Q. I have just launched my first new business. I’m overwhelmed. It seems there are a thousand competing priorities and not enough time to get to everything. Do you have some advice on what I should do first, second and so on?
A. Without more information, it is hard to give you specific advice on prioritizing tasks, but here are a few things that are important in all new businesses. Following these tips will give you a good start as you prioritize your tasks.
Write down your priorities – It may sound trite, but if you are going to prioritize successfully, you absolutely must establish a set of goals and write them down. With so many things competing for your time, it won’t work to keep them in your head. Write them down. We keep ours in an Excel spreadsheet. Make sure your goals are specific. Broad generalities won’t work. For each goal, you should have a series of actions that you believe, if completed, will ensure you reach the goal. Beside each action, place a planned completion date and the name of the person responsible for completing that action. Place the actions on your calendar as “to-dos” and check them off the spreadsheet as you complete them. Don't be afraid to review and revise your list as you learn more.
Focus your efforts – Limit the number of things on which you are working. Finish one thing before you start another. Even after you have written down your priorities, you can’t successfully work on seventeen things at once. Choose your top priorities and focus on them alone. It is better to push three things across the finish line than to move 37 items a small portion of the way to completion.
Prioritize tasks that build your core business and customer base – First, you obviously need to bring in revenue in order to have a viable business. We often tell new business owners, "First, sell something. Prove that your concept, product and business model works." You’re most likely not going to get it right the first time. So, give your best effort and get feedback. Make changes and improvements. Improve each time. Get testimonials, develop case studies and ask for referrals in order to gain more customers. Focus on improving your product offerings and customer service. These actions will give you your best chance for building reliable cash flow.
Spend some time building for the future – While you are focusing on those tasks that affect your business today, don't lose sight of the future. If you are successful and your business grows, you may need to hire employees. You may need additional marketing efforts, a larger space, more production equipment, and/or capitalization. You may need to gain additional skills or knowledge. Go back to your goals spreadsheet. Include some longer-range goals for your business. Make sure that you are preparing for long-term success.
Outsource ancillary tasks – If you don't have enough time to complete everything on your “to-do” list, you should look for tasks that can be outsourced. These items may include administrative or accounting work. Perhaps others could perform some of your marketing efforts. Determine if the value of the extra time you gain more than offsets the cost of paying others to perform the tasks. Remember, it might take far less time for a professional to perform these tasks, freeing you to pursue those actions that will move your business forward.
Starting a successful new business means juggling a lot of competing tasks, but if you follow the advice above, you should be able to more effectively choose where to put your time and efforts.