Start-ups: How to handle limited time (7)
By Mellissa Morgan, aka Ms Cupcake.
If you run a small business, you already know it is all-consuming. Your whole life becomes focused on what your business is doing and where you plan to take it next. But what if you are not in a place to do that? How can you possibly juggle other commitments and still run a successful business?
There are some commitments in life that you cannot easily get rid of - your partner, your children, or another full-time job (let's face it, that mortgage isn't going to get paid through selling a few cupcakes!) So what can you do when you only have a very limited amount of time to spend on your business?
Firstly - and I cannot stress this enough - never take on more than you can handle. It is so much better to disappoint people by telling them you are sorry you cannot take on their order, rather than accepting their order and messing it up because you had way too much on the go. It's actually a good thing to have to turn down orders, as your potential customers will be quite impressed that you are so busy and they will be sure to book in early next time. Also, consider giving them the details of another baker they can contact instead. Customers are always grateful when I recommend another baker and I know the other bakers appreciate it too.
Next, don't stick your head in the sand and avoid responsibilities. If you are going to give people your email address and/or phone number, then make sure you check them daily for messages. There is nothing more frustrating for customers who want to contact you, but are not getting any reply. If it takes you at least three days to reply to emails or calls, then let people know. They tend not to mind as long as they are told ahead of time. If you are unavailable for the month of December, just leave that on the outgoing message of your phone, or write it on your website, so you don't waste people's time.
Thirdly, prioritise. I get well over 100 emails every day that require answering and I wish I could respond to all of them immediately, but I am rarely at my desk. So the moment I open my inbox, I quickly delete any junk mail that has slipped through and start answering in this order: queries from customers on pending orders; staff/supplier/business associates-related queries; new customer orders; requests regarding events/promotions/donations; and, finally, general customer emails - these can be people looking for jobs or looking for help with a recipe, people who want to share their views on our cakes - anything really. Do not feel obliged to answer them in the order they came in - think about which is the most pressing.
Finally, if you are struggling to keep all the balls in the air, you do not always have to be 100% truthful as to why. Your customers/suppliers have no need to know your life story. They are probably used to dealing with larger firms and you do not want them to question your abilities if, for example, you have to cancel trading at your weekly farmers' market because you have a six-year-old at home with the flu. Just say that, due to ‘another booking', you will be unable to be there this week. But make sure any prearranged orders are fulfilled or rearranged to the customer's satisfaction.
It is hard starting a small business by yourself, and the juggling act doesn't get any easier as your business becomes more established. However, over time, you do become a much more talented juggler.
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