This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in March 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
Entrepreneurs work hard but should get the balance right
It is routine for entrepreneurs to work very hard for long hours. Hard work is a part of entrepreneurship, but how balanced is that workload? Do you handle customer complaints, check quality, answer e-mails, expedite deliveries, do progress chasing, and fix problems? These are all reactive. Your may also do some proactive work like designing the website, selling to customers, developing products and similar tasks. Even these may really be reactive – arising from the lack of a website, no trusted salespeople and customer gripes about product deficiencies. If this sounds like you, you are working in the business, not on it, and working at a low level as well.
You should be focused on beating competitors, innovation, customer retention, structuring finances, building the brand, managing budgets and forecasts, getting the right people in place and a host of other managerial tasks. These are working on the business not in it. At least some of your time must be devoted to strategy – have you got the right products? Are you in the right markets? Should you buy competitors or be bought? Is your buying strategy right? Your pricing? Does your structure support your strategy?
Life balance is equally important. Family, health, friendships, networking, learning, spirituality, hobbies, holidays and entertainment will often be sacrificed for long days working, but there is a cost.
Recognising the problem
Many entrepreneurs run their businesses like pirate captains (my way or the highway). That is fine so long as this style does not extend to operations (I do this because nobody else can do it like I can). Or they try to make everyone a clone of them. This behaviour will limit growth, frustrate employees, stifle innovation and increase your workload.
Most entrepreneurs I speak to would like to spend more time managing and strategizing but do not have time to do so. This seems strange – why would anybody take the risks of opening and running your own business only to spend your days on low level operational tasks? Such entrepreneurs claim they cannot trust their staff, or they do not have the right people in place. “I am surrounded by idiots” is a phrase heard all too often. The key question is why did they hire idiots and why do they not replace them with competent managers and workers?
There is also another, unacknowledged reason for getting stuck in operational issues. The entrepreneur excels at these tasks, does them better than anyone else, enjoys what he or she does and finds this a comfort zone.
Changing the balance
To grow your business, have a better workload and lead a more balanced lifestyle you need to make changes. I suggest you start by deciding what you should be doing, and how much time that should take. Be realistic; operational issues which others cannot handle will still be a part of your life. You will need to delegate the time consuming things you do. That may include finding the right people, and training existing staff, maybe promoting some of them. Delegate responsibility and be patient; they will make mistakes, resist the temptation to take over.
At the same time focus on some of the key issues you should be managing. Set aside time saved from delegated actions to do this. Pick any of the areas mentioned in this article or make your own list and choose some to start with. Make this one of your daily or weekly tasks. These are not one-time actions to be handled and then ignored, they are ongoing management issues.
Set time aside for strategy review and development. The most critical aspect of a strategy review is that the decisions taken there may not be implemented. Sadly the entrepreneur is often the guilty party, expressing good intentions, but not having time to put them in practice. Make time, this should be the highest priority in your business.
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