Hey guys! Because it's hump day and I want you all to finish out your weeks with a punch, I've decided to kick off a little series of "journal entries" on my blog! These "journal entries" will be anything from business tips and advice to art tips, tricks, etc. I'll literally be taking you through my metaphorical diary and letting you in on my secrets as an entrepreneur and artist. I'm no business major or formally trained designer/illustrator, so most of what I'll be writing you is fully based upon my own experience and speculation. Nothing is backed up with research, because ain't nobody got time for that, and it'll mostly be what I would say to myself if I could go back in time. I can't do that, so instead, I'll tell you! Even if "you" is just my mom and like one other person. Journals aren't meant to be shared with anyone anyways, so hereeee we go!!!
Step One: Time management
Time management is the first on my list, because it is honestly the one I’m the worst with. So, let’s just start there. I’ve never been organized, I’ve never liked *to do lists*, and when I was in school, I was always finalizing assignments up until the very last second. Now that I’m an adult and beyond that a business owner, managing my time is absolutely crucial. If I were patient enough, I’d do some study about creatives and how the majority of them aren’t well versed in time management, but, like a true creative, I think I’ll pass and just say that it’s totally true and someone else can fact check it. But back to our topic of time management...
In the past 3 years of owning my small business I’ve spent most weeks working 70+ hours, waking up with only a couple hours of sleep and anxiously scrambling to get projects put together. You can only do that for so long before you either go insane, or your business AND your personal life suffer. I still find myself over worked often times, and that’s just what comes with most start ups and small businesses - where bigger companies have the luxury and the payroll to afford whole departments to handle their bookkeeping and financial decisions, the administrative tasks, the studio/office upkeep, etc. we small business owners find ourselves shuffling through income/expense reports with our jaws to the floor and our heads spinning because THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO DO IN SO LITTLE TIME! Well, I’m going to tell you how in this past year or so I’ve been able to manage my time better and therefore, work less.
FIRST, learn to love the to do list.
About 9 months ago, I started using teuxdeux.com for writing out my daily tasks and I haven’t gone back to paper since. I think one of the biggest problems I had with writing to do lists was the fact that they were on paper! Paper gets lost, it’s not as accessible and it’s clutter. I hate clutter. So, with teuxdeux (great name, right?!), I’ve transformed into a list making machine, and it’s only $24 a year! With this wonderful app, you’re able to see into future days and create lists, cross off and edit tasks as you go, AND if you don’t cross something off for that day, it’ll automatically move to the next day so you don’t forget! I have the phone app for it, so I’m able to check up on what I have to do while I’m out and about at meetings or away from the studio. Also, before I throw in the towel everyday, I make sure to have an up to date list for all of tomorrow’s tasks, that way the next morning I can look over everything and prioritize my day accordingly. As a highly visual person, it’s so helpful for me to look at the entire day and what’s pressing, instead of just winging it. Don’t waste your time digging through email threads to look for due dates, write it down immediately in your to do list and list things according to importance of when they are due. This will save you so much time - and we all know *time is money*.
**My second point for time management isn’t a tangible improvement for your business and time, but an outlook. If I could go back in time and tell myself this when I first started, I think I would’ve shed less tears to date and would’ve learned to not say yes to EVERYTHING. So, listen up people…
YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE.
No, really, really, super valuable. So, get paid for it! Every email you write, every extra minute you’re on the phone, the time it takes you to order supplies/office materials/etc., are all little investments into your business. Let me ask you something, at the end of the day, would you rather have a business that’s been built by an over-worked, under-paid and apathetic operator? Or, someone who is being paid and appreciated for what they’re worth and has their work and life nicely dialed in? Don’t get me wrong, I am FAR from perfect at this and definitely still find myself shedding frustration tears (just an analogy, I don’t really cry that much ;)) wishing I would’ve turned down that job that I just don’t have time for (even though it’s good $$$), and wondering when I’m going to feel like I’m actually on top of my finances. Ugh. But, once I started putting value on my time, it became much easier to say no and made my work days more enjoyable! You need to be your best self, creating your best work, responding to your customers in the best way at all times. And to do that, you have to manage and value your time better. If not, you’ll find yourself falling behind with client communication, stuck in a creative rut, or ignoring your very valuable relationships with friends and family to make up for how behind you always are.
Maybe you're reading this and you have a creative business of your own and you’re asking yourself, “well, how do I get paid for all that time spent on the ‘extra stuff’?” Well, my friends, I will be answering that question in a blog post in the very near future, but for now, create a spreadsheet that tracks your hours. I break mine up into broad categories with more descriptives underneath like, “EMAIL: current client communication,” with a list of all my current clients and how much time I spend with each of them providing education, research and anything reflecting their specific project. Another category I have is for potential clients, and how much time is spent putting together estimates, talking over the phone about their needs, writing up an agreement, sending invoices, etc. Whether you’re a stationer, jewelry designer, photographer, whatever your job title is under the umbrella of small business owner, time tracking is crucial and helpful in putting value on how you spend your work day. But, I’ll go into more detail on that in another blog soon.
The last thing I want to say about time management is this:
treat client communication like it’s freaking gold.
With what I do as an artist and designer, mainly with custom stationery, there are a lot of questions along the way from my clients. What types of printing method(s) would work best for their color palette, artwork or budget, ink and paper options and samples, specific artwork requirements, etc. and there are many unknowns for most of my customers when it comes to those things. They don’t design stationery - that’s why they’re coming to me! So, if you own your own service based company, beat your customers to the punch. While you’re already emailing them about finishing up a design for them, jump ahead and let them know about the next stages in the project timeline while you’re at it! My favorite reminder for this sort of thing is Basecamp. I have all of my projects organized in my Basecamp profile and I set up to do lists for both myself as the designer and my clients, so we both know what’s ahead and receive reminders about upcoming tasks. If you are one step, or multiple steps, ahead of the customer, you will save so much time by avoiding emails where they’re following up with you or have a question about one thing or another. So do it.
There’s SO much more I can say about this one, but what I said above has been huge for me in moving toward better work/life balance. Who want’s to lose their sanity, their relationships, and even their business to something like poor time management?! Not I friends! To read about the next steps toward work/life balance, sign up for our mailing list here --------------------------------->
I was going to put all 5 tips in one blog post, but seeing as my first one was so lengthy, for your sake I am breaking them up ;). You’re welcome. If you’re just starting out, or you’ve been at it for awhile and can’t seem to find your stride, I hope these tips are helpful! So, make those to do (or teuxdeux) lists, value your time, and communicate like it’s saving you time. Because it is. Stay tuned for the next four steps on the blog soon!