Running a small business often means more than focusing on the company's core mission. There are bills to pay, printers to "unjam," and personnel issues to manage. "At one of my startups, I was the CEO but also the one who had to run to the hardware store for supplies on my way home from work," says Mary Gale, an entrepreneur and senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
How can you free yourself from the daily grind of day-to-day tasks? Check out these eight tools, systems, and strategies to boost efficiency and streamline your workload, and start channeling more time and energy into doing what you do best--building your business.
1. Communicate more efficiently.
While email is a necessary part of business, it also can be an enormous time sink. For effective communication with employees or business partners, consider using instant messaging apps such as Slack and video conferencing platforms like Skype or screen-sharing tools such as WebEx or Zoom. Each of these tools allows face-to-face interaction without the time and expense of traveling to meet in person. "As workers, customers, and suppliers are becoming more far-flung, these tools are making it more efficient to meet face-to-face," Gale says. "And fortunately, these technologies continue to get better and handle more functionality."
2. Keep your files accessible.
Whether you're working at home, at your office, or remotely at a client's location, you need to be able to access important files on all your devices, all the time. Investing in a cloud storage solution enables you to always have access to those critical files--plus the peace of mind of knowing your documents are backed up.
3. Automate pesky tasks.
"The biggest innovation coming down the line for small businesses is artificial intelligence," says Barry Moltz, a small business consultant and author in New Buffalo, Michigan. For instance, several accounting software platforms offer access to artificial intelligence-powered tools that can help with tasks such as organizing receipts, tracking income, and alerting users when bills are due.
Email management platforms like Mail Chimp and Constant Contact can help you automate customer communication and marketing. BambooHR and Zenefits are among the tools that can help you automate payroll and other HR functions.
4. Take advantage of online banking.
Web-based banking platforms save you the time and hassle of standing in line at the bank. You can deposit checks remotely, check balances, and transfer cash between accounts from your computer, tablet, or mobile device. [i]
In addition to the convenience, online banking also can help you track the financial health of your company, says Wendy Banks, co-owner of Carolina Management Team, an industrial coatings and concrete repair company in Asheville, North Carolina. The firm's online banking platform is linked to its financial accounting software, so transactions are automatically downloaded. "Not only does that integration keep us from having to double-enter data, it also helps us make more informed and up-to-date management decisions," she says.
5. Get personal.
While technology can be a timesaver, don't forget the human element. Take the time to get to know key business contacts, including your business banker. Your banker can offer a wealth of financial advice, access to capital, and valuable introductions to other professionals.
Banks says the close relationship she's developed with her business banker has paid dividends, by streamlining the lending process and providing letters of reference to prospective clients, among other things. "It's important to be proactive to make sure your banker knows who you are and what you're doing," she says. "That way, you know they'll be there for you when you need help."
A lot of small business owners get caught up in doing everything, with the excuse that they can't afford to pay someone else, Moltz says. One solution: outsource that work. "When you can hire fractions of people virtually, you could be using that time to make a real difference in your business," he says. Online firms such as Upwork help you find freelancers who can help take tasks like administrative work, customer service, or content writing off your plate.
7. Streamline hiring.
As your business grows, you may need to hire more permanent staff. Recruiting can consume a lot of time and energy--from posting and promoting the job to screening, interviewing, and onboarding your hires.
Tools such as ZipRecruiter can simplify and expedite that process by posting your listing to scores of job boards and keeping both you and your candidates informed throughout the process. Moltz also suggests asking your social media network for referrals. "This way you're getting recommendations of people who're already vetted," he says.
8. Find a mentor.
Nothing can replace the impact of learning from other business owner's experience. "A good mentor can help a business owner prioritize and gain clarity amidst all their competing priorities," says Sam Orwig, a Portland, Oregon-based mentoring success officer at MicroMentor, a web-based mentoring organization. In addition to a traditional mentor, look for a technical mentor--someone with specific expertise in finance, marketing, or digital presence, for example--to help entrepreneurs address specific challenges.
Break free of time-consuming, low-value tasks. Using these tools and strategies can leave you free to focus on the work that has the most value for your business.
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