Has the title of this month’s article got your attention?
Who wouldn’t like a 3 month sabbatical, put up your hands!
Like many entrepreneurs and small business owners you are probably struggling with your work-life balance.
You are working long hours, sometimes weekends, when you go on vacation you can’t help feeling the guilt, your phone or tablet is always on and always calling for your attention even at all hours of the night. Yet the reason you started your own business, apart from the passionate belief in what you are doing is…getting time to do what you want.
Just stop for 10 minutes (yes, you can!). Ask yourself why you aren’t able to find that “life” part of the balance. Do these reasons sound familiar?
- I need to really dedicate myself to this business to make enough money to take that time off;
- I’m really busy because I can’t afford someone else to do some of the work;
- I have it all in my head so I can’t leave;
- I’m ultimately responsible for the business’ success;
- As I expand there’s even more work to do;
- Only I can do it;
- There’s just so much to do.
Think about those reasons just for a minute. They all come down to the fact that there seems to be a lot to do and you are the only one available or capable of doing it.
Really, how true is that?
Let’s unpack that statement. That statement assumes that:-
- There is a lot of work, more than in a “fair day’s work”; and
- Only you can do it, all of it.
Then, let’s turn around those assumptions into positive, solution-seeking questions:-
- How do I reduce the existing amount of work to a manageable yet profitable level?
- How can someone or something else do at least some of it?
This is where you start to understand how the ability to take some time away from your business can actually increase it’s value:-
- It’s actually worth more because you can show an investor or purchaser that the business makes money without you;
- The business is worth more because you find your work-life balance, and how valuable is that?
Well, if that’s the conclusion from 10 minutes worth of thinking then why don’t we spend a lot more time towards achieving it? If that work-life balance is what we all want as entrepreneurs and small business owners, then let’s plan to get it.
Ultimately, the solution to reducing the amount of work and to share the load is to eliminate unproductive work, and to systematize your processes and procedures. We want some way to automate our business, and yet retain the sense of purpose and drive that we otherwise put into it from our passion and our vision. It will take some time – and concentrated effort – but it can be done.
The key lies in three philosophies:-
- We must be clear about our vision and be really good at making sure whoever joins our team understands what that vision really means in terms of direction, strategy and passion;
- We need to be ruthless in examining everything that we do and question why we are doing it so that we can eliminate anything that is unnecessary; and
- We must be prepared to automate through technology, systems, and procedures.
Take the first point about clarity of vision.
I’m sure that when you started your business you didn’t say “I’m starting my business so that I can earn an income”. You may not have voiced it but you saw a gap that you thought you could be the best at filling, or you had a passion for something you were good at and wanted to make a life of it while earning an income from it, or you really felt good about helping customers solve their problem, or you liked your job but felt that you could be so much happier doing it your way instead of the boss’ unimaginative way.
What started you off was a vision – a vision of what your life would be like, what the business would do and how it would grow to be different and better; a vision of how you would help people or solve problems.
If you haven’t already done it, you need to write down that vision. What is your life and your business all about?
Then you really need to ask what the vision means in day to day activity. Does it mean always doing your best? Does it mean that every day you strive to check that a customer got the best from you? Does it mean that your team is empowered and happy? What values do that vision encompass? Are they values about service, to be the best, to always inquire, to continually improve?
Write down these examples of day to day behaviour that exemplifies your vision and write down the values that should measure day to day behaviour.
Then, everything that you do from here on, your own behaviour, how you treat customers and suppliers, how you work with team members, how you do everything, must be in line with your vision and the clarification of what it means on a day to day basis. Once you set standards, it should no longer matter if you are not at work – those standards become the norm.
Once you are absolutely clear about your vision, start looking at everything you do.
Write down all your actions every day, and then group your actions into systems.
When you make a sale – what steps do you take from taking the order to sending it off? When you deal with staff – what do you do step by step? When you make your product, or create your training, or teach at gym, or write a report – what do you do from start to finish? When you keep your books, when you close the store, when you revise your website – what are the individual steps you take from start to finish?
This will take you a few weeks, possibly even a few months, to ensure that you have captured everything, and that you have logically grouped them into systems.
Once you feel that you have captured everything, with your vision and value driven behaviours top of mind, ask “why am I doing this particular process? Why am I carrying out this particular step in the process?”
Ask, does this step or process or system help me achieve my vision or reinforce the day to day behaviours I should be reinforcing?
This is where you have to be ruthless and eliminate every, single, step that is unnecessary or that does not help you attain your vision. It doesn’t matter if you keep a second copy of invoices because once every month you might need to look them up alphabetically rather than by invoice number. The 10 minutes it takes you to do that once a month does not make up for the 10 minutes and photocopy costs you spend every single day. If your customers mostly like to receive their purchases by next-day courier, don’t spend 10 minutes’ time every sale looking up three different types of delivery costs; send everything by next-day courier and price accordingly.
Most of us follow certain steps because “they’ve always been done that way” or “I might need to look this up one day”. Far better to eliminate the unnecessary and then do the little extra work when you have to as an exception.
Once you have ruthlessly eliminated unnecessary tasks (and saved yourself a load of time during the day) move towards automating the remaining tasks.
First, look to see if there is any software or app that can take over the manual task. You will be surprised once you search, that there is almost a solution for every system – the question is then cost versus benefit, and if you can find the right tool for the job at a price you can afford.
Then, make sure you document the process in every system that you had previously studied. Draw flowcharts, write up checklists and procedures. You will be surprised, even if it’s just you doing it, how often we reinvent the wheel or forget the precise steps and take time to work them out again. Having a standard series of steps or process flow will again save you time during the day.
There is another huge advantage in having these processes written down. Let’s say you hire someone to take over the responsibility of one of your systems, say organising mailing lists. How much faster is it if you just handed over the flowchart and checklist? What happens if some time in the future they leave and you have to replace them – how much time in retraining will you save? Imagine if every member of your team had a copy of the vision (or your “rules” about how things should be done to live up to your standards) and a copy of the procedures of the systems they are responsible for. You no longer can say “it’s all in my head so I can’t leave.”
This rule applies to you even if you work on your own. I’ve already talked about saving time not reinventing the wheel yourself, but if you are on your own – maybe you’re actually not. Look at Virtual Assistants or VA’s – people who are an email away who can do tasks that you don’t have time for. You can send them (like employees) a copy of your vision and a copy of the procedures for the task you want them to do.
Finally, the objection that “you can’t afford to hire help.” Perhaps you can’t, but in getting your business organised, streamlined and process-driven, you will find that the time you spend is actually more productive and will lead to more profits from all that productivity. So you can start small. Hire a VA first on an hourly basis, then hire casual helpers or later part-time staff. You don’t have to hire full time staff until you feel you are ready.
If you can put this into place, and I know you can – I’ve known businesses who have done this within 3 or 4 months, I have known others who have done it in 2 to 3 years – then you really would have designed and built a business in which you can take three months’ off!
So give it a try – and tell me in the comments below this article in the website www.otsmanagemen.com.au how you have done it. If you’ve tried it, tell me what problems you found and what solutions you implemented. Remember that whatever the issue is, there is a way to resolve it, you just haven’t found it yet.
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I hope to see you soon!