Small Business Project Management Strategies | Tory Burch Foundation

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Small Business Project Management Strategies

Streamline your processes for efficiency and peace of mind.

Entrepreneurship has a lot of moving parts, and keeping track of your business and your personal life can overwhelm without systems in place. Candace M. Clark is an expert at creating systems for small organizations. She puts those practices to use in her roles as the founder of Hi Tech Consulting, a law school student and mother of four. Organize your business and life with strategies from Clark’s webinar on project management for entrepreneurs.

What is project management and why is it important?

“Project management is the process of planning, organizing and overseeing the execution of a specific project,” Clark explained. While it’s an essential tool for big projects, it is also beneficial to build into your entire business. Project management allows you to look for possible risks and think about your company’s sustainability, or, your ability to manage your most important resources for your current project and beyond.

Founders, especially solopreneurs, can benefit from doing their own project management. However, planning can take so much time away from executing that Clark suggests business owners consider working with experts. 

First things first.

The first step in project management is to prioritize your to-dos. “Without prioritizing your tasks, it’s not only easy to get distracted, you might get bogged down with small things that don’t really matter to the bigger picture,” said Clark.

80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule says that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your input. Tackle a long list by starting with the things that have the biggest impact on your business.

Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower matrix helps you order your to-do list based on whether a task is urgent, important or both. The matrix is a rectangle divided into four parts. The columns are labeled Urgent and Not Urgent, and the rows are labeled Important and Not Important. Urgent tasks are ones with a near due date. Important tasks matter to your business and not important things are nice to haves but don’t require your immediate attention.

If a task is

  • Important and urgent: do those things first.
  • Urgent but not important: delegate them to a team member or service.
  • Important but not urgent: do it later, i.e., put it further down your list.
  • Not urgent and not important: reconsider whether these tasks are important to your business.

Of course, there are times when it seems like everything is urgent. Clark encouraged founders to focus on what’s most important to your goal, not a client’s (though those two often overlap) when determining where to focus. “Their urgency is not your emergency,” she cautioned. “What I mean by that is, proper planning, and really laying out your task and what’s a priority for you is going to help you not get distracted when everyone else comes to you with emergencies.” 

Their urgency is not your emergency.

Set your goals for success.

Having clear goals means asking yourself if you actually have what you need to get those things done. It’s one thing to want to open up a new location in a year; it’s another thing to secure the funds in order to have a down payment for that location. Clark turns to the SMART goals framework to help:

  • Specific: narrow your focus.
  • Measurable: what metrics define success?
  • Achievable: make sure you’ve set a goal you can complete in a specific timeframe.
  • Relevant: how does this feed into the big picture?
  • Time-bound: a realistic deadline helps with motivation.

Once you’ve set these goals, consider putting them into a project management tool like Asana, Basecamp or Monday, all of which let you share goals and deadlines with team members. If you prefer an analog approach, pen and paper is fine, too. 

Automate and delegate.

No one can do everything themselves; you will eventually have to outsource some of your operations. Implementing automation is a key form of delegation, especially for solopreneurs. The processes that happen most in your business are ones ripe for automation. “For me, automation is really a form of self-care, because it allows me to be efficient,” Clark shared.

She recommends automating with Zapier, a tool that lets you put in workflows and executes them when a specific action occurs. If you need human help, look to Fiverr for vetted freelancers.

Business owners can find it difficult to delegate, sometimes feeling as though they’re giving up control. It can help to share responsibilities a little bit at a time. “I think if you just delegate small things in a controlled way, then you will start trusting yourself more and you will start to see that it’s okay.”

Cut down on distractions and find the best productivity tools for you.

It can be easy to be overwhelmed by all the productivity and project management tools available. Clark shared guidelines for assessing whether a tool is worth your investment. 

Manage notifications.

Multitasking used to be something to strive for, but now it’s widely understood that it actually decreases work quality. Break your multitasking habit and get more done by leveraging special features of the apps you’re probably using every day. Clark recommends clients use the Do Not Disturb function on their phones. She explained, “If you’re able to limit your distractions, like notifications from old classmates on Facebook, then you can stay focused on the task at hand.” Google Calendar has a built-in Focus Time function to stop email and calendar reminders during set times. In her presentation, Clark also suggested periodically reviewing your screen time usage to see where your time and energy go during a typical week.

Respond on your terms.

When it comes to email, Clark urged business owners to send them at designated times, rather than answering them as soon as they hit the inbox. Consider scheduling emails for when they’re most likely to be read, or within business hours (even if you write them late at night). The same goes for social media. Social media management tools or the platforms themselves allow you to schedule your posts. Add a block in your schedule to respond to comments to minimize distractions.

Communicate clearly.

She also emphasized that effective communication is another way to increase your productivity. Clark uses Grammarly for social media posts, emails and other communications to make sure her writing is as clear as possible. That way, she saves time clarifying her meaning for a client.  

Streamline the scheduling process.

Take a look at your meeting scheduling process. Service-based entrepreneurs can save a lot of time and emails using a tool like Calendly or Mixmax to save space on your calendar. Do you send out the same kind of email, like a meeting confirmation? Create a template to send it faster. Email management tool Mixmax can help you create them.

Get teams on board.

Sometimes a business brings in a new tool only for team members to stick to their way of doing things. Understand their working style before implementing a tool–having their buy-in is a big help when making a transition. But be patient if everyone doesn’t immediately make the switch. “It’s a learning process, when you’re dealing with people,” said Clark. “You have to just be adaptable, and be okay with going back to the drawing board.”

Keep yourself on your to-do list.

You’re most effective when you’re healthy and feeling connected in other areas of your life. Delegation can help in this area, too. “Being a leader doesn’t mean that you carry everything,” Clark reminded us. Know when to ask for help, whether you need to outsource business operations or household duties. “It’s okay to call the laundry service, it’s okay to Instacart the groceries. And it’s okay for the kids to have a frozen meal every now and then.”

Clark also stresses the importance of getting rest. That includes taking frequent breaks to help stay focused during the workday. Consider limiting the number of meetings you schedule on a given day to protect your working time and avoid Zoom fatigue.

Prioritizing relationships with other entrepreneurs is another item that shouldn’t slide off your list. Your community of founders can be accountability partners, sounding boards, resources and more.