4 Things Everyone Can Learn from Startups in Managing Their Day



  1. FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT CAN DRIVE SALES TODAY? One of the most powerful pieces of advice I received came from someone I knew who ran a successful entrepreneurial venture in London. He told me to ask myself every day, “What can I do today to drive sales today?” It’s a simple, but provocative question. The sort of clarity that reframes not just how you think, but how you behave. If you start the day at 9 AM, for example, what can you accomplish in your first hour that will legitimately improve sales that day? Some things were obviously – you have daily reports from google on the progress of search and ads – what should you alter to optimize based on new learnings? Likewise, what are quick hits that can help drive conversion on a website? Is there an A/B test that has promise that is worth fielding now vs. when I get around to it? In a physical environment, are there new merchandising or display ideas to put up to try to drive sales? Tip:This sense of urgency should not be lost in larger business settings. Ask yourself, beyond the normal “urgent fire drills” what would be the one or two things that if you attended to them today could quickly generate sales? The lead-time for results may be further out but you have the advantage of scale on your side, so it’s worth it.
  2. MANAGING YOUR DAY AROUND YOU AND YOUR NEEDS. At some level, entrepreneurs have the advantage of defining for themselves how to manage their own day. (Now that doesn’t mean that they necessarily always do better, they just start with a blank slate. And they also run the risk that work can never stop, as their own capacity is a real constraint on activity). I learned a number of tips and tricks from other entrepreneurs that can translate very effectively to traditional business settings. For example: 1) get key emails out first thing in the morning (to maximize the time for others to respond) and then get out of email to focus on key work to be done; 2) Ensure you carve out time each week for non-work interests (whether they be reading, going to the gym or having a family dinner) so that work doesn’t become all consuming; and 3) take breaks during the course of the day – a 3 PM break at a café is a great way to recharge for the remainder of the day. TIP: In both entrepreneurial and traditional business environments, business pressures can become all consuming. All of these examples are things you can reasonably implement on your own (aka, without manager approval). Think of other ways that help you achieve balance and boost your productivity.
  3. STAY IN TOUCH WITH CONSUMERS. While most traditional marketers have the benefit of reams of market research, a steady calendar of focus groups and studies, and daily sales reports, often times a lot of that data is shelved in three ring binders for “when it’s needed,” sitting idle and disconnected from application into on-going work. Entrepreneurs typically lack such information and have to smartly substitute the learnings they glean from one-off interactions with the consumer, whether in be in the stores or on their websites analyzing traffic. In essence, entrepreneurs do a lot of ad hoc primary research without realizing it because they are constantly in learning mode. The difference between “learning” mode and “running the business” are not separate activities for entrepreneurs. Now there’s an important line here – you don’t want to conflate anecdotal feedback with proper research (either qualitative or quantitative), but it’s good to look for ways to interact with consumers and being to step back and assess what you’ve learned. Tip: In traditional business settings, find more ways to stay in touch with the consumer (e.g., conducting more primary research (e.g., in-homes, shop-a-longs)), integrate the customer’s voice in to your work, and use it as a new source for insights.

4. MANAGING THE SHORT TERM AND THE LONG TERM. To succeed, entrepreneurs must manage for the short term and long term needs of their businesses. It’s easy to let short term considerations crowd out long term considerations. Conversely, if you focus too much on big, bold long term strategies, you risk having the short term results come up short. One piece of advice that I found helpful was to block off two 90 minute “meetings” a day (“with myself” or with others): one to tackle a short term issue and another to address a long term issue. These short term issues, might be mini-projects, like reviewing the effectiveness of PR, or a new product offering. While the long term items would be things like examining alternative distribution channels or outlining merchandising plans for the next year. Then I could return to these plans on an ongoing business. This rhythm helped ensure a balance between short and long term projects, as well as a discipline to working them. Tip: This sense of balance is true for both individuals and the business. In a more traditional environment, block of regular “meetings with yourself” (and invite key people, as needed) to ensure that you allocate time to the key issues you need to address on your business, not just the ones that are top of mind today.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Guy Sie

About the author: James Black

James Black is a marketing and insights consultant and freelancer based in New York.  He has 10+ years in marketing and sales experience across P&G, McKinsey and L’Oreal.  Most recently, he founded and led a retail start-up, Black & Puryear Ltd., in the U.K., where he served as Director and Chief Curator.  At L’Oreal, James was head of shopper insights, where he identified and shaped shopper insights to drive greater connection between consumers and L’Oreal’s portfolio of beauty brands across channels.  At McKinsey, he worked in the firm’s Marketing & Sales practices, advising clients on marketing topics across B2B, packaged good and retail clients.  At P&G, he working in both traditional brand management roles as well as in the company’s marketing centre of excellence, studying best practices.  He has an AB from Harvard in Government and an MBA from the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia).

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