No two days are ever the same when you own a small IT business. Some days, you’re scrambling to meet your deadlines; other days, you're wondering where your next gig will come from.
While nonstop, action-packed days can be stressful, it's the blank date in your calendar that may be more worrisome. Here are some ideas on how you can make the most of your free time and set your business up for future success.
1. Get Organized
Days clients aren’t exactly beating down your door with work, take the time to organize your office, recommends
Sarah Kirkish (@WorkLifeOrg),
organizational consultant and owner of
Work Life Organization.
“Have a single spot, physically and virtually, where everything goes as soon as you enter your workspace,” says Kirkish. “Also have a system to write things down with dates and action items so they're out of your head. Our brains are great for problem solving, but they can only focus on one thing at a time and are horrible at remembering items.”
Another good use of a slow day is tracking the amount of time it takes you to perform common tasks, says
Mark Struczewski (@MarkStruczewski), a
productivity expert and author of two books, including How to Overcome Roadblocks on the Path to Your Success.
“A lot of people either over- or underestimate how long something really takes them,” says Struczewski.
If you’re ready for a deep dive into tracking your time, check out “Big Data for Small IT Businesses: Track Your Time.”
2. Eliminate Distractions
On slow days, it's tempting to waste time on social media or by endlessly Googling pictures of hedgehog tea parties. But you must be strong.
Struczewski suggests you eliminate distractions by:
- Closing unnecessary tabs on your desktop browser, especially social media sites, which he says can “be a really big rabbit hole to go down.”
- Turning off notifications on your phone, except for important calendar reminders. Struczewski notes the constant whistles, vibrations, and other alerts will distract you from what you’re doing.
“I don’t need to know when I was tagged on a Facebook post,” says Struczewski. “That’s not relevant to me getting done what I need to get done.”
We’ll cover how to manage the lure of social media in the next tip.
3. Schedule Your Time
One of the best ways to keep yourself on track is by scheduling your days.
“You have to master your time instead of letting your time master you,” Struczewski says. “You have to be intentional; you’re not going to stumble into being productive.”
Rather than being greeted by a blank page in your calendar when you arrive at the office, Struczewski recommends scheduling your entire day, even if it’s not necessarily client work. He suggests penciling in time to:
- Read a book.
- Eat lunch.
- Reach out to people.
- Spend time on social media.
Just make sure you only log on to your social media accounts during your scheduled time, not whenever your mind wanders.
4. Automate the Business
Even the simplest tasks tend to take longer than you might think. The more you can “set it and forget it,” the more efficient you will be as a business owner.
“Paperwork, inquiries, bookkeeping, etc., should be automated with checklists, templates, and delegation whenever possible,” says Kirkish. “Create systems with the customer in mind so you can be responsive to both prospective client inquiries and existing client requests.”
“I’ve met a lot of small-business owners who are against automation,” says
founder and CEO of the consulting group
“But the personal touch isn’t what you’re automating. Systems ensure the best-quality end product for your consumer. You should be using a client relationship management (CRM) system to keep in touch with clients regularly.”
If CRM software isn’t in your budget, Rydzik suggests a few other methods you can use to schedule regular contact with clients:
- A spreadsheet.
- Calendar reminders.
- LinkedIn’s reminder feature.
“That way, you stay top of mind so that the next time they have a project in your area of expertise, you’ll have developed a long-standing rapport,” says Rydzik.
5. Market Yourself
“Slow days should always be spent on business development,” says Rydzik. She recommends business owners do the following three actions every day:
- Talk to people.
- Create great content.
- Promote the business.
“If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, try something new,” says Rydzik. “The new ABC of sales is ‘always be connecting.’ Stay active on social media, in networking groups, and simply through emails with colleagues and former clients.”
6. Build Client Relationships by Adding Value
When you need work, it can be tempting to call former clients and see if they have any projects for you. Don’t – unless you’ve already spent time nurturing that relationship.
Struczewski notes one of the worst things you can do is to call or send an email to a client just to see if they have any work for you. “If the only time they hear from you is when you want money from them, they will stop answering your calls,” says Struczewski.
Instead, see how you can add value. For example, if you read an article you think might interest your client, go ahead and forward it – just don’t include a plea for more work along with it.
“It has to be about, ‘How can I further my relationship with this individual so that I become top of mind for them?’” says Struczewski.
“You can’t treat past clients like a money tree that you go to when times are tough,” says Rydzik. “You should be doing a lot of value-added conversations that don’t end in a sales pitch before you’ve built up enough value equity to go for the ask.”
Want more advice on how you can build relationships with current and potential future clients? Be sure to read “Don’t Call it Marketing (Call it Relationship Building).”
About the Contributors
Sarah Kirkish is the owner of Work Life Organization. She has personal productivity systems designed to conquer the clutter in offices, calendars, and inboxes. Kirkish’s particular specialty is handling the everyday onslaught of paper and emails that leads to an overflowing inbox and desk. She provides organization systems to help her clients enjoy the lives that they have worked so hard to create.
Mallie Rydzik, M.S., is founder and CEO of Mydzik, a collaborative consulting group for forward-thinking businesses. A scientist by training, she uses both her analytical and creative mind to help others revamp and reimagine their businesses. She has been published or featured in USA Today, Brazen Careerist, The Chelsea Krost Radio Show, The Marketing Moxie Podcast, and many others.
Mark Struczewski is a productivity expert, coach, speaker, and author who helps small businesses and individuals increase productivity and profitability. He shares strategies that empower people to become more productive and move toward their goals and dreams. Mark is the author of How to Overcome Roadblocks on the Path to Your Success and A Succès Fou Life: What It Is And How You Can Live It.