24 lunch and learn: How to create the time to make your product and, um, run a business.

Written by  //  April 19, 2012  //  Daily Juice  //  No comments

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This week I caught up with Ella from Delicious Treats. She makes the most amazing Kosher (as well as non-Kosher) celebration cakes. This isn’t just cake decorating, it’s art.


Ella’s dilemma is that she is so busy during the day taking phone calls and talking to drop-in customers that she finds it tough to get a decent chunk of time to spend decorating her cakes.

Like many of us, Ella feels she doesn’t do great work if she gets disturbed every ten minutes. To be brilliant, she needs a good long stretch of time to focus on her cake decorating.

Rather than do a poor job by fitting the cake decorating around the daily disturbances, Ella has found herself spending her days with customers and business admin, and her evenings decorating.

It’s a punishing schedule, and not really sustainable. So we got to thinking of ways for Ella to reorganise her day. Some of our thoughts and ideas are in the recipe below.

What it is

A way to create a good block of time so that you can do your ‘art’ well.

I use the word ‘art’ loosely. I tend to think that any small business that is making something special, be it cakes, toys, photographs, design, writing…whatever; is doing a form of art.

If you need quiet ‘thinking and doing’ time to make whatever you sell, you’re seling art.

Why it works

Of course it goes without saying, when people buy your stuff because it’s special you need to keep it special.

But that’s easier said than done.

I can imagine Ella’s less principled alter ego Bella, squeezing her cake decorating in between phone calls and frankly doing a less-than fabulous job. Bella of course desperately hopes that no-one notices the drop in standard. But they do. They don’t actually tell Bella, they just don’t return for another cake and they don’t refer her to their friends. It’s a quiet demise.

(But one which may turn around when a dearth of customers means more time for cake decorating and….a return to the high standard of old!)
You simply have to make time to do your fabulous work.

What you do

First of all, in an ideal world you may hire someone to share the load. But let’s be practical and assume you can’t do that right now. Over time you might also work out how to get your ‘Art’ done more speedily. But that’s a longer term solution and we have a problem right now!

So let’s instead, look at how you can change the way you structure your day.

Step 1

Start by asking yourself three questions:

  1. What is the minimum amount of uninterrupted time that you need in one block to make good progress on your art?
  2. What time of day do you work best on your art? Are you fabulous in the morning for instance, or better after lunch?
  3. What times of the day do you get most of the customer enquiries that cause the interruption? (don’t worry about anyone other unscheduled interruptions, they can wait!)
  4. What times of the day do you have to do things? For example you may have to make deliveries at a certain time of day.

Step 2

Although you will want to always be available to take a customer call I think, for the sake of doing a great job, you have to accept that you can’t always be available.

This is probably contrary to a lot of advice you’ve been given, like ‘selling means being always available’, but you have to weigh it up:

“Is it better for my customers that I am always available on the end of the phone if they want to make an order, or that I am doing a great job for the order that they have already placed?’

Step 3

Look at the minimum amount of uninterrupted time you need and then look at the times of the day when you get fewer customer phone calls.

Say you need four hours uninterrupted time, is there a quiet-ish (though obviously not silent) window that fits it?

If so, pencil this in as “Art time’.

If there is no quiet-ish time for ‘Art time’, then instead we will seize the time when you are at your arty best.

If you are on fire in the morning, can you come in early and then sneak a couple of hours off the beginning of the business day as ‘Art time’? If you are an evening type, can you ‘close’ early so you can get a good run in the evening?

I do believe that if no time is a good time to be unavailable, you get your best all round outcome if  you bravely just block out the time of day when you are most prodigious with your “Arty” stuff.

A couple of thoughts:

  • It might work better for you to do all your ‘Art’ on one day a week. In which case choose a day and pencil it in
  • If you have time-critical ‘must do’s (like deliveries) then of course you can’t block out that time (although you could look to do a full-scale change to when you do them)

Step 4

When you take your ‘Art’ time, be unavailable but helpful:

  • Update your website so that it has an easy online ordering system and a useful “Frequently Asked Questions”
  • Pop a friendly and helpful voicemail message on your phone (and always call people back as soon as you ‘Art’ time is over)
  • Put a similar note on your door to deal with drop-ins

Step 5

Decide to close!

It’s not easy to make yourself unavailable so try it as an experiment first, for say a week or two, and see how it feels. Keep an eye on how productive you are on your ‘Art’ and if you feel that you’re back to doing great work

Final thought

I know it feels wrong to hide yourself away from potential customers, but sometimes it’s the only answer.

You don’t want to do a shocking job for your customers because you are too busy tending to the potential new ones. And you do need sleep!

Business is about making difficult decisions and sometimes they don’t come any harder than the vexing question of ‘How should I spend my time?’


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