I love September. It's a fresh new start after the summer, full of promise. A bit like January, but with better weather!
When I come back to my desk in September I feel refreshed and full of ideas. It's a time when I make sort-of-resolutions, making plans for the coming months.
But there's often one key frustration.
How can we make progress, when there are so many jobs to be done, and we barely have time to think?
Over the Summer I did have time to think and I hope I've got some answers to this perennial problem for small tourism businesses.
Most of us have something we want to do to make our business better. It might be improving our marketing, developing new products or making some physical changes. The problem is there's always something else claiming our attention. When you run a small business, you probably find that you focus on the 'must do' jobs before the 'want to do' or the 'do now for an impact later' jobs. There's always something that's urgent and needs your attention. Some of the jobs we feel we have to get done aren't particularly important but there's a sense of urgency about them. They so easily distract from making any real progress and taking our business forward.
I think I've found an answer!
In fact, I have three solutions to the problem of not making progress when you barely have time to think. I've tested each of them over the last year or so and they've really worked well.
Before I tell you, think of a project you want to undertake, something you want to achieve or make better and keep it in your mind as we go. I'll refer to this below as your 'progress'. Read to the end for details of how I'm putting all this into practice.
Running your own business is wonderful. In theory you get to be in charge of your time and exactly what you do. The reality is that we're all accountable to our clients so we bend over backwards to please them and that doesn't leave any time left for us to make progress. Making progress on our big project is always in the future, never something we work on right now.
At the same time most of us like to do what we say we'll do. So the first thing we need to do is announce our project. What are you planning to do to make progress in your business? Who can you tell? It's helpful to set a date and give some details as part of the move to make yourself stick to your plan.
I have a concrete example of this. For years I've planned to write a blog but other things got in the way. At the beginning of the year I announced online that I was going to write a daily blog, which I also share via a facebook page. I was quite specific, telling people about what I was going to do, when and where. Since then I've been extremely busy with other work and there have often been times when I struggled (writing a blog next to a family member in hospital was a low point) but I've kept going. I'm not sure what I think would happen if I didn't do this but now I've announced it, I feel accountable so I keep doing it.
It takes guts to announce what you're planning to do, but the courage you'll need is far less than the frustration of not making progress month after month!
2. Create a habit
An important part of making progress in your plans is to keep moving forward by doing something. Even doing something small but consistently is worthwhile. Thinking and planning aren't enough. You have to create a habit, and focus on taking tiny steps that together add up to real progress. You might think that you need to clear a big chunk of time to make progress but that's rarely feasible.
It's much more effective to create a habit and to do something for less time, more frequently. This is why the daily practice of writing my blog works. Over time I'm building thousands of words of new content which is satisfying and has already reaped rewards in terms of web traffic.
Doing something consistently is important to build credibility and generate rewards that spur you on to greater efforts. I have found that whether it's writing a blog, consistently posting on social media, or sending out regular (with emphasis on regular e.g. at set times) mailings really makes a big difference. I don't have any more time than before but since I've established regular habits to do certain things I've found I'm somehow found time by becoming much more focused on the achievement of the regular habit. In turn each of those regular activities has paid dividends by building followers, response rates and sales conversions which has encouraged me to keep going towards my goals.
Running a small business can mean that you need to keep a firm handle on costs. I've often hesitated to invest in my business, whether it was buying time-saving software or going to a conference where I might learn something useful.
Making a concrete decision to invest both time and money in my business has been fruitful. I've wasted hours downloading free software or templates etc that I've never used properly but when I've spend money it's forced me to follow up and use the advice or software I've bought.
Over the past few years the combination of public funding and the internet has meant that there is no shortage of free courses and information. But this hasn't led to significant improvements in marketing or business success.
I think this is because there has to be a little pain, in terms of investment, to make you think about what you're doing and really leap forward. If you really want to make progress, you know you need to invest time, money or both. It can be worthwhile taking advantage of free advice, going to free workshops and events. But the ones you pay for will be much more effective - once you've opened your wallet, you'll be much more willing to put advice into action, to make real progress. Commitment, in terms of money or minutes, makes a big difference.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs