These are tough times to be running a business. While we’re all dealing with spiralling food and energy prices on the home front, our companies are also facing higher costs for power, materials, inventory, and other overheads. Even worse, it’s starting to look like the economy could be heading for a severe recession.
In a recession, businesses need to do everything they can to cut costs and tighten their belts. To add to that, they also have to achieve these savings while in crisis mode, dealing with falling revenues, stressed out staff and reduced demand. Can you afford to wait for the hurricane to hit? Or would it be wiser to start weather-proofing your house before disaster strikes? Prevention is always better than cure!
The good news is that many of the steps that will prepare your business for a recession are good practice under any circumstances. I’m talking about maximising efficiency, cutting down on mind-numbing busywork, and making sure that you, as a leader, have the time to focus on building flexibility and preparedness into your company. This way, should a downturn arrive, instead of scrambling to save your skin you’ll be ready to thrive in the face of adversity.
Making space for strategic thinking
Today’s business owners have access to all sorts of labour-saving tools, but ironically, many of them find themselves busier than ever. With all this activity comes massive potential for distraction.
Speaking from personal experience, I know that the minute I go tactical – losing myself in day-to-day operations, getting high on the dopamine rush of solving small problems – my strategic thinking goes completely out the window. My eyes end up fixed on the job in front of me, and I lose sight of the bigger picture. This is a dangerous place to be, because resilient businesses are built on solid long-term planning.
As a leader, your goal should be to spend as much time as possible in the strategic headspace. To help myself understand how best to do this in my working life, I often turn to Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix, a system designed to help business owners decide which jobs are worth their attention and effort, and which should be passed on to others.
The big risk for any leader is that we end up spending most of our time in the “Urgent and Important” quadrant, reacting to events and crises as they stream into our inbox. What we really need is to be hanging out in the “Not Urgent, but Important” section, which is where you do the high-level planning and business management which will allow you to grow and scale.
The problem is that those “Urgent and Important” jobs demand your authority and expertise and are therefore difficult to delegate. A better way to win back your time is to start shedding some of those “Urgent but not Important” tasks that are cluttering up your day. Most of these are five-minute activities like checking your email or responding to messages – stuff that has to be done, but represents a real tax on your time and squeezes your space for strategic thinking.
How to generate an extra thirty working days, five minutes at a time
If you want to know exactly how much of your day is taken up by routine tasks, I recommend you start using a time-tracking tool like Toggl or Clockify. These apps let you check in and out of each of your daily activities, so you can see exactly how long you’re spending on every task, large and small. I guarantee, you’ll be shocked by what you discover. I certainly was!
By using these apps, you’ll be able to identify the five-minute jobs that are eating up your precious time. Your priority should then be to eliminate as many of them as possible, and this is where automations can be a real gamechanger. Remember, it’s not just the time it takes to complete the task itself, but also the seconds you spend switching in and out of different activities.
Even something as simple as a pre-set email template can win you back five minutes of time per message, and over days, weeks, and months those savings can really mount up.
Let me prove it.
Say that by automating a routine task, you were able to save five minutes twelve times a day. You’ve just won yourself back a whole hour – huge! Over a working month, that adds up to twenty hours, which by my calculations makes two hundred and forty hours, or thirty full working days, a year.
Just take a moment and think – what would you do with an extra thirty days a year?
How to do this in practice
You don’t need to be an automation wizard to start making this happen right now; in fact, you probably won’t even need any new software. The email programs you’re already using – including Gmail and Outlook – will allow you to create templates (or Quick Parts in Outlook) that can be brought up with a couple of clicks. These can be customised with links, images, FAQs – whatever information your prospects and clients need – and then all you have to do is personalise them to the addressee and press send.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can move on to more sophisticated forms of automation.
With proposal software, you can create templated proposal documents that can be ready to go with just a few minutes tweaking, vastly reducing the amount of time required of you and your sales team. Similarly, you can also set up systems which will automatically create shared Google Drives, project boards and invoices for new clients, making the onboarding process so much quicker and smoother.
How can automation help recession-proof my business?
There’s a common misconception that using automation inevitably creates an impersonal, robotic experience for both staff and customers. For me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. By automating routine jobs, you release time for you and your team to focus on high-impact tasks and building relationships. Instead of sending routine emails, your staff could be talking to customers one-to-one; rather than filling in forms, they can be designing bespoke solutions for specific clients.
This will ensure you’ll be running a leaner, more efficient business, which will really make the difference if you start feeling the pinch. But it also means you’ll be building deeper, more meaningful relationships with your clients, just because you have more space and time to devote to them. When times are tough and people have to start counting the pennies, it’s the strength of these relationships that will carry you through to the other side.
As a leader, you’ll have more opportunity to take a strategic overview of your business. This will allow you to tackle inefficiencies, drive improvement and plan for the future. In the long run, you’ll find that the more time you spend in this strategic headspace, the less time you’ll spend dealing with those “Urgent and Important” tasks, because when your business has a solid foundation there are simply fewer fires that need fighting.
And when you’re faced with a crisis beyond your control – a global pandemic, a recession – you’ll find you’re in a much stronger position to meet these challenges by pivoting to a new approach. It’s impossible to plan for everything, but by making more room for strategic thinking you can build a flexible, resilient business that’s ready to weather any storm.
In this blog, I’ve covered some of the basic steps you can take to start using automation in your business – but there’s so much more you could be doing. If you’re interested in finding out out how, let’s hop on a call.