In the film and entertainment industry, a “triple threat” refers to someone who is not only an actor but a producer and maybe even a director. They’re a “threat” because their multiple skill sets make them more competitive in their sector.
Of course, small business owners play more than one role too -- but the effect is less career-enhancing than exhausting.
For the second year in a row, Salesforce commissioned Harris Poll to get the pulse of entrepreneurs, which resulted in the recently published “Small & Medium Business Trends Report.” While the research covers considerable ground, one statistic in particular stands out:
66% of SMB leaders said they are personally responsible for three or more of the following areas of their business:
This may seem like a grim finding to share as Canada celebrates Small Business Month, but perhaps there’s no better time to confront some of the very real challenges that overseeing so many different areas creates for entrepreneurs. After all, one element of achieving growth as an SMB is about learning how to add more customers without sacrificing quality in any of the other pieces of their organization.
With that in mind, take this self-assessment and see if you can start to recognize some opportunities to get more balance as a small business owner:
For certain areas, small business owners need to be really hands-on, especially in the early days of launching a company. Some examples include HR, where making the right hires will ensure you have a team that can handle all the unexpected hurdles that are bound to come your way. Other areas, such as product development, are obviously pretty core, as is ensuring finances are solid.
When you think of sales, marketing and service, however, there are tools or techniques that can be passed on to other members of the team -- even if it’s a small team -- that will ensure all the trains keep running on time. Small business owners may always be accountable for sales, marketing and service, but responsibility can be delegated if the team understands:
Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Service Cloud are all available to help small business owners hand off some of these functions, for instance, giving them a greater ability to focus on the areas where they feel an acute sense of hands-on responsibility.
According to the Small and Medium Business Trends Report, a relatively high number of SMBs (62%) are still using spreadsheets to manage information. It’s likely no coincidence that 55% say they are time-starved. They’re also probably stuck in their office overseeing many of their myriad responsibilities.
Even when they’re aware of how onerous and time-consuming certain tasks are, small business owners may be sticking with manual ways of doing things because they (sort of) work, and it’s all they’ve ever known. Think about the sticky notes that an entrepreneur might put all over their computer monitor, for instance. The data on those sticky notes -- customer phone numbers, a service-related question -- is essentially trapped in one place. That means the owner is also going to be trapped in their office.
Contrast that with the idea of using automation to take over the most repeatable tasks, and to make information available anywhere. Suddenly small business owners can merely provide oversight of critical areas of the business -- and they can do it from their smartphone while they’re on their way to connect with their next big hire or customer.
A small business owner may take all day (or all week) to close the books at the end of a particular quarter. They might be writing cheques, or responding to service calls or any number of things. They might even be really productive at covering all these areas -- it may be why their business has managed to survive where others don’t.
Growing as a small business is not merely a collection of tasks, however. It’s about choosing which customers or market segments to pursue. It’s taking extra time to decide who should join your team. It’s making sure you have a plan in place when you know customers will come calling with a particular problem.
Artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as Salesforce Einstein may not spring to mind as an obvious solution to this issue, but it actually helps small business owners in two important ways. First, AI can work alongside automation tools to predict what will need to be done, taking productivity a step further. As entrepreneurs then spend a greater portion of their time on decision-making, AI offers the kind of insight that ensures those decisions are as informed as possible.
It’s not mere a case of using technology, of course. Small business owners need to be able to train their team, step back as best they’re able and to move into more of a role where they are coaching those responsible for a task. Doing everything yourself is a sure way to burnout, but making that transition is an art in itself. Thinking about that critical moment now -- and the tools that will make it a bit easier -- is another great way to mark Small Business Month 2017.
Another good idea? To arm yourself with as much data as possible. For a lot more information about what other growing firms think about their challenges, the opportunities around technology and much more, download the complete 2017 Small & Medium Business Trends Report.