10 Tips for Time Management and Efficiency for Entrepreneurs
I am a compulsive list-maker. On any given day, I constantly have multiple lists going. Working from home, it is so important to stay focused and know exactly what tasks you need to accomplish each day. Before I started list making, I would find myself spending way too much time on non-essential and unimportant tasks. Although I would work for hours, I would often have nothing to show for the time as my most important tasks would still be unfinished. As a work at home busy mom, your time is so precious; save your time by creating detailed lists with very specific tasks that need to be completed each day, prioritized by most importance, and save the non-essential tasks for after the important ones are complete.
Use a technology app to organize your lists. Although I am a paper and pencil kind of girl and keep all my lists centrally located in my planner, tech apps can be even more intuitive and helpful with lists. Some great apps are Google Keep, Trello, Remember the Milk. Each app can save multiple lists, allow you to mark things off as completed, and will automatically roll over essential non-completed tasks to the next day.
For me, this tip is my ultimate time saver. A huge part of running an ecommerce site from home is answering customer messages. As you get busier, a neverending list of customer emails and messages can take hours to clear through. As time goes on, you will find that you are asked the same questions over and over again. My biggest tip for you is to create an e-file, such as a Google Doc, with excellently worded responses for common questions. It takes awhile to create the file, but now that mine is complete I can breeze through a long list of messages by simply copying and pasting the answers in reply to messages. I was careful to word all of the answers in a detailed and professional way, always beginning with “Thank you for your interest in my shop” and ending with a warm salutation to make sure the customer feels that they receive one on one attention, when in reality it took seconds to copy and paste the answer in. Google Docs can be pulled up on your phone also, for answering messages on the go!
Moving from working a traditional, very structured career to working from home, I immediately abandoned the restrictions of the day planner and basked in the glow of flying by the seat of my pants every day. It was glorious… until the moment that I got busier and found myself forgetting things and missing deadlines. With hesitation, I brought back the structured lifestyle of living by the planner, and have been so much happier and more efficient since. Every Monday morning, I plan exactly which orders will be completed on each day. I write detailed to do lists on every day, including what needs to be ordered and when. I plan not only meetings and home life activities, but important business tasks like remembering to pay taxes. Since I joined the planning world, my time is so much better spent. I know exactly what I need to do each day, and can also therefore know when I can take a much needed break. I never miss deadlines and always remember the important things. Although it’s tempting to live in the moment and do whatever task comes to mind right then (you are the boss, after all!) your time will be much more efficiently used if you plan each day carefully.
Just as #2 described automating your message answering system, it’s important when you work from home to think about what tasks you can automate to save time. A huge time saver for me is to automate the delivery of some of my supplies. I saw in my order history that I ordered packing tape twice a month. Amazon allows you to join a subscription for many supplies, and you actually save money doing so. Now I never have to worry if I’ll have enough tape or shipping labels around, as they automatically come to my door. If your items are handmade, it limits how much automation you can do, but it’s interesting to think about your processes and potential ways to automate some of your steps to save time. If you think about all of the tasks you do on a regular basis, there just may be room to leave some to automation.
As described above, planning is extremely important for efficiency and time manangement. Not only should you plan and schedule time for important tasks such as orders and inventory control, it’s also important to schedule time for the less essential but equally important tasks such as creating new listings, developing new products, and networking. I found myself spending so much time filling current orders that I was hardly ever creating new products and listing them. I started realizing that only selling the same items is unsustainable with changing trends and styles, so I started buliding time into my schedule for product development and listing new products. My sales, in turn, increased significantly due to the new products. Don’t forget to schedule time for you as well! It’s so easy to get burned out in the entrepreneur world.
I was a middle school teacher before leaving to run my business full time, and I’ve tried to transfer many of the “classroom management” skills I needed in the classroom to “customer management” skills. One of the most important aspects of classroom management is setting clear expectations for your students, and once I started transferring that skill into setting clear expectations for my customers, my time was much more efficiently used. I wrote a clear FAQ section with answers to my common questions, wrote a very detailed shop policies page, and wrote very detailed listing descriptions for each item with clear sizes and expectations for the product and production time. Furthermore, each customer receives a hand written (although copied and pasted!) thank-you message upon receipt of their order with a reminder of my 2 week processing time. The most common complaint from shop owners that I hear is customers asking “where is my order?” and “when will my order ship?” Taking the few seconds to copy and paste this message to a new sale with a thank you and a description of the process and production time means that I receive no questions asking when their order will ship. It is the ultimate time saver for me, and also gives me lots of more 5-star reviews, as each customer gets a “personalized” message from me on an average of 3 times throughout their order process, so they feel much more connected to their handmade item.
Think about your processes; are there ways to batch similar tasks all together at one time during the week to save time? Large companies use assembly line construction for a reason; batching simlar tasks and working in an assembly line format saves an abundant amount of time. Even though you’re most likely a one-woman show, you can still implement the assembly line mindset into your work. Think about what it takes to make one of your items. If you have to do twenty items, would you save time doing each step all at once? Most likely the answer is yes. I sell canvas paintings; for me, it’s much easier to paint all my backgrounds all at once on one day, then complete the detailed painting on another day, then ship on another day, etc. I also do all my inventory ordering on one day, etc. Staging photos for social media takes a HUGE amount of time to get the lighting and staging just right. I stage, capture, and edit all of my Instagram photos all in one day and email them to myself, so that when I want to post I have a large amount of photos already saved in my phone to choose from. Be creative and think about the processes you do each day and how you might batch similar tasks together throughout the week to save time.
This tip can be hard as a one woman show who takes pride in what you do; if you’re anything like me you hav a hard time giving up control of anything. As you get busier, though, it’s important to think of your time as a commodity. If you have no time to create new products, you can’t stay competitive in a changing market. Therefore, there may come a time where you need to pass on some responsibilities to someone else to make time to stay current and to stay sane. Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you to do what you do best and pass on the rest. The day I hired an employee to take over my shipping for me was the best day ever. It was the day I could breathe again. Although it was hard to give away some of my profits, the time I save I’m able to reinvest into my business and my family to have a more succesful business and a happier life. Also, think about what computer tasks you could pass on using an outsourcing website. Many outsourcing websites, like ODesk, allow you to outsource computer tasks like editing and web development by choosing a fellow woman entrepreneur earning money for her family in a developing country, making you feel good about your decision. Furthermore, it’s important to crunch the numbers and think about whether a move to a large scale outsourcing order fulfilment is right for your business. Make t-shirts? Although it will raise costs significantly, will your time saved and invested into growing your business outweigh the cost of switching to an outsourced screenprinter rather than hand printing your shirts? Although it will be a hard decision, both large scale and small scale outsourcing could be transformative to your business’ success.
This tip is one that will come with time, but if you’ve had your business long enough to know what challenges you face, it’s important to take some time to think about each challenge and find ways to anticipate and solve the challenges before they happen. As 50% of my work is custom and all are hand painted and one of a kind, I faced the challenge of picky customers being unhappy with the slight variations. To solve this problem, I take photos of any custom and one of a kind pieces and email them to customers to confirm before shipping. Although this takes quite a bit of time, I am completely protected from unhappy customers as they confirmed the product photo before shipping and have no claim for returns. A bonus is that I use the photos for social media posts, and my customers also feel completely included and in the loop on the production process. I can therefore charge higher prices as my customers are receiving a special customer service experience. Think about what challenges you face? What steps can you take to solve those problems before they happen?
In our world of smartphones and apps, there are so many amazing technology apps and programs available to entrepreneurs to save time and stay organized. From apps that schedule social media posts, to budgeting and bookkeeping apps, to the personal assistant on your phone to set reminders and schedule recurring events, if you aren’t using technology to streamline your efficiency and save time, you’re missing out. Most of us have a smart phone with a built in personal assistant that can do things like remind us of meetings and essential tasks, keep e-lists that can be pulled up anywhere, and add ideas for new products to a note instantly. In addition, there are many options available for apps and websites to save time on creating shipping labels, analyzing website visitors and social media statistics, creating to do lists and event schedules, and many more tasks entrepreneurs face. Do your best to research and find the technology that can save you the most time and take advantage of it!