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As business owners, when we hear “budget” we automatically think about money. We balance the books and ensure that we are not overspending. Marketing opportunities hit our mailboxes and in-boxes. We diligently evaluate each one and determine if the benefits to our business are worth the financial investment.
What I’ve found fascinating is that many of us, myself included, do not treat our time the same as our finances. No one ever talks about budgeting the time it takes to market a business. Our days end up overflowing, we mutli-task, and sometimes we feel a bit of panic wondering how we are going to fit it all in and meet our deadlines. Maybe it’s time to take a step back, evaluate the time we are spending marketing our shops and ensure the time spent aligns with our business priorities.
How did we get here?
For Etsy sellers, especially when first starting out, there is very little money to invest in marketing. So, many artists make the smart decision to turn to social media to get the word out about their shop. This choice leads shop owners down the path of creating blogs, Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, and more. While I’m an advocate of social media for many reasons, I’ve also realized that before you know it you can be spending more time on your marketing initiatives – posting and writing – than you are spending creating new items for your shop. This is the alarm bell that the balance is “off” and you know a time budget is something you need.
Start with Your Business Goals
Before doing an audit of your time or creating a plan, take a step back and truly assess your goals for the business. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Is your Etsy shop a Business or a Hobby? You may prioritize time differently based on this answer.
- Do you have a blog? If so, would you continue to blog even if you didn’t have your shop? This will help you understand if you are blogging to market your business or for other purposes.
- What goals do you have for your business in 2011? These goals could lead you down different paths on where you focus your time. For example, if you plan to increase your product line and post more items in your shop you may need to budget down your marketing time to increase time on product design.
Understanding Where the Time Goes
Once your goals are on paper, you can take a look at how you are currently spending your day. Take a week or two and keep close tabs on where the time is spent. This works best if you create groups of tasks that make sense for you. To provide a bit of inspiration on groups to consider, here are the ones I used when doing my time audit:
- Creating Products – Working on shop items
- Creating Content – Writing for my blog, Facebook, etc.
- Researching – Looking for content/support/ideas for posting online and creating blog posts
- Shop Management - Photography, writing listings, updating shop
- Order Management – Responding to customers, packaging, shipping
- Checking – Looking at stats for my shop, my sites, etc.
- Running the Business – Ordering supplies, paying bills, balancing account, etc.
- Other – This is the time that was “lost” as I was distracted by shiny objects…a project around the house, wandering around the web because of an interesting post I saw and ended up off task
I’ll warn you ahead of time, you may be surprised at what you learn from this time audit. For me, the realization was that I was spending far more time than I realized (or wanted) “checking” and “researching”. The place where I had too little time was “creating” – both product and content. This gave me great insight and a foundation to start the next phase of creating a time budget – establishing priorities and limits.
Establishing Priorities and Limits
Once you know where you are spending time, you need to determine if adjustments need to be made. If they do, you can start working on strategies to save time in key areas to expand time in other areas. For example, you could limit your time in e-mail to 30 minutes per day. Or, you could set an egg timer as you write blog posts – when the time is up, you move onto another task. You could make a rule that all marketing and logistic tasks need to be completed by noon everyday leaving the rest of the hours free to create.
When looking at all of this in a blog post, the process actually seems quite logical and easy. I can tell you that setting priorities and limits is not as easy in practice as it sounds.
The process involves changing your habits. As we all know, changing habits in any area – losing weight, living greener, exercising more – are not as easy as they may seem. Sticking with the plan you create is key. The more tools and ideas you have to keep on track and become as efficient as you can the more likely you will be to succeed. So, the rest of the post will provide some ideas on some time saving techniques and technologies.
Time Saving Tips
There are a lot of great ideas on how to save time out there and a simple google search of “time saving for small business owners” will garner many hits. As I shopped around, I found one blog post by Jason Grilli to have eight great ideas for finding extra hours in your workday. Here are his suggestions:
- Set doable tasks. Starting a task, but not finishing it can frustrate you and wear down your energy level. So, break a major task into smaller tasks at the level of effort and time physically possible for you to attain.
- Limit warm-up time. It’s easy to let time run away when you think that you have the whole day ahead to get things done so that by the time you get to actual work you already took way too long browsing.
- Be guided by your Top Two. Arrange your Top Two priority tasks of the day as the first two tasks in your â€œTo-Doâ€ list. This way, you finished two demanding tasks with less stress.
- Peak Time & Down Time. Figure out your most alert moments throughout the day for deep-thinking and for doing actual work.
- Now/Later/Delegate. As new tasks come your way during the workday, decide on the spot if you need to work on it now, if it’s something you can get back to later, or if it’s something you can delegate.
- Multitasking does not work. Recent studies show that it is normally impossible for the brain to focus on more than one task at a time. Instead, group similar tasks and then finish them all at once.
- Organize daily. Spend at least 30 minutes each day putting things in order. Better yet, organize as you go. Hours get wasted trying to find lost papers and other stuff.
- Learn to cut back. Spend less time on activities that don’t align with your priorities. Learn to say no to activities that are trivial to your business or those you cannot commit to.
Time Saving Technologies
With technologies evolving at a rapid pace, new tools arrive everyday to assist business owners in managing their marketing programs. Here are a few popular programs and apps you might want to consider.
HootSuite – HootSuite is a social media program that allows you to track all of your social media networks, schedule updates to go out automatically, and set alerts for activity. Atutorial from BusinessMom.net can get you started.
NutShellMail – NutshellMail is a product from Constant Contact that tracks your social media activity and delivers a summary to your email inbox on your schedule.
Etsy Apps – There are a variety of apps that can assist you in more efficiently managing your shop. If you haven’t implemented them already, re-review the great EcoEtsy post that was written back in January on these time-saving apps.
Hopefully, the ideas in this post will inspire you to consider a time budget. The goal is to stop doing things that don’t drive you toward your business objectives and use the extra time to focus on the things that do. What are your favorite techniques and/or technologies for saving time? Share them with the group!
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