5 Important Steps To Sustain Your Small Business
For the past three weeks, you have joined me on a little journey about why to start a small business, deciding when the time is right, and then last week we went a bit more in detail about small business finances. If you haven't read those posts, make sure you do. This week I am going to cover how you as an already busy wife and mom can sustain your small business to ensure success. While getting your business off the ground sounds like the most difficult part, unfortunately it isn't. The hardest part is keeping it going once you are there.
I want to be completely honest in my business not only as a photographer but as a business owner as well. I think we often look at small businesses and see their success and just begin to dream about how nice it must be to have that income and be your own boss. When the real truth is that a lot of small businesses, are struggling just to keep up and at this point barely thinking about getting ahead. I want to share my successes and failures as a business owner and what keeps me moving forward to reach that one year mark (hallelujah!)
1) Stay Organized
I had previously mentioned that if you wait until you're perfect to start, you may never get started. When I first started my business I knew I was not 100% prepared to run a business and I didn't know exactly what I was doing - but I knew enough so I dove in headfirst and decided to figure out the rest along the way. I am the type of person who has to do to learn so this worked well for me and while I stumbled along the way, I took those experiences and learned from them. Failure is to be expected, it is learning from that failure that determines the future of your business.
My biggest failure was organization. When I first started my business, I wanted to organize my clients and finances with excel spreadsheets. This was not ideal but it was reasonable, and I did not have any additional finances to invest in my business until I started to see an income. Well the sessions started to come in, however, I was less than prepared to organize them. I had e-mails scattered all over the place, phone numbers listed here and there, notes written down in multiple notebooks. And the cold truth staring me in the face, this was NOT working. My spreadsheets were designed, I just couldn't seem to get all of the information logged, which leads me to my next point..
2) Set Business Hours
Working from home is both a blessing and a curse. And without structure I was running all around like the crazy lady with curlers in her hair. So why was I struggling with loading my client information into my spreadsheets? I did not have set business hours. I never knew when I would be at my computer to actually work on my business. I would get a text here, an e-mail there and I would be at the grocery store, with my daughter trying to enter information into my phone. Less than ideal. My mind was not on my personal life when I was in it, and my mind was far from my business when I finally had the time because I was worried about everything I forgot at the grocery store!
By setting business hours I determined when AND where I would work on my business and it changed my entire workflow. I am currently investing less time into my business yet I am more productive. How? Because I have structure. Instead of getting a little done here, and sending an e-mail there, I have now decided when, where, and how I am going to invest my time and energy into my business and I make it a point to do so ONLY during that time.
3) Plan Ahead
So as a working wife and mom who is now running a business, how on earth do you set business hours? By planning ahead. I have one precious little one who I am ever so thankful is a wonderful sleeper! She typically goes to bed around 8-8:30 and wakes up each morning again around 8:00. She then takes typically at least a two hour nap every day from about 12-2. While I am extremely grateful that she sleeps so well, my husband and I have also worked very hard to make this happen. If you have little ones at home and you are trying to build a business, it is crucial to develop a routine. Babies and toddlers love routine, they need structure just as much as their busy momma does!
So as you may guess, I schedule all of my business hours while my daughter sleeps. I typically wake up around 4:30-5 each morning which allows me several hours of uninterrupted business time. I try get to work almost immediately, and work for 2-2 1/2 hours before starting my morning workout. Then I keep my "getting ready" routine short and sweet each morning and I am ready to go hopefully before my little one ever even gets out of bed.
4) Ask for Help
If you are a wife or mom trying to start a business, chances are you are doing so because you have some free time at home to work on your business. However, unlike me you may also have more than one tiny baby at home and even with your unplanned time, still find it difficult to accomplish much of anything. If your babies nap at different times, wake up at different times, place multiple demands on you as mommy, and you have found ZERO time to work on your business - then it is time to ask for help. As a mom this is something we ALWAYS struggle with. However, you can't avoid the truth and if time is your biggest issue then you need some help.
If you are a stay at home mom because you can not afford a sitter or because you wanted more time with your little ones and not less, than maybe starting a business just is not the best idea for you and your family. I don't mean it will never happen, I just mean maybe not right now. I am very fortunate to have a helping husband and family who jumps in whenever I need to take off for a session, and a little girl who loves to sleep so that I have dedicated business hours when I am home. But the truth is, without that dedicated time, I would struggle to be where I am today in my business. If time is what you need, find some help.
5) Be Intentional
If you finally asked for some help in setting aside dedicated time for you business now is the time to be intentional. Maybe your husband agreed to take the kids for a few hours every Saturday morning so you could sit down and edit photos or work on your blog. That means you have from 10-1 to get to work. Now is not the time to scroll through Facebook or turn on Netflix. Now is the time to get down to the nitty gritty, shoot out a few e-mails you need to answer, bust out that last blog post, send off a finalized gallery, and then pat yourself on the back for killing it.
I had previously mentioned that I was unorganized with my business because I did not have set business hours and I was failing to plan ahead. So how did I change that? Calendars and lists my friend. I still use my excel spreadsheets for a majority of my business organization, but the key here is that now I actually USE them! When you're running a small business you want to make yourself always look available, even when you are not. Sounds easy enough, right?
I want my clients to maintain open communication with me, while still maintaining a life. So I plan ahead and then I am intentional with my time. If I receive a client, text, e-mail, or Facebook message during unscheduled business hours, I try to make it a point to at least respond to that message, even if I cannot address their issue immediately. After all, I am a business owner and I need to be available, I just still need a life as well. A quick "Hi Jane, thank you so much for reaching out, I will gladly send out an e-mail tomorrow morning with my pricing guide and more information to your question. Have a great day!" takes me about two minutes, and then I address it during normal business hours. Simple enough! So instead of having a lengthy conversation with my client at the grocery store, I let them know I am aware of their contact and I will be in touch as soon as possible. Then the following morning, I am at my work area where I take the time to provide a professional response and also log their information in my spreadsheet. Organized.
This blog post? I wrote it weeks ago! And yes, I have a spreadsheet for that. Whatever you want to do in your business, take some time to prepare for it, organize your thoughts, plan ahead, and then execute it. You are an amazing business owner with a thousand different creative ideas bouncing around in your mind at any given moment.
Your business deserves for your ideas to be thoughtfully organized, planned out, and then acted on. And guess what? Your husband and kids deserve a mom who washes her hair every once in a while as well (Still working on that one over here, dry shampoo for the win!) But in all seriousness, sustain your business by creating order in your life and eliminating the chaos. When life starts getting too chaotic or I start taking on too much, I take a step back, analyze what went wrong, and cut out all the extra time wasters I don't need.
I hope this series helps you get that amazing business off the ground and keep it soaring high! If you had any extremely helpful takeaways I would love to hear it, or any tips I could use those are always welcome as well! And don't forget to pat yourself on the back momma, you are doing great!