Care to take a guess at what small business owners call the worst thing about running a business?
Sixty percent of owners say it’s managing money. Forty percent say recordkeeping for tax purposes. I don’t have any figures further down the list, but I’d guess entrepreneurs across the board sweat the details of back office functions as much as the effort involved in maintaining contact with current clients and prospecting for future ones.
I do know that entrepreneurs in general spend five to 10 hours a week on email, and that alone takes time, energy and enthusiasm away from what their jobs really are.
I’d be willing to bet that we’d all be much more successful, and those of us at the startup stage more likely to survive and go on to prosper, if we spent our time focusing on what we’re good at, what we enjoy and what inspires us. And we can do that by using systems that will do much of the back office work for us, or at the very least make it easier and quicker for us to do it ourselves.
These days, I work with a business software company, but once upon a time, I came to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. I was pretty self assured: I’d spent my life in and around the entertainment industry, and I’d seen what success looked like. I figured that, with a little hard work, it was definitely going to come my way. In fact, the early years of my life in film felt like steps in the right direction, as every year I found that things got a little better and a little easier: easier to find work, easier to do what I loved, easier to be the entrepreneurial type of guy I always knew I could be.
I also found that talent and passion for the job didn’t necessarily mean having a successful business. There were the emails I had to send; the quotes, invoices and payment reminders that had to go out; the prospecting for clients that had to go on; the wall of sticky-note reminders that had to be faced and followed up. In other words, all those things that I needed to do to stay in business…all those things that, if you dwell on long enough, you stop enjoying the work.
I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. All the people I knew then and know now who work for themselves struggle with organizing the business side of their lives. Like me, they didn’t get into their line of work because they were great at scheduling, or bookkeeping, or following up on leads. We did it, but we pretty much worked with whatever methods we could cobble together.
Maybe many of you who read Sound & Communications are like that: individuals and family businesspeople handling sales, marketing, promotion, billing, bookkeeping and more, in addition to the design, integration, installation and maintenance of audio, video and lighting systems.
I understand that your business is part art, part science, part management. The science you read about, study and learn; the art is the design and configuration of systems to suit the AVL performance needs of your clients. And there’s also art in the problem solving that often goes into delivering a sound message.
It’s a creative business far beyond hardware, software and mechanics, and you have a real passion for the work, but not so much for keeping schedules to send out email messages to remind customers that their service contracts are coming up for renewal or system maintenance is due, or gently reminding them that invoices have yet to be paid.
Tending to that part of the business is where professional, sophisticated and integrated business management systems come into the picture. They give you the space and time to do what you really want to do. They can’t eliminate the work, but they can automate it, streamline it and make sure nothing falls through the cracks or gets out of control.
Recently, I saw a list of reasons why small businesses fail. Poor management and lack of planning landed in the top five on that list. But I also saw a list of reasons why business failure rates are on the decline, and two of the reasons for that were smarter small business owners and better business management technology. From my vantage point and personal experience, I know those two reasons are linked.
Your business, like many others, is built on relationships. Relationships build your reputation, and reputation is perhaps the most valuable part of your brand. You may not be a Fortune 500 company, but your brand is the strength of your business. The right business system can help you build and maintain relationships and reputation.
And it can help grow your business. Studies show that following up a lead within five minutes is 60 times more effective than following up within 24 hours. If yours is the first response (not necessarily the best, but the first), you’re 60% more likely to land the client.
But what if you’re out installing a system, or maybe having a meeting with your accountant, or at a trade show keeping up with the technology and products you can offer your customers to make their systems better, more flexible and more capable? That’s when business systems can assure a quick response to opportunity, not to mention a system’s capability of automatically sending out those reminders about service contracts or maintenance agreements. Or reminders to customers that, through networking capability, you can possibly identify problems and be on the way to solving them. You can also follow up with a survey to satisfied customers to solidify their great experience, and at the same time ask them for referrals or contact information for others who might need and benefit from your services.
It’s all part of maintaining a relationship, of building your value to a client.
My advice is to get a professional system in place. Start researching business management solutions now, online, so you’ll have time later to do what you really want to do. Find out how to automate the back end of your business so you’re out doing what you do best.