Mail & Ship
Productivity secrets for entrepreneurs running global small business
By Rieva Lesonsky
Time management is a challenge for every entrepreneur. But as your small business expands to selling globally, the challenges involved in managing your time grow exponentially. How can you maximise productivity when doing business internationally? The essential principles are the same as for any small business owner, but some elements take on even more importance in a global business dealing with multiple time zones. Here are six must-do’s.
1. Create a central calendar. Multiple calendars in multiple places multiply the opportunities for confusion, missed appointments and lost opportunities. Instead, use an online calendaring tool such as Google Calendar or iCal to create one, central calendar that is stored in the cloud so you can access it any time, anywhere (even on international business trips). Provide employees with access to the calendar so they can see your availability. (This is especially important if you have some people working different hours than you so they can cover international customers’ time zones.)
2. Use communication tools. Whether you are communicating with remote employees or independent contractors, overseas employees or global customers, communication is key to saving time and keeping your global business running smoothly. Take advantage of the many online communication tools now available, such as:
- GoToMeeting to hold virtual meetings, collaborate and view documents together
- Wrike or Basecamp for task and project management
- Slack or HipChat for internal chat between team members
3. Automate. Whenever possible, use apps and shortcuts to automate repetitive tasks. CRM software helps you store details about customers overseas so you or your employees can quickly access them. Create form responses to common questions or email requests so you can cut and paste or type in a few letters and have the response populate. Use email auto-responders to let people in different time zones know their email was received, even if you are asleep and won’t be reading it until the next day.
4. Manage time zones. Dealing with customers, partners and contractors in various time zones is an added challenge for global time management. Use the World Clock Meeting Planner to quickly find the best time for a call or online conference. As you add new global customers, suppliers or partners, set expectations for response times. For example, if you have a new supplier who’s going to bed as you’re waking up, establish an expectation that he can send an email during his afternoon and expect a response the next morning his time.
5. Delegate. Small business owners typically work long days, but when your business is global, the temptation to work 24 hours can seem like a necessity. You must delegate some duties if you expect to stay sane. Choose low-value tasks or tasks you aren’t expert at, and either delegate them to employees or hire outside contractors or virtual workers. One benefit of using virtual workers or freelancers for a global business: you can look for workers who are in the same time zone as your customers so you have coverage for the time you’re not working.
6. Enlist expert partners. Shipping products internationally presents many additional challenges, such as knowing and adhering to the product restrictions, customs classifications and other red tape of customers’ countries. Dealing with all this can quickly eat up your time and destroy your productivity—unless you enlist a knowledgeable partner to handle the details. Look for a company that has experience in shipping to the countries you do business with, has relationships with shipping carriers to provide multiple delivery options for your customers, and handles all the paperwork to make sure your packages meet customs and freight requirements no matter what country you’re shipping to.
The less time you spend handling the fulfillment side of your global business, the more time you will have to focus on what matters most: growing your company.
Learn about four ways to boost sales without working harder, and when you might consider expanding your business internationally. Do you have a franking machine? If so, learn the five signs it’s time to re-evaluate your mailing process.
Photo courtesy: PhotoDisc/Thinkstock
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