Whoever convinced us that we could effectively multitask? Even as I type this, I have 6 design files open, 11 programs running, and three tabs up in Google Chrome. That is potentially twenty different activities going on at once. All for one brain. Wow. For the entrepreneur, multitasking has become as vital as the ability to breathe. But balancing too many urgent activities at one time can mean that very little gets done and too much falls through the cracks, leaving your day feeling — at least in part — unaccomplished, and the list of to-do’s getting ever longer at the start of each new day. Yesterday’s tasks become today’s, to be finished off tomorrow. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and my lack of effectively executed time management is the root cause of this post. But here is my two cents, which hopefully will make sense and not put us on the defensive every time we get a phone call or an email from a client whose project is “on the list.” Start right, execute right. Be realistic with your clients, your projects, and yourself.
Don’t tell your client the project will take two days when you know it will take four.
If you think they will be disappointed when you tell them their “super urgent” project can’t possibly take a day when a week would suffice, imagine being on your third apology, promising tomorrow morning, when you know next Tuesday is the only feasible timeline and the only other solution would be to pull an all-nighter in hopes to save face, but you’re already tucked in and in your Pj’s and responding to the email from your phone? Yeah. Not cool. Set a timeline for your projects that both you and the client can agree on; sign off on it; make sure everyone in your organisation or on your resources team understands the importance of keeping to time. Take the time to assess what the project really needs and don’t rush to complete but take time and do it right. STICK TO IT. Underpromise and overdeliver. Now don’t deceive your clients just so you can save face and look like the hero at the end of the day, by inflating timelines etc; clients will see through that and it won’t end well. Instead, plan your time; consider contingencies and setbacks and anything to do with the project that is out of your control. Build in mechanisms to manage ‘murphy’s law’ and create that buffer zone of wiggle room. Don’t assume the project will end on time and plan one right after or as it is winding up, to always keep yourself busy. Some carefully planned downtime will do your business and your sanity a tremendous favour.
Don’t devalue your time just because you think your client may not be able to afford your rate.
Respect your client’s budget, but don’t short-circuit your creative development process just because you “need” this project. (And we really need everyone we get; thanks clients!)Instead, show them what the project will cost and what you can do for them on the budget they outlined showing them the positives for both scenarios. But you weren’t given a budget? It was more of a, “I don’t know. Draft the proposal and let me know the cost”? Are you worried that because your client is a start-up or small business, and they are cool people, that fairly pricing your services will scare them away? And oh yeah, the project is really awesome and you have got to be a part of it?
Business is business. Don’t get carried away with wild-eyed wonder. If you are the hopeless creative who would bleed your business dry and still be operating as a start-up ten years on…hire a business manager. The worst thing you can do for your business is to have the majority of your projects being “mutual benefit” or “good exposure.” But HOLD ON! There are those clients who are absolute gems to work with; whose projects are good exposure and mutual benefit and the relationship you build has great value to you and your business. But you can’t fall into that trap with everyone that walks through the door. Getting good vibes from an upbeat personality doesn’t pay the bills; it doesn’t grow your business.
Be prompt with your communication.
Stay in touch with your clients; don’t wait until they call to deliver the news; whether good or bad. It puts you on the back foot. Be proactive. Call your clients in good times and bad, keep them abreast of progress with your projects, and very importantly, have an established timeline for delivery of drafts, sign-offs, payments, and evaluations and STICK TO IT. Answer the phone when the clients call. Even if it rings and your stomach turns sour because you know there may be questions requiring some painful-to-give-answers on the other end. If we drop the ball, we must man up and OWN IT. Cast no blame, tender no excuses, but offer solutions to the problem. That’s what the client needs to hear (and needs for us to commit to and do) above ALL else. Sometimes our fingers are in too many pies and none of them ultimately get baked. Schedule your projects. Have a fixed day (or set of days for meetings,) instead of a sporadic meeting schedule with one every day, eating into precious creative time.
DO NOT bite off more than you can chew.
Acknowledge your limitations. Stay away from being “jack-of-all-trades” and know when to ask for help. Focus on one task at a time; juggling four or five different projects means that you are not allowing yourself the time and the creative energy to get deeply involved with each project and give it your all. Instead, your brain is shifting gears faster than a rally car, back and forth between different ideas, and cross-contamination, or worse yet, creative stagnation can occur and add to your worries. Someone once told me to separate the urgent from the important. The urgent projects are the ones that pop up on a day-by-day basis, like the sudden crescendo in a dramatic musical piece, while the important ones are those that are high priority, high value, and high paying projects that, like the constant violin steadily pulling away at the heartstrings behind everything else. Both are vital and should complement each other, not compete for your time and energy. Are you at the corner of “I need more capacity” and “I need more income”? Capacity generates income and income facilitates capacity. “Catch” meet “22.” Know your options; how can I maximise the few pennies I have, while serving the expanding client list? It doesn’t mean strong coffee, Redbull and 5-hour-energy. It means knowing the right mix of resources to suit your needs. Is it outsourcing you need, or would a freelancer be better suited? Should you hire someone or subcontract work?Is a virtual office the best set up or should you seek physical space and pull together all your resources at one location? Financial and business advisors are good people to have on your team. They may be formal, paid-for professionals whose services you hire, or trusted official/unofficial mentors and colleagues whose opinions you value, whose criticism may sting but be beneficial, and who understand your industry and your struggles. Can an app do it instead of hiring someone to execute the mundane? Can I schedule emails and posts to be automated communiques, instead of always being slave to the screen?
DO NOT burn the candle at both ends.
Your business is your baby, but without you, the baby will starve and die. Put your energy, your all, your blood sweat, and tears into making your business work; but DO NOT kill yourself to see it happen. Get your sleep, watch your health and your diet, drink the water even if it means getting up a few more times throughout the day to go to the bathroom. Have your downtime and treasure it. “Always on call” is a mantra best suited for emergency room doctors or medics in the military. In our age of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, BBM, iMessage, Ping Chat, Skype, and oh yeah, text message, email, and mobile phones where we still receive our calls, it can be easy for the lines to get blurred and for requests to unleash your unbridled creativity come at 2am when the idea suddenly strikes the client and they just had to get it to you. Social media should remain primarily social. While businesses are becoming more social endeavours and finding their inner personalities, connecting with consumers, and delivering an overall encompassing brand experience, step back.
Manage your contact:
- Email your clients during business hours. Set the tone for what is acceptable communication-wise.
- Clearly state your hours of availability and what means by which service requests can be lodged after hours (and how soon they would be responded to) during the next period of business operation.
- Respond to after-hours requests in a timely manner.
- Maintain professionalism in communication, so leave out the smileys but remember your manners. Type it out long code, so no “lol; g2g; ROTFL; l8r, cu;” but instead, greet with “Good day” and end with “regards” at least for the first point of contact on each day. After that, an appropriate business casual context can be applied. This may sound archaic in our world, but it is necessary, when everyone is connected socially, easier and easier these days.
Time management, which these suggestions amount to for the most part, is critical. And those things, as business people we know them for the most part, but do we do them? Do we take the time to implement sound strategies and frameworks from the start or get lost in doing business, forgetting that we actually have to monitor and manage the process of business? Is this doable? Yes. Easy? not even. I think I’ve said enough now. So excuse while I go and take a hefty dose of my own medicine.