Starting out in business you are every job role to everyone – accountant, recruitment, marketing, administration, personal assistant, sales, CEO, CFO, HR, PR…and with very little chance of R+R! You live in your email inbox or on the phone – it’s simply what you have to do.
Then, as a small business grows so does the team – and yet somehow you become even busier. I’m fortunate to work with a few companies who are at this stage, all of whom are tech savvy and a few of which are taking some rather extreme measures to save them spending all their time buried in their inbox or on the phone…
Research Behind the Reasoning
Researchers from the University of California found that employees get just eleven minutes of work time between each distraction, after which it can take up to twenty-five minutes to get back to the original task at hand. This suggests a huge loss in productivity and signals the need to erase at least some of the daily distractions employees face.
But, But But…
BUT… you’re running a business, how can you do so without being on the phone or answering emails? As mentioned above, I’ve clocked on to some excellent ways in which some SMEs have saved time and maximised productivity.
Option 1: Set an Out of Office
Tim Ferris, author of best-selling business book The 4-Hour Work Week, suggests using an out-of-office style email which states that emails will only be checked at 11am and 4pm each day. With so much time wasted scouring through inboxes and replying to each and every tiny request as it comes in, enforcing just two inbox checks per day can encourage clients or employees to:
a) Find their own solutions
c) Pick up the phone if it’s urgent and sort out the issue far more quickly
One hesitancy might be if customers get angry at this arrangement, however evidence largely shows they are not likely to be offended by the choice – indeed, they know exactly when their email is going to be seen which is more certain than the alternative. A client of mine did this for a boutique hotel, and didn’t get a murmur of complaint – customers and employees alike had no issue and it’s still in place today.
Option 2: Remove Your Phone Number Entirely
Take a look at this contact page – notice anything interesting? No phone number! They have removed the telephone number from their website entirely and instead, everything is done by email and online chat. This company is an eCommerce brand and very technical – as such this works both for their productivity as well as their customers; their reviews are positive and 40% of their customers use their online chat facility before they buy.
Through live chat, email or via their ticketing system, customers can get in touch in numerous ways and don’t seem to miss the option of a phone number. For this to work however, with 40% of customers wanting to discuss their potential purchase online, having competent technical sales staff is vital.
Option 3: Hire Out
It’s increasingly common to hire an actor to make those dreaded sales or lead follow-up calls that eat up an afternoon, and it doesn’t cost the earth – some actors charge as little as £10 an hour. Additionally, Virtual Assistants (VAs) are becoming more and more popular due to their ease of use and the fact that you don’t need to sacrifice any professionalism to outsource your admin and sales activities. For example, Internet companies such as Voipfone charge just £2 per month for a professional phone number that feeds direct to your mobile – a small price to pay to communicate a professional veneer.
Personally, I find speaking on the phone makes you a human to your client, and even better than that, is seeing them face-to-face. However, it is a hectic and busy world out there and having less stressful alternatives – be this in the form of outsourcing, limiting your time online or limiting your time on the phone – can help boost your morale and that of your team. Startups and SMEs are the most frequent new type of business in the UK and small teams are expected to make big waves if they are to compete with larger and more established ones.
With so much to think about when growing a team, the smaller administration matters such as responding to constant emails and being distracted by phone calls can cause a great deal of stress and detract from more important aspects of business growth. The three aforementioned options all approach these issues in different ways and what works for one company may not work for another. I have seen several companies reach the same end with varying techniques, but the message remains the same: creating new paths for the distractions gives way to the more important things, and allows you and your small business to grow and succeed without too much stress.