In this post I will share with you some information that I have learned that makes me the business man I am today. These lessons include automation and delegation, the usefulness of operation manuals, being effective, specializing and how to deal with competitors. These are not lessons learned the hard way which I have posted about before, but rather things I have learned while trying to be better at what I do.
Eliminate, Automate or Delegate
When you first start out you will probably not have enough work to fill the day. As time rolls on your business will begin to consume more and more of your day until eventually there will come a point where you will struggle to find the time. Your time is finite and you can only work on so many computers a day. In order for you to grow you need to either automate or delegate.
You should think about your most common tasks in your business. Do you even need to be doing it? Can it be eliminated? If you need to do it, can it be automated? Software related work is ideal for automation. For example, Windows reinstalls take a fair bit of time and require someone to be there to press Next, Next, Next. You can automate this process by creating an unattended install CD using something like vLite to install Windows, use Offline Update for the Windows patches, Fabs Autobackup 4 Tech to migrate the data and Ninite Pro to reinstall the applications . All of these support command line so you could create a batch file or an AutoIT script to do it all for you. If you don’t know how to script, Technibble has a fantastic scripting community on the forums that is only visible to members who have been on the forums for a while. You can look at some existing scripts there or perhaps pay someone to create something for you.
Of course, not every task can be eliminated or automated so you have to delegate. You can take on in-house staff or outsource the work. In either case, creating operations manuals is key. It allows others to work and make decisions in the same way you would. Essentially replacing yourself. This leads me onto my next topic.
I am a technician. I like to do things myself, my way. It’s in the technician nature. However, as I got more busy I had to take myself out of the technician mindset and more into the business owner mindset. I had to start outsourcing. The problem was I had very specific ways to deal with things and I needed to make sure that it was always done that way. Even here on the Technibble forums, the place grew much faster than I could deal with myself. I still moderate on the forums but now I have a fantastic group of volunteers helping me out. I couldn’t do it without them. Two of the mods had been around long enough that we developed the rules for both users and mods as time went on, but with the most recent take up of mods I realized I even needed an operations manual for that. It covers many of the situations that a moderator can expect but it is always expanding as various situations arise. The operations manual for your business will also expand so it should be in an editable format. Wiki software like Dokuwiki works nice if you have a few employees and you need to manage permissions. However, if you dont mind employees seeing all parts of the manual, a word document is fine.
I touched on this a little bit when I was on a Podnutz show a few weeks ago. Basically, you can spend your whole day “working” and turning the wheels but dont actually get much done. I personally used to get in these bad loops where I would check emails, read sites, do some computer work, come back, check emails etc..
I honestly didnt need to check my emails every half hour. Even worse was every time I did it and there was something to respond to, I had to deal with it then. I was constantly responding to things rather than doing some productive. You also need to keep in mind that there are lead up times in every task you do as well. You really see this when someone keeps distracting you at work and it takes you a few minutes to get back into what you were doing.
I managed to break my “being busy for the sake of being busy” habit and got my email checking down to about once or twice a day. I would deal with them all at once and I would be done for the day. My mind was clear to work on something else productive.
When I have a lot of things on my to-do list, I ask myself which of them is the most important, which will make the most difference. In most cases if I have a clients computer on the bench, that is the most important thing to do since my customers are my source of income.
I might have had cleaning up my workshop on the to-do list which would allow me to be more efficient while working. However, if I also had “change my advertising” on my to-do list this week, it becomes my second priority over cleaning up my workshop. Its so easy to “be busy for the sake of being busy” but in the end you need to focus on what makes you money. Sure, cleaning up my workshop will make me more efficient and being more efficient will eventually help me make more money, but fixing my clients computer right now and fixing up my advertising will make me more money quicker. Be effective.
If your area has a lot of businesses doing similar to what you are doing, consider specializing. I was speaking to a technician (@SMDSteve) on Podnutz a few weeks ago who focuses on doing Laptop DC Jack repairs. Instead of battling it out with his local competitors, he now has his competitors sending HIM work. This leads me to my next point.
Traditional thinking makes you think that your competitors are the enemy and you hope they go out of business. However, it is far more powerful to ally with your competitors rather than to do battle with them. Do they do something you dont do (like laptop repairs) and vice versa? Can you refer to work to eachother? If you cant find a mutually beneficial situation or your competitors are hell bent on destroying you, the best way to compete is by simply being better.
I know this sounds obvious but what I mean is dont negative advertise against them (“Our prices are half that of competitor X’s”) or do any dirty tricks to steal customers. Just be better and the customers will eventually come to you. I often get asked by technicians about how to compete with the big box stores or the guy down the street with really low prices. The answer is dont. Just be better. Have better service, be quicker, keep the customer in the loop, focus on refining your advertising and your internal systems. In the end it wont matter about your prices. The quality of your work will defeat the big box stores and the cheap guy down the street.
Last but not least in regards to competitors, once you become the best in your area, dont stop. Keep improving and your competitors will have a hard time catching up.