80/20 analysis on your services – The same rule applies to your services. Again, it’s critical that you allocate costs fully and accurately because the true costs of individual services aren’t just the labour, but include all the other costs within the business. As with your customers, sort your products in descending order of profitability.

Once you’ve identified your high profit services, make these your focus and make sure your team fully understands them and is incentivised for selling them. And have a good long think about your low profit services. Can you make them more profitable by reducing costs, stripping out some functionality or simply by increasing the price? And if you can’t, are you prepared to drop them, however valuable they’ve been to you in the past?

6️⃣ Set deadlines for your work and stick to them – An objective or goal without a deadline is typically an exercise in futility, with no motive power behind it. It’s therefore easy to delay such work for another day, a day that never seems to arrive. This is why is so important so set yourself deadlines and stick to them. 

A simple technique for doing this is: 

  • Every week draw up a simple matrix of all that needs doing and rate each task according to whether it’s important or not important, and urgent or not urgent. 
  • Use it to decide which things only you can do and which things can be delegated. 
  • Set a deadline to complete those task which only you can do and add to the development of your business
  • Write a process or system for dealing with tasks which are repetetive in nature and can be delegated  

As well as your weekly matrix, make an action list at the end of each day, outlining what you need to do the next day and in what priority. This way, you’re less likely to put off those critical but difficult or unpleasant tasks (as you aren’t facing doing them there and then!). An additional benefit is that once you’ve done a ‘brain dump’ of everything that needs doing the following day, you can relax when you get home, without fretting about tomorrow.

7️⃣ Set aside a fixed time to work on your business and plan for the future 

You’ll say it’s impossible – ‘how can I when I’m working all hours just to keep the day-to-day stuff on track?’ – but if you don’t you’ll be caught in the same trap forever. It’s important to separate working in your business and working on your business (one of the key points of Michael Gerber’s influential E-Myth books). Working in your business is dealing with your inbox, keeping customers happy, making sure that your business does what needs to be done that day, that week, that month. Working on your business is thinking beyond the pressures of the day-to-day stuff, working on your strategy and goals, not just what you’re going to do but how you’re going to do it. This is real investing time. 

How much time you set aside for working on your business and how often you do it will depend on your role. A day a week might be an unimaginable luxury for most business owners but even 15 minutes at the start or end of each day is worthwhile, so put the time in your diary and keep to it at all costs. Don’t expect instant miracles, but the more you do this the better your business will function. You’ll work out what your business should and shouldn’t be doing, the best ways of doing it, the best people for the job and you’ll spot and be able to take up more opportunities. 

8️⃣ Set clear goals and stick to them – Less obvious than other time saving strategies, but immensely valuable in the long term. Without clear goals for what you want to achieve you’ll waste a lot of time doing stuff that gets you nowhere.

Again, you need to be absolutely honest with yourself and examine what really matters to you, otherwise you won’t be fully committed to your goals. Make them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely), write them down and keep them visible on your desk or in your workplace as a constant reminder of what you’re working towards. For example, if one of your goals is to open up another branch of your retail business, spend your time doing the things that help you achieve that, not adding more pages to your website.

This also helps with the next strategy…

9️⃣ Stop saying ‘yes’ to everything – We’re probably all guilty of this one. We say ‘yes’ because we want to help the person who asked us, because the request is an interesting one, because we’re worried that we’ll lose business in future if we say ‘no.’ But if saying ‘yes’ means that other work suffers or that you move further away from your goals then it isn’t a great long term plan.

 Ask yourself what you’re saying ‘no’ to when you say ‘yes’ to something else. Will it help you to reach your goals? Be honest and realistic when people ask you to do something – saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be offensive. 

🔟 Stop trying to multi-task – Doing several things at once gives you the illusion that you’re steaming ahead on all fronts. Checking email while talking on the phone? What a time saver! Working on a report while tweeting your latest news? Brilliant! The reality is that you aren’t giving your full attention to any of them. Every time you switch between tasks your brain has to re-engage with what you were doing before, you have to pick up your thought processes again, and in fact, it takes longer to finish the task.

Instead, set yourself a fixed length of time to complete a job and focus only on that one job. If it’s something big, break it down into manageable chunks. Take that report, for example – give yourself half an hour to complete the first three points, then another half hour for the next three. You can do something else in between – say 15 minutes working on your LinkedIn contacts – but keep to the times you’ve allotted yourself. If you can, move away from distractions so you aren’t interrupted (and see more on that below).

Conclusion – No one can manage time to produce more of it and we can’t buy any extra or sell what we’ve got. All we can do is use what we have in the best way we can. So the real message of this little book is simply to spend your time on what matters the most to you.