When you’re just getting started with your small business, simply deciding which goal to tackle first—and knowing what to do and when—can be a job just by itself.
None of us are born with business smarts or an entrepreneurial playbook pre-printed into our brains. It’s stuff that we’ve all got to figure out along the way, and that most of us make some sort of horrible mistake over.
And especially when we first get started in business—when we don’t have years of experience to help us make smart, educated guesses—business management tips and advice from others can be incredibly helpful.
So today we’re going to focus on management tips—people management, time management, money management—you name it.
But they’re all tips that’ll help you as a new small business owner manage your business better so you can avoid unwanted headaches and just push forward to the progress you want.
1. Set Up an LLC (or Some Form of Official Business Entity)
Even if you’re totally self employed, don’t have anyone else working for you, and are 100% self-funded from your own pocket, you need to set up your business as a separate taxable entity from day one.
Some service professionals like writers, designers, and coaches feel safer skipping this step while they’re still ramping up their client base, but it usually costs $1,000 or less and almost instantly protects your personal assets from any legal trouble your business might get into.
I’m not saying your business will get into legal trouble—most small businesses never do.
But just in case you accidentally used a name that was copyrighted elsewhere in your state or get a totally horrible client that completely screws you over even though you have a contract… the worst thing that can happen is your business dissolves.
Which would suck, but at least you wouldn’t have to foreclose on your house just to pay off what you’re getting sued for… you know?
– Business financial troubles seeping over into your personal finances
– The IRS breathing down your neck
– Getting sued for everything you own
2. Separate Your Personal & Business Finances
Let’s say for some reason setting up a legal entity isn’t an option.
Or for some reason your paperwork is being held up, but you just can’t wait to get cracking on your business.
Please, please, please, by all means, don’t accept payment in your personal business account or put business expenses on your personal credit card.
Most banks will require official business paperwork to open something up in your business’s name, but at the very least, you can open separate personal accounts that are designated for only business transactions.
Regardless, even if getting your LLC paperwork was a breeze, this is something you have to do.
Since you and your business are separate taxable entities, you need to have separate finances. Otherwise things just get messy and you might as well assume you’ll have to deal with an audit—even if you’ve got nothing to hide.
– More trouble with the IRS
3. Pay for Accounting Software
A lot of brand-new business owners—especially those who are bootstrapping—are constantly looking for ways to save money.
So much so that tasks like accounting and bookkeeping—or keeping track of money in/money out—is something they assume they can do on their own.
But honestly, there’s no need to go full-out and hire an on-staff accountant. At least not at first.
There’s so many options for good, easy-to-use accounting software, that it’s just silly not to use them.
And honestly, for as little as they cost, they almost always pay for themselves with time saved.
You can get basic versions starting at $10 to $20 per month, and if sending invoices are a thing you do, they’ll look so much better and take so much less time to make than if you tried to fumble around Excel and do it yourself.
– Losing receipts
– Forgetting about your major expenses
– Not looking like a 7-year-old “playing business” while sending an invoice
4. Invest in Your Education
Heart-to-heart right now: the best money I’ve spent on my business has been on my own education to further it.
If I don’t know how to do something, I know it’s silly for me to keep trying to Google solutions, go through months and months of trial and error, and maybe get it right after that.
Instead, it makes a lot more sense to pay a few hundred dollars (sometimes even a few thousand, depending on the skill) to have someone who’s been there, done it, and been successful at it teach me how to do it right the first time.
Because even though those courses cost money upfront, they more than pay for themselves in return on saved mistakes alone… not to mention how much they help me actually make more money because of the things they teach.
I’ve done courses on how to set up my business, how to manage clients, how to market, how to advertise, how to write, how to pick colors and do basic web design, how to network, and how to create an info product.
Free courses are available yes, but they only scratch the surface. Paying money to dig deep into the topic and really learn it goes so, so far. Trust me.
– Wasted time
– Wasted money
– Failed experiments
– Leaving sales on the table
– Googling for 13 hours straight while your eyeballs bulge out of your head
5. Train New Employees Well
Recently I heard John and Kate (the couple behind Entrepreneur on Fire, not the reality show stars with 8 children) on a podcast talking about how when you hire someone, you should actually expect a temporary increase in work instead of immediately being able to offload responsibilities and have the free time you dream of.
That’s because, even if you make the smartest hires in the world, they’re not going to understand and acclimate to your business right away.
Instead, they’re going to need time to learn the ins and outs, to understand your expectations, and to mentally put the puzzle together to see how all the small pieces add up to your larger goals.
They’re not going to hit the ground running on day one, and you shouldn’t expect them to.
Train them well to do their jobs—even if they’ve filled the same role five times before at five different companies and you assume it should all be the same. (It’s not all the same.)
If you’re not sure how to put together a training plan, check out this guide on Inc. and its dig deeper resources.
Plus, when someone feels more competent in their job, they feel more empowered and proud of what they do.
– Harsh firing
– High turnover
– No wasted time going back to un-do employee mistakes
6. Ignore Your Inbox the First 4 Hours of Every Day
No doubt you’ve read productivity articles that have advised you not to check your emails first thing in the morning.
Because it’s a piece of advice repeated so often by people doing nothing but parroting one another, it can be easy to ignore.
But, it does serve a purpose, and a good one at that.
The thing is, when you’re actively going through your emails, your brain feels busy. It is busy, actually, but not with the most important tasks of the day.
And studies have shown over and over again that decision fatigue as the day wears on and as our brains keep thinking is very much a thing.
Which means that if you spend the first four hours of your day weeding through emails from those SEO spammers, you’re burning your brain power out on things that don’t even matter.
Which means you’ve got a lot less brain power left over to think critically about important business decisions and situations that can actually make you more successful. (Unlike those fake SEOs.)
Plus, when an “emergency situation” pops into your inbox and you don’t see it until the afternoon, at least the majority of your to-do list is taken care of before you have to handle it.
– Not getting behind on your to-do list
– Not making decisions you regret
7. Invest in Marketing
An “Open for Business” sign on your front door and/or a website that’s finally gone live isn’t enough to get you customers.
It’d be nice, but that’s just not the world we live in.
The world we live in requires small business people like us to force our way in front of people, show them something valuable, and somehow have them listen to our pitch.
Because without that, ain’t nobody going to just be compelled out of the blue to buy from us.
So to invest in marketing properly, you’ll need to do a little research to find out what works best for your business model and your market:
- Renting a booth at a festival?
- Online content marketing?
- Ads in the newspaper?
- PPC ads in Google?
- Facebook ads?
- Network marketing and referrals?
Whatever it is, you’ll want to start doing it from day one.
Or if you’re really smart, you’ll use it to start building hype, loyalty and anticipation before day one.
But whatever you do, don’t sit around and twiddle your thumbs and then decide that maybe you should look into marketing when you realize your business isn’t as profitable as you initially planned.
Do it right away and you’ll thank yourself.
– Sore thumbs from too much twiddling
– Zero cash flow
– Going in debt because of no income
– No funds to pay yourself or your employees
8. Schedule Meetings With Yourself
As the business owner, you’ve got a ton of decisions to make.
You’re the one responsible for your company’s ultimate success or failure, you’re the one all your employees look to for direction, and you’re the one that’s got to see the big picture to know what moves to make next.
But because running a business—even a “small” business—requires so much work and such a long freaking to-do list, we often get so caught up in feeling accomplished by getting that work done and those to-do items checked off that we forget to check in with ourselves as business owners.
In short, we get caught up in acting like an employee to such an extent that we forget to be the boss.
So every week—I schedule mine on Friday mornings—take 30 minutes to an hour to have a meeting with yourself as the chief strategist of your business.
To start off the meeting, acknowledge what your big-picture goals are and then for each of those goals, figure out if what you’re doing right now is aligned with making those things happen.
If it is, great.
If it isn’t, figure out what you can do to change it.
If it kind of is, but there’s room for improvement, figure out what that improvement needs to be.
When I do this, I often find that the things I’ve let myself get heavily focused on probably need to be set to the side for a week or two while I get something else in order.
And even though I don’t make progress on the thing I set aside for half a month, when I do pick it back up again, the progress is always smarter and faster because of these meetings with myself.
– Getting behind on your goals
– Not keeping up with the market or your competition
– Watching part of your business crumble
9. Pay Your Taxes Every Quarter
I’ll admit, this is something I didn’t always keep up with until this year.
And the reason I’m keeping up with it now was because when I filed my taxes last April, I had to pay a fine for not paying my minimum amounts on time.
I had every intention of paying my taxes, I just assumed it wouldn’t matter if I paid them ahead of time or if I paid them at the time of filing. But I was wrong. The IRS wanted your money within 3 months after I made it.
It makes sense… if you pay sooner they can make better use of your money and/or earn interest on it.
So if you’re not already paying your taxes on a quarterly basis, talk to your accountant to see what your quarterly minimums should be and make sure you send them in.
The best part is, you don’t have to do the filing paperwork every quarter. As long as you send in the checks (or pay online) and keep track of what you’ve sent, you’ll be good to go and now have any sort of fee to pay.
– Hard-earned money spent on unnecessary fees
– No IRS employees breathing down your neck
10. Ban Multi-Tasking
Because really, who are we kidding here?
It astonishes me that I still see job descriptions seeking “competent multi-taskers” when it’s been proven in one study after another that multitasking is both impossible and that attempting to do it makes you about 3,000 times less productive.
So don’t let yourself or your employees multi-task.
Don’t think you can absorb the information in an instructional podcast while also blasting through your email inbox.
Or deal with your Twitter notifications while you’re on a conference call with your suppliers.
At any point you’re paying attention to one while the content of the other is just coasting right over your head without any cognitive recognition from your brain.
By doing one thing at a time—and only one thing at a time—you’ll find that you actually get more done in a day, that your work rises to a much higher quality, and that you’ll make fewer mistakes that you have to go back and undo later.
– Embarrassing typos in emails sent to important customers
– Having to go back and listen to the same podcast episode for the 3rd time
– That frazzled feeling in your brain when you have to constantly switch back and forth between tasks
– People not taking you seriously because they think you’re a space case
11. Have a Go-To Accountant
In addition to the advice to have accounting software that I talked about above, it’s also smart to have an accountant you can go to as-needed.
Again, I’m not talking about hiring one to keep on staff with you.
Instead, I mean finding a certified CPA who you can hire to do your taxes when the time comes and get financial advice from as and when you need it.
It also never hurts to have an accountant review your business’s cash flow to make sure you’re covered for a risky economic situation—even if it’s unpredictable. (Remember 2008?)
If you know your numbers and stay on top of them, you’ll always be in a better situation than if you kind of think you’re doing good enough for the time-being.
– You don’t suddenly find yourself in the hole
12. Leave 20% of Your Day Open
If you’ll be “at the office” for five hours, only schedule four hours of work.
If it’s 10 hours behind your desk, only eight hours of work.
Because the thing is, there’s always something that comes up last minute that you have to deal with. There’s always a phone call with a needy client that goes 60 minutes over it’s allowed 30 minutes. And there’s always something you thought would take an hour to finish, but it takes two.
And if nothing like that comes up one day?
You now have time to catch up on your emails, read up on what’s happening in your industry, or dedicate more time to your passion project within your business.
Or, you know, you could just take that time off for the sake of your mental health.
But by leaving 20% of your day open, you know that you can confidently take care of those last-minute things that come up without scrambling around and worrying how it’s going to affect the workload of the rest of your week.
I used to book my days, Monday through Friday, at full capacity.
I wanted maximum profitability, I was healthy, and I knew I’d have the weekends off, so I didn’t see any problem with it.
But when all of a sudden on Tuesday morning I realized I had to go to the store for an external hard drive to have enough space to store my videos?
I started calculating in my head whether or not I should cancel Thursday night’s date or if it would really be that bad to work an hour or two on Saturday morning.
Not a fun problem to solve.
But now that I now the value of scheduling in white space, I don’t have that problem nearly as often anymore.
I still have packed and busy days, but I can usually get through the week without procrastinating something or having it suck up my precious weekends.
– Necessary weekend office hours
– Involuntary late nights
– Cancelled plans
– Your friends and family hating your workaholism
13. Use the Pomodoro (Or Similar) Technique
Productivity articles and advice are a dime a dozen, I get it.
But making sure you squeeze the most—and the most productive—work out of the time you’ve got is essential to meeting your goals.
The way I do this is by using the Pomodoro Technique.
Basically, it’s this: work for 25 minutes, break for five minutes, and repeat until you work four 25-minute segments.
Then take a longer break.
Then come back and repeat it again.
Each set of four lasts for about two hours, and I’d swear you’d get at least three hours or more worth of work done.
Because you can “only” work for 25 minutes before taking a break, you feel like you need to have something to show for that time, so you automatically stop wasting your time on Facebook.
Also, because it’s only a 25-minute work segment, there’s absolutely zero pressure to finish a project in one sitting, eliminating the stress of getting started and making it easier to make progress.
I started using this technique months ago and haven’t stopped. I get more work done, I stay on task, and I finish my work day earlier—leaving more time for myself.
14. Be Relentless About the 80/20 Rule
While this rule makes 100% sense in theory, it’s one of the hardest things for us to implement as small business owners.
For one thing, analytics are never fun to set up or look at (for most people)—so that in itself is a huge barrier.
But also, we take a lot of pride in our work and don’t want to realize the things we’re passionate about and have been working on don’t pay off for us.
Believe me, I get it.
But the thing is, if you’re wasting our time marketing on podcasts and no one from the podcast-listening world ever converts on your website, it’s probably time to cut off podcasting from your promotion strategy.
And with the time you save from not podcasting, you can use it towards areas that are actually growing your bottom line and generating a profit for you—like guest blog posting or working on your Facebook ad strategy, for example.
Because the thing is, when you implement the 80/20 rule, you have less wasted time and you make more money.
And with more money and time, you can always leverage your business for even more growth.
– Wasted time
– Missing out on potential profits
15. Once You Train Your Employees, Avoid Them
Okay, I’m not talking about not helping your employees out once in a while.
But like we discussed above, if you’ve got a good training program in place, once that training is finished, they should be empowered and competent enough to make most of the decisions that fall within their job role on their own.
Plus, if an employee has constant access to you—especially if he’s new and doesn’t have a lot of experience—he’ll take advantage of it.
So set up structures that allow your employees to contact you in ways that don’t interfere with your own workday.
In the beginning, using email can work—that way you respond when you have time.
As things get more sophisticated, a project management software where you can collaborate with multiple employees without everyone having to sit together in a meeting to decide on one thing can be a great idea.
Don’t get me wrong, weekly face-to-face meetings definitely still have their place. You still want to maintain the feeling of working in a team as much as possible.
But at the same time, the reason you hired your employees was for them to be able to do work you didn’t want to do or didn’t have time to do… so having them suck up your time just doesn’t make any sense.
And if you have a separate office, set certain office hours where people are welcome to come and knock on your door for help. (In other times, it’ll be off limits.)
– Annoying, repeat questions
– People constantly knocking on your office door
Conclusion: It’s a Lot to Take In, But You’ll Get it Down (I Promise)
Okay, I realize I’ve just totally inundated you with a lot of “do this!” and “now do this!” and “don’t forget to do this too!” kind of advice.
And I realize that you’ve already got a to-do list a mile long, but if there’s anything on this list that you haven’t done yet or that you haven’t incorporated into your management style, consider adding one item at a time to your to-do list until you get them all checked off.
There’s no rule that says you have to master everything all at once. (Thank goodness, right?)
So take a deep breath, pick one thing off this list to tackle, and forge ahead with the confidence in yourself that you’ll take care of the rest later. (So no need to stress over it right now.)