Some days I come into the office to be faced with a to-do list as long as my arm! When it’s like this, it is so easy to waste even more time just sitting there, like a rabbit in the headlights, just trying to decide what to do first. I have a technique to deal with this situation which always works for me. It was taught to me many years ago and whenever I use it I smile to myself at its simplicity – but effectiveness. I share it with you here and hopefully if you ever find yourself stuck and not sure which job to tackle next in your business, maybe it’ll help you too. The essence is to take a series of business tasks and put them in an order of priority. You then look at your ‘to-do’ list and do the job which is highest up your priority list. Once complete, you move to the next highest priority task, and so on. Here is my list, starting from the top. If you think business is all about sales and finding your next customer, you may be surprised:
1. Put money in the bank
Running a business may not be all about making money but it is up there somewhere. We all need to eat and pay the mortgage! Cashflow is the lifeblood of any business so if you have been paid by a customer get the money into the bank!
2. Chase outstanding invoices
If you’ve paid all your money into the bank, the next step is to get some more! It never ceases to amaze me how many businesses have £1000’s sitting in overdue invoices. You have done your work and raised your invoice so if your customer hasn’t paid you within your agreed terms, chase them! Some businesses make a point of not paying their suppliers until they are chased. If you get known as a supplier who doesn’t chase invoices you will always be at the bottom of the payment priority. If you are known to case outstanding debts (make sure you do it professionally and reasonably) your customers will get the message that it isn’t worth trying to delay payment so you may actually find you don’t need to chase as hard – win-win!
3. Invoice completed work
Just as some people don’t chase outstanding invoices, I have come across others who don’t even send the invoice in the first place! They do the work, have a satisfied customer, but never send them a bill! I know it sounds crazy but it happens. I have to admit I have even done it myself but it was a lesson I have learnt and don’t plan to repeat. Get those invoices out and have a solid process to make sure you invoice regularly and never forget to invoice a customer!
4. Complete outstanding work for customers
You can’t invoice work until you have done it (or reached an agreed stage-payment point) so the next thing to do is make sure work is being completed. Where you are doing it yourself or you have organised someone else to do it, make sure work is finished, and to a standard that you can confidently raise an invoice. There is no point in invoicing a customer if you simply expect a complaint or dispute.
5. Follow-up on quotations and proposals
Up until now, the priority has been making sure you do the work you already have, and get paid for it. Here we are, half way down our priorities and it is only now that we start looking for more sales – by making sure you follow up on the quotations and proposals you have submitted to potential clients. Yet again, I regularly hear people say, “There’s no point in following up quotations. People will call me if they want to go ahead.” Maybe this is true sometimes, but definitely not always, and if you are in competition, it is normally the company that follows up and shows interest in their customers that gets the business. Even if you don’t get the business this time, following up gives you a chance to ask why you weren’t selected. the answers you get can be invaluable in refining your proposals and who knows, building relationships with these prospects can lead to new opportunities in the future. You have done the hard work of getting your contact to accept an initial proposal so they obviously think you are OK!
6. Make the most of new enquiries
When you get a new enquiry do you ALWAYS follow it up? Many people will make snap decisions based on past experience or whether they think they can do work with a contact, and sometimes they will get it wrong. You don’t know what you don’t know and I suggest it is always worth it to at least have a chat with a new enquirer. I remember a time, I received 2 enquiries on the same day from two small security companies. WE had never done any work in the sector and I really questioned whether we would. Somewhat against my better judgement we followed them up, because we try (within reason!) to follow up everything. I was absolutely right about one of the enquiries, but the other became a customer we have worked with for over 15 years! Don’t make assumptions about enquiries. Give them a chance.
7. Find some more leads and prospects
If you are on top of everything and don’t have any enquiries to follow up, you need some more leads and prospects (or maybe you are so organised you can take a holiday -but let’s not go there at the moment!) This is where you need to take your business development plan and work it! There are many posts on this site about the value and benefit of a clear, defined plan of where you want to go and how you aim to get there. Now is when you should be reviewing your plan and making sure it is happening!
8. Create a plan!
What, no plan? If you are continually busy (and hopefully productive) with priorities 1 through 6 above then (dare I say) maybe you can get away without a plan (as many small businesses do!) but if you have made it this far down my priority list, it suggests that maybe a plan might not be a bad idea. Search Planning across the BSA site for ideas – or give me a call.