Fighting time seems to be the plight of the entrepreneur. Studies show many entrepreneurs spend hours per week on unnecessary admin and other non-revenue generating tasks, like financial books management.
But entrepreneurial life doesn’t need to be this way. If you’re caught in a time suck where there aren’t enough hours in the day, you have three options to make life a lot easier: build systems, automate, and/or outsource.
In this post, we explain each of these three options, what effort they require, and how much each will cost.
Building systems ($0-$250+ per month)
Systems can help bring order to chaotic to-do lists and make how you run your business more efficient.
In short, a system is any repeatable way to complete a task. This could mean a time-based schedule, an order of operations for complex tasks, or a standard operating procedure (SOP) for specific tasks.
Why it helps:
When you bring in systems, you bring in two forms of productivity and time-saving:
- Planning tasks helps eliminate random, time-consuming actions.
- Systematizing tasks brings opportunities for tweaking and improving.
- Document all ongoing tasks or regular one-off tasks in your business.
- Categorize each task under one of: Operations, Sales & Client Delivery, and Product & Service Development.
- Write down what the key outcome of the task is and why that outcome is important.
- Write the steps you currently take to complete the step.
Once you document all of your tasks and the steps required, look for areas of improvement:
- Can you accomplish a task more effectively? What would you need to change?
- Are some tasks even necessary? Can you combine tasks or eliminate some?
- Are some tasks foundational, meaning you can’t do other things until you do that first task? Are there ways to make those more efficient?
None to start, if you don’t want to. You can document everything in a free Google Spreadsheet and do all the effort yourself. If you would like to expedite this undertaking, you can hire someone (contract or full-time employee) to help document your work processes.
Automation ($100-$500+ per month)
Automation is the process of letting technology handle tasks without you doing anything (once you set up the initial platform).
If you have a lot of routine, repetitive tasks that don’t change much over time or ad hoc tasks that happen based on a trigger (for example, sending a welcome email to every new customer), you have an opportunity to automate.
Even if the task gets slightly complex, it’s possible to build logic into software platforms to automate most of it and trigger human intervention where necessary.
Why it helps: When a task is automated, you don’t have to do it anymore. That is the first (and key) benefit. But the second one is that automated tasks reduce or eliminate errors, meaning less time spent fixing problems.
- Document all tasks you do in your business, both routine and ad-hoc but frequent.
- For each routine task, document the entire task process (every sub-task, in order, that ends with the task being completed).
- For each ad-hoc task, document the task process and the trigger that is required to make the task necessary.
- For each task, identify:
- How long it takes you or an employee to complete (in minutes or hours, depending on each task).
- How critical the task is to the business.
- How much money the task costs you in terms of salaried time (yours or an employee’s) to complete it.
- Research different platforms that can help you automate tasks, starting with the most expensive or time-consuming tasks.
- For example, let’s say a task you have is sending invoices and reminding customers to pay. Invoicing software like Quickbooks or Freshbooks can help you automate converting a proposal into an invoice, scheduling invoices to send and auto-scheduling reminders.
- These software platforms cost an average of $20-$150+ per month. If you spend more money in salary time to pay an employee to send invoices and remind customers to pay, then you’ll save time and money by using technology.
You’ll need to spend money on technology, which can range from freemium pricing to hundreds of dollars per month per platform. Because technology costs can grow rapidly, it’s important to prioritize automating costly or time-consuming tasks first to get the most value for your budget.
You may also choose to hire someone (full time or contract) to help you document business processes, find the right technology platform, and set up the automation logic on the platform once you purchase it.
Outsourcing ($500-$2,500+ per month)
Sometimes, you need more than technology and just can’t continue doing the task yourself. That’s where outsourcing comes in.
Whether hiring a staff member, virtual assistant (VA), freelancer, agency, or consulting firm, outsourcing means getting the task off your plate and onto another human’s plate. There is almost always some technology involved––at the very least, communicating with your team member(s)––but the main work is done by a human.
Why it helps: It’s one of the simplest ways to save time, since you’re getting someone else to do the task. You’ll also gain from that person’s expertise and experience, meaning the task will (hopefully) get done to a higher standard than if you tried to do it yourself.
- Identify all tasks in your business that you personally do, with a description of the key outcome and the sub-tasks you do to accomplish the main task.
- Identify what the best type of outsourcing is based on the tasks you want to remove from your plate.
- For routine tasks that can’t be automated, consider a VA.
- For skilled, specific tasks (like design or writing), consider a freelancer.
- For strategic tasks, consider a consultant or coach.
- For high-volume creative tasks, consider an agency.
- For ongoing, widely-varying tasks, consider hiring an employee (full- or part-time).
- Research and screen potential vendors/hires and ultimately choose one.
- Onboard the vendors/hire, so they can become familiar with the tasks and start executing.
- Manage them and their performance on an ongoing basis.
On top of the cost of the outsourced person or team, you may also have to pay for:
- A search firm to help you find the right vendor or hire.
- Someone in-house to manage the vendor or hire, if you don’t want to do this yourself.
- Any relevant technologies or software that you will use, even if you stop working with the outsourced hire.
ROI matters more than cost
It might be tempting to start with free or less expensive options that are easier on your pocket. However, the real key is to focus on the return on your investment (ROI) first and size of investment second.
Here’s a simple way to look at ROI: The expense should:
- Free up resources that can be used to make more than it costs.
- Eliminate redundant to make your overall cost base lower.
- Add revenue capacity/make you money directly with a new offering.
- Free up your time such that you can focus on making more money or enjoy a high emotional return on investment (eROI), like spending more time with family or taking care of yourself.
If spending a little bit gets you nothing, it’s not worth it––all you’ve done is spend money. On the other hand, if spending a lot of money gets you an enormous return, it may be worth it.
Of course, you need to take into account your financial position, the inherent risk of all business investments, and your risk tolerance. Nothing is guaranteed, but you should always invest from the perspective of gaining something you want versus going with the cheapest option just because it’s cheap.
For more entrepreneurial tips and expert advice, sign up for our newsletter here.
Ready to start your business? Ownr has helped over 100,000 entrepreneurs hit the ground running quickly—and affordably. If you have questions about how to register or incorporate your business, email us at [email protected].