An eight-hour workday? Not for entrepreneurs. In fact, most would say there aren't enough hours in the day for all they need to do. While the ability to work long hours is a hallmark of most company founders, at some point it becomes not only unsustainable but also counter-productive. Handling every task robs entrepreneurs of time that’s better spent tackling important challenges that will grow the business.
A trio of entrepreneurs from the Lincoln, Nebraska, area talked about the challenge of where to focus their time at "Power to the Small," a panel discussion sponsored by Windstream.
One important conclusion they drew: building a strong team is an essential step in enabling an entrepreneur to let go of certain responsibilities in order to concentrate on meaningful issues facing the company.
Will It Drive Sales?
"For any entrepreneur, focus is always difficult," said Jennifer Rosenblatt, who has launched two businesses, a marketing firm and an online marketplace for musicians and composers dubbed MusicSpoke. "I have a list of a million ideas."
Her litmus test revolves around whether a given action or time commitment will result in new business. For example, before accepting a speaking engagement, she'll analyze whether the opportunity will provide exposure that might lead to new clients.
As a reminder to minimize distractions, she keeps a coffee mug on her desk emblazoned with the motto "Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again." She tells herself, "I have to avoid biting off more than I can chew, because if I do that I am not being effective for anyone."
Beyond To-Do Lists, Focus on Goals
The panelists were unanimous in stressing the importance of goal setting. Stephanie Jarrett, co-founder of Bulu Box, an ecommerce business that offers monthly subscriptions to health, nutrition, and weight loss products, believes that goal setting should be a priority not only for company founders, but for all employees. She and her co-founder husband create lists of three to five key goals for each employee and review them every Friday.
"There are so many things that can distract you," Jarrett said. "Our ultimate goal is to be acquired, so I always look at my to-do list through the filter of whether what I am doing that day contributes to that ultimate end goal."
Chris Davis, co-founder of Travefy, an online and mobile group travel planner, creates daily, weekly and quarterly goals for himself and his team. Each day the teams have a 15-minute "huddle" where everyone talks about what they're doing, which helps to ensure that everyone stays on track.
He also uses project-management software to customize workflows for specific projects; it provides "to do" checklists, assigns tasks, and facilitates the sharing of comments among team members.
"We're never married to one approach," he said. "We constantly try different things to see if we can improve our goal-setting and execution. We want to fail small and invest big, and not spend time on things unless we know they're going to be worthwhile."
A Culture of Empowerment
Rosenblatt said that not only is team-building essential to creating the kind of bandwidth an entrepreneur needs to grow a business, but in her case, it was the key element that allowed her to launch a second company.
In fact, as Rosenblatt was running her marketing firm, she left it to develop MusicSpoke at NMotion, a Lincoln startup accelerator for high-growth software and technology-based businesses. "I left my employees with my credit card, told them to make good decisions, and said I would be back in 100 days," she explained.
Rosenblatt could let go to that extent because she had developed a strong workforce and a company culture built on empowerment. "You need to be intentional about your company culture, because culture happens, whether it's intentional or not," she said. "And if you aren't intentional about the process, you might end up with a culture you don't like."
An important aspect of developing that culture was recognizing where her own skills fell short and augmenting them with outside expertise. For example, she hired someone to clarify her company's value vision and lead a seminar on it for her team.
"That was extremely important to getting buy-in from the employees, and that buy-in allowed me to leave and create MusicSpoke," she said. "If I didn't have employees I could trust, and who I knew were committed to the business, I never could have let go."