Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Small Business Balancing Act

By: Jennifer Hice on Sunday, September 25, 2011

By definition, America’s small business owners are self-employed, sole-proprietors, contract employees, freelancers and the like. They do not have the luxury of running to the human resources department to ask a question about their health insurance. They are the human resources department. They can’t simply submit an expense report to the accounting department for processing. They are the accounting department. They don’t call the marketing department when they need a new sales brochure. They are the marketing department. It’s no secret that in order to succeed, small business owners must possess the ability to wear all of the hats necessary to keeping their business afloat.

As the owner of a freelance writing company, I can easily shift from researching content ideas and completing a project, to balancing my quarterly budget and submitting my estimated taxes to Uncle Sam. As a creative writer by trade, I am happy to admit that crunching numbers is simply not my strong suit, yet as a business owner, it’s still a hat I must happily wear. Little did I know that when designing my business cards using a free website, that I should include the additional titles of Marketing Director, Sales Director, Creative Designer, Web Designer, Accounting Manager, Computer Tech and Customer Service Representative below the Owner and Principal Writer section of my card! Managing multiple job functions can be overwhelming amount of work at times, several elements of which are often outside the scope of my preferred areas of focus and expertise. However, the additional responsibilities provide me the luxury of additional freedom, greater flexibility and larger opportunity for growth. The trick, however, is finding a way to juggle the ever-expanding list of duties and creating a method by which to tame the madness. Striking a reasonable and attainable balance is the key to success.

First, it is important to take an “inventory” of all the current duties you’re managing on behalf of your business. This includes both your income-generating activities (providing your service, selling your product, business development, etc.), as well as your operational tasks (accounting activities, filing insurance claims, etc.). Once you’ve compiled a list of duties, it is fairly simple to identify attainable goals within each category. For example, when creating my own list of business-related tasks, I set a goal regarding my accounting duties. I created a reminder on my calendar to input my expenses into QuickBooks at the close of each month, a goal which is both attainable and helpful, especially when it’s time for me to review my quarterly numbers. Just like anything in life, a little organization and some realistic goal setting can go a long way.

Second, it is incredibly important to set aside equal time for working “in” your business and for working “on” your business. For instance, it’s incredibly easy for me to get sucked into a writing project. I can spend hours refining my words, researching clever new angles for a piece and the like. However, while I’m spending valuable time writing (working “in” my business), I often neglect vital tasks like responding to client e-mails (working “on” my business), which will ensure the continued growth of my company. I need to make a point to take a few moments out of each day to engage with current clients, to research potential new opportunities and to set new client meetings on a regular basis. While my talent for writing may be the “bread and butter” of my business, my skills are rendered useless if I don’t have any projects or new clients in the pipeline.

Speaking of new clients and project pipelines, no matter how large your portfolio of clients and no matter how promising your sales projections, always remember the importance of customer service. Maintaining strong, meaningful and one-on-one relationships with your clients and/or customer base is essential for the long-term success of your business. People do business with those they trust, those they like and respect. If you lose that personal relationship, you run the risk of losing the customer all together. Remember, maintaining this relationship is not as cumbersome as it may seem. Small, genuine gestures, like a handwritten ‘thank you’ note can go a long way.

As your client / customer base begins to flourish and business grows, you may also begin to contemplate hiring employees. If this is the case, be sure to take a close look at the various aspects of your business and identify those tasks you enjoy, as well as those you would prefer to hand off. For instance, my time is better served forging relationships with new clients and completing writing assignments than it is managing the accounting activities of my business. That said, before I impulsively hire someone to take over the accounting functions of my business, I have to analyze my current budget to see if the expense of a new-hire is even feasible. The numbers won’t lie. If I can’t afford to bring additional help on board, then I’ll get to enjoy another year of managing my own books. However, if I can still remain in the black after hiring a full-time or even a part-time employee, making such a move could ultimately provide me the additional freedom to take on more writing projects, which ultimately yields an increase in revenue.

Despite the sometimes comical need for small business owners to be skilled in the art of juggling, the ability to run a successful business, effectively and efficiently, is incredibly empowering. Moreover, for the small business owner, the phrase, “I’m bored,” is essentially impossible to utter. The ability to perform multiple job functions across a variety of disciplines affords small business owners the unique opportunity to make their dreams of success become a reality…on their own terms and at their own pace.