Fighting time seems to be the plight of the entrepreneur. Studies show many entrepreneurs spend hours per week on unnecessary admin and other non-revenue generating tasks, like financial books management.\r\n\r\nBut entrepreneurial life doesn’t need to be this way. If you’re caught in a time suck where there aren’t enough hours in the day, you have three options to make life a lot easier: build systems, automate, and/or outsource. \r\n\r\nIn this post, we explain each of these three options, what effort they require, and how much each will cost.\r\nBuilding systems ($0-$250+ per month)\r\nSystems can help bring order to chaotic to-do lists and make how you run your business more efficient.\r\n\r\nIn short, a system is any repeatable way to complete a task. This could mean a time-based schedule, an order of operations for complex tasks, or a standard operating procedure (SOP) for specific tasks. \r\n\r\nWhy it helps: \r\n\r\nWhen you bring in systems, you bring in two forms of productivity and time-saving:\r\n\r\n \tPlanning tasks helps eliminate random, time-consuming actions. \r\n \tSystematizing tasks brings opportunities for tweaking and improving.\r\n\r\nEffort required:\r\n\r\n \tDocument all ongoing tasks or regular one-off tasks in your business.\r\n \tCategorize each task under one of: Operations, Sales & Client Delivery, and Product & Service Development. \r\n \tWrite down what the key outcome of the task is and why that outcome is important. \r\n \tWrite the steps you currently take to complete the step. \r\n\r\nOnce you document all of your tasks and the steps required, look for areas of improvement:\r\n\r\n \tCan you accomplish a task more effectively? What would you need to change?\r\n \tAre some tasks even necessary? Can you combine tasks or eliminate some?\r\n \tAre some tasks foundational, meaning you can’t do other things until you do that first task? Are there ways to make those more efficient?\r\n\r\nMoney required: \r\n\r\nNone to start, if you don’t want to. You can document everything in a free Google Spreadsheet and do all the effort yourself. If you would like to expedite this undertaking, you can hire someone (contract or full-time employee) to help document your work processes.\r\nAutomation ($100-$500+ per month)\r\nAutomation is the process of letting technology handle tasks without you doing anything (once you set up the initial platform).\r\n\r\nIf you have a lot of routine, repetitive tasks that don’t change much over time or ad hoc tasks that happen based on a trigger (for example, sending a welcome email to every new customer), you have an opportunity to automate. \r\n\r\nEven if the task gets slightly complex, it’s possible to build logic into software platforms to automate most of it and trigger human intervention where necessary.\r\n\r\nWhy it helps: When a task is automated, you don’t have to do it anymore. That is the first (and key) benefit. But the second one is that automated tasks reduce or eliminate errors, meaning less time spent fixing problems.\r\n\r\nEffort required:\r\n\r\n \t Document all tasks you do in your business, both routine and ad-hoc but frequent.\r\n\r\n\r\n \tFor each routine task, document the entire task process (every sub-task, in order, that ends with the task being completed).\r\n \tFor each ad-hoc task, document the task process and the trigger that is required to make the task necessary.\r\n\r\n\r\n \t For each task, identify:\r\n\r\n\r\n \tHow long it takes you or an employee to complete (in minutes or hours, depending on each task). \r\n \tHow critical the task is to the business. \r\n \tHow much money the task costs you in terms of salaried time (yours or an employee’s) to complete it. \r\n\r\n\r\n \t Research different platforms that can help you automate tasks, starting with the most expensive or time-consuming tasks. \r\n\r\n\r\n \tFor example, let’s say a task you have is sending invoices and reminding customers to pay. Invoicing software like Quickbooks or Freshbooks can help you automate converting a proposal into an invoice, scheduling invoices to send and auto-scheduling reminders.\r\n \tThese software platforms cost an average of $20-$150+ per month. If you spend more money in salary time to pay an employee to send invoices and remind customers to pay, then you’ll save time and money by using technology. \r\n\r\nMoney required: \r\n\r\nYou’ll need to spend money on technology, which can range from freemium pricing to hundreds of dollars per month per platform. Because technology costs can grow rapidly, it’s important to prioritize automating costly or time-consuming tasks first to get the most value for your budget.\r\n\r\nYou may also choose to hire someone (full time or contract) to help you document business processes, find the right technology platform, and set up the automation logic on the platform once you purchase it. \r\nOutsourcing ($500-$2,500+ per month)\r\nSometimes, you need more than technology and just can’t continue doing the task yourself. That’s where outsourcing comes in. \r\n\r\nWhether hiring a staff member, virtual assistant (VA), freelancer, agency, or consulting firm, outsourcing means getting the task off your plate and onto another human’s plate. There is almost always some technology involved––at the very least, communicating with your team member(s)––but the main work is done by a human.\r\n\r\nWhy it helps: It’s one of the simplest ways to save time, since you’re getting someone else to do the task. You’ll also gain from that person’s expertise and experience, meaning the task will (hopefully) get done to a higher standard than if you tried to do it yourself.\r\n\r\nEffort required:\r\n\r\n \tIdentify all tasks in your business that you personally do, with a description of the key outcome and the sub-tasks you do to accomplish the main task.\r\n \tIdentify what the best type of outsourcing is based on the tasks you want to remove from your plate.\r\n\r\n \tFor routine tasks that can’t be automated, consider a VA.\r\n \tFor skilled, specific tasks (like design or writing), consider a freelancer.\r\n \tFor strategic tasks, consider a consultant or coach. \r\n \tFor high-volume creative tasks, consider an agency. \r\n \tFor ongoing, widely-varying tasks, consider hiring an employee (full- or part-time).\r\n\r\n\r\n \tResearch and screen potential vendors/hires and ultimately choose one.\r\n \tOnboard the vendors/hire, so they can become familiar with the tasks and start executing.\r\n \tManage them and their performance on an ongoing basis.\r\n\r\nMoney required: \r\n\r\nOn top of the cost of the outsourced person or team, you may also have to pay for:\r\n\r\n \tA search firm to help you find the right vendor or hire.\r\n \tSomeone in-house to manage the vendor or hire, if you don’t want to do this yourself.\r\n \tAny relevant technologies or software that you will use, even if you stop working with the outsourced hire.\r\n\r\nROI matters more than cost\r\nIt might be tempting to start with free or less expensive options that are easier on your pocket. However, the real key is to focus on the return on your investment (ROI) first and size of investment second. \r\n\r\nHere’s a simple way to look at ROI: The expense should:\r\n\r\n \tFree up resources that can be used to make more than it costs.\r\n \tEliminate redundant to make your overall cost base lower.\r\n \tAdd revenue capacity/make you money directly with a new offering.\r\n \tFree up your time such that you can focus on making more money or enjoy a high emotional return on investment (eROI), like spending more time with family or taking care of yourself.\r\n\r\nIf spending a little bit gets you nothing, it’s not worth it––all you’ve done is spend money. On the other hand, if spending a lot of money gets you an enormous return, it may be worth it. \r\n\r\nOf course, you need to take into account your financial position, the inherent risk of all business investments, and your risk tolerance. Nothing is guaranteed, but you should always invest from the perspective of gaining something you want versus going with the cheapest option just because it’s cheap.\r\n\r\nFor more entrepreneurial tips and expert advice, sign up for our newsletter here.