Small business are great in the sense of the amount of freedom they bring and their agility when it comes to changing direction or seizing on new opportunities. One of the downsides is that it's common in small businesses to find everyone, from the owner down, having to take on more than one responsibility (I always smile when I talk to friends in big web development firms when they talk about the design department, the design, department, back-end developers, client managers and of sales).
One of the biggest challenges for a every small business owner is managing their time efficiently. By efficiently I probably mean productively! Because confusing being busy with being productive is a real business problem here are some ideas to keep your activity productive and profitable.
Keep track of what you are doing.
If you are to have any chance of working efficiently you need to know exactly how you are using your time. Doing a 'time-audit' is a great way for you to understand your work-flow practices now and to help you plan for the future. A time-audit can be as simple or as complicated as you like and there is a lot of help online to help you with the structure. I use a simple three step process.
Understand the importance of routine.
I always use my teaching days as the perfect example of routine and time-tabling. I would arrive at work at a set time and then a series of bells directed me and the children for the rest of the day. At any moment in the working day I would know what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to do it and how long it was supposed to take. The only latitude was what I chose to focus on during each lesson. Even then in the early days this meant working to a tightly scripted lesson plan. The whole thing reminds me of Russian dolls in the sense that the the school year provided one skeleton, the daily timetable provided another and the lesson plan provided another. Now just take a moment to compare that with the freedom and flexibility of a small business. The trick is not to let the freedom beat you.
One of the biggest problems I find with people working in small businesses, especially with owners and bosses is the temptation to be 'on-call' 24/7. They never turn off. This list not sustainable for the individual or the business. Breaks must be included in any timetable. Remember the Russian doll principle? Define a working day, define social time, take a long break as in a holiday, take regular medium daily breaks as lunch, and micro breaks to clear the mind and refocus (making a cup of coffee does it for me).
Work very rarely comes in unbroken blocks. Often we find ourselves with 10-15 minutes to fill. I tend to overcome this by dividing my 'to-do-list' into three distinct clusters. Firstly there is the work of the day that has to be done. Secondly there is the ongoing 'housekeeping' that never ends and finally there is the bits-and-pieces that in themselves are so trivial that they never seem to get done. A recent example of that for me was a pile of receipts that had to be sorted. A 10 minute chore that normally gets done only when the bookkeeper shouts.
Accept that productive multi-tasking is a myth.
Focus on one thing at a time. That's not to say that you can't work on more than one thing, just don't do it simultaneously. These days I work on something exclusively until my concentration starts to fade at which point, I finish off at a place that will make it easy for me to pick it up later. Then I turn my attention to something else. I really do find that 'a change is as good as a rest'.
Consider using management software and apps.
The digital tools available to day have come too late for me. I am still in the mindset of managing my time with handwritten notes on my tablet and alarms on my phone. But it's not lost on me that there are many amazing tools that can help you structure your life. Apps like 'Toggl' and 'Rescue Time' seem to be highly thought of, but I have no first hand experience of either.
Time management has always been one of the biggest challenges people face. It's just harder now in the 24/7 technological world we live in. The great news is that it only takes a small shift in focus to bring big rewards in terms of productivity.
Search engines, social media, podcasts, vlogs and video have made reaching prospective customers easier than ever before. The sky's the limit, every company has access to a truly global marketplace.
One of the best (and cost effective) ways to reach that market is through online content. Quality content published online through your website and social media platforms can build your company’s brand, raise awareness of your products and services, and increase sales.
By reaching communities through content, your business can create loyal brand advocates who will not only purchase your products for years to come they will help you harness the power of word-of-mouth recommendations. Every consumer of your products have access to a network of family friends and their own social media followers. What they see, like and learn from your content could give your organisation a huge community reach.
Here are 9 tips for creating and using using content.
1. Free is still the greatest value you can offer your website visitors. That's not to say you have to give away products it's just to suggest that helping potential customers deal with common issues they face has a value all of it's own. The easiest and most cost effective way of doing this is information published online. In my coaching sessions I use the example of a young persons first car and the importance of oil and oil pressure. As a mechanic I would be happy to explain, for free, what oil is, how the internal combustion engine works and what happens if you run the engine without the oil. I also might feel okay about recommending an oil, giving instructions on how top-up, change and check the oil. But; if and when someone wanted me to actually change the oil I would then charge for my time and expertise. In fact one of the best things about creating great online content is that at the end of it all you can legitimately ask for the persons custom. Placing a 'call-to-action' on all of your content is something you should consider.
2. Really good content often comes in the form of a short-story. Please pay special attention to the word 'short'. Unless you are a very gifted writer longer stories can be very difficult to construct and the chances of going off-point are huge. Keep in mind that a short story can be as simple as personalising some normal text. For example the phrase "In my coaching sessions..." used in the last paragraph, turned a couple of sentences about engine oil into a very short story.
3. When creating content it's worth making sure that it achieves three things. Firstly it should increase awareness of you or your business or what you have to offer. Secondly it should promote your expertise and thirdly it should ask the 'prospect' to do something. Buy a product, start a free trial, sign up for a newsletter, download a free gift etc. I must admit that these days I often fall-down on all three of these. As my goals shift and my responsibilities diminish I am much more focussed on just trying to be helpful and seeing where the whole thing leads.
4. Content is generally delivered in three main ways. As an 'expert' you tell people some facts that are not up for debate. You create an environment for a specific discussion or you give an informed opinion on something. Fortunately today’s social media supports all of these. Search engines deliver knowledge direct from the internet, chat based services create interactive viral-events, and blogs like this one are perfect for delivering opinions and analysis based reports. The trick is to create work that fits each outlet specifically. This can be easily done by repurposing all the content you create. To do this start with a 'long-form' work like this post and then edit it down to fit the other services.
5. It's worth remembering that great content is good at getting people to your website and when they find you they are more likely to come back. This 'browsing' activity means that they are seriously considering becoming a customer. This in-turn means that you can mix-things-up by creating content that informs, entertains and directly promotes what you offer.
6. Good, bad or indifferent it's important to have a strategy. Any strategy is better than no strategy. A strategy is like a map and you will be lost without one. I'm trying to make two points in one here. With all content repetition is good. The same thing said in different ways is a proven way to drive a message home. It's also very important that you have short, medium and long term plans. Think about most of the adverts you are confronted with in the real world. They always come in campaigns, they mostly come in a mix of formats and they always have a concise message. I was told a long time ago to look at what they big companies do because they have paid for the research you can't afford.
7. Make it clear what you stand for now and what your vision for the future is. For example I try hard in the JIMLTD website to talk about helping people keep control of their website without needing a huge investment in time, effort and money. I also try to make it clear that going forward I am always on-hand to help with more than just keeping everything online.
8. Clearly differentiate yourself from your competitors. Again the easiest example is how JIMLTD is positioned. I know from close partners that high quality bespoke web development starts north of £12K plus ongoing costs. I also know that this level of sophistication comes with a perceived loss of control. Simple updates are often not simple and often come at a price. Compare that with our pricing and you will understand the difference.
9. Have a clear brand and style. This is a huge and mostly subjective topic. It's one that I have a simple view of. I key everything off of the logo and I make the logo as simple as possible. I prefer single colour black or white logos because they stand out on most backgrounds, they are simple to print in-house on letterheads and stationary and they are cheaper to reproduce when we need to go to eternal printers.
As a conclusion and in the interests of full-disclosure, this post was inspired by a Private Label Rights article. I have (comprehensively) rewritten and enhanced it, but nonetheless it started life as a piece of high-quality PLR material. I mention this because I have, for many years, struggled with the idea of using the work of others to promote my services. Lately two things have changed that probably mean I will be using PLR more often. The first is that the quality of modern properly resourced PLR is truly amazing. Secondly as time goes on I simply don't have the time to think about, research, draft and edit 100% new and original content. Because of this taking inspiration, research and structure from professional writers has become a bit of a no-brainer. As I write I realise the whole PLR / freelance writer / content creation subject may be worth a dedicated post.
In the meantime if you would like to find out where I get my PLR from drop me an email.
Hopefully this blog provide some insight into what we offer, provide inspiration for you to build the website you have always wanted and help with developing your business generally.