My biggest adjustment when I started my business was that no matter the issue, all paths led to me! Finding new clients, setting the business strategy, agreeing the needed partnership, preparing the materials for the meeting, or managing the vendor registration? Yes, all me. The diversity and volume of topics on my “to do” list was overwhelming at times.

This dance between growth and keeping current customers happy is one of the biggest challenges of small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Just recently, I have been part of or heard about many of these conversations. Do any of them sound familiar?
Real-life Busyness Dilemmas:  
 
  • Leaving business on the table. During the holidays, the customer tells the interior design firm that she has this project now, but has more plans early in the year. Last week this customer asked me for new recommendations because “this group must be too busy.” They had never followed up with her.
  • Tomorrow will never come. This consultant is very busy with a client’s big project and it’s taking all of his time. He said, “I know I should be out keeping my network alive and meeting other potential clients, but I just don’t have time.”
  • Delayed gratification. I recently called a company about providing services for our business. He called me back over a week later with a voicemail that said, “Sorry, it took me so long to call you back, but I have just been totally swamped. Just give me a call.” No thanks.
  • Only game in town. This company’s key client represented 70% of their total business—and had for the last two years. The client called apologetically to let the owner know that his budget was just obliterated and all work with external providers had to stop immediately. She had five unstaffed employees and was sick that she hadn’t diversified sooner.
  • Don’t call us; we’ll call you. A potential customer called this catering business to ask about an event just two weeks out. The contact was sort of irritated and replied, “I’m sorry, but we need a lot more than two weeks’ notice to be able to help you.” Rest assured that this business owner, who hosts lots of events, will never call again.
Now, let’s be clear, I’ve had some of these experiences myself. But, the common theme is that time—and the decisions about how to spend it—is affecting the future growth and success of these businesses.
We’ve all been there. So what to do? Here are some ideas to consider so that you don’t end up in any of these situations.
Tips & Ideas:  
 
  • Make time to be CEO every day and every week. Look at how much time you spend wearing your CEO hat by growing and leading your business. Hold time every week to plan your priorities for the business, not just short term commitments. Work on refreshing your strategy and plans every 4–6 months. Build a network of mentors and advisors that you trust. Lift up and look out—even if you are also the head of marketing, business development and the part-time receptionist!
  • Treat your time like gold. As a small business owner, your time is your greatest resource. Look at how you spend it very carefully. Treat it with care and don’t let the trivial take over your schedules, especially if others can do it for you. Learn to say no to the optional items.
  • Create partnerships & referrals. Build referral relationships with others in your field to help offload peaks and valleys. You can set ground rules on referral fees or swaps so that it is mutually beneficial. Get creative. It is way better than just telling a potential customer “No” and having them never call again.
  • Diversify. Make sure that your business isn’t dependent upon one client, one product, or one relationship. Ask yourself: if you had to create new revenue streams, what would they be? You might be surprised at the new ideas to explore.
  • Always be responsive, even if you can’t help now. I recently contacted a vendor about providing a service for our business. This business owner promptly returned my call and approached me in a consultative way. She said that she didn’t think she had the capacity to help at the moment, but wanted to understand my needs. She gave me some valuable advice that put me on a different path and connected me to another option. I kept her in my contacts because she was so great and offered such wise counsel. I’ll call her again in the future.
  • Get support, but just when you need it. Today, you don’t have to hire someone when you are at capacity. You can buy the services you need, just when you need it. There are virtual assistants, contract marketing experts, by the hour billing services, and even office space that is on a “buy what you need” basis. This trend of independent working is here to stay and it’s very cost effective. Plus, you get access to expertise when you need it that you could never afford on your staff.
  • Educate your team to always represent your brand. Anyone who wears your t-shirt, carries your business card, or greets customers represents you. Make sure they are always courteous and treat potential customers with the utmost respect at all times. Saying “no” while keeping the “customer first” attitude is an art form. Prepare anyone on your team for this inevitable situation.
  • Stay very current. Technology and social media are creating new ways to connect with customers and new tools to save you time. Look for ideas on Twitter, read magazines, check this site, and stay current. This is a changing landscape with new options every day. Don’t miss out.
Before you wear that busyness badge of courage, think again. Make sure that your busyness today isn’t a cover up for your future growth and success tomorrow.
Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. She can be followed on Twitter @PattiBJohnson or her company @people_results.
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Patti Johnson
Patti Johnson is a career & workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Her team advises clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Patti has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC and Working Mother. She was selected as an ongoing contributor for SUCCESS magazine and has been a frequent guest on Fox Good Day. She is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.”

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