I think it is safe to say that even when you make the best plans and do all the right things, it seems that someone, somewhere, has another plan for you.
In August 2010, I entered a partnership in a landscape design and install company that specializes in water features. Having worked with the industry for so long I understand the constant struggle for business owners to succeed. So, when I was recently asked to present two seminars on marketing for a trade organization, I was drawn to a new perspective – not just that of a marketing professional, but now also an owner.
In many ways the information I have always presented did not change. I know that this is an industry filled with entrepreneurs who own small businesses, with few employees, and often wear several hats. The day-to-day operations are time consuming and often tedious. The hours are long and hard. The work is intense and strenuous. It requires putting in a full day on the job site, sun-up to sun-down, then returning home to spend a few precious moments (maybe) with the family before doing all the billing, correspondence, and general office work. And, it never ends. When you finish one job, you have to have the next one lined up or there isn’t a check coming in.
So there is the challenge – how to find the time to keep those checks and calls coming in. And, if you own a retail location – how to keep customers walking in your doors. For me, some of those answers are very back-to-basics information. But, as an owner, I have come to find that there is nothing simple or easy about having enough hours in the day to work on your business, and that it is a constant struggle.
Of course, you already know that planning is the most important factor. By now, you have all heeded my advice and are starting off the New Year with a business plan and a marketing plan in place. Now I’m going to give you some recommendations that will (hopefully) keep you on track throughout the New Year and take **less than twenty hours each month (less than an hour each day) ** to improve your business.
One of the top items on your list should be your website. While I realize that I say this over and over (and over) again, somehow it is the one area that I am shocked at how badly this industry does. **One hour a month** (minimum) should be dedicated to checking your Google Analytics, site rankings, and updating your content. You need to know where you stand in terms of how many visitors go to your site, actually spend time on your site, and what areas are not being looked at. Consider it your monthly check-up. The health of your website greatly depends on its content too. Updating that each month will help with your Organic Search Engine Optimization. If you have not set up this feature on your site, go to http://www.google.com/analytics/ to get started.
Spend **two hours each month** developing email campaigns for your clients. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that someone’s business is “word of mouth” (usually in the same sentence as, “I need more work”) I would be a very rich woman. Why not make it easier for people to spread the good word about your company and even “forward to a friend” the information you just sent them. This kind of communication also keeps you at the top-of-mind and helps build your Brand with existing and potential customers. Once you start doing this process it becomes easier and easier each month. For tips on how to write great newsletters and get positive results, visit http://sendgreenmail.com/ and get writing.
Logging in for **2.5 hours each month** to administer your Social Media. In a month of 30 days, if you spend 5 minutes a day (at a minimum), you will put in less than three hours in building your relationships with others. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all great popular platforms that many of your customers are probably already on. Facebook is by far the largest Social Media platform in the world with more than 500 million active users, of which 50% logon in any given day. It is a great way to connect and stay top-of-mind (but don’t be annoying or you may be de-friended). If you choose to Advertise on Facebook, they can even walk you through the process at http://www.facebook.com/advertising/.
Another **2 hours each month** should come in planning, communications, and administration of business operations. It is often difficult to carve out time each week or month for meetings that keep everyone on the same page. Many companies, large and small, find communication tools, software, and platforms a great asset in keeping the business running smoothly and keeping staff accountable for their responsibilities. Basecamp (http://basecamphq.com/?referrer=thegreenpen) is my top choice and I have been using it for years in my own business. What I like is that it becomes a central location for all communications; you can track time, share files, and create to-do lists to help keep everyone on task.
Focus **30 minutes each week** reading for a total of **two hours each month. ** It is really not that hard to do. I often take one of my favorite magazines (*INC* or *Fast Company*) to the gym and read through it while on the elliptical machine. It is also great to put it next to your bed with a pen and paper so you can read a bit before closing your eyes (better than anything on TV) and write down any inspired thoughts. If you need new material, check out http://www.magazines.com/. Increasing your knowledge base in your field and staying current with trends will help make you a better asset to your customers and will provide you with information to keep your business moving forward.
Spend another **two hours each month** freshening up. Whoever said that looks don’t matter lied. For consumers with many options available to them, first impressions can make all the difference. If you have a retail business, go through with your staff to dust off shelves, organize inventory, and touch up paint where needed. It can make a big difference in how your customers see you and your store. If you are out in a truck and on the road, take 30 minutes each week to empty out the trash and give it a quick washing. I look for deals on sites such as Groupon (http://www.groupon.com/r/uu973592 ) to offer deals on car washes and detailing and buy them in bulk. (I also find this site great for getting client gifts. You may even want to check in to running your own Groupon offer.)
Now, here is the big one, **four hours each month** dedicated to calling old customers or lost leads. That is one hour each week. Go through those old and forgotten proposals. Dig back through your email. Picking up the phone and making the direct connection to someone can often end with positive results. Perhaps they couldn’t do a project in the past because of time or budget constraints and they lost your number. Or maybe they have just been sitting on the fence not sure what to do. A quick personal call may give them that push they have needed to get things started. Do not always assume that because you haven’t heard from someone that they didn’t want to work with you; often they just need a little extra encouragement that can come from a friendly and non-sales/aggressive conversation.
So there it is. **15.5 hours each month** that you should dedicate to your company. Less than one hour each day. When you combine these on-going efforts with great planning, it will become much easier to grow your client and customer base. And, if you think you can’t afford to spend the time to do these things, then I say to you – you can’t afford to NOT do these things.
Hours a Month
**Hours** – Task
**1** – Website – check your traffic, add new content.
**2** – Email Campaigns – design and send.
**2.5** – Social Media – check daily and add to.
**2** – Staff – plan, administer, and communicate.
**2** – Weekly – read 30 min – keep up to date with current trends…
**2** – Freshen-up – Retailers paint, dust, organize | Clean Your Truck!
**4** – Call old customers or lost leads.
**15.5** – Hours per month that make such a difference