Updated: Feb 25
How to maximise your time and get great results
The small business owner is someone with little time for ‘nice to have’ actions, everything they do needs to be completed efficiently and for maximum effect. It’s how they compete with the big brands. With this in mind, marketing, which too often is seen as a ‘nice to have’, needs to be one of the most efficient and effective weapons if it’s to be used well.
So let us have a look at some of the key things any good small business (and its owner) can do to be ruthlessly efficient and spectacularly effective.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Most people know about the 4 P’s of marketing, everyone that has studied the subject knows about them, type it into Medium and you’ll see a lot of titles for it, the most recent is here. I prefer to remind people of 3 alternative P’s — Preparation, preparation, preparation.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln
Nothing will improve the efficiency and quality of your marketing like good preparation. It’s not sexy to say, but it’s a fact (that not even Donald Trump can call fake news). The better prepared you are, the less time is wasted on idea generation, running campaigns, writing content or managing stakeholders. The better organised you are, the more targeted your marketing will be and the better the targeting, the better the results. So let us look at examples of how to improve preparation.
We have written at length about the importance of a marketing strategy to make every small business owner more efficient and effective, see below for the full detail, but the key takeaways are
It will tell you the content ideas you need to write about, meaning no time wasted thinking up new ideas each week
It will make your budget go further
It will remind you quickly what the tone of voice for your content should be and the imagery you should be using
You will know what your objectives are, so if your campaign is not geared to achieving that, don’t bother doing it!
Discipline & Planning
Everything in this article only works if you apply discipline to what you do. These are not things you do occasionally. They are not things you just do when it’s convenient for you. They need to be completed daily, weekly and monthly. They need to follow the same level of quality each time. I know people have an image of marketing being all about creative thinking (and that’s certainly needed) but the best marketing minds I’ve ever known were ruthless in following a set of rules and processes. They lived by the vision of the business.
One of the greatest marketing and product minds of the last 30 years was incredibly disciplined and single-minded — Steve Jobs. He knew how Apple needed to work and made sure they stayed on message, a beautiful product that people desired. Not what they wanted, what they desired. We all saw what happened at Apple when Jobs lost control and John Sculley took over and tried to run a company that produced normal computers that people ‘needed’ — that didn’t go so well.
With discipline comes planning. I’m not just talking about a marketing plan, I’m talking about knowing what’s coming in all aspects of marketing in the weeks ahead, because enables you to schedule work, to work on elements in batches and to make the most us of your time. There is no better example of where planning becomes critical to marketing than your content strategy.
For the time-poor small business, finding the time to write content is hard. By having a marketing strategy, you make that easier because you have the ideas and topics already, but you still look at the content planner and think — I have to write a blog, record a podcast, send a tweet daily, post on Facebook and create an Instagram story. The key to doing marketing in a productive manner is all about superheroes and sidekicks! Let me explain.
Your superhero is the headline article, the big piece of content from which all the other elements will be generated, the sidekicks. Let’s take the example of a company that sells self-help courses. This is an example of how the superhero and sidekick content works
Superhero — A blog about the importance of exercise for a healthy mind
Sidekick 1 — An image of a happy and productive person, with a quote from the article. This then gets posted onto Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Sidekick 2— A post that lists the 5 best forms of exercise for the mind, a list that is taken directly from the blog. Posted onto Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Sidekick 3— A story for Instagram, which is a daily video reading out a different section of the blog
Sidekick 4 — A post that talks about the benefit of sleep, which is taken directly from the article. Again posted to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
And there you have it. You wrote one blog (about a subject you know a lot) and had to record a 30-second video each day reading part of the blog and you have the content to post on multiple social media channels all week. It’s not a perfect example, but it does highlight if you really don’t have the time, how quickly and efficiently you can produce content. And this is how you become efficient at content marketing, but planning ahead and showing discipline.
You might be thinking that this is great for producing content, but I’ve still got to spend the time promoting that content, going in to post daily etc… and this is where our next subject comes in — Automation.
Don’t Multi-Task, Do Automate
One of the keys to effective marketing is the use of technology. Always be careful not to use technology for the sake of using technology. Always ensure it has a purpose and that it means that either you get better results or you can do things faster or cheaper.
The most common two tools that small businesses should be using are marketing automation tools and social media planning tools. Let’s discuss what they do and good examples of the tools you can use.
Social media planning tools
What? They are tools that allow you to schedule multiple tasks in one go. For example, upload a post that you schedule to go out on multiple platforms or set up your posts for the whole week, doing them all at the same time.
Why? Firstly you save time by setting things up and not having to go in daily. Secondly, because they mean you can schedule your social media for the right time for consumers, not when you have the spare time to post. Finally, you can create content in one go, rather than spending time coming up with something fresh each day and having to get your mind back into the process.
Which? Buffer Publish. A great tool for simple, no-nonsense publishing with a reasonable free tier. Hootsuite is worth considering, if you only have three profiles, you can use Hootsuite to schedule, monitor and analyse for free. Their stream-based monitoring makes watching everything in one window a breeze. Zoho is great for team-based social media management. Lastly, Loomly is a super tool for scheduling. It offers ideas for creating posts as well as previewing how each post will look.
What? Marketing automation is a concept that came out of email marketing and grew to encompass other communication channels like SMS, messaging and even social media. It allows you to trigger messages to prospects and customers based on key actions, from simple thank you for purchasing emails, to complex segmentation that lets you anticipate the users next move and communicate accordingly.
Why? It has two massive benefits. Firstly, you can communicate with your customers and prospects at the right time, meaning a more personalised experience and increased results. Secondly, once you have set these communications up, they will automatically do the work without you needing to intervene, get involved or spend time on them.
Which? Whilst there are a lot of different tools out there, some work better for small businesses and your best choice might change as you grow. Most will have heard about or probably used MailChimp at some point, it has a great free solution but as you need the paid version you might want to look at a different solution. Klaviyo is building a good reputation for itself with small and growing business with a really cheap entry-level tool. Campaign Monitor is another tool like Mail Chimp that’s well known at the cheaper end of the market but with automated capabilities that will get you going. One other that you might consider is Hubspot, particularly if you are already using its CRM capabilities within your business. For a full review to make the decision yourself, go check out this list of the best Marketing Automation tools for small businesses by G2
You want to be automating jobs so you are getting multiple things done at the same time. But you should most definitely not be multitasking with your other jobs. Why? Because multitasking is a falsehood. No one multi-tasks, they task switch and when you switch from tasks to tasks, you lose all efficiently. Studies show that multitasking reduces productivity by 40% because the brain cannot multitask. We know from multiple studies that it can take over 20 mins to focus on a new task, so instead focus on the task at hand and don’t try and switch to something else, then jump back into the first task.
Be Versatile and Agile
All of the above suggestions do still require you to find some time in your busy day for marketing, so the best final advice I can give you is be creative and smart with how and when you do marketing, to maximise your day.
Firstly, make sure everything you do can be completed on your phone. If you set this as your ultimate goal, you’ll go a long way to marketing productivity nirvana. What this allows you to do is work on tasks in those time slots when you’re not sitting at the desk. It allows you to be agile and spontaneous with your time. For example, you need to visit a supplier but on arrival, they are running 30 minutes late. Ok, I’ll get out my phone and review my website stats, look at the sales funnel or maybe schedule a couple of posts to go up later that week.
The final point is linked, which is learning to find those odd times when you can fit in marketing or how to squeeze more from your already busy day. Maybe it’s getting up 30 minutes earlier in the morning (and yes, I know all small business owners already start early), maybe you get the train, so on your commute to work you have time or maybe it is even getting 15 minutes around breakfast and lunch.
In your daily life, there are little moments that could make a difference. Remove the tasks that are not geared towards your goals will save you time. Doing less tasks means less chance of switching between tasks and thus big inefficiencies. Deal with things like checking your personal social media and email in blocks. They can be massive time wasters, but if you a disciplined and manage them in chunks of time, then you’ll do them more efficiently and save yourself more time. On a similar theme, do tasks in batches. Need to make calls, do them back to back. You’ll find this batching process will again make you more efficient and save you hours over a week.
Wherever you can sensibly get your head down for a period of time, just be prepared to fit in some marketing. If you’ve followed all the rules above, then you’ll be able to jump into some marketing quickly and efficiently.