Treading Water – How to stay afloat in small business?


BY Sam Davies


2 August 2017

Reading Time: 3 minutes

So, if you haven’t read my article on the 80/20 principle and how I am trying to integrate it into my work life, you should check that out here.

I am 2 weeks in and am finding out some pretty interesting things about the way I work and also things that are blocking me from being more productive.

The number 1 thing I have found is that regardless of the social media blackout and prioritising critical tasks and allocating dedicated time for lead generation, I am still always 3-4 hours short each day of achieving everything I set out to at the start of the day.

Sure sure. I can hear you saying that I should delegate more and work smarter. The team is also at capacity though and I am delegating as much as I can without making more work for myself through management.  It makes it harder when we have staff off sick and random emergencies for clients that need to be dealt with, but…

What the hell is going on?

As a small business owner you often feel as if you are treading water. Ask me what I achieved on any given day and my answer will be, ‘everything and nothing’. A dozen small tasks take up space in your brain and never really allow you to focus on that chunky and elusive 20%.

As staff rise in the business to positions of management and delegation, they also start feeling the same pain. It is hard to maintain laser sharp focus and keep 7 projects worth of information swimming within arms reach. I still feel wary of managers who are so far removed from the day to day that they have no idea what is going on in a project. Clients still expect me to be across their projects. Even though I execute very little outside of high level strategy, I need to maintain a strong, high level periphery of the scope and where it is at.

Do I need to drop this? Is my problem still as it was 4 years ago where I struggled immensely to let go of the tools, then let go of the books, is it perhaps time now to let go of the detail? Perhaps that is a part of my 80%. Is it that I want to know all of the ins and outs because I am scared of letting go?

At this stage in our journey as a business and looking at something like the 80/20 principle, perhaps it is the answer. I am far from superman. I can work long hours and am good at keeping track of a dozen different channels but I do lack focus and suffer from chronic shiny-objectitis! I also know for a fact that I will engage in smaller tasks or conversations about ongoing projects when I should probably be focussing on MY 20%.

Another issue I am encountering is working out what that 20%actually is. There are so many channels running in parallel and all of them are screaming for attention. To give you an example this week I can choose from the following ‘priorities’:

  • Important new client documentation (of which I am project owner)
  • Staff Reviews (running all week. Even though they are only 30 minute chats they take up a huge amount of mental energy)
  • New marketing campaign
  • Overseeing the production and printing of all our new hardcopy materials
  • Following up 10 or so ‘Hot’ Leads
  • Working on SOP’s with new staff
  • Overseeing the final production stage of two high level client projects
  • Business Development (there are several sales channels that require urgent attention)
  • Delegating several small jobs on existing client websites

So when I look at that list my attention goes immediately to number 1. Clients come first. But then what about the team? And what about next month’s budget which won’t be met if I don’t bring in x amount of $$$.

I suppose this is fairly common for the modern small business person. Delegation and support has meant that I can grow the business to where it is now, but I cannot afford to hire an infinite number of new staff and keep the business sustainable. I also cannot clone myself, and I am not sure I could stomach being around my clone for any length of time even if I could (I feel sorry for my wife!).

Do you often find yourself in a similar situation? I would love to hear how you deal with some of these issues and if you have any advice feel very free to get in touch, I love chatting about this stuff.

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Sam Davies

Sam has been running a Digital Agency in some form or another for almost a decade. He loves the internet and the positive changes it has brought to the world but still loves time away from the glowing cubes. Surf, Fish, Drink, Cook, Laugh….Drink! You can follow him on Instagram @samdaviesdn and on Snapchat @digitalnoir