Keep It Simple

Management

Day-to-day management of employees and processes is probably the single toughest job for any entrepreneur. Want to simplify? Here's how:

11. Hire strategically. Create an online application form, and have elimination criteria related to scheduling, salary and educational level. "Select out vs. select in," says Suzanne Zuniga, COO of CorVirtus, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, HR consulting firm. Being more selective means you'll hire sooner and get back to work.

12. Stay on schedule. Creating a schedule for employees is a time-consuming nightmare for every employer, especially in retail. But there are software packages--Asgard System's Time Tracker, TimeClock Scheduler and TimeCurve Scheduler, to name a few--that let you scan for scheduling errors and track employee hours and earnings in real time. Some, like TimeCurve Scheduler, also integrate with QuickBooks to make payroll easier. Scheduling software packages range in price from around $125 to more than a thousand dollars with site licenses depending on the size of your staff and what you want, but it's an investment that will save you time in the long run. Many of these companies provide free demos on their websites for you to try, too.

13. Rent a CFO. At some point, a bookkeeper won't be able to keep up with your burgeoning bottom line. "One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is they don't realize they need the sophistication of a CFO," Hall says. Today, there are employment agencies that specialize in hiring out CFOs. You can "rent" a CFO who will come in one day each week or month, depending on what you need. A temporary CFO's services can be expensive--$1,000 or more per day--but is worth the cost if he or she helps focus your business and make it more profitable.

14. Tighten your supply chain. "Strong partnerships with suppliers and service providers [are] critical in the supply-chain excellence area," says John DuBiel, managing partner of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Supply Chain Edge, a firm that helps companies identify, develop and execute their supply-chain strategies. Keep relationships strong by leveraging your buying power with as few service providers as possible. Says DuBiel, "Simplify and leverage all the volume you can."

15. Outsource your HR function. Entrepreneurs spend up to one-third of their time doing payroll and benefits administration. They're also risking penalties if tax payment deadlines aren't met or filings are incorrect. "When you pay a company that you outsource to, you're paying for the benefit of their mistakes on their dime, not yours," Zuniga says. So outsource HR, and make your time count.

16. Have fewer staff meetings. Do you really need a staff meeting every week when an e-mail update might do? Fewer staff meetings mean less talk and more action. Workers will thank you for your brevity: In one survey, 60 percent of executives complained about the time they waste in meetings, and 74 percent doubted the meetings they attended were effective.

Marketing
Catching consumers' attention is only getting harder. Here's some advice for revving up your marketing efforts:

17. Do some data mining. What do customers think about your company? "You don't build your brand by yourself anymore; your customers are equally involved," says Michael LeBeau, CEO of Byte Interactive, a South Norwalk, Connecticut, digital marketing company. Simple customer comment cards or web-based survey forms can save market research costs.

18. Leverage partnerships. Strategic partnerships with local businesses will help you rise above the noise. Picking the right partner, however, can be very time-consuming. Simplify the process by looking to your own customers, vendors and suppliers first. You already know each other's strengths in terms of services, products and marketing, which will let you move more quickly to develop effective cross-promotions and sponsorships.

19. Go directly to the consumer. Are you spending all your time knocking on big retailers' doors and saving for TV ads when half of U.S. consumers have lightning-fast broadband connections? "I'm seeing more entrepreneurs starting to market their products directly to the consumer," says Peter Koeppel, founder and president of Koeppel Direct, a Dallas direct-response TV media buying agency that works with clients including Cigna, Columbia House and DirecTV. It's never been cheaper or easier to make your own commercials and post them on your website. "There's technology now [so] that when someone goes to your website, the commercial automatically comes up," Koeppel says. "That's a way for a small business that maybe can't get on TV to advertise."

20. Get the message. It's easy to lose brand focus in a world of in-person, over-the-phone, online, catalog and direct-mail sales. To simplify, divide your business into five main channels (website, catalog, direct mail, employees and customer service) and have one main marketing message every week (a sale, a new product, a new partnership and so on) that you communicate and track for consistency across all channels. You'll see fewer customer-service hassles and less turnover from frustrated employees who can't read your mind.

21. Consolidate your advertising legwork. Most business owners invite random interruptions from advertising representatives throughout the week. Instead, set aside a block of time--Monday afternoon, for example--when advertising people know they can reach you. Everyone will save time, and you won't have to hide anymore.

Personal Time
"It's very easy to let work consume you," says Bo Short, president of the American Leadership Foundation, a Charlottesville, Virginia, nonprofit organization that offers leadership conferences and seminars. "But if you do, will it eat you alive?" Here are five ways to create a more balanced life:

22. Decide what to outsource. You don't need to have your hand in every single pie anymore; let someone else carry part of the load. Outsourcing a few tasks gives you time to focus on something else--even if it's a round of golf now and then. Plus, "You're the customer, and they'll treat you better," Short says. Learn to delegate to employees, too.

23. Create boundaries. Set aside 10 minutes after lunch to make and return personal calls. Set a time for leaving the office every day, no matter how busy you are. And spend at least two hours doing something fun before you burn some late-night oil. Your family will thank you.

24. Shorten your to-do list. "A to-do list is nothing but a wish list," says Barry Izsak, president of Arranging It All, an Austin, Texas, firm that helps companies get organized. A long to-do list leaves less time to focus on revenue-generating ideas. Instead, focus on the top three urgent tasks for the day. The rest can wait.

25. Love your inner Luddite. Entrepreneurs who become slaves to gadgets "are running reactive businesses and being reactive with their time," Izsak says. Try working unplugged--this means no internet connection and absolutely no phone calls--for one hour every morning. It will give you a sense of accomplishment that lasts all day.

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the February 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keep It Simple.

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