Q. Dear Zenagos,
How can I find enough time to send out invoices and do marketing when I work all day?
You are experiencing one of the truisms of entrepreneurship: Running your own business is hard. You probably started the business because there’s something you love to do, and it almost certainly wasn’t sending out invoices or doing marketing. In a perfect world, you could just spend your day doing the work that you enjoy.
Delegate the Tasks You Hate (if possible)
In every job, there are things we love to do and things we avoid. If your business is large enough that you have employees, then it is wise to delegate the important tasks that you have a tendency to avoid, so they will get done anyway. As you know, invoicing is a critical activity – if you don’t do it, then you will not be paid for your work, and you may run out of cash. Likewise, marketing is crucial, since it provides the future work (or “pipeline”) that will sustain your business. If you let those tasks slip today, then you may not have the customers or the cash that you need tomorrow.
What if I don’t have any employees?
Many entrepreneurs run their small business themselves. As “solopreneurs,” they do everything, including invoicing, bookkeeping, and taking out the trash. If this describes you, then you can either find a way to outsource the important activities that you avoid, or you can find a way to force yourself to prioritize them.
You are not the only small business owner who has trouble getting the invoices done. It is difficult to stomach paying someone for an activity that you could perform yourself, since every dollar that you spend is a dollar that you don’t keep for yourself and your loved ones. However, if you are avoiding the activity to the point that it is not getting done, it may be a better deal to accept the cost of outsourcing, in order to ensure that it gets done, routinely and on-time. Look for vendors who serve small businesses and have reasonable rates. For example, you may be able to find another solopreneur who focuses purely on bookkeeping and invoicing.
There are many firms that provide marketing services for small businesses. In the short term, it will take you more time to vet marketing vendors and test their effectiveness, but in the long term, this can save you many hours – and it may lead to better results, which could be more profitable in the end.
If you decide that you cannot afford to outsource, then you are going to have to find a way to prioritize your least favorite important tasks. Here are some strategies for prioritizing:
In his blockbuster book, “The 7 habits of highly effective people,” Steven Covey advises as “Habit 3” that people “Put First Things First®” (Covey, 2020). If you perform the harder tasks first, then you are more likely to get them done. In their training seminars, the FranklinCovey company shares a Time Management Matrix, emphasizing that it is a crucial success skill to be able to do the strategic tasks that determine your success in the future (“Important, but not Urgent”), instead of allowing yourself to always focus on tasks that are immediately urgent. Whether or not Covey’s particular approach resonates with you, there are several popular approaches to time management, including David Allen’s gtd® (“Getting Things Done”) and Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager. One of these philosophies may work for you.
It is a well known truism, famously expressed by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, that “work expands so as to fill the time available” (Parkinson, 1955). Thus, if you enjoy the primary work of your business, you will spend all of your time doing that, and you will have no time or energy left for the important tasks that you do not enjoy. A strategy to overcome “Parkinson’s Law” is “time boxing,” in which you set aside a specific block of time for a task in advance and then limit yourself to that time. For example, give yourself 20 minutes at the start of each day to complete invoicing and marketing tasks, and do as much as you can in that time box. This may help you to get more done than you are doing now.
It would be wonderful if there were a wand that you could wave to magically complete the business tasks that you would rather avoid. When you find yourself tired and frustrated, remember why you are running your own business, and consider the alternatives. The tasks you don’t like may pale in comparison to your joy at being your own boss.
Covey S. R., Collins J. C. & Covey S. (2020). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. Simon & Schuster.
Parkinson, C. N. (1955, November 19). Parkinson’s law. The Economist. London.