Originally published in Allbusiness.com
Since January, I’ve been hooked on monthly exercise challenges. I’ve done yoga. Sit-ups. Push-ups. Now I’m working on planks.
The benefit is that I can see a difference in my body. None of the daily challenges take that long, but they have a positive cumulative effect.
I started wondering: what would a 4-week challenge look like for small business owners (whom I call micropreneurs when they do everything, or close to it, in their businesses)? Oddly enough, no one had created what I had in mind. So, ya know, I created one myself!
My aim with this challenge is to help you put your focus on four categories of your business:
- Productivity and processes
- Marketing and sales
- Growth strategy
You’ll notice there are just five days under each week with tasks. That’s because you’re not supposed to work on the weekend! Take some time off. Decompress. Your company will still be there when you get back.
Week 1: Productivity and Processes
We micropreneurs sometimes work helter-skelter, never having time to slow down and organize how we work. This week, I want you to think about what’s taking more time than it should and dedicate yourself to investing a little time in streamlining those processes.
Day 1: Make a list of all the tasks you perform on a given day and estimate how much time you spend on each. This includes checking and responding to email, creating proposals, updating social media, working on client projects, even ordering office supplies. You might be surprised how long you spend on some of these!
Days 2 & 3: Spend an hour documenting the steps for the big time-suck processes. For example, if you update your social media accounts several times a week, list out steps like this:
Step 1: Log in to social media dashboard (include user id and password).
Step 2: Review mentions of your brand and respond accordingly.
Step 3: Schedule updates on Twitter and Facebook for the week.
Step 4: Follow X people on Twitter.
You may need two days to do this if you have many processes that need to be documented.
Day 4: Find one task you can delegate. What would free you up to focus more on the business? If you don’t have employees, research hiring a consultant or freelancer to take that task on.
Day 5: Start putting your tasks on your calendar. Block off a chunk of time and focus only on that task. Research shows that once you flip from one task to another, it takes you 25 minutes to get back to being productive on that first task. Close your door. Turn off notifications for your email. Just focus.
Take breaks between tasks. When you move from completing one thing to another, your brain doesn’t get a break. Go for a walk or coffee break. Clear your head. Come back.
Week 2: Marketing & Sales
Sadly, marketing tends to be overlooked with micropreneurs for one of two reasons: either they don’t have time to focus on it (and think they can’t afford to hire help) or business is booming and they don’t think they need it. Neither is a good excuse!
Day 6: Look at your website analytics to understand which marketing channels are driving traffic to your site. If there are any that aren’t netting the results you want, make plans to stop putting attention there. Also note any that are getting great results, because you might want to double your efforts there.
Day 7: Find one new marketing channel you haven’t tried before. It might be Instagram. Social media ads. Press releases. Just try something for three months and then check those analytics again to see if it was effective.
Day 8: Create a content calendar. On it, plan out content for your blog posts and social updates. If you have promotions, build those in and create content around them.
Day 9: Spend less time managing social media. Schedule your updates in a social media dashboard like Hootsuite. Facebook business pages also allow you to schedule updates. With your new content calendar, you’ll have all your updates mapped out, so you can spend an hour a week (or less) and copy/paste those into your dashboard and schedule.
Day 10: Block off a couple of hours to write several blog posts, then schedule them. This is such a valuable way to prioritize your content marketing; when you schedule in advance, you ensure that an unforeseen event won’t keep your content from being published on time.
Week 3: Technology
You know there are plenty of apps and tools out there geared toward small businesses, but you never take the time to research them or try them out. This is your week to do just that.
Day 11: Find just one app or software program that can make you more productive (hint: look back at those time-suck tasks as a place to start). Sign up for a free trial. That might include:
- Accounting software
- Social media management
- Customer relationship management
- Inventory software
Days 12 & 13: Spend an hour each day really getting to know this solution. It’s too easy to just use the basics of a tool without diving in and realizing all its benefits. Does it actually save you time once you’ve mastered how to use it? Is it worth investing in? How can it help you grow your business?
Day 14: Do the same with other tools that you’ve already been using, but not at full capacity. For me, I know that my accounting software has functions I’ve never explored, so I’d make time to see how it could help me.
Day 15: Find the money to pay for this and other tech tools that can make you more productive. If you don’t readily have the funds available, figure out how much more you’d need to sell a month to cover the expense. Make it a priority to cover these expenses.
Week 4: Growth Strategy
Like Michael Gerber said (and has been quoted countless times): We micropreneurs tend to work in our businesses rather than on them. That means we don’t come up for air nearly enough, and it also stalls us out from being able to grow our businesses. So this week, look at the bigger picture.
Day 16: Pull out that business plan and blow the dust off of it. Where do you stand in terms of the objectives you established when you wrote it? Update it as necessary.
Day 17: Spend an hour brainstorming on this question: Where would you like your business to be in five years? 10?
Day 18: Make a list of goals for your 5-year and 10-year timelines. Under each goal, make a list of action items you need to accomplish them. Put those action items on your calendar with deadlines.
Day 19: If you had $10,000, how would you invest it to grow your business? What’s your priority? It might be stepping up your marketing or hiring help. This exercise can reveal a lot about where you need to focus your attention. It may also help you realize that you should take out a loan to help your business grow.
Day 20: Take the day off! You’ve worked hard this month to get organized and focus on what’s important in your business. However, you can’t overlook the importance of getting away from your business. Time away gives you the chance to turn off your brain and recharge. I find that I get creative ideas when I’m away from my business, so a day off is actually an investment in your company’s future!
If you take on this 4-week challenge, I’d love to hear from you what the results were! Hopefully your business will be buffer and ready for swimsuit season!