Managing Time Efficiently
The long hours and variety of tasks required to manage a small business demand good time management skills. Every small business owner feels stretched, especially during start-up. Running any kind of business involves many different responsibilities and little time in which to fulfill them. This is a continual challenge that is especially taxing during start-up. A pharmaceutical consultant summarized the problem:
"When you're starting off, you're doing everything yourself. You have to be a part of everything that's going on. You have to be at every point of the operation … the challenge is while you're working on your business, you're not spending time working on cash flow, attending toor planning for the future."
A contractor gave a more personal picture of the long hours required to keep a business running: "When I started out, I was out running the equipment trying to get the job done, but I was also out beating on doors and passing out cards, talking to people at 10:00, 11:00 at night and trying to line up the next day's work. There are only so many hours in a day."
The freedom to delegate responsibilities to people who can fulfill them is important to small business owners, who often find their time stretched to the limit. "One of my top pieces of advice to an aspiring young business owner is to surround yourself with good people," said one successful owner.
Another owner said that when he "bought an existing business, I came from a corporate atmosphere. The first thing I put on my list was to delegate. Hire the best, most qualified people you can, whatever the area is; and then delegate. Give them the responsibility, as much responsibility as you can."
Stores are full of books on time management, and indeed, small business owners reported that this is one of their favorite topics. Some owners reported that they also attended time management seminars.
Based on the input of owners, telephone calls and appointments are two key areas of time management. Several owners reported that they group their calls during specific times of the day – first thing in the morning, right before lunch, and at about 5:00; people are most likely to be in their offices during these times.
The owner of an advertising agency who spends substantial time on the road and in clients' offices, said that she schedules groups of appointments wherever possible. She has disciplined herself to set aside Mondays and Wednesdays for appointments and uses the other three days to be in her office. "By sticking to this schedule as much as possible," she said, "clients know when they can reach me. Also, I can schedule work more efficiently."
Another successful technique that many owners use is referring back to their business plan. This helps them set priorities and ensures that they spend their time where it will be used most effectively.
The penalties for not using time wisely can be stiff. Many owners reported that they knew of many businesses that had failed because the owner hadn't "worked the hours." At best, inefficient time management can prevent a company from running smoothly and cost-effectively.
Owners summarize their time-management methods in a three-point plan:
Be disciplined about your time. Making a business successful demands your time. Again and again, owners stressed the importance of putting in the hours.
Stick to your original plan. When in doubt about where to put your time, check your business plan for priorities.
If you have the opportunity, delegate responsibilities to those who can fulfill them.