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The Frantic Pace of Small Business

by Guest Writter

Wouldn’t it be nice if you always had a steady flow of business? A pace that is manageable?  Deadlines which are realistic? Forget it. It is not going to happen. It used to be that I could count on certain seasonal rushes. I knew there would be a mad dash to spend money and finish projects before my client’s year end or other peak times. I could also predict when business would be slow. Generally that would be around holidays when many of my large clients might close down production or in the summer when people were taking family vacations. For me, and I suspect other business owners that is no longer the case.  The pace of business is just frantic!

I started to wonder why and I asked a number of fellow business owners to weigh in. There were some common themes. Here’s a look at a few.

Planning is a Thing of the Past

First, because of the uncertainty of what might happen in Washington many businesses are simply not planning. They are taking a wait and see attitude about the purchase of equipment, launching new products or initiatives and hiring of new employees. I used to be able to sit down with my clients and work out a plan of potential projects for the year. Now many wait until the last minute to engage us because they are dealing with such uncertainty. That means we have to scramble to get the work onto our schedule and meet the deadline. Even those who do plan find that they have to make major adjustments to accommodate changing business conditions.

Too Few Workers. Too Much Work.

Many business owners tell me that they and their employees are working more hours and unpredictable schedules. It’s not surprising. I mentioned that many business owners are delaying hiring and their customers are doing the same. Many of my large customers downsized years ago and although they have done some hiring in the past year they still are nowhere near previous staffing levels. That’s another reason why there are so many fire drills and crises. Things just simply fall through the cracks.

Never Unplugged

Finally, the pace of business is frantic because we just don’t unplug. I see people working everywhere and I do it too. Have a few minutes in the airport? Answer some e-mails. Get to a meeting early? Do a little work on your iPad. Want to get a jump on the week? Knock out a few projects over the weekend on your tablet. We never unplug so we never get a break. That’s the reason we feel so frantic.

So what’s business person to do? Here are a few things I am trying.

First, I am not waiting for this uncertain climate to be more certain. I am proactively working on different scenarios to deal with the unpredictability of work flow. I am getting employees cross- trained. When we run into issues – like multiple deadlines on the same day – we can manage more effectively. I am buying equipment and investing in infrastructure to help us cope with the unexpected.

Second, I am building a circle of people that can work with us when we need extra hands. That means that I am paying them to come in and work with us on current even though we could manage without them. I know that sounds crazy but these individuals will be up to speed when we do need them. I think it will pay off.

Finally, I am trying to put some limits on being connected. The other day I had to tell an employee that had the day off to quit answering her e-mails. She had her out-of-office but continued to respond to customers.  While I appreciate the commitment I think people need a break or they will end up feeling frantic.

The pace may never slow down so we all need to try a few things to stay sane.

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