Effective Time Management

May 3, 2019 by Comerica Bank

As small-business professionals, your time is one of your most valuable assets. It’s essential that you use it effectively. Establishing goals and deadlines, prioritizing work and delegating tasks are some ways you can achieve this.

Track your time

Completing tasks within a specific time frame is a huge test for small-business owners. Important tasks can get overlooked with too much time spent doing odd jobs. Without tracking your time, you’ll have no way of identifying time wasting activities or tasks that could be delegated.

To work more efficiently, you need to track your time. Doing so can lead to increased productivity, as businesses will better understand where time is well-spent and where it's being wasted.

Begin by detailing what tasks you do each day and the time each task takes. This can be in the form of rough notes, although there are some free programs and apps available online to help you out.

Time-tracking programs record time spent working on each activity. They’re useful for small-business owners to:

  • Monitor Internet usage.
  • Allocate time for projects.
  • Record time sheets for employee wages.
  • Graph the effort spent on each task.

Toggl™, ClickTime™ and Replicon™  are just a few of the better time-tracking programs available online.

Set priorities

Identify tasks that will best assist your business to work toward maximum profitability. After recognizing the tasks that need to be done, make them a priority by completing them before any others.

Try not to waste time achieving perfection. It’s more important to just get each task done.

Establish deadlines

Deadlines are critical for completing all activities in a timely manner. Ensure you:

  • Set realistic deadlines for all your activities.
  • Schedule interim deadlines for long-term projects.
  • Allow time for contingencies, especially on longer tasks.
  • Decide whether your deadlines are flexible or fixed. If certain activities have fixed deadlines, don’t permit them to take longer than they should.

Reduce time wasting

Small-business owners deal with similar kinds of time-wasting activities, such as:

  • Changing between tasks.
  • Answering emails.
  • Being distracted by phone calls.
  • Excessively long meetings.

As a result, some small- business owners experience reduced productivity. This makes it more difficult to finish their to-do lists.

Make note of any time-wasting activities at your workplace and meet with staff to discuss and brainstorm solutions. Consider the following:

  • Scheduling times to check emails so they don’t distract you from your current task.
  • Assigning phone responsibilities to certain employees.
  • Ensuring a task is completed before moving on to the next one.

Employees work more efficiently when they know something needs to be done. Have clear guidelines and instructions for each staff member so they know exactly what needs to be completed and when.

Delegate responsibility effectively

As a small-business owner, you don’t have to undertake all the major tasks and responsibilities yourself. By effectively delegating tasks to your employees, you’ll free up valuable time to focus on growing your business. This can be a great way to get more organized and move your company forward.

List some tasks you could delegate to reliable employees whose skills are suited to particular activities. Many employees want to develop new skills or have added responsibility in their jobs. Learn to rely on them, and to trust them, to complete their designated tasks.

Can you delegate some of your urgent yet least important activities to someone else within your business? Doing so will allow you to give the highest priority to activities that are both urgent and important.

Improve work processes

Poor work processes can contribute to unhappy customers and stressed employees, as well as missed deadlines and increased costs through inefficiency. This is why it’s crucial to improve processes when they aren’t working well.

Get organized

Invest some time now in developing well-organized systems for your business. The savings will be apparent in the long term.

Most small businesses have tasks that need to be done daily. They’ll be easier to manage if you have established processes in place. Some steps you can take include:

  • Clarifying your processes during team meetings.
  • Keeping yourself focused with a list of tasks you need to accomplish and their deadlines.
  • Ranking tasks by priority to ensure the most important jobs get done first.
  • Staying motivated by ticking items off your to-do list as you complete them.

Identify redundant tasks

Work processes can be improved by recognizing any outdated or redundant tasks within your business environment. One example may be when a bottleneck occurs. You must assess the situation and determine if new technology could improve the situation.

Work to your personal productive times

Whether you’re a morning person or an afternoon person, it makes sense to undertake the big projects or arrange the most important meetings for the time of day you work best. Try scheduling more routine activities for your less productive times of day.

Make meetings productive

Endeavor to avoid meetings becoming social gatherings. Run them to a tight timetable so productive time isn’t wasted.

Start with a plan to set strict time frames on meeting agendas. Request only those employees who need to attend each specific meeting. A focused discussion is what you’re trying to achieve and establishing these parameters will support that.

Be well prepared to ask good questions, which elicit quality feedback from staff, to get the most out of meetings. Good questions will cause people to think about their responses and not simply reply with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Set realistic goals for improvement

Setting specific goals that are realistic will keep motivation high while encouraging employees to go that extra mile.

Bigger goals should be broken down into attainable sums with set milestones to help make them achievable. For example, when expanding to another location, you may look at acquiring staff as a first milestone, followed by finding the right location and eventually setting up your new premises.

Goal-setting gives you both direction and a destination. Assess which tasks will help you achieve your goals then allocate your time accordingly. It’s imperative to focus on priorities so you spend most of your time on activities that help you achieve your goals.

Business goals are vital to your success as they let you take control of your business’s direction, instead of allowing events to control it.

Proper time management is essential for running a business smoothly. Applying the time management guidelines above will help your business operate more efficiently.

Next Steps

  • List any time wasting activities and any outdated or redundant tasks.
  • Meet with staff to discuss these activities and to consider ways of increasing efficiency.
  • Look into using a time-tracking program. 

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

Read More

Balancing Your Business and Home Life

May 2, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Trying to manage the demands of your business and your home life can be an ongoing challenge. But achieving ideal work-life balance doesn't have to be an impossible goal. There are many ways by which you can improve your current situation.

Balancing work and home life without guilt

To find your work-life balance, first consider all the daily tasks that compete for your time. Then, determine which ones to retain and which to cast aside.

The right work-life balance for you will most likely change over time. For example, if you created your business when you were single but are now married with children, you’ll be looking to achieve a different balance from your younger days.

Utilize technology to your advantage

So many of your organizational tasks as a business owner can now be achieved more efficiently, in less time, and with less stress. Whether it’s:

  • Keeping your accounts.
  • Storing documents and files.
  • Managing inventory.

The technology is there, so find out which software or applications suit your business best and utilize them.

As Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson once explained, “I find that technology is a great help – I use phone calendars, email reminders and mobile reminders to maneuver my way to each meeting, event and party. You can also use these things to make sure you have time to eat regularly and that you can get a good [night's] sleep.”*

Use your smartphone wisely

It has been said that smartphones are the entrepreneur’s biggest blessing and biggest curse. Because of your intelligent mobile device, you can work from anywhere at anytime as a business owner – essentially breaking up the boundaries between work and home life.

Aim to get the most out of your business smartphone to make your working life easier (and home life more relaxing). For instance, you could:

  • Create a virtual filing cabinet. Record and store your essential documents electronically, whether they’re invoices, receipts, documents or business cards. An app like Evernote® can easily record these.
  • Digitize your printed marketing material. Use the Camscanner® app to transform your business’s brochures into PDF documents that you can email to your customers.
  • Produce instant testimonials. If you’re talking to one of your satisfied customers, ask to take a short video of them giving your business feedback – then upload it to your website as a testimonial.
  • Schedule video conferences while on the move. Your time is precious so employ the services of an app like Google Hangouts® to virtually meet with your staff while traveling to work, or while making your way to meet an important customer.

Finding out how to integrate and connect a successful business and a happy home life has to be one of your goals – and your smartphone can help you achieve it.

Remove that guilty feeling

As a business owner, you might be having trouble overcoming the guilt of working long hours while accepting that you need personal time for yourself and your family.

Put some measures in place to mitigate this issue:

  • Creating one calendar for both work and home life. Sync your calendar with the smart devices of your staff and family so they’re all aware of how you’re allocating your time.
  • Sticking to a daily routine. Ensure you don’t miss that phone call with your partner (or the weekly baseball practice with your son) by adding these home life routines to your daily schedule.
  • Adopting a positive mindset. Optimistic people are able to stay motivated, manage stress effectively and be ready for the unexpected in ways pessimists often can't match.

Allow for some 'me time'

Plan time to completely disconnect from your business. This is where having trustworthy staff on whom you can depend on can help prevent you from burning out.

Build up trust in your employees by increasingly delegating more challenging tasks or roles to them. As you begin to understand how much workload they can manage and what they do exceptionally well, you’ll start feeling more relaxed about entrusting your business to them.

As a result, you’ll be more comfortable about taking time out to refresh, revitalize and to enjoy family time.

Accept a level of sacrifice

When you decided to launch your business, you were probably aware that your life would be slightly out of balance at the expense of family, friends and personal time.

You may not be able to reach your level of perfect life-work balance, but you can get as close to that level as possible (and remove any guilty feelings in the process). Accepting a level of sacrifice to meet all your work and home life demands is ‘par for the course’ for most entrepreneurs.

Next steps

Appendix

* Richard Branson: ‘Reap the rewards of workplace flexibility’

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

Read More

7 Ways to Use Technology to Make Business Easier

March 30, 2019 by Comerica Bank

In today’s fast-paced business world, technology has become as essential to success as a great idea. It’s a real equalizer that puts even the smallest businesses on equal footing with the big players.

To grow your business, you’ll need to harness the power of technology and use it to your advantage. Here are seven ways you can do just that:

1. Ditch in-house hardware

Out with the old and in with the new. Can you downsize some of your business’ hardware to become a more mobile, flexible organization?

Getting rid of excess baggage like desktops, monitors, servers and network switches will save your business money and reduce clutter.

2. Look for sustainable solutions

Savvy business owners are constantly looking to technology to reduce their expenses and become more sustainable. Finding the right sustainable solutions for your business can save you time and costs while reducing waste. Ask yourself:

  • Can you team up with another business to save on IT costs?
  • Do you really need to travel to meet clients when you can collaborate on the cloud or via Skype?
  • Can you implement some simple sustainability steps, such as recycling, choosing energy efficient equipment and switching appliances off when not in use?

3. Utilize sales data

You can find out a lot about your customers simply by examining your sales data or by installing a system that collects certain information about each customer and their purchase.

For example, you might want to find out the times of day when most customers purchase from your business. Knowing this information could be a catalyst for running price or bulk specials at these times of the day.

4. Advertise with social media

There are opportunities to advertise to your target market on social media. For example, Facebook lets you make an advertisement and choose what type of audience you want viewing it.

If you have a Twitter account for your business and you want to get more of your tweets viewed or gain more followers, create some Twitter ads. First, choose the platform on which you’d like to reach potential customers and then set a budget for your promotional tweets. Be sure to post tweets that link back to your website or blog, rather than general tweets about your industry.

5. Embrace mobile solutions

The modern smartphone is essentially like a mobile office. Use it to manage meetings, track expenses, autotype emails and stay organized.

Provide your sales staff with mobile ordering software that’s linked to your inventory so they can process sales on the go. And speed up your receivables process to get paid quicker with online banking tools such as a web invoicing service.

6. Create a virtual workforce

How much could your business save by dropping your premises and going virtual? Many businesses are already completely digital, with employees spread across the globe and no physical office. The advantages for your business include:

  • Flexible work hours – and the potential for round-the-clock services for employees in different time zones.
  • Happier staff and fewer overheads.
  • Easier to scale business without having to utilize a restrictive office space.

7. Adopt an innovative business model

Changes in technology have helped shape the way for businesses to try alternative business models. Some examples of the past few years, like Airbnb™, which facilitates person-to-person exchanges, and FedBid™, which harnesses reverse auctions to sell products and services to the first willing buyer, show that an innovative business model can be successful.

Is there an online model that you can utilize to make your business easier and ultimately create more sales opportunities?

Next steps

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

Read More

Developing a Work–Life Balance

March 11, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Small business owners regularly exhaust themselves by working too hard. You need an effective work-life balance to stay in good health and to continue to enjoy your business. Creating a balance involves a conscious effort to create boundaries between home life and work.

Risks of overworking

You’ll quickly become counterproductive if you’re overworked. Feeling tired and stressed means you won’t be able to perform at your best. As a result, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes and treat your staff and customers poorly.

There are some inherent risks of overworking, such as:

  • Working to the point of exhaustion or even illness.
  • Missing opportunities to enhance and grow your business because you’re too busy.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Losing the original desire you had when starting your business.
  • Spending less time with your family and being short-tempered when you do see them.
  • Affecting staff with your own stress and mood, leading to a drop in their performance and attitude.

Define your work-life balance

As the leader of your business, you need to find your own work-life balance that will help you work optimally while having enough quality time to spend with your family and friends. You should set an example for your staff while encouraging them to establish their own work-life balances.

Be aware that your older staff will often appreciate regular vacation time and weekends free of work. Younger staff look for flexible work hours with opportunities to work from home.

With you and your staff working in harmony, your business will have a better chance of prospering.

How to prevent exhaustion

To regain a sense of balance and lessen your workload, there are some practical steps you can take.

Create boundaries: Restrict the number of hours you spend at work each week. Don’t take work home so you can keep a clearly defined distinction between work and home life. Try to avoid taking work-related phone calls or answering emails during downtimes.

Delegate tasks: Delegating will take some of the pressure off you and free up time for more urgent and important tasks. Your staff will also feel more empowered, giving them a greater sense of worth and value to your business.

Consult other business owners: Talk to other small business owners who seem to be working normal hours. You might get some valuable advice on how to improve your situation.

Review your clients: You may have some customers that take up too much of your time in return for very little gain. Find a way to pass them on to your staff to deal with so you can focus on bigger fish.

Discuss ideas with your family: Ask them for their suggestions. A point of view outside of your business environment could be useful.

Exercise: It’s not healthy to be stuck at your desk all day. Your body wants to be moving so get up from your desk occasionally to walk and stretch. Consider communicating to your staff members in person sometimes, instead of email. You’ll refresh your mind as well as your body – and that elusive solution might just pop into your head.

Schedule vacations: Put as much effort into planning your next vacation as you do for your business. A well planned vacation will leave your mind at ease while you’re away and give you much needed recuperation with family or friends.

Plan short breaks: Write in your diary when you’ll take a day off to spend with family, or keep an afternoon free to pick up the kids from school. Maybe schedule in a round of golf with old friends to get away from work issues.

Remember to enjoy the freedom of owning your own business by taking breaks in the knowledge that things will run well without you.

Keep motivated and enthusiastic

It’s vital you retain your enthusiasm for your business. A positive vibe will rub off on your staff and help to maintain an enjoyable workplace.

A loss of motivation will be noticed by those around you. Perhaps it’s time to re-energize yourself and your business. Keep yourself interested and try the following:

  • Re-engage your staff: Your business will be more successful if your staff care about their work as much as you do. Improve their work environment, or take them out for a social event, to show them how important they are to your business.
  • Establish some new goals: You may be able to renew your motivation with challenging but achievable goals that can be measured.
  • Change your daily routine: Assign times earlier in your workday to tasks that you enjoy doing, whether that’s visiting clients or checking emails or some other daily job.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon 

Read More

Keeping Your Business Data Safe

February 27, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Data is the lifeblood of small businesses. Keeping your data protected and accessible should be one of your most important considerations.

Identifying and organizing your data, backing it up and securing it need to be top priorities for any small business owner. Successfully implementing these tasks will be vital to the operation of your business.

Identify your data

Identify the sensitive information that should be protected within your business. Some examples of sensitive information typically held by businesses include:

  • Customer details.
  • Employee records and personal information.
  • Contracts.
  • Confidential agreements.

Make note of which computers, laptops, mobile or storage devices hold these records. Remember to include any paper-based data records.

Try to store the most sensitive information on the least possible number of computers, while isolating it from your less sensitive data.

The fewer copies of sensitive data accessible, the easier it is to protect it. The amount of money and time you spend safeguarding data depends on how important data is to your business, and how likely you are to suffer data loss.

As a small business owner, you need to know what data you store and use, so you can evaluate the risks.

  • Establish which data is used by staff frequently, such as your customer database.
  • Identify data accessed infrequently by staff.
  • Take into account who can retrieve the data and how often it’s handled or changed.

Organize your data

Small businesses produce a lot of data over time, which should be well organized for easy retrieval. Some fundamental questions to ask yourself when organizing your data may be:

  • What data will be required daily?
  • What data can be archived?
  • Will I need to access my priority data when away from the office?
  • Will I have to share my data frequently with others in my business?
  • Will contacts outside my business need access to my data, and what security risk does this bring?

Create a data inventory

Make a thorough list of the data that’s stored in your business. For each type of data you need to know:

  • Where it’s stored.
  • How often it’s accessed.
  • Who uses it.

You can use this information to determine risks and possible weaknesses in the way your business administers data.

Protect your data

Protecting your business data involves a balance between convenience and security. If data is conveniently available to staff, there’s a risk of it not being secure enough. Conversely, too much security may make it harder for staff to do their jobs.

To achieve a workable balance, test out different security options and ask your staff what they think.

Restrictions

Your staff can’t change or accidentally delete data if they can’t view it. Consider only giving them access to the data they need by:

  • Using secure logins for different access levels.
  • Giving each staff member their own username and strong password.
  • Ensuring every worker can only access the data they need to do their job.
  • Setting up staff logins for other business software.

Anti-virus and anti-spyware software

Having high-quality anti-virus and anti-spyware software in place on all your systems can notably reduce the risks of data theft. With new threats continually appearing, it’s important to protect your business with the best software available. Just as significant is making sure you have the latest version or update.

Secure your network connections

Keeping your network safe has to be a top priority. Start by double-checking that all wireless and network connections are password protected. Resist the urge to write passwords on paper and consider making one staff member responsible for password security.

Encrypting your network is the most important security measure. Working behind a firewall is also essential for checking any data requests sent to your network.

Consider back-up options

Back up your data to ensure it’s recoverable. This is a critical task for all small businesses. Some possibilities to seriously consider include:

  • Storing back-ups off premises.
  • Using a cloud storage solution.
  • Using your antivirus software back-up options.

If the worst happens, you’ll be relieved to have an effective back-up procedure that can recover your data. Remember to keep back-ups secure by encrypting your data and storing discs somewhere safe. Furthermore, test your back-up procedures regularly.

Be careful with data stored on external devices, for instance a USB flash drive. If the device is misplaced, it could be easily lost.

Involve your staff

Engage your staff in the creation of these procedures. Communicate to them the policies and practices that cover storage and usage of data within your business.

Following an initial full back-up of your entire system, ensure you set up regular automatic back-ups. Most computers can be configured to do this automatically.

You could allocate a staff member the job of:

  • Ensuring your back-up procedures are functioning properly.
  • Testing your back-up system by restoring data every quarter.
  • Reporting regularly on the status of your back-up system.

Make your data accessible

Now that your data is protected, make it accessible for staff who really need it.

Your business may generate a lot of files quickly. How can you access your files securely from anywhere?

Contemplate using cloud storage

There are many advantages to using cloud storage, such as:

  • The level of security can be greater than some in-house servers.
  • It requires limited financial or technical resources to obtain properly secured services.
  • The cloud offers an off-site back-up that isn’t affected by fire, theft or workplace accidents.

Accessibility of data may be necessary for your small business if staff occasionally work from home or travel regularly.

Next Steps

  • Create your data list, breaking it down into sensitive and less sensitive groups.
  • Check the effectiveness of your anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Make sure they have the latest updates.
  • Safeguard your wireless network by making it secure and putting a firewall in place.
  • Research options for cloud storage, to back up your data. Dropbox® for business, Sugarsync® for business, Google® Drive and SpiderOak® are just some of the options available.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

Read More