I’ve asked this question of a number of newly minted solo entrepreneurs and often been met with a quizzical look, a “What?” or perhaps an answer such as, “Uh, the friends and family money I’ve raised?” “My great idea for a new IOT-enabled mousetrap?”
Well as Bill Warner, a great entrepreneur and angel investor, founder of Avid Technology and Wildfire, taught me: “Your biggest asset as an entrepreneur is YOU!” So what are the implications of that insight: pretty simple, your number one priority as an entrepreneur is managing your number one asset, yourself. But how do you do that? Here’s a few guidelines:
- Play to your strengths. I remember bemoaning the fact to Bill that I was weak on the finance side and felt like I should be taking the time to strengthen my understanding of finance. He gave me a resounding “No.” Don’t wast time learning accounting, spend your time using the skills and experience you have to build your company and create value.
- Delegate and outsource. If you aren’t strong on finance, hire a part time accountant or CFO, depending on where you are in your company’s life cycle. If you have a partner or partners make sure you are not duplicating each other’s efforts. A common mistake startup entrepreneurs make is to follow each other around. The sooner you can divide up responsibilities and each focus on your own goals and metrics the better. Given today’s freelance nation you can outsource almost anything from web design to actual coding. Just make such you keep you core IP in-house. But be ruthless in doing “make vs. buy vs. rent” analyses of any major services expenditure.
- Set your goals for the day every day. I used to come into the office about 7 a.m. and sit down and write down my goals for the day and use that list to manage my time that day. Make sure your prioritize your goals, not just list them. You have to balance the short term goals vs. longer term goals. That’s just one challenge of being an entrepreneur. Share you goals with your partner(s) so they know what you are going to be doing and vice versa.
- Be ruthless about meetings. Have everyone watch the film Meetings Bloody Meetings by John Cleese.
- Eat lunch at your desk. Yeah there are all those great restaurants and so and so really wants a lunch meeting. But like internal meetings, be ruthless about external meetings as well. What’s the business case for the meeting? But do get out of the office to see customers, investors, partners, competitors, etc. Just watch out for all those zillions of “networking” meetings that fill every entrepreneur publication.
- Do the easy stuff first and get it out of the way. This may be contrary advice to what you’ve heard, but I’ve found that clearing up easy stuff then leaves your time and mind free to tackle the tough issues, like evaluating a term sheet, without the nagging feeling you have other things on your to do list.
- Make use of “dead time.” Instead of checking Facebook while you are in waiting in the dentist’s office, knock off a couple of easy to do’s. In fact set yourself a budget of time each day for social media, both consumption and posting, and stick to. Social media is the biggest time suck ever invented!
- Take care of yourself. The more you exercise (especially aerobically to generate endorphins), the better you eat and sleep, the more energy you will have. Pulling all nighters on Red Bull will catch up with you sooner or later.
- Don’t mistake activity for results.
- Manage your email and document handling. There are entire books on how to do this. Check with your friends if you haven’t already developed a system to efficiently handle the flood of emails, texts, notifications, attached documents, etc. that will be increasingly bombarding you. Like social media, you may want to give yourself a budget for time dealing with “communications” and stick to it. Or set specific times to check the computer during the day.
Finally, take some time each day to step back and think. Getting totally caught up daily tasks and KPIs can blind you to the big picture.
There are scads of books and blogs on how to be productive. You may find some of them helpful. Just keep that one thing in mind: how you manage yourself and your time is priority one in an early stage company. Later you’ll have to deal with managing other people, but until then, manage yourself!