An Inside Look at Time Management for the Small Business Owner (What’s Stealing Your Time?)

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  • Updated: Jul 17, 2017

Time management is tricky even for seasoned small business owners. There are so many distractions in our daily lives and so many little tasks that need to be completed. It can be difficult to get it all done. It can also be very easy to get sidetracked on things that don't really matter.

An Inside Look at Successful Business Owners

One of the best ways to learn about overcoming these time sucks every business owner deals with is to find out how other successful business owners have overcome similar issues.

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LaShaunda Hoffman – SORMag

LaShaunda Hoffman is the owner of Shades of Romance Magazine, which she started in 2000. Her business covers several different areas, including the magazine itself as well as promotions and advertising. More recently, Hoffman has added some consulting services to her lineup.

Biggest Time-Stealer as a Freelancer?

“Social media can be my biggest time stealer if I get on without a plan. I can be on it for hours, hanging out chatting with people instead of doing the work I’m supposed to be doing.”

To overcome that issue, Hoffman makes sure that when she has work to do she limits her time on social media. For example, she sets schedules. If she has an hour before she has to be to her outside job, she will post info to the groups she manages, answer comments on her pages and post the “question for the day”.

“During the day I might take a 15 minute break and check my social media accounts for comments or questions. I try to reply to any questions asked of me.”

Tools and Tricks to Stay Productive

Hoffman's favorite tool is the Evernote app. “I can jot down notes or thoughts throughout the day. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to write my thoughts down than try to remember them for later,” said Hoffman.

She also maintains a calendar because it helps her stay organized and productive.

“I can look at my calendar and see what I have planned for the month, week or day.”

Additional Advice

“Remember to take care of YOU. Sometimes we get so caught up in running our business we don’t take vacations or ME days and before we know it, our health is suffering.”

Hoffman adds that it isn't that business owners don't care about themselves. It is that they are so excited and passionate about what they do that they just don't think to stop and relax.

“Schedule ME dates and keep them. Enjoy your life, that’s why you are a business owner, so you can have a better life.”

Sally Painter – Freelance Writer, former Head Hunter

sally painterSally Painter works today as a freelance writer, covering topics such as interior decorating and green living. Like other small business owners and those in the service industry, she battles to make the most of her time. She's learned a few tips that help her find success in this area.

Biggest time-stealer as a freelancer?

“Getting side-tracked when conducting research and finding myself going down a rabbit hole.”

The way she overcomes that issue is by using timers. “I set a 5-minute clock to have fun and explore a bit and then get on track.”

Another trick she uses is to bookmark sites she wants to return to later when she has free time. She may not always get back to those sites, but they're waiting on her whenever she can make the time. This keeps her from getting distracted and keeps her working on the task at hand.

Tools and Tricks to Stay Productive

One thing Painter does is to stay aware of the time being spent on each project, so she doesn't spend too much on one project and neglect another or overwork herself to the point of no longer being efficient.

“It’s a difficult thing to balance and I’m not always successful. I think creative people love to explore and investigate, so I have to curb these natural tendencies while working. It’s a discipline that isn’t fun, but necessary when self-employed. I can always improve on my productivity and am constantly trying to find ways to work more efficiently.”

Additional Advice

Painter says that freelancers shouldn't rely on a single client, even if that client provides you with a lot of work.

I learned this the hard way. It’s far better to have at least three sources for your income. That way should something happen to one, you won’t suffer a great loss and can find another client to replace the lost income.”

She notes that it can be difficult to limit work this way. While it's an important task to maintain a good relationship with your current clients, you also need to keep a lookout for new business opportunities while not overextending yourself. After all, a freelancer only has 24 hours a day.

Painter also offered some advice for what makes for a good client. One thing that freelancers, often do, is to release difficult clients as they are replaced with good clients. This means not only that the freelancer can work more efficiently, but the work is more pleasant.

What Makes for a Good Client?

Painter mentions that there are a couple of things that define a good client.

“The very first is that the client pays on time – consistently. I depend on my clients to pay me for my time and on time just as they depend on me to produce quality work and meet their deadlines.

Painter adds that both sides, client and freelancer, should have “reasonable expectations and not be overly demanding”.

She adds, “I’ve been writing for a couple of companies for 5-7 years and have established good relationships with them. So far, we’re happy together and that’s the ultimate proof of succeeding as a freelancer – at least it is for me. I like the feeling that we have a fair exchange and that we both are getting what we want from the relationship.”

More on Clients and Time Management

This is good advice. It is smart business for freelancers to look at their current client list every six months or so. Ask yourself these questions.

  • Am I still able to offer this client what he needs?
  • Is the workflow steady and reliable?
  • Does the client pay on time?
  • How difficult is the client? How much time do I spend reworking things because of miscommunication or on the phone clarifying things?
  • Is this client one I should keep this year?

A few years ago, I had a consultation with a former editor of mine named Jeanne Grunert. Jeanne has a degree in business and runs her own successful freelance company. She and I had a wonderful discussion about creating a client list that is made up of different levels of clients and reviewing each year and pruning any clients who don't meet that list.

After our discussion, I sat down and created a map of the clients I wanted and based it on a shopping mall model, similar to one she'd described to me.

  • Anchor Clients – These are like an anchor store in a mall. Sears, Dillard's, Macy's. These are your big clients who give you a fair amount of work and you can count on year after year.
  • Retail Stores – These stores may come and go but they stick around for a good while. You may not get as much business from these clients, but they do give you steady work every month or so that you know you can rely on.
  • Kiosks – These are temporary clients. They are like the little carts you see in the middle of the mall. They may only be there for a season or a month or two. This might be one big project a local client needs you to complete. While they may not be your first priority, they are important as they can lead to regular work or other contacts.

For my full-time work, my goal is to have two or three anchor clients, five to ten retail stores and I don't set a number for the kiosks. My regular clients keep me pretty busy, so if I have the time to take on a one-off project, I will, but I don't seek them out at this time.

How does all this save you time? When you begin to weed out those clients who create a time suck for you, you will work more efficiently. You also will come to know the guidelines and preferences of your regular clients, which means you can finish the work quicker and the client will be more likely to be thrilled, as you'll give him just what he wants.

Planning ahead can make a huge difference in how much time you're spending on projects.

About Lori Soard

Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.