Say you're a one-person small business and your customer base has rapidly started to grow. During a certain period of time, your revenue and workload vastly increases--but it's not quite the right moment to safely bring on an employee to help you full time.
How do you cope? You could
- Get yourself into a nice comfortable fetal position and avoid the situation by going to your "happy place"
- Get the work done whenever it gets done
- Become a productivity machine by creating an efficient routine
If you answered C, congratulations!--you're an entrepreneur. Tony Robbins would be proud.
Jon Rush found himself in this very predicament last year. After working as an independent dealer for Sprint/Nextel for over a decade, he founded C7 Device Recycle -- a startup that acquires used cell phones, refurbishes them, and sells them at a discounted rate. Before its one-year mark, the company was raking in over $200k in sales. Jon was the sole marketer, buyer, refurbishing expert, website technician, mailroom operator--you get the picture (and many reading this have totally been there!).
If you bootstrapped your business, it's likely you'll have to find a way to grow past that awkward stage when you don't have quite enough revenue to bring on an employee, but you're too tied up keeping your current customers happy to work on growth.
Now that C7 has made it out of that tumultuous phase and Jon was able to hire employees, he actually had the time to give us his expert productivity tips!
Here's what he suggests:
1. Give Your Day a Structure
While sometimes necessary, multi-tasking can be your biggest weakness because nothing gets fully completed. You must be organized and focused to ensure efficiency. Make sure that your calendar is structured to allow specific tasks to be completed in defined blocks. Set up your day based on highest priority first and leave open ended tasks for the end so you don't have a hard stop.
My most important tip is to build in creative thinking time, away from my desk. If you give yourself that structure as a base, you won't be thrown off when you have to answer customer service calls throughout the day.
2. Make it a Family Affair
If you have a family--put them to work for you by assigning them achievable, short-term tasks. For me, having teenagers that can sort, test, grade and ship phones while working part time has been one of the key ingredients to keeping costs under control and developing scalable processes that has transitioned to full time employees.
3. Make Your Customers Your Marketers
From the beginning, C7 had a primary goal: blow our customers away with exceptional value and customer service. It has been the single biggest ingredient to building a brand, developing raving fans and creating word of mouth advertising - all of which has been very time-efficient for us because it has cut out a lot of marketing work at this early stage. 60 percent of all sales are coming from referrals; this would not be the case without strict discipline to provide prompt and effective customer service.
4. Leverage Technology Wherever Possible
Operating a business has changed dramatically with cloud based, software as a service technology--allowing entrepreneurs to work from anywhere and instantly handle anything that comes up. With the exception of actual product testing and fulfilment, all aspects of our business are cloud based which literally takes geography out of the equation. Some of my favorite resources are:
- Ship Station manages inventory, fulfilment and customer order history
- MS Office 365 is a great cloud based resource for customer communication
- Mail Chimp is my favorite, easy to use marketing tool
5. Know Your Niche
Knowing your niche significantly cuts out a lot of unnecessary work and allows you to focus on customers who are most likely to buy. With a small business--this is crucial. In our case, we quickly found that there is a huge market for "last year's model" devices and ironically, these also have the highest margins and sell much faster than newer high-end devices. Find what that means for your business.
Businesses mature just like human beings do. If you stop growing by falling victim to your awkward stage, your company will become the equivalent to a gangly, sullen teenager who has resolved to stay that way well into his 30's! By finding creative ways to grow, while keeping your current customers or clients happy, your "teenaged" business will grow into a happy, well adjusted adult.