When starting and growing a business, you have two currencies: your time and your money. How you decide to allocate those two currencies is pivotal to your success as a founder or business owner. I always tell my team that you can make more money; you can’t make more time. Once an hour passes it’s gone forever.
Many founders and business owners think that the secret to success is staying scrappy and doing everything themselves. They will often invest countless hours in honing their expertise in key areas: reading books, listening to podcasts and participating in webinars. Everything they can do to expand their knowledge base. I speak from experience here. But more times than not, this DIY approach can unnecessarily eat away at your time. And time happens to be your most precious and non-renewable resource.
For early-stage businesses in particular, your business is equivalent to the number of hours you can invest. Are you spending five hours setting up your website or chasing down invoices? That’s five hours you’re not spending on higher value work like hiring, prospecting or increasing sales. This is true for any business, including mom and pop shops, solo enterprises, brick and mortar stores, ecommerce ventures and venture-backed startups.
So, how can you best determine where it’s worth investing your time and where it’s best to delegate, bring on a partner or outsource?
Be honest with yourself about your niche
A great place to start is having an honest conversation with yourself about the opportunity you have to stand out in your domain or market. Ask yourself what it is about your business that is well-positioned to succeed and how are you uniquely positioned to leverage the opportunity. In other words, where can you offer the most value to a tightly defined set of people? When you’re able to identify your niche, you can better explain what differentiates your product or service from a plethora of other choices in the marketplace. For example, if you’re a life coach like my wife Alexasia. Maybe you have a unique perspective because you’re a woman of color who’s had to navigate American corporate culture. Or if you own a fitness studio like my friend Wes. Maybe your differentiator is helping New Yorkers with busy lifestyles find time to achieve their fitness goals. Just remember that your niche doesn’t have to completely limit your opportunities forever. It just needs to be a starting point to build your story.
Do your own SWOT analysis
It’s also important to assess your strengths and weaknesses as a business owner. Is selling your strong point, or do you prefer to problem solve behind the scenes? If you’re starting an ecommerce venture, for example, what sets you apart? Your exclusive access to suppliers? Branding? Customer acquisition strategy? Doing your own SWOT analysis can be challenging as a small business owner or solopreneur. It’s advisable to ask for help and clarity when you need it. For example, if you identify a weakness that you want to become a strength. Don’t be afraid to hire a coach to help you refine that skillset. Or, bring on a business partner or co-founder to help add value in areas where you’re less versed.
Conduct a pre-post mortem
One exercise I’ve found especially insightful is engaging in a pre-post mortem. An opportunity to proactively anticipate what could go wrong with your business (what I like to call productive paranoia). This involves imagining yourself throwing in the towel because your business isn’t working after the first year. Then determining the possible reasons why, and then, repeating the exercise for years two through four. This forces you to list out possible stumbling blocks and fears that may prevent you from ultimately succeeding. You can then put yourself in a better position to address these anxieties and obstacles head on and put viable solutions in place to help your business thrive.
Invest in outside expertise
As a founder or business owner, there’s no shame in relying on outside experts and coaches to help you gain more expertise or knowledge in a particular area. In fact, one TikToker I know suggests offering in-demand experts roughly ten times their hourly rate to maximize what you can learn in a few hours. After all, you’re not just paying for their time, but the years of experience they’ve amassed in their field. In this case, the trick is to know what you don’t know and use outside experts to fill in the blanks. This can be accomplished by making connections on LinkedIn and offering to compensate them for their time and counsel. Or, using a platform like Clarity.fm to pay to access world-class experts in a variety of fields.
At my company, we understand that time is so much more valuable when you’re a small business than when you’re a big company. One of the biggest drains on your time is worrying about back-office functions like accounting, cash flow and invoice collection. Again, founders must choose how they allocate their time. Does it make sense for you to invest your time in being your own accountant, or does it make more sense to bring on a CFO, hire a part-time bookkeeper or use a platform like Lumanu or Pilot.com? Financial and payment needs are certainly not unique or differentiated business issues. However, decisions around how to best execute on these needs can ultimately help your business stand out amongst the competition.
Above all, knowing when the DIY approach isn’t serving your best interests can help ensure that you are making the most of your available time. When you decide to let go of feeling like you have to do everything and either delegate, partner or outsource, you can then say that you’re using your limited time wisely.