Downtime happens to everyone. Here are some ideas on how you can make smart use of these handy, but often unwelcome, hours.
Having downtime can be frustrating but it can sometimes also be a blessing in disguise. There are plenty of things that are perfect to do when you don’t have to focus on clients but can pay attention to your business and yourself.
1. Document Your Workflows: Is There Something You Do More Than Once? Write It Down
Whether you’re a freelancer or working for an agency, there are activities you do more than once. Figuring out how to do something for the first time usually takes some time. Writing down your workflows and processes is one way to avoid having to rediscover a method again and again. It’s also a smart way to use your downtime.
Processes are Necessary for Effective On-Boarding
For a team, documenting processes doesn’t just save time, it also helps with quality assurance and growth. Defined processes make on-boarding new team members, and clients, so much easier.
I know that writing down these processes these probably sounds mindlessly boring compared to doing creative work. Even so, your future self will thank you. The better documented the boring work is, the less time it takes. That means more time for the fun stuff. I do believe that well-documented processes and systems are the stuff with which you build great companies.
A Simple Process for Sending Invoices
A process is essentially a series of actions. As such, it can be as simple as a numbered list. As an example, here’s a process I’ve used to send invoices to a consultant broker I’ve worked with. The reason I needed a process was that the broker had special requirements. They required invoices to be back-dated and to refer to the invoice they’d send the client in turn. By creating a process, I avoided making mistakes which would cost me time.
WORKFLOW: Send invoice to Consultant Broker, Inc.
- Create a new invoice.
- Select recipient: Consultant Broker, Inc.
- Set invoice date: 1st of the current month (not today)
- Payment is due: 45 days.
- Line item: <amount>, Jakob Persson, <client name>, work in the month of <month>
- Remark: Ref ABC999
Use the Software You Already Have
As you can see, processes can look trivial. Since they’re so simple, you don’t need special software to create them. You can keep them as Word files in a shared Dropbox folder or as a bookmarkable Google document folder.
The important thing is to keep them up-to-date. The easiest way to do that is to create a recurring event in your calendar for when to review these procedures.
4 Rules of Effective Process Documents
It’s important that your process documents are:
- Up-to-date and relevant.
- Easy to access.
- Simple to update and edit.
- Clearly written with enough details so that even new employees understand them.
When deciding which process to write first, I recommend starting with the frequent, frustrating or time-consuming activities.
2. Get More Future Customers: Create or Revise Your Marketing Plan
In my experience, way too many small companies operate without a marketing plan. That’s kind of insane when you think about it. We have plans, and even contingency plans, for everything else. Yet marketing is something many just assume will magically work by itself, forever and ever.
Want to know a secret?
Marketing is what will feed you in the future and you’re doing it whether you know it or not. But there’s a huge difference between letting marketing happen to you and directing it yourself.
Pick the Clients That Pay What It’s Worth
Businesses that direct their marketing efforts can influence who their customers are by positioning themselves and ensure they can ask the price their services are worth.
Seeing companies go out of business due to failing at marketing is heart-wrenching to see. It’s so preventable!
A Marketing Plan That Fits on One Page
Small business marketing starts by answering some very basic questions. In the brilliant book The 1 Page Marketing Plan, author Alan Dibb introduced a super compact marketing plan template for small businesses. Using the template, you can reduce a marketing plan to the following:
- My Target Market
- My Message to My Target Market
- The Media I Will Use to Reach My Target Market
- My Lead Capture System
- My Lead Nurturing System
- My Sales Conversion Strategy
- How I Deliver a World Class Experience
- How I Increase Customer Lifetime Value
- How I Orchestrate and Stimulate Referrals
3. Find Future Team Members: Meet with People You’d Like to Hire at Some Point
We’ve done a lot of market research as part of building Bondsai. One of the pains many agencies told us about related to finding the right people when you need them. Agencies see a constant change in workload which makes hiring and managing growth costs a permanent headache.
Reality being that, you might think many would plan for their future talent needs.
Yeah, you wish.
If you ask small businesses about their candidate selection process, it appears most of them publish job ads only when they need staff. It’s no wonder they get stressed out not being able to find the right people when they need them the most.
Effective Recruiting is a Long-Term Strategy
Recruiting is a long-term process that requires growing relationships over time. Great potential team members aren’t served on silver platters at just the right time.
If a company appears to find the right talent when they need it, that was usually not just happenstance. It was the result of a strategy to connect with candidates.
Using your downtime to identify and connect with future candidates will serve you well once the work arrives.
Using Personas to Target the Right Candidates
A good starting point is to think over your competency needs for the next 6, 12 and 24 months and what talent you need to meet it. Draft candidate profiles that include personality, skills and past experiences. You can condense them into candidate personas to create an even more effective search filter.
Use personas or profiles to find interesting people. Reach out to them and book lunches or coffee. Be candid about your intentions and say that you like their profile and would like to learn more about them. Then stay in touch with the promising ones.
4. Automate to Deliver More Value: Build Tools That Save Time
Some of my time spent on this blog goes to technical maintenance. It runs on WordPress and uses a custom theme I’ve created specifically for Bondsai. I’ve also tried to reduce the number of plugins but there are some and they need updating now and then. This used to take more time than I liked. That was until I wrote some scripts.
After having invested 2-3 hours in writing these scripts, I can now clone the entire website to my local development environment to safely install and test updates. All done using only one command. Getting the changes back up live is equally easy. This means I can spend more time on the blog itself, and less on the technology behind.
Automation Doesn’t Always Mean Writing Code
Doing something like this requires writing scripts. That may not be your cup of tea. Regardless of your level of programming skills, there are always ways to automate your work that doesn’t involve code. Services like IFTTT (if this then that), Zapier and Automate.io let you connect various other services using “recipes” or workflows.
Workflows consist of a trigger event and actions. When the trigger event happens the system performs the actions. Workflows can be connected to a wide range of services and social platforms. One use of this is could be to save to Google Drive all the Facebook pictures your friends tag you in
Services like IFTTT, Zapier, and Automate.io often have helper apps for your smartphone. Some of these apps let you tap into your phone’s location services. This can be very useful. Imagine you’re a consultant who works on client premises and wants to log your visits. You can use IFTTT and its app to create a workflow that triggers when “entering client premises” or “exiting client premises” and which then logs the time and date to a spreadsheet.
Setting up workflows like these is rather fun and a good way to spend half a day of downtime that you cannot use for client work.
Conclusion: Downtime Can be an Asset in Building Your Business
There are many ways to put your downtime to good use. Being out of client work now and then can in fact be good to your business as it lets you do important tasks you’d normally overlook. The kind of activities that build a strong and lasting business.
We’ve only scratched the surface in this article. We’ll return with more ideas on using your downtime in future posts.