Running a small business can be extremely difficult. Some days you can feel “on top of the world”, with everything going exactly to plan and you feeling highly effective in your role as a Company Director, whereas others can leave you feeling constantly distracted and like things aren’t working out as you hoped. Most of us accept that this is simply part of business (and life!), but in reality there are a number of quite simple changes you could be making to your daily routine in order to feel highly motivated and empowered.
We have written this special long-form blog post in the hope that you will find it useful. From setting goals to reducing stress, we’ll try our best to make you more productive than ever before!
First, let’s look at the reality faced by entrepreneurs across the world. You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed with tasks you simply have no motivation to complete or wishing you simply had an extra hour in the day to drive your business forward. 76% of businesses here in the UK are owned and run by one employee alone. You.
These “solopreneurs” make up the vast majority of the 5.4 million companies in the UK and work an average of 52 hours per week. How does that compare to your weekly routine? Have a look at the infographic one of Virtalent’s graphic designers put together to see where your work-life balance sits (the blog post continues right after so please keep reading!).
Step 1: Set Goals
It is easy to overlook the importance of goal-setting, but doing so is not going to help you build a successful business and improve your lifestyle.
First, think back to when you started your company. Why did you do so? Did you want a challenge, did you want to increase your personal income or did you want a better work-life balance? Perhaps you were hoping to achieve all three and much more, and that is perfectly achievable, but without setting some clear, tangible goals which allow you to measure you progress you simply won’t know if you’ve begun to achieve your aims. You can always want more free time, more money or a more difficult challenge. The importance is in recognising that you have reached your initial goal (i.e. work fewer than 40 hours per week by next summer) before setting new ones (to work fewer than 30 hours), as otherwise you will simply never be satisfied.
Not just any “goal” will do, however. How useful is “I want to be rich” or “I want to be famous”?
Goals should be SMART. You may have a slightly different definition, but in my book SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound (or “Timely”).
- Specific – Think of the “6 Ws”. Who, what, why, where, when and how. Exactly who is involved? Where will it take place? The more specific your goal is, the easier you will be able to focus on achieving exactly what you want.
- Measurable – Measurement will give you feedback and allow you to gauge how close you are to achieving your goal. “I want to increase my sales” isn’t nearly as useful as “I want this year’s annual sales turnover to be 20% more than last year’s”. Generic or over-simplistic goals are an easy way to avoid keeping yourself accountable to your goal. Don’t be that person!
- Attainable – When setting goals it is easy to let our ambition push ourselves a little too far. Goals should be challenging, but also attainable. How realistic is the outcome you are aiming for? Setting goals which are going to be impossible to achieve will only serve to demotivate you when you inevitably don’t achieve them! Try to strike a balance between your drive to succeed and the reality of your circumstances. Million pound businesses aren’t built overnight (unless there is something very special up your sleeve)!
- Relevant – Anyone can set a goal, but your goals must be relevant to your aspirations and dreams. They won’t be the same as your friend’s, your parent’s or even your business partner’s. Your business is a tool to help you achieve your personal goals and not the other way around. Make sure your goals really are important to you and that you are motivated to achieve them.
- Time-bound – Set yourself a deadline. Losing 3 pounds by “whenever” isn’t the same as “lose 3 pounds by the time I go on holiday in July 2016”.
Try to set ambitious long-term goals (thinking in terms of months and years), as opposed to mildly challenging goals to achieve within a week or two. We all have our ups and downs, our quiet periods and our busy periods, so this long term approach allows you to adapt your work flow to your state of mind and adjust your pace as you work towards each of you goals.
Most importantly, ensure you set aside time to properly review these goals. Why not set aside a Saturday morning once a month to measure how far you have progressed towards reaching each of your goals? In this time you can also reflect on and celebrate the goals you have achieved. Celebrating your success is an important component in motivating your brain to want to try tackling some new goals!
Next, break those goals into smaller, more manageable steps. I find it useful to break my long term goals into monthly objectives and targets, before making a daily to-do list to ensure that I am always taking at least a small step towards my goals each and every day. You may find weekly lists and quarterly goals more appropriate, or you may want to schedule tasks directly in your calendar. Experiment with different techniques and see what works best for you.
Some people also like to write a “personal mission statement” outlining their overall philosophy and approach to all of their goals. Writing one of these may help to set more “relevant” goals and is also simply an interesting exercise in itself. This article from Forbes magazine outlines some of the personal mission statements a few of the top CEOs across the world have composed.
At the very least you should make sure you goals aren’t overly personal or professional. Striking a balance between these two settings will lead you to strive for improvements in both your personal and professional lives. What’s the joy in making more money if you then have no time left in the week to spend with your family?
Some of the tools we use at Virtalent
- Trello – Trello allows you to create themed “boards” in which you can assign tasks to yourself (and your team) with due dates and file attachments. Why not create a board for new business ideas you come up with, another for your monthly objectives and another for the new IT project you are working on?
- Todoist – Although similar in some ways to Trello, Todoist places more focus on the daily tasks which make up your to-do list. We love its ability to sync across all of our devices and likewise how it can be accessed directly in our gmail account, as well as our desktop browsers. Its natural language function is fantastic. Simply enter “send a newsletter at 5pm tomorrow” and Todoist will convert this into a task with the applicable date or deadline. The same happens with recurring tasks (add “every week” to).
- A handwritten to-do list! – This article from Lifehacker includes some interesting tips. Why not group your daily tasks into “must do”, “should do” and “could do” to help you prioritise?
Step 2: Build Processes
Ok, so you have set your goals and you weekly to-do list. Now what?
Growing a business as efficiently as possible depends on solid business processes. The aim here is to analyse how you spend your time, document some of the key tasks you have to complete and see if you can save any time in the long-term by streamlining these processes. Are you manually reconciling your bank payments every few days? Why not do this once a fortnight in a software package like Xero instead?
Shaving a little time off of a few tasks, here and there, as well as reducing the actual number of tasks in your weekly to-do list will dramatically increase your productivity. You will feel less distracted (and therefore more focused), reducing your stress levels and increasing the time you can spend working on your business and not in it. Shaving 20 minutes off of each day’s workload would mean you would gain almost 7 hours of extra time each month (80 hours each year!). That extra day you have just gained could be spent reviewing your goals and ensuring your business has a clear strategy to move forward with.
Simple, efficient and documented processes also, importantly, allow someone to work on those same tasks too. What if you are ill and need to delegate your marketing activities to someone else to keep the business going in your absence? It is important that your business is a separate, independent entity built on solid foundations.
The simplest way to start documenting your processes is to simply keep a record of how you spend your day. Spend a week jotting down all of the little (and big!) things that crop up that week and then also add anything else you do on a less frequent basis. It may help to divide these tasks by business function:
- Core business activities. This could be delivering packages or training workshops! What do you do?
- Finance & tax (e.g. reconciling bank payments, paying suppliers and chasing overdue invoices)
- Sales & marketing (e.g. writing a weekly blog post, scheduling tweets and following up on leads)
- HR (e.g. making payroll payments and making time to follow a personal self-development plan)
- IT (e.g. updating your website and cleansing your CRM)
- Other admin (e.g. booking networking events and train tickets)
Once you have your list, start with the first function. Let’s say it is your list of marketing-related tasks.
- What exact steps do you follow to schedule your e-newsletter?
- Who is responsible for this?
- What software do you use?
- How much time do you typically allocate to this activity per week/month?
- When do you allocate this time?
- Is this the best use of your time and does it offer a good ROI for this commitment, or does this need to be reevaluated and improved?
Have a think through all of these questions. Be concise in the document, but ensure there is sufficient detail to be useful to and understood by someone outside of your business, then evaluate whether any of these factors could be improved. Think objectively. Is the activity worthwhile but should be carried out by someone else? Are there other software packages available which would save me more time (even if they aren’t free!)?
Of course, not everything can be documented in this way but you may be surprised by how much can (and how little time this will take you)!
Once you have built a solid set of business processes, for as many different tasks across as many different functions as possible, you should look to measure, test and then improve these on a regular basis. Are you making any assumptions which need to be more objectively evaluated?
Remember, your aim is to grow your business as efficiently as possible (i.e. quickly and cheaply!) with as little stress as possible. Take the time to evaluate what is working, what could be improved and what should be scrapped altogether! This cyclical process will help you build a lean and effective company which can stand on its own two feet if you don’t want to (or can’t!) manage certain aspects of it anymore.
Combine this with outsourcing and that 3 month cruise may be closer than you think! More on that later…
Step 3: Reduce Stress
We all know that running a business can be extremely stressful, especially in the early days, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Challenge your mindset. Of course every business faces its own challenges, but it is very much possible to grow a successful business without ruining your health and feeling overwhelmed, especially if you are following a good set of business processes.
Entrepreneurs work an average of 63% more hours than most workers in the UK so it is important that you aren’t left feeling completely drained when you do have some rare time to rest!
Our top 5 tips to reduce stress:
1. Be mindful
Try to be more aware of the impact your emotions have on your workflow and general mood. When you are let down by a supplier do you deal with the situation objectively and try to find another, or do you focus on the anger you are experiencing and let it ruin your day? If left unchecked, your thoughts can trigger a chain reaction of emotions which can dramatically impact your mood and therefore stress levels. Try not to get caught in a day dream of thinking about past and future events, but instead be grounded “in the moment”. Try to think more objectively.
Here are a few tips from Matt Killingsworth’s talk entitled “Want to be Happier? Stay in the Moment”.
2. Think positively
Positive thinking isn’t as easy as it sounds. As we’ve already mentioned, it is very easy to lose track of your thoughts and become trapped in a downward spiral of anger, resentment, jealousy, sadness or any other negative emotion.
Try to be more optimistic, trusting your gut instinct and having a little more faith in your plans. If you’ve set SMART goals, backed by good business processes which you will follow to meet these goals, the only reason your plans will fail will be down to factors completely out of your control or your lack of understanding (in which case you will learn some vital lessons if things don’t work out!). Believe in yourself and your team – we all work best when we feel trusted, empowered and confident.
3. Cultivate habits and a solid routine
OK, so you may think that this all sounds good on paper but “things crop up” and you “don’t have enough time”. Stop. Think. Do you believe this reactive attitude you have developed, where you feel that your business is running you and not the other way around, is a result of being so distracted or the cause? Perhaps it is both. To stop this exhausting cycle you should learn to cultivate positive habits and build a solid routine.
Have you read The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson? His book is a great way to gain a real insight into the power of habits and a solid routine in helping you achieve your goals.
4. Take time out
All work and no play could indeed make you a very dull boy, or girl! Giving your brain (a muscle!) the time to rest and recuperate is the only way to keep you productivity levels high and stress levels low. We all know what it feels like to be tired. Simply getting more sleep is an incredibly powerful way to inject more creativity and innovation into your business, and likewise we all know how demotivated and sluggish we feel when we are feeling jet-lagged or ill. A consistent lack of sleep is no different.
Step 4: Consider Outsourcing
It will be no surprise to you that Virtalent is an advocate for outsourcing.
Once you have set your goals, documented your business processes and learned to deal with stress a little better, you should be well on your way to growing a successful business with enough passion, determination and discipline. But what if there is simply too much for you to do on your own or you simply don’t enjoy working on some aspects of your business? It is important that you don’t become the main obstacle to the growth of your business!
It may feel like the logical step would be to take on a member of staff. But have you worked out the true cost of doing so? Can your business deal with such long-term fixed commitment to someone with a single skill set? Do you want to think about everything from their performance reviews to the number of sugars they like in their tea? Outsourcing a number of the tasks on your to-do list may be a much smarter option if you are aiming to feel less stressed and more productive.
The Virtual Assistant industry is largely composed of hundreds of independent freelancers, though there are also a few companies with much larger teams (Virtalent included). Virtual Assistants can handle a range of tasks, from managing your diary and scheduling appointments, to chasing unpaid invoices and filling in paperwork. All have different skill sets so it is important to see what tasks the Virtual Assistant you are thinking of contracting can do for you.
Fortunately, with Virtalent, you can outsource a wide range of skills to our multi-skilled team right here in the UK. From redesigning your website to managing your social media channels, we are proud to offer a number of skills which most VAs would not. Our rates are more competitive than most of the industry (with no minimum hours required per month) and all work is managed through our task management portal, which not only enables us to bill you to the exact second that each task takes to complete but allows you to see exactly where the time you are paying for has been spent.
Our top tips for delegation:
- Be fair in your expectations of your new VA. They will not know as much about your industry and your business as you do, from day one of your relationship, but that doesn’t mean that with a little patience they can’t learn.
- Ensure any deadlines are clearly communicated and fair.
- Ensure your VA has access to everything they need (e.g. a username and password to your website if you would like them to schedule blog posts).
- Would you prefer to be given a call every morning or do you simply want a brief update each week in an email? Everyone has different communication styles so it is important to let us know if you have any preferences.