Like many entrepreneurs, I like to “go with the flow”. That’s one of the benefits of working for yourself isn’t it?
The ability to work when you feel like it and do what you want to do.
But I discovered (the hard way) that is not the way to run a successful business. It is the way to run a stressful business.
It is easy to be a slave to someone else’s priorities. To live (or work) between the email inbox and social media. To be alternating between responding to emails, scrolling social media and client work. All this means is that the big plans you have to grow the business never get actioned. You get to the end of the week wondering where it has gone. Having made no progress on the things you really wanted to get done.
I now plan out my week. Of course it doesn’t always go to plan. In fact it rarely does…
But by writing down a structure for the week it is more difficult to get distracted. And it certainly means that I usually get some of my own priorities actioned. And if something crops up that demands my immediate attention, or something takes far more time than anticipated (which happens a lot!) I know I can move things around which massively reduces my stress levels.
Make the list
My plan for the week starts with a to do list. I gave up daily to do lists a long time ago. What’s the point in writing a list of 50 things and only crossing off a few, with some things languishing on the list for months – getting copied over from one day to the next?
I now write a weekly to do list. Ideally I do this on a Friday before I close the lap top for the week, but in practice I’m more likely to do this on a Sunday, and sometimes first thing on a Monday. The benefit of doing it before you start the week is that you can hit the ground running on a Monday morning. But that’s not always practical!
My to do list consists of things which “need” to get done and others I “want” to do – because they’re a priority for my business (or sometimes because they’ve been on there for ages).
How do I decide what goes on the to do list?
This is key! I break my work down into a number of different categories. I find it easier to think about what I need to do each week that way.
Leads is following up on existing leads. This could be people I’ve had an introductory call with, people who’ve emailed me or people who have messaged me.
Following up on leads is one of the most important things you can do to have a successful business. These are people who have reached out to you enquiring about working with you. They are your best prospects and far easier to convert than posting on social media, PR or cold calling/messaging people.
There’s always a balance between following up and harassing people. I will respond to enquiries and follow up. I usually leave it at that. I might follow up again. You have to do what feels comfortable for you. But do follow up. I know I often get distracted when I enquire about something and their response might fall down my email list. A polite prompt can be enough to restart the conversation or to book/buy.
I make sure I follow up on leads every single week. And I add the names of everyone I want to follow up with that week on my to do list. I never used to and I sometimes took weeks to get back to people because I was “busy”, wasn’t sure how to respond or felt uncomfortable following up. Needless to say that’s not a good impression to give someone!
It doesn’t have to be done first thing on a Monday, but following up on outstanding leads every week is one of the most important jobs you can do in your business.
2. Bespoke website building client work
I split my client work into two – new bespoke websites and everything else. That’s because of the nature of my work. You might just have a heading of client work.
As I make a list of all of the client work I need to do that week I try to order it.
For me, if I have a website that is about to go live that will be my highest priority that week. I might not have anything outstanding to do on it when I make the list at the beginning of the week but I add that client’s website to the top of the list in any event – because I am expecting to work on it that week.
Then I have clients who have given me edits or content or whose websites I am starting to design. I’ll also add clients whose websites haven’t been started but I need to send them information, like my questionnaire, to allow them to start work.
3. Other Client Work
The nature of the work I do means that once I have built a website I have an ongoing relationship with the client.
I maintain their websites. That means being responsible for the website hosting, SSL certificate, backups and updates. Some of this is outsourced/automated but obviously if there is a problem I need to sort it out. Others, like updates, are manual because big updates need to be carefully handled.
Some clients email me most weeks (sometimes several times) with queries and things that they want me to do.
There’s also some work to do on client websites after they go live which I tend to include in here. Things like showing the client how to edit text, change images and other basic changes on their website. Submitting their website to the search engines. Doing some basic SEO. Adding a favicon. And generally tidying up the website. The less glamorous part of website building!
This list tends to be lots of small actions, most of which are not urgent, but need to get done. Writing the list down helps to prioritise them and, importantly, makes sure I don’t forget them.
Marketing my business could be a full time job. The key is to work out which forms of marketing are going to be your priority and what you might do if you have the time.
For me, after following up leads, my podcast is my priority marketing channel. This means publishing a podcast every week and marketing it on social media. My aim (not achieved yet) is to be several weeks ahead on recording podcasts, writing associated blog posts and having social media posts written to go with the podcast. So this is at the top of the marketing priority.
Next for me is Instagram – creating content and engaging with others (rather than scrolling mindlessly – I don’t need to add that to my to do list!). Again I try to be ahead and have some posts written before I need them. I might use an auto scheduler for posts to my grid, but obviously need to schedule time to engage with both followers and non-followers.
In my dream world when I’m ahead on my podcasts/blogs and have instagram posts written/scheduled then I’ll work on other forms of marketing. I include SEO in this, as well as PR, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. I know I could get more leads from these if I was more consistent, but there are only so many hours in the week and these are not my marketing priorities.
5. Business Development
Business Development is the one thing that can move the needle in your business.
Every 3 months I take stock and decide what my priorities are going to be for that quarter. This includes a marketing priority (currently podcast/blog and Instagram), any new products I want to introduce and things which make my existing business better (eg automations).
Making time each week (or at least a significant amount of time over that quarter) for new products and/or things which make my existing business better is crucial for my business to grow.
It is really easy to stay “stuck in the weeds” doing the day to day tasks of your business and posting on social media, but they won’t grow your business.
It’s also important to focus on one thing at a time. I’m very easily distracted by shiny new things and have been known to work on several ideas at once. But this isn’t effective.
Getting my podcast up and running was, for longer than anticipated, my number one business development area. Now I’m working on improving the process for my bespoke website design clients. I’ve updated the questionnaire I send (and I have this in an easy to find place – no more hunting for the original or the response). And I’m working on materials to help them get the information they need to me.
What’s your number one business development priority?
Yes, the catch all!
Invoicing, book keeping, anything legal, training, etc all fall into this category.
I’m a big believer in lifelong learning and often have several courses on the go at once. Sometimes these are tied into my business development idea, sometimes they are stand alone.
Adding to my schedule
That list is usually pretty long!
The next step is to add things into my diary. I still use a paper diary for this.
First of all I will add in any fixed commitments. This includes walking my dog, school runs, lunch, gym sessions as well as any meetings that are in my diary.
Then it is a case of looking at the list, working out the most important tasks to do that week, how long they’re going to take and when I’m going to do them.
I write specific tasks in each time slot. This helps to break down the task into more manageable chunks. So if I’m starting a new website build it might be:
- Set up new website
- Add to hosting
- Reformat images
- Add images (incl logo)
- Personalise settings, colours, fonts, etc
- Go through questionnaire
- List key thoughts
- Research other websites
- Sketch ideas
- Add first design
- Add content
I make sure I schedule in tasks I’m not keen on doing and things which will move my business forward as well as client work. The tasks at the beginning of the week are most likely to get completed so I make sure I am scheduling in things I really want to get done at the beginning of the week. Tasks that mean my week has been a success.
Each day I allow some time to go through emails in my inbox, social media messages etc. That way I can focus on the task at hand rather than keeping a constant eye for notifications. If a response is going to take longer than the time allotted (or more thought/research is needed) then it gets its own scheduled time.
Personally I use time blocks of 30 minutes or an hour and so I might schedule a few smaller tasks in one block. I also colour code the tasks by the categories of work (leads, bespoke client work, business development, etc).
I try not to schedule in things for a Friday that I really want to do that week. I like to leave Fridays for finishing off things (or dealing with things that have come up during the week). I might schedule in tasks for the morning, but these are ones that can get ‘bumped’ if need be. In an ideal world I’d finish early on a Friday but that rarely happens!
Once the schedule is complete the list is forgotten. Anything which has not made it onto the schedule is not going to happen that week. And I have to be ok with that. Otherwise I have to see if there are tasks in the schedule that I can delegate to others to free up the time to do more.
Of course if/when I look back at my week it rarely works out the way it is scheduled to do so.
I decide I don’t want to do something, something else takes longer, something “urgent” pops up, etc
Don’t want to do something
You sit down to write that blog post you scheduled for that time and just don’t feel up to it. What then?
First of all, it is helpful to understand your own rhythm of working. Most people are more able to tackle “harder” things at the beginning of the week. We start the week with good intentions (like eating healthily). So schedule the items you know you’re going to need motivation for when you’re likely to feel more motivated.
Are you a morning person? Or an evening person? When are you most creative? And when during the week are administrative tasks the only thing your brain can cope with?
Chopping tasks up into smaller actions makes them seem less daunting. If writing a blog post seems too much, listing out the points you’re going to make might be easier. And once you have done that, you may have gotten into the flow to continue.
Reminding yourself why something is important can help in the moment. What is the consequence of not doing that task?
Rewards can help too. Although you do have to have the willpower to only take the reward when you do the task!
If you don’t want to do it, can you delegate it to someone else? I’ve had many a client come to me after “sort website” has been on their list for months but they’ve never got the motivation to do it (it can be hard on your own).
And finally, if you’re really not going to make progress it can be better to swap it for a task later in the week that you will make progress on. That is always going to be better than getting tempted by the quick fix hit of social media…
Something takes longer
I am an eternal optimist. I always think something is going to take me far less time than I expect (unless it is a job I’m dreading doing and expect it will take hours, but find it is done in 15 minutes…)
How to avoid this?
First off is to be realistic when you’re scheduling. Don’t try and shoehorn 5 hours of work into a 1 hour slot or put things in “in case you have time”.
Second recognise that a job will always expand to fill the time. If you give yourself a day to write a blog post it will take a day. If you give yourself an hour (or two for a long one like this) then get focused and do what you can in that time.
If you run out of time you have a couple of choices:
- You can accept that it is done. There is no more time for this task so the post must be published, draft sent to client, etc
- You can cancel something else to give you the additional time. This can be the next task in your schedule. Or it can be another task later in the week (this is why I like to make Fridays lighter and full of tasks that are less important). Or it can be your “free” time.
- Or you can delegate/outsource something on your list to free up the time
Something Urgent pops up
Do you find this always happens? Me too.
There’s urgent and of course there is urgent! Most of the urgent things that crop up are rarely urgent for you. They’re urgent for other people. Like a client who has left something to the last minute and they’re launching tomorrow but urgently need your help? Or a child who has left something at home they need for school?
I’m not suggesting you don’t help. I usually do! But you have to recognise these are other people’s emergencies, not yours. Because, if we plan our week out, we shouldn’t be the cause of the emergency. Or at least not as often!
If you do respond to these then, just like the above, something in your schedule will need to be cancelled to make way for it. This could be your free time or another task. Alternatively you could outsource/delegate to someone else (either the urgent task or something else).
I like to plan my week out before or at the beginning of the week.
I start with a blank sheet of paper and write down all the things I want to do that week, by category of task. This list is a combination of things which are reacting to others and which are important to me, including client work, following up on leads and business development.
Once I have the complete list I start to add them to my diary. I add fixed commitments first – both personal and business.
Then I schedule in the most important items from my list – taking note of when I am likely to be most motivated to do each of them. If I know something is going to be difficult I’ll break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks that are easier to get started with.
I try to schedule in items on a Friday that are less important so I have the flexibility to bump these if need be…
My weeks rarely work out as planned, but it does mean I only have to think once per week about what is important to get done, and I can easily see what I can switch around as need be. I have certainly found it has helped me get more done each week.