Just because you’re always busy doesn’t mean you’re productive. Feeling like you’re always hustling but never getting everything done can quickly lead to business burnout, which can have a big impact on your business performance.
When you started your business, you probably had a picture of what being a visionary leader would look like. You’d build your team, and then have the ability to deal with the “big picture” work.
In reality, we all know it never quite goes like that. Too often we find ourselves in the weeds, trying to hold it all together and feeling like the to-do list is never complete. And while finding ways to increase productivity can be a great short-term solution, it isn’t going to solve everything.
When I talk to my clients about improving business performance, building a strong foundation is always a huge component. But often when it’s your business, it’s hard to see some of the little places you could potentially make some gains.
So let’s take a look at several business areas you can start focusing on to start upleveling your business performance.
Before You Start: Food For Thought
As the person leading the business it can be really, REALLY hard to ask for help. I totally get it. But asking for help can make a huge difference when it comes to your business performance.
Whether it’s getting someone to handle your accounting or offloading other tasks to your team, the fact is, asking for help gives you the ability to be more productive. It also makes it less likely you’ll get to the end of your rope because you’re trying to do it all — because when that happens, everyone around you feels the effects.
Bottom line: everyone wins when you ask for help.
It’s also important to have a real look at your workflows and see if you’re actually being a business bottleneck. While it’s generally unintentional, sometimes, as leaders, can end up involved in too many different things.
Maybe your team is always waiting on you to assign or approve work, or maybe there are tasks they don’t do at all because the process is in your head. Whatever the situation may be, you need to find ways to empower your team and take yourself out of managing the smaller tasks wherever possible.
While stepping back from day-to-day tasks may feel uncomfortable, at first, you’re actually investing in your business by freeing up your time and allowing your team to work to the best of their capabilities.
Set Your Goals
Saying you need to set goals for your business may seem like obvious advice for improving business performance, but it’s important to look a little deeper at why this matters so much. It’s not just about coming up with some numbers and hoping you get there by the end of the year.
You need to do this with intention, so you’re setting goals and actually achieving them.
The goals you have for your business determine so much about how you spend your time, how you direct your team’s time, and where you devote resources to. That’s why it’s important to be super clear on what those goals are.
When setting goals, it’s also key to create them based on what works for you. Not what the so-called experts say and definitely not what some business courses tell you that you “should” do. Think about your personal preferences, work style, and needs and how your business performance can support those.
Setting and achieving your goals depends on your ability to break them down into more manageable pieces. I know how easy it is to get all excited and dive in with gusto, but if you haven’t considered all the moving parts that need to be cared for, it’s likely you’ll start to flounder at some point.
If breaking things down isn’t one of your strong suits, consider involving your team in the process. Working together, brainstorm all the different things that’ll need to happen to make achieving your goals possible.
Plan Your Week
We’ve all been there. Monday morning rolls around and you’re all fired up to start the week. Next thing you know it’s Thursday and you’re wondering why you haven’t gotten X, Y or Z done.
Time seems to be slipping through your fingers and while you ARE working, it’s isn’t necessarily on the things you need to in order to improve your business performance.
Now, when I talk about planning your week, I say this with the understanding that things are going to crop up unexpectedly. That’s just the nature of being the boss. But there are some simple strategies you can employ to make the week go a little more smoothly.
My five tips for planning your week are:
#1. Find the right time.
You’ll likely have to try different strategies out before you decide when you’re able to best plan your week. Maybe Monday mornings are great because you’re starting the week off feeling fresh, but maybe it stresses you out to start your week like that. Or maybe you like doing it Friday afternoons so you can hit the ground running on Monday morning. Nothing is set in stone, so make your best-educated guess and start with that option. Give yourself at least three to four weeks to try it on for size and evaluate how well it’s working.
#2. Keep your boundaries intact.
Not enforcing your boundaries can have a big impact on your business performance and ability to plan. Being weak with your boundaries depletes your energy, and takes time away from other things you could be working on.
Without strong boundaries, any plan you make is more at risk of falling apart. So, make your plan and stick to it as much as possible. Being flexible on occasion with clients is okay, but so is prioritizing your time to work on your business.
#3. Work with your strengths.
I’m a huge proponent of starting the day with things that excite you, however, it totally depends on your personal preference. Some clients I work with like tackling tasks they dread first thing in their workday so they can get them over with.
If you know you have a tendency to procrastinate as the day wears on, then leaving giant, lengthy tasks until 4 p.m. will probably make you miserable. There’s no one right approach. It’s simply about figuring out where your strengths lie and playing to those.
#4. Be realistic.
This is a big one. What you THINK you can accomplish in a day and what you actually CAN accomplish may be vastly different. Add in some unexpected fires to put out and your big plans for the day may end up totally shot.
That’s why I suggest not overfilling your day. Leave space for the unexpected. Start prioritizing tasks by choosing between one to three per day and focusing on those.
#5. Block your time so you can focus.
When you’re planning your week, start with where your time blocks for your priorities are going to go. Schedule in blocks for other activities, like your CEO review, financial review, or business development that need to be cared for first.
Next, schedule in items like client work and team management — again in larger blocks of time — so you can group like activities.
Finally, accept that creating your ideal week is a process. You may not master being realistic when it comes to how to plan your week right out of the gate. You’ll likely have some successes and some failures as you focus on planning your week for productivity — and that’s all part of the process!
Eliminate Context Switching
Multitasking is a myth sold to us, telling us we can do ALL THE THINGS at once.
(Spoiler alert: you can’t.)
The fact is, when you’re multitasking, also known as context switching, things fall to the wayside. It impacts our productivity, to the point we actually lose time by trying to do it. By banishing busywork that breaks your focus, you’re making space to get the real work done.
Now, you may be like I used to be and have convinced yourself you’re GREAT at multitasking. I certainly thought I was a pro, until my boss convinced me to just try a different approach. As it turns out, by focusing on a single task for a concentrated amount of time, I was able to accomplish so much more in less time and with higher quality results.
By giving one task 100% of our focus at a time, we’re not only being more efficient, we’re likely to produce even better quality work.
If jumping back and forth from task-to-task is something you feel challenged by, a few tactics you can try out include:
- Focusing on one client at a time. Batch your work by doing multiple tasks for one client so you can get into a rhythm.
- Staying out of your inbox. Only check email at designated times of the day.
- Turning off notifications. Do you really need to know every time a new email comes in or someone posts on your social media? Probably not.
- Setting up your environment for success. Create a clean, organized workspace where you have everything you may need at hand.
Map Out a Content Strategy
Creating content can be one of the more time consuming tasks, so if you want to increase your overall business performance, having a plan in place is key.
Consider what your current content creation system looks like. Do you have a process in place that outlines each step needed for content creation? Is your process documented and accessible to your team? Do you follow the same process for each client?
If the answer is no, start with creating your systems. Either you or someone on your team can put together the steps that are followed for content creation, and then you can test them out.
Keep in mind that the process should include everything, right down to which fonts should be used, how you handle images, what time you publish at, and so forth.
Next, you’ll need to look at creating an editorial calendar. This is something I consider to be a must for my clients, especially those who have multiple pieces of content being published in a week or month. Everything from blog posts to newsletters to social media posts should be included.
Your editorial calendar is the ideal place for people creating the content to track progress. Your calendar can be as simple as a Google Spreadsheet (which is what I use) with checkboxes that get ticked off at each stage of production. Then anyone who looks at it can see what’s completed, what’s pending and what’s coming up next.
The other key benefit of planning your content is that you can do it strategically. Coming up with content week after week can sometimes feel like a chore — and sometimes, your brain doesn’t have the space to be creative on the fly.
Start by mapping out the major offers you want to execute in your business in the next six to 12 months. If you’ve been in business for a while, and already have a few items you like to consistently offer, start by deciding when you’ll launch those. You don’t have to pick exact dates at this point, but nail down the months you want to launch them so you can start filling in your calendar.
Then, see what “holes” you have in your calendar. Consider any new offers you want to create as well as any joint ventures or affiliate offerings.
Not every piece of content needs to be focused on offers, but by putting together the big picture that ties into your overall business performance, it’s a lot easier to see what’ll tie in to your broader themes.
Track Your Time
If you read the phrase “tracking your time” and it made you groan, you’re not the only one. Time tracking is seen negatively by a lot of people, but the fact is, the data you receive from tracking your workload is incredibly valuable.
There are three main reasons tracking your time is beneficial for your business:
These three things are all tied together. Think of this way — if you don’t know where all the time is going, how can you gauge if your team is at capacity with their workload and you can take on more clients?
Both underestimating or overestimating capacity can have a real impact on your business performance. An overworked team will likely struggle with productivity. An underworked team impacts your profitability.
I touched a bit on boundaries with clients earlier in this post, but this is another area where time tracking can be a big help. You may think you don’t spend all that much time with a certain client, but taking note of the time you spend on every email, every “emergency” call, every out of hours request, gives you a complete picture.
I understand that when you run a business that’s client-based it can be really easy to let boundaries get squishy, but learning to say no can help you have the space to uplevel your business performance in a meaningful way.
Whether it’s saying no to clients who don’t want to follow your processes or declining projects you just aren’t interested in, making these kinds of decisions leaves you open to saying yes to clients you can get excited about.
You need to know where the time is going so you can plan appropriately, and time tracking is the best way to find the answers you need to build solutions.
Hire the Right People
For a lot of people, improving business performance is all about growing revenue. And if you want to grow revenue, at some point you’re likely going to have to focus on building your team.
If you’ve been putting off hiring as long as possible and are struggling to determine if it’s time to hire, it eventually comes down to simple math — serving more people requires more capacity.
Waiting until you’re drowning in work puts you in a precarious position. You’ll likely be massively overworked, overwhelmed and behind schedule on things, so bringing in someone new when you’re already struggling is going to make training someone new a big challenge.
If you’ve been needing help for a while and are feeling desperate for help, you may end up being far less discerning than you normally would be about the person you hire. Anyone slightly qualified may look like a life raft, but a bad hire will only exacerbate your current situation.
For those of you in the situation where you already have a team but are reluctant to take the step of hiring someone additional, consider why you’re hesitating. Is it because your existing team is sucking up all your time? If so, you’ll want to spend some time exploring why that is as you may likely have some foundational issues contributing to the problem.
There are three common ways that teams suck up your time:
- You spend all your time answering questions — often the same ones over and over again.
- You spend too much time looking for statuses or deliverables from your team.
- You spend way too much time fixing things or redoing work your team has completed.
These are all things that can be addressed, and in fact, having your foundational pieces in place will make hiring someone new much easier, because you’ll have all the right tools and documented business processes in place to set them up for success.
Set Up Systems
If you’re at all familiar with my work, you’ll know that I’m a big believer that business systems are worth the effort.
Why? Because systems provide the framework and reminders to allow you to do things with ease, so you’re not reinventing the wheel each time.
A common mistake business owners make when setting up systems is that they remove the human element, which results in cold, robotic-like systems. As with everything, if we forget that there’s a human on the other end, we fail them and ourselves. When done wrong, systems can be restrictive, annoying, and feel very cold.
This is why I’m an advocate of smart systems that make sense and not just making a process that we follow without any real forethought or analysis. Smart systems are the ones that can make your business shine.
If you don’t have any systems currently set up in your business, I suggest focusing on three starter systems and building out from there.
- A system for tracking and following up with leads.
- A system for onboarding new clients.
- A system for invoicing.
The reason I recommend these as your starter systems is because these are ones that are client-facing but tend to break down and cost you money, so they’ll also help you grow your bottom line.
It’s also important to remember that how we do things changes over time so your business systems should always be evolving. What worked six months ago may not be the best approach now, and improving business performance is all about being flexible and open to change.
Do a Deep Dive on Your Money
As you continue to grow and scale your business, your money management requirements will grow and change. If you want to uplevel your business performance, ensuring your money is handled in the most effective way possible is a must.
When I work with clients, there are four money management systems I look for them to have in place:
- Billing: It doesn’t have to be some fancy software, but you do need a quick and simple way to bill your clients. Additionally, you’ll likely need a merchant account of some kind to collect credit card payments.
- Receipts: Avoid a potential nightmare come tax time and set up a system for receipts. Put aside 30 minutes once a month to deal with receipts and tax time will be a breeze.
- Expenses: Complete an audit on your regular, recurring monthly expenses to ensure you aren’t paying for anything you don’t need. Similar to billing, a method for tracking expenses doesn’t need to be fancy — a simple spreadsheet that includes billing date, amount, method of payment, frequency is sufficient.
- Bookkeeping reports: I’m a huge proponent of outsourcing your bookkeeping to an expert as most people don’t have the expertise to do it efficiently. With regular bookkeeping, you can ensure you’re managing your money and keeping the proper attention on the financial health of the business regularly.
Another key aspect of your money management is keeping on top of your profitability. If you’re covering all your expenses and paying yourself and your team appropriately and your remaining profit is small, you’re doing just fine. But if you’re underpaying yourself or struggling to keep everything paid, there may be some areas of your business you need to explore, including:
- Scope creep: Make sure you have some method of reviewing workflows and client engagements regularly to catch leaks.
- Team performance: Taking some time to analyze how your team helps or hurts profitability can pay off immensely.
- Cash flow projections: As revenues and expenses increase, having an accurate method of projecting your cash flow becomes more and more essential to managing your money.
Improve Your Business Performance One Area At a Time
Upleveling your business performance isn’t something that’ll happen overnight. And it’s not something you can tackle all at once either (well you COULD, but that probably won’t end well).
If reading all these suggestions felt overwhelming, that’s okay. Take a breath and pick ONE place to start. What small change could make the biggest impact on your business? If you know there are several areas you’d like to address, make a list and prioritize.