Being a small business owner is challenging. You're often the first in at work and the last to leave – and your every waking moment is spent thinking about your business.
I can't tell you how many solutions I've come up with in those last final moments of drowsiness before I drop off to sleep. There are no quick fixes for many of the challenges facing small business owners but there are certainly ways to lighten the load.
Allow me to introduce the 55% rule.
I came up with the 55% rule because I've owned a small business for 15 years and my life at times has been ruled by the number of items on my ever-expanding to-do list. I got to the point where, no matter how much time I threw at the tasks, there was always an insurmountable pile of work ahead of me.
The problem with having a never-ending to-do list is that it can get out of control and that you tend to look at the tasks from top to bottom or pick off the easy ones. Nine times out of ten, the tasks aren't prioritised so you end up not spending your time where it really matters.
The 55% rule is about putting the bang where the buck is. In small business, we want to earn money. That means making profits by providing good products and services and value for our customers so that they'll return and keep buying from us.
What I came to realise in my business was that most tasks that are unrelated to the direct client experience can be done with 55% effort. Anything more was a waste of my time and my energy – time and energy that I could be using to get more customers and earn more profits.
Nobody’s perfect. We all know that, but so many of us inexplicably strive for perfection in everything we do. We wear our perfectionism like a badge of honour, like it’s something to be proud of.
In striving for perfection we spend countless hours on tasks that potentially have minimal impact. But why? What is it ultimately giving us? 55% is all about getting the task done just that little bit better than average but not overcooking it.
The 55% rule is about not obsessing over a task. It’s about ticking tasks off your to-do list in the most efficient way possible.
When you free your time up you also free your mind to think and then be able to spend the time on your business. There's a wonderful saying that goes, ‘Work on your business, not in your business. The 55% rule frees up your time to work on your business to find areas where you can add value to your business to make it prosper.
Just remember, the 55% rule is not about cheating. It’s not about doing someone over. It’s about spending your limited time on activities that will have the most impact.
This IS about being selfish with your time. But it’s only selfish in that your time is valuable and you need to make sure you’re prioritising it effectively. It’s being selfish so that you do have more time for new business development, or to think up a new product or reinvigorate your team so they'll stay with you longer. You’re making time for the things that really matter.
How can you use the 55% rule?
- Email – get to the point, be succinct. Clear it out of your inbox, and file it away. Stop proofreading or obsessing with the exact wording of your response.
- Meetings – set an achievable agenda. Minimise time in meetings. Set a goal to be achieved at the end of each meeting. Oh, and try not to walk away with too many more tasks!
- General day-to-day tasks – firstly work out if you are the right person for the job. The number of times I've heard small business owners moaning about doing their end-of-year tax! Why would you do that when you could pay someone to do it quicker, better, and more effectively than you ever could? Get through your general tasks by clearing out the small ones that can be done in less than two minutes each. Then prioritise the others into what needs to be done first because it has a deadline and what needs to be done because it has the most beneficial impact on your business. Then, start clearing them out by writing down what you need to do and doing a good job, but not overdoing it.
What can I do with all this time I now have?
- Set some goals. Can you remember the last time you had goals? I used to sigh loudly when my business coach would talk to me about goals because I would always think, ‘As if I'm ever going to have time to do that!' But here's the thing: if you don't have clear and measurable goals, how will you ever be able to measure your success? Without goals and measurement of those goals, we generally find ourselves treading water with nothing really changing.
- Review your stats. These can be your financial stats, the stats of your last marketing campaign or your website stats. Review them, look at the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. By reviewing stats I've been able to predict issues that might arise before they actually do. I've also been able to highlight issues with our marketing where traffic wasn't converting successfully on one of our landing pages.
- Talk to your staff. Take time to have a one-on-one chat with some of your key staff. Ask them how they are doing and how they think you could improve the business as a team. They live and breathe your business, they generally understand your customers, and you'll find they have an interesting take on how your business is doing. Retaining key staff is important and by taking the time to talk to your staff, you're showing how much you value them.
- Talk to your customers. What better way to find out how you are really doing? You could be thinking (because I do), ‘What if they say something I don't like?' But generally, most clients are happy to provide you with some tips on how you could do business better, and most of them will do that gracefully. Asking your clients acknowledges you care about them and their opinion, and it can (as it has done in my case) nip potential issues in the bud and help you retain customers.
- Invite a potential customer to lunch. As a small business owner, having my lunch at my desk is normal. Taking the time out to take a potential client to lunch can be the tipping point to getting them onboard and buying from you. If you are uncomfortable approaching a new client, try one of your existing clients first.
- Get your financial forecast up to date, or start one. Bleurgh. Financial forecasts. Boring. Yawn. Yep, I get it! Having a good financial forecast is similar to goals. It lets you see what is ahead. It helps you make decisions and highlights any issues that may arise. If you've never done a financial forecast why not start with our simple template to help you out?
- Think of something new. My best ideas have come from when I'd given myself the time to think clearly. When my head is full of endless tasks I find it impossible to think freely. Clearing out those tasks is like a weight lifting off your shoulders. It gives me the time to think clearly and to put into action some of the ideas and concepts I've come up with.
- Take some time out. Every small business owner I've ever spoken to has said they find it incredibly difficult to have time out, take a mini-break (let alone a big one) or even have a simple day off every now and then. When I was studying design, one of my lecturers said to me that what I did outside of university was just as important as what I did inside, because the outside was where I would find my inspiration, my creativity, and my drive. All work and no play make a small business owner, not a happy camper. Take time out and you'll appreciate your business more, come back into it re-energised, and provide your team and customers with a better you.