Today, starting a business is easier than ever before. Thanks to technology, you don’t need tons of capital, a massive team or multiple degrees to create a successful company. Right now, there are literally thousands of affordable or free tools available to entrepreneurs that can help bring their vision to fruition. Whether you’re building a business from scratch, or looking to improve existing processes, there are powerful and accessible technologies that can make a huge impact on even the smallest business.
I often hear business owners vent that they’re spending too much time managing their company, and not enough time building it. Recent surveys highlight how systemic a problem this actually is — in one, nearly three quarters of respondents stated that time spent reconciling expenses kept them from addressing critical business issues, while in another, those surveyed reported that they spend up to 40 percent of their time on tasks not related to growing their company.
A little time and investment in technology can flip these percentages, enabling small business owners to redirect their energy toward growth opportunities. It may seem daunting to get started, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of self-serve, easy-to-use products (often accompanied by excellent support) to help entrepreneurs.
As we all know, time is one of the most critical aspects to an entrepreneur’s success, below are five steps that small businesses can take to get some back.
1. Punch above your weight.
If you are willing to invest your time in your idea, put aside a small budget to create your brand. A website, set of social pages and a comprehensive approach to engagement can make you seem much bigger than you are. A freelance designer found on sites like Elance and oDesk can create a basic identity and style guide. Low-cost solutions like Squarespace and WIX.com often don’t require development skills to create beautiful websites. Order a set of Moo Cards, schedule some tweets, and leverage your freelance writers to help you create a branding splash.
2. Automate -- as much as possible
Time-consuming, yet important business processes such as invoices, payments, and email marketing can all be automated, significantly reducing time commitment. According to SMB Finance research, employees on average spend two full working days a month on financial processes. For example, Dwolla research found that checks cost small businesses $13.1 billion a year. There are numerous companies and apps that can automate these processes (Campaigner, Evernote, and Xero come to mind).
3. Make your stage and size an advantage
Being small probably means you wear many hats and don’t have the luxury of big budgets and teams. However, it also means you can move fast, make decisions on the fly, course correct and connect with your customers much more intimately than larger companies.
People working in enterprises often get caught up in managing processes, and don’t take the time to step back and think about improving processes. Instead of seeing your size as a disadvantage, embrace your agility: Take the time to invest in the right people and get to know your customers. And, remember only you know just how small you are, your customers just think you care more than your competitors.
4. Hire a virtual assistant
Your time is tpp valuable to waste it on mundane tasks like scheduling meetings and making lunch reservations. Instead, work with a virtual assistant.
It may seem odd not having an assistant in the chair next to you, but modern collaboration technologies like instant message (IM) and video conferencing make it seem like your right hand man is right next door, even if they’re in another time zone. Best of all, outsourcing the position allows you to save on salary, benefits and overhead costs.
Don’t think you’ve earned the right to an assistant? Think again: Successful people don’t spend time on things that don’t make an impact; they look for leverage so they can do the much harder work of execution.
5. Unchain yourself from your desk
Technology today means you can run your business from anywhere. Capitalize on free collaboration tools that allow you to streamline business execution on the go. Technologies like Skype and Blue Jeans Network allow you to visually connect with employees, partners and customers no matter your location while collaboration suites like Google Docs and similar solutions allow real-time teamwork on almost any file.
Even phone systems now enable remote working, with land lines capable of forwarding to your cell phone, anytime, anywhere. And if you’re looking for inspiration and a change of scenery, join a co-working space like WeWork, or LaunchPad where you’ll find like-minded innovators most likely facing many of the challenges you’re facing yourself – you’ll also look more professional hosting meetings in a conference room and not your local Starbucks.
Building a business doesn’t take just a couple of dollars and a few mouse-clicks. It takes serious thought and research, some capital and dogged determination. However, the execution and management is easier today due to technology. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish: Make sure you are making the right investments in the right place and you will see your business flourish.