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The Green Sheet Online Edition

October 26, 2009 • Issue 09:10:02

Street SmartsSM

Don't let distractions hobble your business

By Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang

All around everything is buzzing. No, it's not spring already. The noise is coming from those myriad electronic devices designed to make sure we all know what is going on in real time. As feet on the street, our ability to manage time and close deals puts dollars in our bank accounts.

When we are new to the merchant services business, we are usually gung-ho and active, but as our businesses mature, we can get comfortable, complacent - distracted.

Many merchant level salespeople (MLSs) operate home-based businesses. This adds distractions that must be identified and managed before they become problematic. How can you, as a small-business owner, effectively manage your time?

If you've heard it once, you've heard it twice (and probably said it yourself): I just don't have any time to get that done.

This is a primary concern, especially for those running a business from home, where a sole proprietor's roles often include sales, information technology, human resources, marketing, accounting, husband or wife, parent, committee chair and so forth.

Identifying challenges

Let's take a look at common distractions home-based businesses face daily:

  • Telephone: Being able to connect with somebody is a vital tool for business success. Today cell phones and inexpensive call routing services make it extremely easy to contact just about anybody at any time.

    Since your job description also includes secretary, using a telephone management system provides several benefits, including call screening. You can create a telephone management system utilizing inexpensive services that will provide an automated response unit to not only give you a bigger look and feel but also give you knowledge about incoming calls. For example, if a caller pushed No. 1 for sales, that may be a priority over a customer service call (or vice versa).

    If your business is mobile, these systems can also e-mail voice mail messages directly to your inbox for viewing on most smart phones. An automated response system can also handle calls after business hours so you can, for example, relax on Saturday morning.

    And most important, use the telephone to generate business, not interrupt it. Sometimes that means turning off your phone or leaving it in the car when on a sales call. Speaking from experience, a 15 minute meeting can become one hour when a client keeps answering the phone.

    When used properly, the phone can be a revenue generator instead of a drain on time. Set aside an hour each day to follow up with new clients, vendors et cetera. Make it at a time of the day that you can reach both the East and West coasts during their business hours.

  • E-mail: A study done by Dr. Thomas Jackson (www.drthomasjackson.com), of Loughborough University in England, found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by e-mail.

    Therefore, people who check their e-mail every five minutes waste 8.5 hours per week figuring out what they were doing before the interruption. That is a startling figure. So, wisely managing e-mail communications can be a quick hit for gaining more time.

  • Social media: Social media are new and exciting, but keeping up with the technology the various social networks use can be extremely time consuming. Tools exist that can update all of your social media tools with one click of a button. It takes time to set up, but once they are up and running, social media can be managed in 15 minutes or less each day.

    Separating business social media from personal social media can help ensure that during business hours you are not planning your next vacation or sharing pictures of a recent one.

    Also, keep this in mind when posting on forums like GS Online's MLS Forum. Be respectful of other people's time by limiting your posts to business topics, and follow the rules set out by the forum.

  • Family and pets: When we asked MLS Forum participants what their home-based business distractions were, the responses centered on family and pets. One of the main benefits to home-based offices is the increased amount of time spent with family.

    But it can quickly become a distraction in a situation like texascommerce describes on the forum: "My 2 1/2-year-old son ... chasing him down the stairs, after he grabs the Blackberry off my desk, while I have the blue tooth in my ear talking to a merchant."

    Forum member rbelcher's distractions are "just the four Chows; they get barking, and when I am on the phone the merchant can hear them in the background. I just say they forgot to get the security dogs out of the building today." This is an excellent example of being prepared to react when distractions occur.

    Ultimately these distractions are a small price to pay for the benefits of a home-based office, but they are one of the primary pitfalls steering us away from tending to business.

  • Habits: Daily routines speak volumes about your ability to consistently perform to standards week after week. A day can start with sleeping in a little bit later (especially on rainy days), getting the kids off to school, dressing (hopefully), checking e-mails and so on, and before you know it, it's 11 a.m.

    Examine your routine and identify where you can capture a few more hours to apply to measurable goals that are falling short of your expectations. Forum member bmiller0630 looked back on his past month and noticed a few distracting items.

    "Some days I sleep in one hour longer," bmiller0630 wrote. "My 30-minute lunch ends up to be two hours. I watch new release movies on Tuesday from the Redbox (during working hours). My 2 year old and 5 year old slam doors, scream, fight, etc. Instead of cold calling the whole day, I ended up at a golf course with friends."

    Staying focused

    One of the most valuable things one can do to improve productivity is to create and stick to a schedule. Here are nine tips to help you stay on target:

    1. Plan your work, and work your plan. At the end of each day check your schedule, calendar and task list to make sure you accomplished everything. Work until you've done it all. Then spend 10 minutes planning the following day. This will help avoid embarrassing oversights and ensure critical follow ups are performed.

    2. Build in wiggle room. Don't pack your schedule so full that there is no room for customer service or family emergencies. Always set expectations with clients such that you will exceed them versus struggle to meet them.

    3. Write it down. Use pen and paper, voice recorders, cell phones and other available tools to make note of action items as they pop up. Add these to your plan at the end of the day.

    4. Keep your work space and car clean. Before making each day's plan, straighten up your desk; stack papers according to action items. Clutter is a distraction that can inhibit productivity.

    5. Prioritize routinely. Put your schedule and task list in order of first to last. FIFO (first in first out) is not always the optimal strategy for planning. LIFO (last in first out) can avoid clutter and get quick-hit items out of the way.

    6. Say no. Often, to avoid saying no, we do not prioritize items appropriately. This is true with family and clients. Feel free to say no, or not right now or I will get back to you on that.

    7. Enlist family and friends to help. Being able to convert potential distractions into valuable bonding time and still achieve the necessary work load is a great skill. Copying, scanning, social media, cleaning, housework, cold calling and answering phones are just a few ways family members can help, resulting in increased productivity and family bonding time.

    8. Keep track. Employ measurement systems to make sure distractions are not impeding your goals.

    9. Reward yourself. Making your rewards a direct result of a productive work week satiates that innate human drive for pleasure. A successful four-day work week could result in a full day of golf or just a long, three-day weekend.

    There is no better feeling than sitting down at the end of the day knowing you accomplished your goals. Identifying and minimizing your unique distractions results in less stress, more downtime and a bigger bank account. end of article

    Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang are the owners of 888QuikRate.com, an ISO based in Ft. Worth, Texas, that was named Small Business of the Year by the local newspaper, The Star Telegram. For more information, tweet them at http://twitter.com/dfwcard, comment on their blog at http://merchantservices.cc or visit their profile at http://linkedin.com/in/jonperry or http://linkedin.com/in/vanessalang. Alternatively, you can contact Jon and Vanessa by phone at 817-857-3557 or by e-mail at jon.perry@888quikrate.com or vanessa.lang@888quikrate.com.

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