The first internet boom brought us incredible access to information; the rapid growth of smartphones has put that information at our fingertips.
But a recent wave of technology is giving us something even more valuable: time. Through new marketplaces and software, the internet is changing how we work, and granting us productivity superpowers. We can accomplish more in 24 hours than we ever could before.
Perhaps no one can benefit more from this than the busy small business owners. As a wise restaurant owner jokingly told me, “I love owning my own business: I get to decide which 20 hours a day I work.” While technology may not reduce this to 20 hours a week, it can help you make better use of the time you’re spending. Here are a few ways to incorporate technology into your business to accomplish more every week.
Outsource your tasks
The highest leverage activity you can do as a manager is delegate. It moves an activity off our to-do list and on-to someone else’s. Previously this meant hiring an employee, training them, and managing them—or working with an expensive external firm. Today, it is easier than ever to outsource tasks, eliminating work for you and bringing skills into your company when you need them.
Like Uber, these new “marketplace” companies have removed the friction of connecting you to someone who can complete the work, without the paperwork or hassle. Need some repairs done or extra help cleaning up after an event? Try Thumbtack; it allows you to hire professionals across a range of common activities. (I’m never building Ikea furniture myself again.) As a customer, I use DoorDash to get meals delivered from my favorite restaurants when I’m short on time; these restaurants love it because it allows them to outsource delivery.
But the services are not just limited to common tasks. UpWork allows you to easily hire for a range of creative and technical services, like designing and building that new website you’ve never got around to. The service is not perfect—you may find yourself spending a lot of time filtering respondents and managing the tasks—but it can be inexpensive and can bring technical expertise into your company quickly. Mainstreet Hub is a one-stop shop for outsourced social media marketing. For one monthly fee, they’ll manage your online profile and even respond to customers on your behalf.
Empower your Team
While these services can be great for taking some tasks off your plate, they’ll never give you the leverage of a higher performing team. Building a high-performing team and empowering them to act can help translate your vision into every customer experience, and scale your impact as a leader.
A new wave of cloud-based technology can help in two ways. First, online communication tools can help you stay organized as a team so that everyone is working towards the right goals. Trello and Asana are two popular options that allow you to manage goals and tasks remotely, monitoring the status of a project from your phone without going back-and-forth on email.
Second, technology can help your team make decisions on their own. New cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) systems like Clover, Square, Revel, and Lightspeed provide elegant dashboards to track your sales and inventory wherever you are. With Homebase connected, you can even view your labor cost percentage in real-time. Instead of needing central guidance on budgets and staffing every day or week, you can train your GMs and front-line managers on their targets and let them execute against their goals.
Automate your activities
In his autobiography, the famous restaurateur Danny Meyer talks about his initial resistance to bringing technology into his restaurants. He was worried he would lose the human touch he worked so hard to create with his staff. But he soon realized that technology was an enabler: “Every time somebody makes a reservation on the internet, that’s one less telephone call our reservationist has to handle.” Instead of spending their time on the phone, his staff could spend more time researching the guests and creating a warm environment in person.
Technology creates the opportunity to move up the “Mazlow’s hierarchy” of work: to stop spending the time on the admin activities required for your business, and to spend more time on the activities that make a difference to your customers. Many of the new online software tools can help you improve your workflows and even automate some tasks.
I founded the company Homebase with this goal in mind. We’ve built free online tools to help streamline the employee scheduling and time-tracking processes because we knew that every time you answered a call from an employee asking “when am I working” you were not helping a customer. Mailchimp and Constant Contact can help automate marketing activities, and TaxJar can even automate tax tracking. Many of those new software tools are designed to be user-friendly and easy to learn, so that you can further gain time by granting access to your team.
Given the number of new technologies available, the challenge may be finding the time to implement them. Remember that every transition takes time; it is often easiest to roll software out in stages, and give your time team to adapt. With luck, the second biggest challenge may be deciding what to do with your new free time.
John Waldmann is the founder and CEO of Homebase, Homebase’s free, cloud based software helps thousands of small businesses eliminate the paperwork of managing hourly and freelance employees.