This article was supposed to be published three weeks ago. It was supposed to be all about managing your time effectively and what a wonderful easy life you would have once you’d mastered the much-revered art of the to-do list. It was basically going to be the greatest ever article written on time management. And then I got busy. Like, really busy.
Time management – what a wonderful concept. Easily compartmentalising all your work into nice little boxes and making sure you’ve allocated each box enough time to be completed. Seems easy right? Well let me tell you, it’s not as simple as that.
When I was working for other people, time management always seemed like the sort of course your boss would send you on to tell you (in a very passive British way of course) that you weren’t doing that well at work.
To me, time management was three simple steps.
- I need to do these things
- I have this much time to do them
- I have this many people that can help me get it all sorted in time for a cheeky pre-5pm Friday afternoon drink.
But that’s where being a small business really differs. The first two parts are just as easy. It’s the third you might struggle with.
A little bit of everything
While watching I’m a Celeb the other night (don’t judge, it’s quality viewing), I heard something almost resembling advice from the most unlikely of places: an advert for Microsoft Surface. Now, as a creative, the thought of taking advice from any kind of Microsoft product makes me want to run upstairs and give my iMac a hug. But, this was pretty simple stuff that really got me thinking. It said, “As a small business owner, you have to do a little bit of everything”.
That might sound fairly obvious, but actually, it made me stop and think about all the new things I was doing to run my business. And, how this impacted on the amount of time that I had to actually get my product out the door. Gone were the days of delegating to my team, or leaning on another department to pick up some of the slack. Instead, everything now sits firmly on my shoulders. And let me tell you, that shiz is heavy.
So, when I was running a few days late on my time management article, it wasn’t because I was having a nice lie in, or making sure I was fully caught up on the latest outrage being discussed on Loose Women. It was because like every other business on the planet wanting to sell someone something at Christmas time, I was busier than I’d ever been before. And surprise surprise, this took me by surprise.
Every Christmas before this, I’d been pretty steady. No peaks, nothing too crazy and enough time to plan for the coming months. This year has been a little bit different. A few weeks ago, I naively launched a new product thinking it would take a few months to get any traction. More like a few days. Now, this is great as you see the orders rolling in, but is a little lump-in-the-throat-inducing when you think about making them all and meeting all your customers’ expectations.
At this point, I know some of you are thinking that I’m complaining about success. But I’m not. I’m complaining that I’ve been stupid enough to have not been better prepared, making silly decisions and working myself into the ground.
With that in mind, having just about survived this year’s Black Friday, I thought I’d give some insight into the lessons I’ve learnt, even if they are three weeks late.
1. Learn the seasons, and I’m not talking about Summer and Winter
This is easier said than done, and will most likely come with experience (often a bad one). Knowing how your customers behave at various points in the year will be the difference between being level headed to losing your head entirely. If you sell gifts, Christmas is obviously going to be manic, but what other occasions are going to impact you? Out of nowhere, you’ll be hit with the end of school term and everyone’s buying presents for their teachers. If you’re not expecting it, you can’t anticipate how much stock you’ll need or how much of your time it will take up.
This year I thought I was being super productive getting my Christmas cards created and launched in September. Wrong. I was already four months late, or incredibly organised for next year – depends on how you look at it really.
If you sell B2C and B2B, your big occasions are essentially going to double up. Once for the peak with retailers and once for the peak with consumers, so make sure you’re not caught out by those two separate times.
Something as simple as having a wall chart to highlight monthly focus points can help you get all your ducks in a row. Or if you’re more of a digital person, just use your email calender – you’ll most likely have it open all day long so you can make sure you’re referring back to it as often as possible.
2. Against your parent’s advice, it’s good to talk to strangers
Despite the sheer isolation you’ll feel when you’re panicking about the 400 orders you have to pack, and the never-ending to-do list you’re adding to, there are other people out there that have been there before. Lots of them.
Often when I’m feeling the pressure, I take five minutes to bolster a bit of support from other people going through the exact same thing. It’s always a comfort to get a few words of encouragement, even if it’s from total strangers.
My go-to cheer squad are the members of:
While these are fairly specific to creative brands selling physical products, there are other more general groups including:
3. Warning: righteous business cliches ahead
After haphazardly launching a new product a few weeks ago, I’ve realised I may have done it all a bit too soon. My Dad, being the beacon of wisdom that he is, said to me last week when I told him I hadn’t planned this properly “Well Andrea, you know that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Damn him and his righteous business cliches. I had to admit he was right, even though he did use my full name when telling me I was wrong.