Five time-wasters your small business should eliminate

Margaret Paton

The pressure’s always on start-ups to turbo-boost efficiency and stop the messing around. Here’s what some small businesses claim to be the biggest (and often most stealthy) time-wasters that can creep in and sap the energy right out of your business. 

The brain pickers

Annette Densham of Publicity Genie says one of her biggest time-wasting annoyances is being asked: “I just want to pick your brain”.

“While I love to help start-ups, there is a fine line between helping and being taken advantage of. The person recognises my skills and expertise, but does not value it enough to pay for my time.”

While Densham does do many networking talks “offering advice and info freely and openly,” she has nailed her approach to the brain pickers: She thanks them for their interest in her services and advises them of her strategy session fee. Also, she might meet with them, but only give general info, while offering to work with them more closely as a client.

Too much speculation and not enough researching

Healthy Numbers Ingrid Thompson hears the same basic questions from the many business start-ups she works with. But a lot of it boils down to start-ups needing to do more research.

“The first is the question of viability; they ask ‘will this work?’ or ‘is this a good idea for a business?’ and the real question is ‘is it viable?’, that is, ‘will it make money?’

“Most people don’t know how to assess business viability, so they either do nothing and keep dreaming or wondering or they invest dollars and (mostly) fail. I find this extremely sad for people who lose a lot of funds,” she says. 

Doing your research to sharpen your business acumen, says Thompson, pays off.

“[Some startups] inadvertently don’t follow the legals: business structure, GST, tax, super, cash and invoicing, etc. For example, I met a woman who misunderstood what she was told by her accountant about the GST threshold and thought she didn’t need to pay tax until her business earned $75,000.”

Keeping too much under your belt

Not listening to what’s going on around you and then continuing your business down an unprofitable path, is a waste of time says Nick Lavidge, founder and CEO of Alley Group.

“We spent the first twelve months in business trying to do everything including warehousing, distribution and the online shop function. We were doing well, but I felt we were spreading ourselves too thin and wasting time.

“I made the tough decision to cut all of our departments and invest everything into what we were really good at – finding and keeping our client’s best online customers. Within three months of doing that, our company revenues started to skyrocket. To this day our clients are also 100% inbound or via referrals.”

Alley combines big data with predictive intelligence to increase customer count and revenue for online retailers. The two-year-old start-up turned over $3.7+M last financial year, up from $240,000 in its first year. Lavidge says Alley’s on track to top the $10M post this calendar year.

As well, Corrine Lim, founder and Creative Director of Lacorvin, a luxury goods company selling handcraft silver jewellery and leather accessories online, says early on she “outsourced big time wasters to experts”.

It meant she could focus on her strategic vision, partnerships and high-level management perspective.

“This has led to amazing opportunities, being a finalist shortlisted for Ausmempreneur, style TV celebrities, local fashions show and magazines one year after launch,” she says.

Lim launched said she launched her start-up in a new city – Brisbane - and industry for her.

Tackling the ‘want to do it all’ approach, is Fred Schebester, co-founder of finder.com.au and finder.com, who says delegate or automate.

“As an entrepreneur, I’m constantly looking for ways to evolve the business and to automate processes to boost efficiency. I give my employees opportunity to challenge the status quo and to think of alternate ways of doing things.”

That resonates with Ricky Lam Co-CEO of Proquo.

“As an entrepreneur with a long to-do list, you have to be relentlessly focused and manage your priorities. Managing your energy and focus is even more important than managing your time. Focusing on your product or service, on building the team and setting them up for success, on the strategy, is the best use of your time.”

He says he’s overcome the issue by leveraging experts for everything else.

Social media paralysis

Steve Macdonald, co-founder of REIZE Energy Drink by subscription, says social media is his top time waster despite his start-up having a heavy presence there.

“It is very easy to get distracted by the news feed when you should be working. Before you know it you are watching videos of cats falling off ladders and wondering how you got there.”

Macdonald’s advice is to avoid the news feed at all costs and just go straight to your company’s pages.

“It is easier said than done. Facebook and YouTube suck you in by displaying all of the things that you are interested in.”

Claire Mansell, director of Mansell Taylor Consulting and founder of Motivated Mummy Enterprises tackles the social media time waster in a unique way. She knows content creation and interaction with her social audiences “really eats into my time” if it’s not scheduled or planned.

“I have scheduled social media posts up to five months ahead of time and use programs such as HootSuite and Edgar to schedule them. Of course, I remain flexible and add relevant content when I need to, but by doing this I have been able to free up time and focus on sales, which is an area that is extremely important while I'm in the start-up phase of my business.”

Entrepreneur and founder of Basic Bananas, Christo Hall, also struggles with the social media issue, but offers a different strategy.

“My advice is to switch off, bunker down, and get on with the task that needs your most attention.

With social media, he suggests mapping out a content marketing plan at the start of each month with a work and a socialising focus.

“When it's work, get on and do what you planned to do, then get off – and when you're socialising, that’s ok to spend a bit of time fluffing around, but recognise that this is not work time,” says Christo.

Chasing the impossible perfection

Irena Furlong of Communications Coach tackles the perfection quest:

“I've tried this enterprise caper several times and I've learned that I need to surrender perfection in order to unleash momentum”.

Creating momentum doesn’t mean trying to do too much with limited resources, says multiple and serial start-up founder, Tania de Jong AM, of Creative Universe, Creativity Australia, Creative Innovation Global, to name three.

“Another time waster is spending money on advertising when you don’t have a known brand and that will be viewed by a very small audience.”

Her tip? “Focus, focus and focus on building personal relationships and doing great work for your customers. Work out what they need and over deliver.”

Margaret Paton

Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.

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