Time is our most precious personal resource; once we’ve spent it, we’ll never get it back. As busy entrepreneurs, we seem to have less time than anyone else, so it just makes sense to look for ways to use our time wisely. Here is one technique that has worked for many.

The Four D’s

When you think about it, there are only four actions you can take against any one of the many tasks you have on your plate:

  1. Do it.
  2. Delegate it.
  3. Delay it.
  4. Delete it.

As you approach each task on your to-do list, ask yourself which one of the four D’s is best.

Do It

The first option is simply to do the task yourself.  Get it done, checked off, and out of the way.  This is often the best option if it’s urgent, important, or you are the only one with the experience and training to do it.

It might sound counter-intuitive at first, but doing a task might not be the best option. Let’s look at the other three options before we decide.

Delegate It

If your to-do list is full of simple, routine actions, then delegating is a strong choice. Delegating is also a great choice for tasks that are beyond your skill set and that would take too much learning-curve time away from your core work. If you don’t have time to do everything yourself, then getting help is a smart alternative to doing it yourself.

Getting help doesn’t mean you have to hire a full-time employee. You can get help in a multitude of ways:

  • Engage a company to do a task. From walking dogs to managing Google Ad campaigns to handling your bookkeeping and taxes, there are companies like ours that would be delighted to take over your task for you.
  • Automation is a form of delegation. Can software do what you are doing?
  • Find someone on Fiverr.com or UpWork. You can hire someone for a five-minute task or a 5-day task. Find them on any website that lists freelancers for hire.
  • Plenty of people are looking for part-time jobs, just in case you don’t have enough work for a full-time person.

If you can write instructions about how to perform the task, you can delegate it. And if you’re worried about losing control or quality, simply add milestones where you check the person’s work. Initially, it might not be faster, but in the long term, it will pay off.

Delay It

If a task is not urgent or important, delaying it might be the right option. The problem with this option is that you have to handle the task at least twice: once when reviewing it and deciding whether to do it, and again when you finally decide to do it.  If you keep deciding to delay it, you’ve handled it more than twice. Not only can this take up precious time, it can be a drain on your energy as you see the incomplete task on your to-do list for a long time.

However, there are times when delaying a task is best:

  • Delay if it’s not urgent and you have other urgent items to attend to.
  • Delay if it’s not important.
  • Delay to prioritize other, more profitable tasks first.
  • Delay when the task is best done in batches. Here’s an example: Rather than answer each email as it comes in, think about blocking out three times a day where you check and clear your email. You can apply this time-batching concept to just about everything to gain efficiency: posting on social media (write and schedule a month’s worth in advance), returning phone calls, attending meetings (book them all on one day and keep other days clear), and running errands (delay until you have three to four errands, then do them all in one run.

Be careful of delaying a task over and over again.  Something else may be going on with your mindset:

  • The task may be uncomfortable for you (find someone that loves to do what you don’t and delegate), or
  • How to get started is ambiguous (get training or find someone experienced to shorten your learning curve).

Delete It

Some tasks should never have been added to your to-do-list in the first place. When there is no return on investment for a task, perhaps the best choice is to delete it.

Take a look at some of the things you do out of habit. Does it still make sense to do that task, or is it simply done because it was always done that way?

Do, Delegate, Delay, Delete

Try the four-D time management trick for yourself to get an instant boost in efficiency and productivity.

The 2021 holiday sales season will give businesses a chance to continue their online migration from 2020 trends, with opportunities for more refinement and improvements.  The key is to bring as much as possible online and integrate all of your customer touch points into an omnichannel of positive experiences.

Let’s take a look at some trends in retail that we can apply to many other industries. These trends will strengthen our businesses and position us well for the future.

Strong E-Commerce Presence

As people increased online shopping and delivery last year, the trend is expected to continue beyond the pandemic. For this reason, all businesses should strengthen their online presence, especially their e-commerce presence.

Many retail establishments benefit from a complete ecommerce solution, including a storefront, shopping cart, online payment process, and automated fulfillment. They can expand their online effectiveness with these features:

  • Enable chat features between customers and store clerks to simulate the conversation the customer might experience in the physical store
  • For clothing, post detailed sizing charts, imitate the dressing room mirror with try-on automation, and use photos of models in all shapes and sizes
  • Create how-to videos to show customers ways to effectively use the product
  • Expand photography so customers can see all angles of the product as well as how it can be used
  • Display and sort user reviews to help customers decide
  • Implement clear navigation and search options so customers can find what they want. Today, many customers research online, then visit the physical location to finalize their transaction.

Expanding your business’s e-commerce presence doesn’t just apply to retail. For example, businesses in the services space have implemented appointment-setting and payment processing. Real estate agents have enhanced virtual home tours. Many businesses with physical goods and documents have beefed up delivery options and implemented curbside pickup.

Each business has a unique sales cycle that a customer goes through when purchasing goods and services. The question for business owners to ask is how they can bring most of that experience online.

Mobile

The vast majority of transactions are now occurring on mobile devices. If your business’s mobile presence is not optimal, then you’ll want to make that a priority this year to catch up with your competitors.

Social

More and more consumers are using social media channels – Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Facebook — to discover and purchase items that delight them. Wise business owners will invest more budget into attracting customers from this channel.

Holiday Seasons

With the move to online shopping, the holiday season has been extended from just one day or one weekend to entire months. Consumers are shopping earlier and all year long. Retailers and other businesses can benefit by always having some kind of sale or attraction going on. Here are the key holidays for the fourth quarter:

  • Columbus Day
  • Halloween, the second most profitable holiday (Christmas is first)
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Black Friday
  • Small Business Saturday
  • Hanukkah
  • Cyber Monday
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day
  • Kwanzaa
  • New Year’s Eve

How does your business fare when it comes to a fully online experience? Use these trends to boost sales growth in 2021 and beyond.

If you grant credit to customers or take recurring credit card payments, the unexpected can happen: a customer fails to pay on time, the credit card expires, or the check bounces. What can a business owner do to spend as little time as possible on these items but get the cash collected?  Plenty.  Here are our ideas:

Re-examine your credit policy

Is there any way you can have credit customers pay up front? Perhaps you can collect a deposit to minimize your risk. Perhaps you can request final payment right before you deliver the final product.  Perhaps you can convert credit terms to a layaway situation, like they use in retail.

The best way to speed up collections is to change your payment terms if at all possible.

Be proactive

If the client is late with a payment, respond quickly.  Send them proactive reminders. Give them a call just before the payment is due if you have this luxury.

If the customer pays by credit card, monitor credit card expiration dates, and send reminders to update the card before it expires.

Make it easy and clear on your website support section how a customer can update their credit card number on file at any time. Automating this process will save you a ton of time.

Payment failures and disputes

It’s inevitable that you will experience customers whose credit card payments, ACH withdrawals, and checks fail or bounce. As a business owner, you need to have solid procedures for you or your employees to process these exceptions.

When a credit card payment fails, make sure your shopping cart, merchant account, or gateway processor notifies you of the failure. Contact the customer right away to correct the situation. The same is true of bounced checks or failed ACH deposits. Assess any extra fees and flag the customer account if you want to place any future payment or credit restrictions on them.

You may also have customers that report disputes to their credit card company. Respond timely to these transactions as there is always a tight deadline, and make sure you have all of the documentation you need at the time of sale if this comes up.

Develop solid collections processes

If the payment is late, start your collections routine.  Send out friendly reminders at first; then get progressively aggressive as the payment grows later and later.

Follow-up steps are very important. Make sure your customer is getting your notifications, and give them a call before you have to take legal steps with them.

Finally, if necessary, turn the payment over to a collections agency who can impact the customer’s credit report and possibly collect your money.

We hope you do not have too much of this activity in your business. But if you do, being proactive is a great way to reduce it. Check to see if you have all the processes described above in place to handle collections in your business so that your cash continues to flow.

While Net Profit and your cash balance are probably the first two numbers you look at on your monthly Profit and Loss Statement, don’t stop there.  There are a lot more gems you can glean if you dig a little deeper and look through the following six lenses at your data.

  1. Automation Opportunities

Look at your labor detail reports as well as professional and outsourcing expenses to see what areas might be ripe for automating.  Is your admin spending too much time scheduling meetings?  If so, automate everyone’s calendars.  Are you finding places where duplicate data-entry is driving up costs?  Get Zapier or another integration solution.

On the flip side, cancel tech spending where you are no longer using the app and get those expenses off your books.

  1. Duplicate or Excessive Expenses

Where are you paying for things twice on your Profit and Loss Statement?  Where could you scale down?  As an example, if you are renting 5,000 square feet but now only need 2,000 because everyone wants to work from home, see if you can re-negotiate your lease or sublet that extra space.

Do you have redundancy in your insurance policies? Perhaps your liability and your business umbrella both cover workers compensation.  See what you can do to reduce the overlap.

You might only need three phone lines but are paying for five.  Retainer and recurring expenses should be inspected carefully; are you getting what you’re paying for?

  1. Outsourcing Opportunities

Are their companies that can do tasks or work cheaper and better than how you are doing them now?  If so, outsourcing could be a profitable option to look into further.

  1. Indications of Fraud, Theft, or Excessive Risk

As owners, we need to protect our business investment, and we should always be on the lookout for signs that our investment may be at risk.  If your numbers look odd or unexpected, you should be skeptical and investigate further.

  1. Tax Savings Situations

Investing in tax planning almost always yields great results, especially this year with new tax relief available to qualifying businesses. Get help from a tax professional to see if you qualify or are close to qualifying for tax deductions, credits, and savings.

  1. Sales Growth

This list would be remiss without mentioning the obvious opportunities of finding ways to grow sales. Your sales results can give you an idea of where more growth can occur, where promotion opportunities exist, and where completely new revenue sources can be created.

After you’ve examined your cash number and your net profit, try these six new filters to get even more ideas to run your business better.

Many people have complained about the worker shortages this year. If you need additional workers in order to grow your business, here are some ideas for your consideration.

Where to Look for Workers

We may think of workers as only being employees, but there are a lot more options if you’re open-minded.  Here’s a list of places to find workers of all kinds:

  • Recruiters
  • Employment agencies
  • Online job portals, such as Indeed, SimplyHired, and ZipRecruiter.
  • Social media, including LinkedIn Jobs
  • Your own website, email list, or employee referrals
  • Temp agencies
  • Specialized online job portals that cater to your industry and business type
  • Virtual assistant organizations
  • Day labor online sites and pickup areas
  • Job matching sites such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.
  • Colleges, when you need interns and entry-level workers
  • Your local unemployment office
  • Small business development centers
  • Virtual assistant agencies or businesses
  • Chambers of Commerce and other business organizations
  • Professional organization directories where a license is needed, such as hair stylists, dentists, or CPAs
  • Friends, colleagues, competitors, and neighbors; your own personal or business network
  • Craigslist and local classified ads
  • High school guidance counselors if you want to hire straight out of high school
  • Outsourcing to a company that provides the labor that does what you need
  • Volunteer matching sites

Options for Adding Workers/Labor

There are many ways you can increase labor in your business. The obvious is hiring employees.  Beyond employees, there are many more options than you might first think:

  • Contractors, where you have a contract for a particular job and meet all of the IRS and other compliance requirements
  • Temp workers, where you “lease” an employee who stays on the temp agency payroll or hire them outright with a limited term of employment.
  • Part-time workers on your payroll
  • Companies that you outsource the work to and contract with as vendors to provide a particular service. They may outsource your labor needs or simply have labor as a component of the product or service you have contracted them to supply.
  • PEO, or professional employer organizations, act as a client’s employer and hire their employees as well as manage payroll and other HR compliance tasks.
  • Interns, which are unpaid positions. Check your state and local rules for laws regarding hiring interns.
  • Volunteers.  This is common if you have a nonprofit organization.

With all of these options available, it should be a bit easier to find ways to add labor and grow your business.