Business Banking E-Newsletter - August 2012
9 Routine Tasks You Should Eliminate From Your Workday
Rachel Weeks couldn't get through the workday without constant interruptions. Employees at her Durham, N.C., apparel company, School House, would ask her to sign checks, approve designs and field questions whenever they wanted. Realizing that routine tasks were taking over her day, she started signing checks once a week, sending out packages at a set time each day, and addressing staff questions at weekly meetings.
Those changes have helped Weeks grow the business by developing a new e-commerce site and partnering with a big-box retailer. So far this year, revenue has risen 20 percent, compared with the same period in 2011. "In a small company, there's this tendency to think … if anybody needs something, they can come and find me," she says. "You really have to carve out those hours of uninterrupted work time."
But that means something's got to give. Here are nine daily tasks you probably can eliminate from your workday to help you stay focused and be more productive.
1. Stop overloading your to-do list.
You might feel the need to write down everything you need to accomplish each day, but resist making an impossible list of daily tasks, says Peter Turla, a time-management consultant in Dallas. Compiling a lengthy list of things you need to accomplish might seem productive, but you could be doing more harm than good. "It results in too many items at the end of the day that are not completed," says Turla. "That will make you feel stressed out, inadequate and unfocused." Instead, create a manageable list of essential tasks that should be finished on a given day--and save the rest for later.
2. Stop having open-ended meetings.
Figure out your priorities before you call a meeting and make them clear to all the attendees, says Doug Sundheim, a New York consultant and executive coach. Too many small-business owners waste half the meeting just getting to what they really want to talk about. Sundheim suggests putting three priority topics at the top of your agenda to avoid getting sidetracked by other issues.
3. Stop answering repetitive questions.
If you find yourself answering the same question from clients or employees frequently, you're wasting time, says Peggy Duncan, a personal productivity trainer in Atlanta. Instead, put together an FAQ on your website or create instructional videos that people can access via links at the bottom of your emails. "Figure out better ways to answer [questions] without your having to be involved," she says.
4. Stop taking the same follow-up approach if people ignore you.
If you've sent someone an email and the recipient hasn't responded, don't keep firing off more emails. Try communicating in another way--calling, sending a text or visiting in person if it's appropriate, says Jan Yager, author of Work Less, Do More (Sterling, 2008). Too many business owners get bogged down communicating with people inefficiently, she says.
5. Stop eating lunch at your desk.
Tempting as it might be to scarf down a sandwich between emails at your computer, don't make it a daily routine. A short break will help you make clearer decisions, Sundheim says. "You get your best ideas when you get up and walk away from your desk."
6. Stop making regular visits to the post office.
Instead of going to the post office, schedule mail pickups from your business or home office, Duncan says. You also can buy envelopes with pre-paid postage or invest in an inexpensive scale and postage printer.
7. Stop making piles.
Eliminating clutter can boost efficiency, Duncan says. Rather than organize papers in piles whose logic is known only to you, stick to a systematic filing system and eliminate any pieces of paper you no longer need.
8. Stop scheduling appointments by phone or email.
You can waste a lot of time just trying to find a time that works for a meeting. Instead, use an automated system that does the work for you, Duncan says. She suggests using software, such as Schedulicity or Appointment Quest to let people schedule appointments with you online.
9. Stop signing every check.
Designate a specific day and time for certain tasks, such as signing checks, rather than allow them to randomly interrupt your workflow. Better yet, you can have your signature printed on checks to avoid signing each one. Programs like QuickBooks let you use preprinted checks and keep track of transactions, Duncan says.
5 Marketing Tactics That Cost (Almost) Nothing
As Leonard Bernstein wrote, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” But what about money? Most start ups, especially these days, face significant funding challenges. While it is true that the cost of building an online company has come down significantly in the past ten years, the costs of paid search, banner ads and print advertising can still be unattainable for many small companies.
Most of the articles about “free” marketing tactics focus on social media. They encourage business owners to start a blog, tweet, or write a book or white paper. While these are nice ideas, they are time consuming, and may or may not yield results. Here are five things you can do to bring in new customers with zero or little upfront cost. Used strategically, these tactics can produce an excellent ROI for your company.
1. Link exchanges.
In Evan and Bradley Bailyn’s book Out Smarting Google, the brothers write about the importance of backlinks in building natural search rank and traffic. While you NEVER want to buy links (a.k.a. use black hat methods of link building), creating a link network with other companies in your field can help all of your sites grow. These links can take the form of blogrolls, promotional posts, or banner ad exchanges. Especially in this economy, when all budgets are tight, companies are more eager to swap space and links than ever before. If your target demographic matches that of another site, swapping sponsored emails is another great way to gain exposure.
Pinterest is a rapidly growing visual pin board/social network with over 10 million unique visitors that allows you to pin images to visual boards. With Pinterest, you can quickly establish yourself as an industry expert by creating boards built around the important keywords for your company. You can also post content on your website about how your clients or partners can use Pinterest and include links to your company’s Pinterest profile in your examples (e.g. How to Use Pinterest to Plan Your Wedding). In just four weeks using these techniques, Pinterest has become the fourth largest source of traffic to our site.
3. Contests and giveaways.
Everyone likes getting something for free, so contest and promotions are a great way to drive traffic and email sign-ups on your site. On the Green Bride Guide they run a monthly contest on their homepage which drives more email sign up than anything else they do. Don’t forget to post your contests on social media sites too! Make a Pinterest contest board in your industry category for added punch (e.g. wedding contests).
4. Refer-a-Friend programs.
Let your customers help you spread the word about your company with a refer-a-friend program. Offer a special deal or discount they can pass along to their friends and colleagues for free and incentivize them to share the love. At Green Bride Guide they created a simple Google document encouraging brides to tell friends about the site. Brides who share the site with five friends get a gift card to use themselves.
5. Affiliate marketing.
Affiliate programs like Shareasale allow you to easily create and monitor a revenue sharing program for your ecommerce site. With affiliate programs you upload banner ads or product feeds that bloggers and other sites can use to promote your brand. If the traffic they send results in a sale, you give them a commission. The set up fees for Shareasale are very affordable, and their network gives you access to thousands of publishers who will market your site for you. You only pay for results!
With these strategies, you company can accomplish a lot without breaking the bank.
What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?
Leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary. Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves.
Still, much ink has been spent delineating the differences. The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate. In his 1989 book “On Becoming a Leader,” Warren Bennis composed a list of the differences:
The manager administers; the leader innovates.
The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
The manager maintains; the leader develops.
The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
The manager imitates; the leader originates.
The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
- The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
Perhaps there was a time when the calling of the manager and that of the leader could be separated. A foreman in an industrial-era factory probably didn’t have to give much thought to what he was producing or to the people who were producing it. His or her job was to follow orders, organize the work, assign the right people to the necessary tasks, coordinate the results, and ensure the job got done as ordered. The focus was on efficiency.
But in the new economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, and where workers are no longer undifferentiated cogs in an industrial machine, management and leadership are not easily separated. People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.
The late management guru Peter Drucker was one of the first to recognize this truth, as he was to recognize so many other management truths. He identified the emergence of the “knowledge worker,” and the profound differences that would cause in the way business was organized.
With the rise of the knowledge worker, “one does not ‘manage’ people,” Mr. Drucker wrote. “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”
The Management Strategy You Should Use in an Economic Downturn
Like dangerous curves on a racetrack, economic downturns create more opportunities for companies to move from the middle of the pack into leadership positions than any other time in business.
Unlike straight-aways where leaders can thrive on raw power alone, steep curves require strategic finesse. That often results in dramatic differences in performance as leaders steer out of the curve.
Consider how Southwest Airlines Co. surged ahead during the 2001 recession. With a clean balance sheet, a clear cost advantage and adroitly hedged fuel costs, the discount carrier grew at the expense of rivals. As others eliminated capacity and jobs, Southwest lowered fares to gain market share. It boosted advertising to trumpet its price advantage and built solid relations with labor by avoiding layoffs.
Southwest is not unique. About 24 percent more firms moved from the back of the pack to the front in the 2001 downturn compared with the subsequent period of economic calm, according to an eight-year study by consulting firm Bain & Co. that analyzed the net profit margins and sales growth of more than 2,500 companies. Meanwhile, about one-fifth of all leadership companies—those in the top quartile of financial performance in their industry—fell to the bottom quartile. By comparison only three-quarters as many companies made such dramatic gains or losses after the recession.
Recessions hit some industries harder than others, so staying alert matters. The variations get amplified in a globalizing, interdependent economy. That adds both opportunity and complexity. The opportunity is to shift focus to economically healthier regions. The complexity arises from having to make long-term investments in global operations with less certainty than ever about where you will be exposed when the next downturn hits.
Many industry leaders fall from the top during recessions because they assume that a strong market position is an insurance policy against trouble. That approach breeds overconfidence. Executives postpone taking precautions or reach for the same levers they pulled in the past — like hedging their bets by diversifying. When the downturn hits hard they usually over-react. They slash costs and staff indiscriminately, cut capital expenditures, squeeze suppliers, and avoid strategic acquisitions. Then when conditions improve, they must spend heavily to regain momentum.
The better approach: slow in, fast out—like a good driver heading into a sharp curve. Winners in recessions tend to brake quickly heading into a downturn by managing costs carefully and consistently. It’s like downshifting to a lower gear to slow momentum and increase responsiveness. They focus on what the company does best, reinforcing the core business and spending to gain share. They aggressively monitor the competition to ensure they have the best possible line through the curve. That sets them up to accelerate at the apex of the curve, when the economy starts to improve. The farther you can see and the quicker you can turn, the faster you can safely corner.
Another characteristic of companies adept in a downturn: they make bargain acquisitions to build up their core, even when it means taking calculated financial risks. As markets improve, they are well-positioned to accelerate.