2 years ago I stopped working from home and set up an office to expand my small web design business. There’s now nearly 10 of us and, very thankfully, a much larger volume of work.
It’s meant a massive increase in the amount of ‘things’ that need done each day though and at times I’ve found it impossible to run the company whilst still getting to be hands on with our web design work for clients and our own projects, like the Link Building Toolbar.
I’ve avoided taking on any admin staff mainly because it’s not directly a revenue generating role and hard/risky for a small team of people to cover that big cost. I’ve viewed having a resource like that as a luxury I shouldn’t afford myself at our level and just be more efficient with my time instead.
But about 6 months ago I started to find myself with so little time I was emailing whilst driving, writing documents during family time in the evening and staying up late every night to finish what I hadn’t got done during the day. Not a fun working week/life.
I still didn’t want to take on a resource to solve the problem so I’ve worked really hard over the last 3 months to find ways to cut down the time I spend on ‘things’ and it’s working really well so far. Most will be relevant to anyone who works for themselves or runs a small business even if it’s not web design related.
I hope they help you too.
1. Prioritise your to do list using ‘important’ and ‘urgent’
This has determined what I prioritise doing each day. You can have it up and running in literally 10 minutes.
Setup a spreadsheet with the same columns as my example below in Google Docs or Excel.
Now add filters to your columns.
- In Google Docs select the columns > Data > Filter
- In Excel select the columns > Sort & Filter > Filter
When you enter a task decide whether it’s important or urgent. Trivial stuff won’t be either in which case leave those columns blank. If either label is relevant to a task then put a marker in the appropriate column. I like to use a bullet icon. Alt + 0149 will add this •
You can now filter your tasks easily and deal with them in this order each day:
- Important AND Urgent
- Urgent only
- Important only
- All the rest
This means you deal with all the really important and time sensitive stuff first. Then do anything that just can’t wait but isn’t high impact. Then do anything that’s important but doesn’t have a deadline. And then all the small stuff IF you have time.
It’s far easier to go home at night and switch off knowing nothing urgent or important is still on your outstanding to do list. I’ve also found some of the ‘all the rest’ items never end up getting done. And the company still keeps going. And the world doesn’t end. And if you ever decide they have to get looked at just mark them important!
I also have a ‘who for’ and ‘can it be assigned’ column in my latest version. This Google Doc is my new homepage.
Thanks to Amanda Boyle for showing me the axis/chart version of this approach.
2. Don’t sit reading or watching videos when you could be working
We all need to read articles and blogs and news but doing it whilst your sitting at your desk when you could be doing lots of productive tasks instead doesn’t reduce your to-do list.
Instead, read and watch when you can’t be working. Like when you’re cycling or running at the gym. On the bus/train on the way to work. When you’re eating lunch. In a waiting room. Etc
Pocket is a great app and browser add-on that lets you bookmark a page to read later. You can install it on your desktop, laptop and iPad so it’s easy to bookmark then pick up again wherever you are.
By having everything you want to read all stored in one place you can quickly get through a lot of articles during your ‘can’t work’ time which also makes that time far more productive.
3. Get a Virtual PA
Typically you sign up for a monthly plan which gets you a fixed amount of their time for an agreed fee. Most let you cancel any time you like with no long term contract but double check before you sign up.
The virtual PA service that we use in Glasgow are amazing. They answer our calls and screen the sales/rubbish and will do virtually any admin task we need done. From booking flights and hotels, through to cancelling or organising meetings, sending out our invoices, managing our newsletter lists and so on.
If you can give them access to your calendar and a company email address they’ll be able to do a lot more for you without interrupting you.
TIP: Make sure you get a company with a small team, or small team assigned to your account. That way your team gets to know them all and vice-versa and so do your clients which is far better than a large scale call-centre type arrangement. Also check which services they are familiar with using and get a company who already know the packages you use like Basecamp and MailChimp.
Obviously there will come a point where it’s more economical to just get an in house resource but you’d have to be using a LOT of their time for that to happen and for small businesses that’s unlikely unless you’re being far too liberal with the stuff you’re sending them.
4. Get a CRM with 3rd Party Integration and Task List Functionality
This has saved me so much time and brain space it’s unreal.
Instead of having to set reminders in calendars, keep a running to-do list for a client/project and figure out completion statuses chuck every project into a CRM system.
Preferably find one which integrates with other services you already, or intend to, use.
We use Capsule CRM just now. It costs £8 per month per user and integrates with Gmail, Gdocs, Zendesk, MailChimp and Freeagent. This means we can update a clients’ details in one package and it updates in all the others too.
I’ve not done a huge amount of research on CRM’s (ironically I didn’t have time) so there’s very possibly better ones out there. The principle is the same thought whichever you use.
Now create Task Lists. These are any list of things you normally need to do on a standard project or job you undertake. In our system you can specify the gap to leave between each item in days based on how long each one will normally take to do.
For example, anytime someone contacts us about a website we add a ‘Walk In’ task list to their profile. This might include, arrange a meeting, thank them for their time, produce & send the quote, ensure it was received, etc
If we are successful and win the project we add other Task Lists like the key stages involved in the website build, a checklist of standard items to include on their site, a checklist of plugins we normally add and so on.
Once a project is finished you can add a ‘follow up’ list reminding you to keep in touch with them every x weeks or months.
The great thing is you’ll get a daily reminder list of everything you need to do across all your projects so you can literally forget about everything until you’re reminded it’s needed.
5. Get a Great Accounting Package You Can Access Yourself
We used to rely on an accountant/bookkeeper to do everything for us but I got increasingly frustrated at 3 things:
- The amount of money they charged for what I now know to be very quick and easy tasks
- The delay involved in accountants doing a task and returning it to you normally days later
- That tasks could be done in the same amount of time it took to email and ask for them
I tried at one point to bring some of their tasks in house but it ended up using up a lot of time and money and giving everyone headaches. So I started looking for a new system and found what is the best one I’ve come across in 10 years.
Since we started using FreeAgent some amazing things have happened:
Invoicing our clients each month takes us 1 hour instead of the 1 day it took the accountant.
We can create and edit invoices or view a list of debtors, both of which take just minutes to do. They took days to get either back to me.
FreeAgent sends out reminder emails to all of our clients both before and after invoices are due. This saves us roughly 1 day a month, helps us get paid on time and the clients really appreciate being reminded an invoice is nearly due so they don’t miss out on their prompt payment discounts.
It’s ridiculously cheap at just £15 a month for a sole Trader up to a whopping £25 a month for a Limited Company. £25 a month!!! I almost feel guilty only paying that each month.
All you need an accountant to do is your payroll and your year end accounts. FreeAgent even does all your VAT for you and handles recurring invoicing and so much more it’s scary.
It’s now available to US based companies too.
6. Organise Your Company Information
I use a combination of email folders and documents in Dropbox (aff link) for this.
Store any logins or license keys you get emailed in their own email folders. Nothing’s worse than spending time guessing or having to go through a password reset when you’re in a hurry or getting locked out for an hour.
Store all your company information in documents in Dropbox such as contracts, staff/freelance emergency contact details, your logo/bio/company overview, the numbers of any suppliers related to your business like your electricity and water company, your company number, vat number, etc. Make it quick and easy to get hold of all this stuff any time you need it. The time spent hunting it all down adds up over the year.
I also now store everyone’s email signatures in Dropbox so any time I want to update them I can without having to email everyone.
I’ve set any programs I use on multiple devices to save their project files in Dropbox so I can access and work on them from anywhere.
7. Use Document & Email Templates
I’ve built up a range of document templates for producing quotes for new clients, quotes for existing clients, T&C’s and privacy policies for clients’ sites, staff contracts and anything else I re-use or re-issue over and over again.
It’s amazing how much of the same information goes into new quotes and the emails you send to new clients. About 70% is always the same in my experience.
If you use Gmail you might want to set up canned responses for email templates. Otherwise just store them in a document.
I hope some of these help you save time in your day allowing you concentrate on the more important things.
I’m sure there’s tons more online services and methods I could be using but these are the ones I’ve identified as being most crucial to how I was working day to day. If you’ve anything you’ve discovered works well please add it to the comments.
When I was looking for time saving ideas earlier in the year I came across Rhea Drysdale’s list of ways to make more time in your day which is worth checking out. It includes a business card scanner app called Cardmunch and voice to text apps like Dragon Dictation.