Q: Because my sales have declined considerably, I had to lay off my only two employees. Now as I struggle to keep the business afloat, all of the work is on me to generate business and also service clients. I’m finding that I can’t do everything myself, yet I don’t have the money to hire help. Is there any hope to make it work?
A: Of course there’s hope. Don’t throw in the towel. A few suggestions:
➸ First, account for your time. Most of us waste time doing chores that we think are essential but are basically nothing more than time-suckers, such as checking email and scanning photos on social networks. Since time is money, those things probably cost you in a big way. For a week, write down exactly what you do every 30 minutes, just like someone trying to lose weight or stop smoking would do. Then review this time tracker to see where you can easily make changes to be more efficient.
➸ Second, stop doing things that aren’t driving business. Save personal web surfing for non-work hours. Reply to nonessential email at night. When a friend calls to have lunch, ask yourself: Will it lead to more business or not? If the answer is no, skip it. Make calls and appointments with a singular purpose: making money. Focus on the big picture, says Megan Masoner, owner of reFINEstyle.com, an online marketplace for new and pre-owned luxury clothing and accessories, with prices up to 70 to 95 percent off retail. “Don’t become engulfed in the minutia of daily tasks. I focus on profit-producing activities: If it doesn’t directly align to generating profit, I don’t do it.”
“Managing where you spend your sales and marketing time is critical at this point,” says Jennifer Lee, a Florida business coach. “Review who you are trying to attract—the ideal client who will fill your coffers—and check your actions against it,” she says. “If you spend time attending chamber of commerce meetings or other networking events just to get your name out, that may not be the best use of your time right now unless you can point to specific revenue generated by being there.”
Spend half your time servicing clients, and the other half pursuing new ones by making calls and connecting virtually with the right contacts. Revisit former clients to explore how to win them back. Pinpoint precisely how your last 10 clients found you. Develop opportunities to replicate those efforts instead of reinventing the prospect wheel.
Create a loyalty program to encourage repeat business or rewards for referrals, depending on the nature of your business.
➸ Third, get creative to get help. Lee recommends reviewing your numbers to determine how many sales you must generate to hire someone part time. Having that figure front and center can keep you focused so you won’t have to work alone for too long.
If either of your former employees is still out of work, propose a commission-only or part-time arrangement where you can benefit from the help while providing an earning opportunity.
Consider temps and virtual assistants. Sara Sutton Fell, founder of FlexJobs.com, which specializes in telecommuting work, suggests making a list of tasks that you could delegate and that can be done remotely, such as phone and email customer support, and hire a part-time telecommuter for the job. This will cost you, but probably not nearly as much as hiring someone full time; telecommuters often offer more competitive rates, which can save you up to 50 percent.
Students and career changers interested in your field are often eager to learn from someone with experience—and more important, are willing to accept flexible, part-time hours with minimal pay. They gain hands-on experience, and you benefit from the immediate help.
While an intern may be able to contribute in some capacity, be wary of relying exclusively on unpaid help. During the recession, hiring unpaid interns became popular, and now several lawsuits accuse companies of skirting labor laws by having interns perform work that was once done by paid employees. Legally, unpaid interns can’t take the place of paid essential workers.
Seek ways to tap family or close friends to voluntarily assist with tasks based on their strengths and your most pressing needs. Could your kids help with your social media pages? Might a spouse or best friend want to take an active role in helping to save your business?
A final form of help may come from automating pieces of the business. For example, if you find yourself answering the same questions over and over via email to prospects, consider posting an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on your website. Assessing repetitive tasks could produce a variety of opportunities to streamline and automate.
➸ Fourth, do some cost-cutting. If you saved money in one place, could you shift the dollars toward hiring help? Rent part of your office to another small-business owner or give up the space and work from home. Contact all vendors and service providers to negotiate a reduction in fees. Just by asking, you often can save money without diminishing benefits.
➸ Fifth, don’t be afraid to run your business differently. Just because things have always been done one way doesn’t mean that must continue. Ask yourself where you can be bold enough to shake things up. Even one new idea—something you’ve been considering but haven’t had the guts or time to act on—could reenergize your business if you implement it right now. Seek up to three opportunities to collaborate with complementary business owners who may be willing to refer clients in exchange for the same from you.
Applying all of these elements in just a week or two can bring peace of mind, a helping hand (even part time) and the confidence to restore your business to its previous glory. Dig in.
Tory Johnson is the founder of Spark & Hustle, a company that produces conferences and various programs for current and aspiring small-business owners. She’s also a weekly workplace contributor on ABC’s Good Morning America and a New York Times best-selling author.
Got a question for Tory? Send it to [email protected]