It’s easy to get sucked into a ceaseless way of working. Today’s world often seems designed to stop us from switching off. This is especially true for small business owners who can’t always readily clock off. When you’re dealing with multiple pressures and competing priorities, it can be tempting to favour speed over quality or efficiency – even though that can end up costing more time, energy and money in the long run.
But while many of us might be vaguely aware that there are better ways to approach work, sometimes it can help to take wisdom and inspiration from small business owners who have actually made a point of working less incessantly.
For Omar Khan, owner of the Meghna Tandoori in London’s Crouch End, taking a step back from running his business helps motivate staff. “If, as the owner of the business, you are always present, then employees may fail to take initiative and responsibility, whereas taking a step back helps employees take the lead,” he says.
Taking time out can also help entrepreneurs to recharge and focus on their personal wellbeing, which, in turn, helps the business. “A successful life requires balance in all spheres; work, family, religion and your body,” says Khan. “If you wear yourself out, your business suffers because, ultimately, you will burn out. However, if you take care of your physical and mental health, taking regular breaks from work life, you will notice productivity and efficiency increases, which will no doubt help your business grow because your business is a reflection of you.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Emma Shone, who runs a bar called Num6er in Sale in Greater Manchester, with her partner Jason. “Sometimes you can be too close to your business and it can feel pretty all-consuming – you can get caught up in the routine pretty easily, but it’s good to just say: ‘Hang on, let’s step back and regroup’,” says Shone. “It frees up your mind and gives you fresh opportunity to get creative. Customers are always looking for the next great thing, so you need the time and energy to provide it.”
To help create that space in their lives, the couple introduced a policy at home, which they call No Work Mondays. “We have banned talking about the business in our house on a Monday,” says Shone. “It’s great – you can focus on yourself and the family and it gives us that much needed respite once a week.”
For Megan Prendergast, product director of Escape Rooms, an immersive entertainment venue in Cheltenham, taking regular time away from the business is a critical part of keeping it running smoothly. “Life is extremely fast-paced at the moment, and often business owners worry that taking time off means time lost on creating new products, posting on social media, networking, or generally improving the business,” she says. “However, personal time out is equally important – if you aren’t giving enough time to your own wellbeing, you’ll never be able to put your full effort into your work.”
She also recommends taking extra time to really focus on what you want to achieve. To that end, the company holds monthly meetings between directors to plan and reflect, as well as open forums for staff to voice any concerns or to share ideas. “As a company with four directors, it’s great to be able to get together regularly to reflect on everything we’ve done so far and how we can work towards the next steps,” says Prendergast. “Social time is also really important for us – we can sometimes get so wrapped up in our work that we don’t see each other [the other directors] for a few days, so meeting up outside of work for a meal or an activity is a great way to strengthen our relationships and reward ourselves for what we have achieved.”
Aside from these initiatives, having dependable technology and infrastructure in place can also help small business owners free up more energy and head space. “Our business relies heavily on quality internet and phone lines, so we chose to go with Virgin Media and the quality of their service has always been great,” says Prendergast. “We use Google Drive to share all our documents with the relevant team members, so they can access it quickly and conveniently from any device, which saves a lot of time when we need a particular document, and means we don’t all have to be in the office at the same time,” she says.
They have introduced other technologies that have freed up time for staff. The majority of the business is run through a central system where customers can either book directly or staff take bookings over the phone. “The system allows us to send payment request links for customers to make payments in their own time and reduce the length of phone calls and the amount of information we have to manually enter,” says Prendergast.
“It’s also great for managing staff – they each have their own login and can see what games they are running that day, and all necessary information such as customer name and group size.” At the end of the month, the system produces a report as to how many hours each employee has worked, which can be transferred straight to their accounting software, “making payroll super quick and easy”.
Ultimately, stepping back from the fray is often one of the best things business owners can do for their enterprise. “It can be difficult to let go of some control when your business is your baby,” says Shone. “But you have to remember that employee ideas and suggestions can be just as good, or even better, than yours. Put trust in your staff – this allows you to take time out and focus on your own work-life balance. As the saying goes: you work to live, not live to work.”
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