Time management for sole traders

Inge Dowden
Business Happiness Coach | Inge Dowden Coaching
28th April 2017

Every business owner is incredibly busy, and as a sole trader, you have even bigger demands on your time, as you’re having to do everything yourself.

You have to get the sales in, provide customer service, do your accounts, work on new products and services, do marketing and sort out your own IT problems. And that can be quite overwhelming.

‘Time’ management is really ‘activity’ management. Because everyone gets the same amount of time, yet what they do with that time is very different. So let’s look at some specific time management tips for sole traders to make your lives that little bit easier.


1. Prioritise

The most important things need to be done first, yet many people focus too much on unimportant tasks such as organising their desk, answering emails and responding to calls. In any business, getting and keeping customer is the most important task, so that is what you should focus on first thing in the morning. Spend at least a good hour on anything that helps you to get and keep customers, such as writing email campaigns, calling old customers, sending out thank you letters or analysing sales figures to see what you need to focus on.

You also need to keep a prioritised ‘to-do list’ so you know what you need to do first and what can wait until later. The to-do list is never done, and in fact will constantly be added to, but it’s essential that you don’t just work from the top to the bottom (in order of writing it down), but that you prioritise by time. There are only 3 categories, depending on when it needs to be done: this week, this month and this year. Put it all in a spreadsheet and order it by time, then start working on it.


2. Get good at planning

People who feel overwhelmed are often not great at planning. They find that things ‘creep up on them’ and that they have too much to do in too little time. For example, they might exhibit at a trade show, but don’t leave enough time afterward for follow-up so they find themselves overwhelmed with the work and end up not doing it. The better you get at planning, the more you will get done.


3. Use a diary system

This follows on neatly from getting good at planning. You need to use a good diary system, ideally an electronic one. Don’t rely on your memory, as it’s easy to forget things and overcommit yourself. Use your phone, a paper diary or any cloud based system – whatever suits you best, and be rigorous with it.


4. Switch off notifications

This can be your biggest time saver: turn off your electronic notifications. Whether that’s for your email, your Facebook messenger, Twitter or whatever else you have. Make sure that you are in control of when you look at any of these, not the app.

People think that you have to respond to your emails instantly, but this is rarely the case. When something is very urgent, they will contact you by phone. Instead, get into the habit of looking at your emails only three times a day: in the morning, just before or after lunch and in the afternoon. That way, no response will ever have to wait more than a few hours, and you can focus your attention on the important tasks without interruptions.


5. Learn to say no

Lots of people think that saying ‘no’ is rude or that it will lose them customers. However, by saying ‘yes’ to everything, you are automatically also saying ‘no’ to lots of other things. You can’t do it all, and when you have a meeting in the diary you probably find it quite easy to say ‘no’ to another one at the same time. So do the same when you’ve blocked out time to do something important – even if nobody else is involved.

And if you find it very hard to say ‘no’, then start by saying ‘I have to check my diary’ before saying ‘yes’. This will give you some time to check whether you have the time to do it, and whether it fits in with what you’re trying to achieve.


6. Outsource and automate

Even though you are a sole trader, there are many things that you can outsource and/or automate.  You can get a virtual assistant to help you with pretty much anything, copywriters to help you write blogs and articles, digital marketing specialists to help you set up your Adwords and Facebook ads, bookkeepers to help you do your books, a call answering service to answer your calls, and the list goes on. There are also great platforms such as People per Hour, Upwork and Fiverr where you can get specific projects done by others, often at very reasonable prices. And for automation, you can use autoresponders to send out email marketing and platforms such as Hootsuite to automate your social media.

If you apply all of the above tips, you will soon find that you have more time than you thought, and your business will run more smoothly, even when you’re not there. And that leaves you with time to spend with your family, or doing something for yourself, which is just as important for business success as working in the business. If you need help to set up or run your business, we can help.

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