Time: A Start-Up’s Best Weapon

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Time. Who has a minute to think about that anymore? Very few of us, probably. Least of all start-ups. If you own a company which is just getting off the ground, you must give time its right value. This is when you can set your own rules and values. Below Andy Bolter, creative partner at ideas agency Yes&Pepper, explains.

Fast forward to when you are the CEO of a larger enterprise (assuming that’s your dream) and if you haven’t put a value on your time at the start, then history dictates your time won’t be yours anymore; it will belong to your employees, your shareholders, your customers and more.

Start-ups should look at time the same way oil companies look at oil – it’s their greatest asset, but it’s also a finite commodity. Before growing bigger and becoming successful, every start-up’s aim should be to use their time on where the value is, what will make the most difference to business growth and assuming you started a business that brought you some sense of enjoyment (why go through the pain only to surround yourself in misery?) make sure you carve out enough time to work on the things that bring you pleasure.

When we were at the beginning of setting up our ideas agency, I didn’t give any value to the minutes and the hours. I just rolled up my sleeves and got involved in everything. It’s only looking back do I realise how much time I wasted on stuff that made minimal impact to the business and to me. But even tougher than that was realising how difficult it had become to wrestle back control of my diary even though we employed a lot more people. Habit is a terrible and often lazy master and can really get in the way of being innovative, creative, finding new clients and building a really engaged, happy workforce.

If there’s one thing you should really put some time into (especially at the start) it’s new business. It sounds obvious, but time after time it’s one part of the business that is starved of time whenever I speak to other business owners. After we’ve pulled a couple of favours, or started the business with a decent contract or two we spend all our time getting the work out and very little time (until we have nothing to work on) getting work in.

Sadly the expense of running a business doesn’t ebb and flow in the same way as our cash does. One of the side effects of running a business at any level is it can feel pretty lonely very quickly. Investing your time in going out to networking events, talking to old colleagues and finding old contacts won’t only improve your chances of growth, it’ll also help to minimise the negatives and misgivings that we all have in our new careers.

We all start our businesses with cast iron optimism, until day two, then we all run them with fear.

Some problems (or in my case briefs) don’t abide by time limits. But the joy of time, especially thinking time, is that it doesn’t have a tangible form. Which means if sitting at a desk isn’t working, then time spent going for a walk (no headphones and phones) or in my case enjoying a long bath can help. It doesn’t necessarily mean the first ideas are soaked in genius. You should take your time to evaluate your answers, share them with colleagues and partners whom you can trust (never family or friends; their natural bias should never be trusted). Go back to the drawing board, or the pub if you have to. Invest time in getting the right answer. The short term gains of a quick solution could be doing untold damage long term to your business, your brand or in our case the brand of our clients.

The hardest part of owning your own business and valuing time is finding employees. I write the hardest because the problem is threefold.

Firstly, finding the right person takes time. And if you’re looking for someone you can bet your bottom dollar it’s because you don’t have time to do everything, let alone add another job to your day. Secondly letting go is really hard, your emotional connection to your business is not to be taken lightly. So again, take the time to work out what parts of the job you really enjoy doing, don’t give up the bits you love otherwise you’ll start to loathe the day-to-day. And third but not least. Once you employ someone then you instantly become a manager. That’s more time out of your day teaching, nurturing and sharing, let alone that bit of extra admin involved. So make sure you find time to train new people, invest time in the short-term pain of training to reap the benefits of long term growth.

And remember training isn’t just for you; it’s the number one way of nurturing loyalty among your team. You may not believe it but most people don’t leave because of money. One of the biggest reasons people resign from their jobs is because they don’t think they’re growing at the company they are at.

So, if you’re the proud owner of a start-up company you’re going to have to arm yourself with staying-power, optimism, patience and the ability to distinguish what’s worth your time. Unless all your best mates are millionaire business owners, it won’t be easy to acquire new clients and it certainly won’t be easy keeping them. If you place your focus properly at the start you’ll be thanking yourself later on, even if you do go above and beyond the call of duty. This is what will differentiate your start up from the 60 percent of others that don’t reach their fifth birthday.

Value time properly, use it well and hopefully you’ll be sticking a lot more than five candles on your company’s birthday cake.

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