10 ways to be 10% more efficient by next week
Save time, cut costs, and become a lean, mean productivity machine.
We all have those moments - usually when we're still in the
office after 9pm - where we start to think there must be a better
way of doing things. A quicker, simpler, more efficient way. A way
that makes you feel like you've made progress at the end of your
day rather than having spent it fighting fires or lost in pointless
meetings and email chains.
And, lo, here is your remedy. This is your personal 10-step plan
to running a leaner, meaner and altogether better-functioning
business. This is enterprise colonic irrigation. Because you need
to be as efficient as possible if you want to move forward. So
follow the programme, and by next week, your newly detoxified and
utterly re-energised business will be fighting fit and ready to
1. Sell more for less effort
Get customer relationship management software if you haven't
already. It'll let you control your communications with clients
much more efficiently, so you know who you should be contacting
when. Use it to pinpoint who your most loyal customers are, then
focus your efforts on selling more to them. Getting existing
customers to buy more is easier and much cheaper than customer
acquisition. Use this guide on selling more
to your existing client base. You can also use CRM to
re-engage customers who haven't bought for a while.
Alongside that, spend a day examining your existing sales data
forensically. It shows you which items work best together for
cross-selling - one of the best efficiency-generators in the sales
strategies handbook. Read our feature on the 10
best ways to cross-sell for more advice.
Look into strategic partnerships with businesses who cater to the
same target market as you, but who are non-competitive. Flogging or
at least recommending each others' services to your respective
customers is a common sense quick win to double your reach by
halving your workload. Providing it's a good fit, customers will
also appreciate you're helpfully recommending another service they
2. Make your money work harder
Get signed up for internet banking if you're not using it
already - we cannot emphasise enough how much more convenient it is
making everything happen for yourself at the click of a button,
rather than going into a branch or making a call. It also saves you
splurging cash on banks' expensive 0845 numbers.
And make sure your customers are paying when you want them to.
Consider charging interest to late-paying clients if you think it
won't put them off doing business with you - or alternatively offer
incentives for them to pay early or, even better, in advance. On
the flip side, get as much credit and as many flexible payment
terms as possible from your suppliers so you can put that freed up
cash into the places that make it work harder (see the rest of this
feature for ideas!).
Not everyone can afford a contingency fund, we know, but you can
make sure your money is in the most high-interest account available
to you. Use Moneysupermarket.com to check.
3. Stop emailing so much
Email is a time killer - so be brave and stop it. If you're
checking your email more than a couple of times a day, you're going
overboard. Think that sounds extreme? Watch our interview with Tim Ferriss
to find out just how much time it'll free up for other things.
Put a semi-ban on internal email too. It's so much quicker to
talk to the person on your team for a couple of minutes, rather
than letting that conversation drag out over an afternoon as you
both type, read and re-draft responses to the inevitably and
pointlessly long email trail that happens otherwise. Talking is a
lot friendlier than emailing too. We decided to switch from
internal email to actual conversation here at Smarta, and it did
wonders for our productivity and the general atmosphere.
Even better, save the minutiae for a weekly or, if need be,
daily meeting so you can nail it quickly in one go and there are
The same rules apply to clients and suppliers. Call someone rather
than emailing wherever it seems like the more efficient option.
Your relationship and your productivity will flourish as a
4. Outsource and automate
As a rule, you should aim to automate every business process you
possibly can. Read this case study to see what we mean. You might
need to invest in a bit of software to speed all those processes
up, so calculate how much time each function takes in a month, how
much per hour you pay someone to do that, then how quickly you'd
break even on the investment. If it's less than a year or two, go
for it. The person doing that job is then free to focus on the
aspects of the job a computer can't replicate - having ideas and
making decisions. Usefully, these are also the things most likely
to move your business forward and make you money.
You need to focus on what you're good at too if you want your
business to get ahead. Getting a virtual PA can cost as little as
£5/hour (and you could use one for just a couple of hours a week),
but it screens you from those persistent nagging sales calls,
travel arrangements and diary changes that break your concentration
and productivity. Try it for a fortnight to test the water.
5. Make your online presence more efficient
If you've gone to the trouble of creating a website, you need to
make sure people can find it. Search engine
optimisation (SEO) is what makes you findable - read this
advice guide and then the rest of our content in this section to
make sure people can actually find your website.
Getting your Twitter feed to appear on your website's homepage
keeps it fresh without any extra effort from you - perfect if
you're too busy to blog. And it only takes about five minutes. Read
this article for guidance - it includes lots
of other handy Twitter-based tools too.
6. Have a customer cull
Everyone has those couple of customers who you just seem to
spend your life chasing - they always pay late, they don't respond
to your calls about not paying the invoice, and they take up far
more of your time than they should. So get rid of them. Learning to
be selective with your customer base is a tough lesson, because it
feels like you're cutting yourself off from potential revenue - but
if it saves you time and hassle, it's worth it.
Think of it this way - the less time you spend handling problem
customers, the more time you have to get out there and find new,
more reliable and more lucrative ones. Your CRM software will help
with the cull. Note: don't go overboard with this - to start with,
just be firm with the worst offenders. Give them a chance to repent
before blacklisting them. Addison Lee founder John Griffin gives
some sage advice on being choosy about customers in this interview.
If chasing invoices is taking up all your time but you're not
quite ready to make the cut, look into invoice factoring. An
invoice factoring agency buys your invoice debt off you, so you
have instant access to the cash you're owed, while they then go off
and chase the invoices and take a slice of the final money paid.
They may be more aggressive on the phone to your clients than you
would be, but it gets the job done and saves you time.
You need to apply this thinking to new customers too. An online
credit check from the likes of Creditgate.com
start at around £10 for a simple check, going up according to what
you need - though Experian.com is probably the most well-known
and trusted name in the sector). Not really a large amount - but
the future struggle it could help you avoid is enormous.
7. Faster broadband
The difference between fast and slow broadband may only be a few
seconds per web page, but it adds up. The difference between 2Mb/s
versus 8Mb/s broadband is more than four-fold - so those
Flash and image-laden pages that normally take you one minute to
access could be chopped down to a snappy few seconds. Multiply the
free 54 seconds by 30 web pages a day, five times a week, and
you've just shaved 2.25 hours off the amount of time you waste
waiting for your internet to actually just work normally.
Read our feature on more ideas
on speeding up your broadband.
8. Make staff more efficient
You really don't need to be involved in every micro move that
your business makes. Empower staff to make as many decisions for
themselves as possible, then sit back and watch how they thrive
with that newfound sense of responsibility and ownership. Read the
second point of this
feature to see how John Lewis have mastered this.
As a bonus result, you'll handily find yourself with more time to
focus on the strategic decisions that will drive the business
Equip your team with smartphones too, so they can squeeze every
last minute of productivity out of travel time and other dead time.
You may even find them working weekends.
9. Stop having meetings
Well, not entirely, but you can massively reduce the amount you
have. Try cutting your number of internal meetings by half for a
month and see what difference it makes. And follow the example of
Fabio Capello - no, not ruining the country's sporting chances but
in meetings. The increased group focus keeps things moving at
the pace you want.
This applies to clients too - while obviously there are plenty
of meetings you just can't cross out in your diary, try to make
calls or have video conferences where possible rather than wasting
time trekking across the UK.
Using a shared online project management and document system
like huddle.net or
can help in both these instances.
10. Say no
Unless you're willing to exist off a daily diet of Red Bull and
less-palatable stimulants for the rest of your life, it's highly
unlikely you'll have time to do everything that's asked of you.
Learn to say no. Draw up a list of priorities for everything that's
landed on your plate, then chop off roughly the lower third. This
is where a virtual PA really comes in handy.
Abiding by the 20/80 rule as per this
feature will also help you out.
Smarta Business Builder
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Documents and Email - all in one place
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