If you’re like most small-business owners, time is your most valuable resource. Figuring out how and where to spend your time to yield the biggest payoff can be one of the most difficult and stressful things you do. But as with money, time well spent will return to you tenfold – and squandered time will leave you deeper in the hole.
Below is a guide to five ways to spend your precious minutes and hours to yield major returns and get the best ROI (Return On Investment) for your time.
Smart Time Investments for Busy Business Owners
Too often, small-business owners get sucked into the cycle of putting out fires, spending their days solving immediate, short-term problems that won’t translate to any long-term gains. Consider this cautionary tale: A neighbor of mine had three children. She worked full-time and was always rushing to get them off to school, home from school, fed, bathed and in bed. At the dinner table, she’d cut their food so they could eat faster so she could get the dishes done and they could get to their homework.
One day, she served chicken patties and her 11-year-old daughter waited for her to cut them. She was bewildered – how was it that an 11-year-old couldn’t cut her own food? Of course, she realized it was her own fault: it had been easier in the short-term to do the work for her daughter, but in the long-term, she had the much harder task of teaching an 11-year-old to use a knife.
While it’s difficult to break the do-everything cycle, learning to delegate is the only way to free up your future time for pursuing long-term growth opportunities. Commit some time to at least one of these activities every day, and you’ll soon find you have more time to spend on big-picture, business-growing projects.
Ways to Yield the Biggest ROI on Time Investment
1) Hire the Right People
When you finally have the budget to hire a new team member, it’s tempting to find someone as quickly as possible and get them started. After all, chances are you’ve been in need of this person for months, and all you want is a break from the constant work. But rushing the process and hiring the wrong person will only drain your time more as you correct their work, explain your policies over and over and teach skills they should already have.
When you invest time upfront in defining the role you need filled, creating a job description, networking and requesting recommendations, checking references, and interviewing, they payoff is huge: you find the right person for your team. He or she will understand your business goals, take the initiative to push projects forward, and generally help you grow.
Best of all? You won’t have to spend your time fixing his or her work.
2) Train Your Team
Hiring the right people is key. But you also have to train them so they’re aligned with your company goals and mission. Don’t make the chicken patty mistake. Every project is an opportunity for your team to learn new skills.
Over time, learning these skills will allow them to take on more and more of the work you do, which frees you up to pursue bigger and bigger projects.
3) Proofread Your Emails (And Ask Follow-Up Questions)
How many times have you read and reread an email without understanding its message? How often have you replied with a clarification question or picked up the phone to ask for more details? More important, how often have you received an email asking for clarification about something you wrote?
It’s all too tempting to hit “Send” as soon as we’re done dashing off an email. But failing to proofread is a surefire way to waste everyone’s time – your team members will scratch their heads trying to figure out what you meant and either respond with a request for more information or (in the worst-case scenario) misinterpret your note and start on a counter-productive task. And miscommunications don’t just happen over electronic media – in person, too, messages can be misunderstood.
After passing along an important message to an employee, don’t just ask if they “get it.” Instead, ask them to restate the request or concept in their own words to make sure everyone’s on the same page. This 30-second exercise can save hours and hours of frustration and needless work.
4) Evaluate Your Risks
Your Internet goes out for a day. An overloaded circuit causes a power cut. You get hit with a $6,000 fine from Getty images because the blogger you contract with (unknowingly) posted copyrighted material without proper attribution. Any of these situations (and countless others) could leave your business scrambling to catch up.
Luckily, there are ways to prevent what may seem like out-of-the-blue disasters. Investing a little time in assessing the risks of various projects you take on (e.g., double-checking the maximum electrical load of the outlets in your office or training your employees) empowers you to avoid any risks that are within your power to avoid. For those risks that are beyond your control (e.g., a storm-related flood), you can invest in business insurance so that you have the financial means to recover from unexpected setbacks.
So how can you assess the various risks currently facing your business? Talk with an insurance agent who specializes in coverage for small-business owners in your industry. They’re in the industry of risk management, so they know how to identify risk factors you may not have thought of. Alternately, consult with a business owner in your field who has more experience than you do. The SBA’s SCORE offers such mentoring resources to entrepreneurs around the country.
5) Plot Out Employee Benefits
Small businesses typically can’t offer the same robust health insurance or retirement packages available at larger corporations. You have to make the most of those benefits you can afford to provide. The good news is that, because your team is probably small, you can ask them directly which benefits they’d most like to have.
Whether your team wants flexible hours, work-at-home days, discounts at a gym, or more vacation days, invest time in identifying and meeting those demands as best you can. Showing your employees you value their lives outside the work they do will boost morale and improve their commitment to your company and your mission.
In other words, happy employees are more efficient and productive, meaning they get more done every day.
A Stitch in Time
There’s still truth to the old saying that a stitch in time saves nine. If you don’t have time to mend those pants today, you definitely won’t have time to mend a much bigger hole in three months.
It may seem like a daunting project, but setting your business up for long-term growth by spending time now will save you time later.
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