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Why are small business owners so busy?

Why are small business owners so busy?

Everyone knows that running a business is more than a full-time job. But why are small business owners so busy, and what can we do about it?

Published on
August 2017

People often ask me why I set up a business of my own. My answer: “Because of the hours I was working at my old job”. I always—without exception—get a look that says “Really, did you think running your own business would be less work?”. Everyone knows that running a business is more than a full-time job.

Right now, though, we want to think why small business owners are so busy, and what can we do about it? I’ll tell you why I left my comfortable full-time job another time.

We wear too many hats.

As small business owners, we do a lot of different jobs. In some cases, we are an entire business wrapped up in one person. We are shareholders, directors, salesmen, marketing executives, engineers, administrators, buyers, cleaners, technical support, customer service agents… and many more!

While you only have a few customers, that’s all that is needed. It’s exhilarating doing it all yourself with no one telling you when or where to be. No boss. No managers.

As you get more customers, you take on more staff. More plumbers, engineers, tradesmen, draftsmen—or whatever it is your business does. Essentially you take on more workers. But still no managers.

You have become the manager. The boss. Actually, you’ve become many different managers. You manage operations—what you set out in business to do—and finance, and marketing, and administration.

As the business expands you take on managers to do the parts you don’t like. Finance and accounting are usually the first to go! But you hold on to so many of those jobs—you’re still wearing too many hats.

Organisation chart

Which brings us on to the next problem: we forget the fundamental principles of managing people. Or perhaps we never learnt them well enough.

We forget all we knew about managing people.

Managing people is all about delegating. Delegating and motivating. But somehow that goes out of the window with our own businesses. We either want to hold on to every little decision, or we want to abdicate all responsibility and just let someone else get on with it. We swing between the two extremes, wanting to have the final say on how our products are delivered, but not wanting to have any say on how bills are paid or debts chased—or whatever part of the work we find least interesting.

Both options keep small business owners busy. If we don’t delegate responsibility to our team, they will forever be asking us to make every little decision—and we’ll get little else done. On the other extreme, if we relinquish control then we’ll be disappointed when things are not being done to an acceptable standard—which will use more of our valuable time to correct.

Both options are also bad management. Your staff will either feel micro-managed or abandoned, and won’t hang around for long—leaving you where you started.

Either way we need a system to allow is to effectively delegate, but to also remain in control.

We fail to invest in systems.

A “system” just means an organised way of getting things done. Do you have a system, or are things a little bit haphazard?

A system allows us to delegate. With a defined system—your way of doing things—you can train someone else how to do some of your jobs, so that you can get on with other things. A system doesn’t have to be complex, it doesn’t have to be a software system.

Process-mapping is a way of recording your system—your way of doing things. Read why small businesses need process maps here.

Even if it’s only you, if you’re reinventing the system every time you do a job, how much longer do you think that takes? If you can go through the same steps, in the same order every time, you’ll get quicker each time, and more work will get done. Then you’ve created a system of doing things!

The main reason most small businesses don’t put systems in place, is because the owners don’t feel that they have the time to do. We need to invest our time in building systems to save us time in the future… which brings us nicely to my final thought on why small business owners are so busy.

We don’t value our own time

It might sound silly to say you don’t value your time. Of course, you value your time. It’s precious to you. But what value—what price—do you place on it? What is your time worth in pounds and pence?

If you don’t know, then try this quick exercise:

  • Take the salary you earn from the business
  • Add, the profit your business makes in a year after your salary (divided between any partners, if necessary)
  • Add, the increase in the value of your business during the year (this is not the same as the profit!)
  • Divide this total by the number of working days in a year—I usually use 222 to exclude bank holidays and to give yourself some time off!

This number (it could be £200 per day, it could be many thousands of pounds) is what your time is worth. When you are doing that little job just because you don’t feel you have the time to show someone else how to do it, remember that value. How much are you costing your business by doing it yourself? How much more value could you add to your business by working on more important things?

Final thoughts

There are many reasons that small business owners are busy. They have a lot of work to do! Don’t let this take over your life though. That’s not why you went in to business.

Plenty of help is available to small businesses. Management coaches will show you how to effectively delegate to your team. Process Improvement specialist, such as ourselves, can help you define your systems. Your accountant, if you have one, may have useful advice on how to value your time or improve your financial performance.

Seeking professional advice may prove to be the best investment you make! Remember what your time is worth!

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About the author

About Middlestone

Middlestone Business Analysis helps small businesses achieve more with their existing resources. We help reorganise operations, automate tasks and install customised processes and systems to keep small businesses organised and to speed up administrative work. To learn more, visit our services page.

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