We often come across small business owners with a serious direction issue. They know they need to be marketing their business, but are torn in dozens of directions trying to decide what they need to focus on. It’s not their fault- there are countless marketing service providers yelling in their ear telling them what they need to be doing to be successful… for a price.
And even if you take away all the salespeople, there really are lots of things that probably need your attention. Looking at that to-do list can be overwhelming, and that overwhelm can cause you to procrastinate. How do you overcome this and improve productivity?
Have you or someone you know started a business and the first thing that got done, before even getting the first customer, was getting business cards made? That’s a prioritization problem. You’re getting printed materials made before you’ve actually done any business. Until you get a paying customer you don’t have a business, you have a dream. In this case, the priority should be how to get clients or customers and building the actual workings of the business that will serve them. This happens because getting business cards is fun, easy, and makes you feel good. The work that you need to be doing is probably much more difficult and tedious, but far more important.
The same applies at a later stage when you’re focusing on marketing. When you have a dozen marketing projects, it’s easy to look for the quick, easy, and fun projects instead of the harder ones. It’s hard to stay motivated as a business owner. The problem comes when you’ve done all the fun stuff and all that’s left is a big list of pain-in-the-butt. Who’s gonna want to dive head first into that?
The best way to prioritize your marketing and improve productivity is with a marketing plan. A marketing plan can help you break projects down into more easily digestible tasks, determine which projects are most important, not-at-all important, and even which ones can’t be done properly until another project is finished. Considering advertising on Google? Hold off until your new website is ready. Just getting your new business off the ground? Maybe storyboarding your TV commercial can go on the back burner for a while while you focus on marketing activities you can do without a budget.
How do you tell which projects are important and which ones aren’t? Once you have a list of marketing projects you want to work on, pick just one of them that will have a significant, positive impact on your business if you did absolutely nothing else. Hint: it’s probably not business cards. That project is now the first one in your plan. Do the same for each of the remaining projects until everything has been placed in order.
Once your projects are prioritized and broken into tasks, this plan has essentially given you a list of things to do, in the order you should do them.
Now that you know what you should be working on and when, it can still be overwhelming when you look at the whole list and think about how you need to get all of this stuff done. I mean, look at it all! And you still have a business to run!
Stop. Take a deep breath.
Have you ever heard the proverb about the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Sure, you need to do everything on that list, but you don’t need to do it all today. There’s a reason we broke projects into tasks- it’s so you can eat one bite at a time.
The key to productivity improvement is to commit to completing a specific handful of tasks in the next week. Pick the next three tasks on your list and really commit. “By this time next week, by hook or by crook, I’m going to have these three things completed.” That’s it. Bang them out on the first day, spread them out, or save them for the very last minute- give yourself some flexibility. Just get them done. Can you only commit to one task? That’s fine. Grab a fork and get eating. It’s more important to get things done than to make them perfect.
This time next week, head back to your marketing plan. Pick a handful of the next tasks on the list and commit to getting them done. Do the same the next week, and the week after, and the week after that. Like most things, consistency is key in marketing. By committing to only a few tasks a week and holding yourself accountable for their completion, you can start to develop the habit of marketing that will carry your business further and further the longer you stick with it.
As all this great work you’re doing starts to pay off, it’s easy to get carried away. Make sure that each week you’re committing to tasks that you can realistically do that week. Don’t fall into the trap of sabotaging yourself. If you start by biting off more than you can chew, tasks won’t get completed, you’ll quickly lose motivation to keep working the plan, and productivity suffers. It’s fine to push yourself a little, but the goal here is to actually get that elephant eaten.
At some point, your rockstar marketing habits are going to burn through your marketing plan. Phew, you’re all done! No more marketing, right? Wrong. Marketing never ends, it only evolves. That’s a good thing though. Evolving marketing means you’re growing as a business. It’s progress, and you should be proud of it.
It’s time to take stock of all you’ve accomplished, where your business is currently, and where you want to take it next. It’s time to come up with a new list of marketing initiatives to take your business to the next level, and start all over with this process again. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. The most successful business owners are the ones who seek out advice from others.
Now get to it. You can do this.