So we talked about strategy, the big picture, the big “why” behind everything you do in your business. Let’s move on to tactics, tips and tricks that will make your business life easier and will help you overcome the “terrible threes”: not enough time, not enough money, not enough people!
Before tactics, you need that strategy
Take the second barrier to success for example: time. Getting organised, making the most of time is much easier when you know what you should be spending time on: your priorities become clearer and there is a much more tangible correlation between what you do and the results you get. Have you ever had the feeling of spinning your wheels? That might come from poor strategy. When the goal is clear, it’s much easier to feel that every step you take, brings you closer to that goal – it’s easier to see why you do the thousand little things you do every day.
Take social media: you could spend your whole day on Twitter and follow each tweet as if it was a crumb in a trail. But where is that trail leading you? And after a while social media fatigue can settle in: why bother with yet another tweet, yet another Facebook update, when you feel empty, with nothing to say, and nothing to show for your social media efforts?
If you have a strategy behind it all, once again, things become clearer: instead of just spending time on twitter and Facebook, you know why you log on and you have a precise to-do list of updates to publish, all geared towards a precise goal. You know who you want to connect with, and to what end. When that end is achieved, you have a clear touchstone that says you achieved what you set out to do, and it’s time to log out now, in order to work on another aspect of your business.
Otherwise social media becomes yet another way to procrastinate.
So, step 1, work on that strategy if you haven’t done it yet! Then when you know what you want and where you’re going, you can work on optimising that timetable.
Time: Can you be in two places at the same time?
The first “trick” I would recommend, although it goes much, much deeper than just a trick, would be to keep a time diary for a week. Then after a week you won’t be able to live without it!
Where does your time go? Can you say with any certainty? If you have ever felt the kind of sinking feeling that comes around 4pm, when you realise the day is almost over and you didn’t do anything much, and now there’s too little time to do it all, well, a time diary is what you need. When faced with the hard data in a time diary, most of us will be appalled to see how much time we wasted, or what obvious improvements were staring us in the face all the time.
Your mission is just to jot down, throughout the day, what you are spending time on.
A time diary will not only show you where you are wasting time. Most importantly, it will show you what takes up most of your time. Then it’s up to you to decide: is this time spent on the things that advance your business? Or is it spent on “necessary evils” you wish you could do without? One such necessary evil – or at least we think it’s necessary! – is transport: commuting, going to client meetings, etc.
Now ask yourself: do you really need
to be there in person?
There are times when that is indispensable: a first contact with a client, closing a deal, those are situations when it is much easier to have a face-to-face conversation and when being able to react to the other party’s body language is key. But when no sale is involved, when the meeting isn’t about persuasion? When the objective is only to communicate about an idea and to agree on steps forward? Then perhaps this is doable online, through software like Skype or Webex.
Indeed, my suggestion would be to really act like an international business person in a domestic capacity. When my US-based partner company wants to discuss an idea, we do not schedule for me to be on a flight to the US the next week. We log on to Skype. Of course that makes a lot of sense when there is an ocean between us – but how much time could you save by replicating this at home?
Instead of spending a lot of time on trips to meet business partners or customers in an ongoing relationship, how about replacing a business coffee or lunch with an online conversation? It will increase your productivity no end – and people will be grateful that you are not imposing on their time!
Just a few weeks ago I had a mentoring session online. Five minutes into the meeting, my mentee realised there was something he didn’t know and needed to work on before we could go forward. Had I actually driven out to him, it would have taken two hours out of my work day. That meeting could have been a waste of time – we could have cut short and I would have driven out for nothing, or we could have gone ahead anyway, but the meeting would have been much, much less valuable. Instead of that, because the meeting was taking place online, it was easy to reschedule. We had the session a week later, with a fully prepared mentee, and it was far more beneficial!
Money: There is such a thing as a free lunch
Another barrier to business – and very often the first one people think of – is money. Of course you could get more money into the business by making more sales – but before you drive yourself into the ground by just scheduling more sales meetings, you will have to practice the other three approaches in order to increase results (reflecting on your strategy, increasing your productivity, engaging more people).
How about free money? Or next to free…
You know I am a big fan of Enterprise Europe Network. They offer an incredible network, local, regional, national and european, that you can avail of for support in advisory, financing innovation, infrastructure and training. Now before you think that this is not for you since there is nothing that you do differently and hence no way you could get financing for innovation, think again. Don’t fall at the first hurdle.
First, take a look at the 460 supports for business the network offers – yes, you read that right, four hundred and sixty, all compiled into one easy-to-read and easily accessible guide.
There is a lot of funding out there for “Innovation Partnerships”, in which a company takes it upon itself to commercialise the result of research done in universities.
A good place to start would be to think of a way you could fill a need in your industry – how could you revolutionise your business? You could approach your local university and find out about what they do – you might be surprised to see that they could help you revolutionise your own company and offering!
Universities are looking for outlets for their research, because once they have come up with an innovation, that’s where their job stops – they don’t have the resources to commercialise it by themselves. Help them do that! I did this myself last year and, in tandem with the Business School at DCU, we developed a whole new element to my business, which proved to be a much more profitable stream of income.
People: Is there anybody there?
The fourth barrier to business that you can turn into an asset is engaging more people. This is a two-pronged approach: first, how can you tell more people about your business? And second, how can you get more people to work in your business and lend you a hand?
Telling more people about your business, means leveraging media and PR. You can get very good, free PR if you make the effort of coming up with a really interesting press release. Do you have a good story to tell? Your homework is to come up with a narrative and an angle to describe what you do: why will people want to read about your business? What will get them excited?
Or is there anything that you’re doing differently? Remember “Does your branding pass these three tests?” and make sure to cultivate your brand, to set yourself apart. Or could you offer a refreshing take on local news? A well-turned press release can be sent to the local radio station, the local paper, or even Ireland AM.
The second approach, getting more people to work for you, might seem both obvious if you feel you are time-constrained and not focusing enough on sales – and hopeless, if you have had to part from employees because of the recession. If you feel you simply do not have the resources to hire more people, how about having somebody else to pay for an extra employee?
Take advantage of a European Commission-funded programme, Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs. This programme funds people to go and work in somebody else’s business for a period of one to six months. I know a French teacher who went to work and learn in Germany for seven weeks. You could get somebody to work in your business for free, if you are over three years in business.
If you haven’t been in business long enough to be a host, how about taking advantage of salaried training? You could get funded to work for a company in another European country and it might take away the pressure you’re under, by tiding you over a quieter period, around Christmas for example. You would come back with sharpened skills and a fresh outlook. The European Commission wants people to realize the benefit that we can derive by teaching each other and working in different countries – it does make an awful lot of business sense.
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