Written by Mark Williams
Being your own boss can bring many benefits, but working fewer hours normally isn’t one of them. People who run their own small business usually end up working more hours than they would if employed by someone else.
Research published in September last year by cloud accounting software company, FreeAgent, looked into the working habits of more than 500 UK freelances and micro-business owners. It found that almost a third worked more than 48 hours a week (the maximum most employees are permitted to work by law). About five per cent admitted to regularly working more than 64 hours a week. Some small business owners work even longer hours each week.
Working in the business
Not only do small-business owners work long hours, but they’re also faced with a wide range of people and tasks competing for their attention and precious time. As a small-business owner, you can’t just concentrate on the easier jobs or the things you like doing.
A common problem, especially for micro-business owners (those with fewer than 10 employees), of course, is getting bogged down in working in the business, rather than on it. And because the owner gets so caught up in day-to-day business matters, they rarely if ever take the time to step back, assess how well – or otherwise – the business is performing or developing.
They don’t get the time or headspace to identify what they’re doing well, so they do more of it, nor do they spot things they’re doing badly, so they can improve and become much more efficient, productive and profitable.
Time for action
Firstly, working excessive hours can be bad for your health, especially if you’re sat at a desk in front of a computer most of the time, your diet is poor and you’re not getting much exercise outside of work. And although you may struggle to identify how you could set aside time in your busy day to step back and think about your business, you should realise the potential benefits to be gained from stepping away from the day to day to look at the bigger picture.
You should have clear, well-considered goals for yourself and your business, because if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll never know whether you’re business is developing in right the way and pace. Opinions differ over the merits of business plans, with some believing they’re a total waste of time, but putting together a basic business plan at least means you have clear goals and key numbers against which you can judge performance.
No matter how busy, you should set aside time each month – even if it’s just a few hours – to remind yourself of your goals and those key numbers. Are you making the monthly sales you need to make? Are you attracting and retaining enough customers? Are you controlling your costs to ensure your margins remain intact? Do you need to change your prices? Are you more profitable as you were, just as profitable or less profitable? Why could that be?
It’s not just about numbers. You need to take time to regularly step back and consider your products or services. Are they as attractive as they were? How could you improve them? Do you need to develop new ones – and get rid of some old ones? Could you market them in a better way? What about your staff and their skills?
Finally, consider your market – how is it changing? Are there any new threats to your business? What new opportunities exist? Can you sell more to your existing customers and attract new ones? Are there any new sales channels? Should you sell further afield?
Taking time out to consider each of these key questions and more could enable you to make improvements that leave your business significantly leaner, more productive and profitable. It might also even mean you don’t have to work so many hours.
Mark Williams is a freelance editorial consultant, writer and SME content specialist with over 25 years' experience. He contributes to The Guardian Small Business Network and planned and wrote the Start Up Donut website. As well as award-winning magazines and websites, his writing has featured in national newspapers and Sunday supplements.
You can find out more about Mark's work on his website: www.markiwilliams.com