Problem Solver: I'm too busy doing the wrong work - what's the solution?
Q I run a medium-sized business and find I spend most of my time "being busy" and not achieving what I set out to. How can I improve?
A The topic of time management is an old chestnut which comes up again and again, especially with owners of small to medium sized businesses. At that level, the owner is very often the production manager, the sales manager, the marketing manager and the cleaner all rolled into one. Of course, in the earlier days this is absolutely necessary or the business would not survive.
That does mean that you have to be extraordinarily organised. As the business grows, it is a fatal flaw not to reinvent your own role - and a good tip for you is to create a "not-to-do list". As the business evolves, you need to identify those tasks a which can be delegated to others. The risk is that you hold onto these as well as trying to do all of the new tasks you should be addressing and things start to crumble around the edges, as you become completely overloaded.
What I have mentioned above centres around your delegation skills. You need to be prepared to let go and you need to invest significant time into training and upskilling those who will be taking more responsibility. Sometimes it is faster and easier to simply do the task yourself, but you are jeopardising the future of the business the longer you do this as you are neglecting your own role.
In my experience, the difference between people who get a lot of things done quickly and those who struggle with their time management, is that the former have a system and the latter don't.
Time management is not going to happen by accident, and first task I would advise you to conduct is to do an analysis of your time over a number of days in the next week. Identify where you are losing time. Identify those tasks where you add most value to the business, but are not getting to. Out of that exercise will come a clearer picture on what you have to let go of and then it will be a matter of beginning the delegation process.
There are lots of great online time-management tips and courses, I would encourage you to do these in parallel to changing your own mind-set with regard to your role.
Q I am planning to launch a new food product, but I am a little uncertain as to how the customer will respond. What should I do?
A This is a great question and an area where errors can simply be made. Very often a food producer's journey starts at home, where they are producing something for their own family use. Suddenly extended family or maybe neighbours ask them to make extra and offer to buy it from them. Confidence builds and eventually that person ends up either at a local farmers' market or supplying a local shop.
The danger with all of that is that those in your close and immediate family circle are not a good sounding board and tend to overwhelm you with positive comments to try and encourage you on your journey. The answer to your question on how you seek more clarity is that it will be important that you conduct simple consumer research with customers who are not connected with you.
A simple way to do this would be to go down to your local supermarket, tell them you are looking at starting a business and need to do some customer research. Get some customers to taste your product and give you some feedback or perhaps give you some feedback to proposed packaging, etc. Don't tell these customers you are the producer as you might again bias the answer.
Don't forget to also check out the latest consumer trend information. Bord Bia have a fantastic resource in their Thinking House. They have also lots of general consumer research on their consumer lifestyle trends website.
The key message is to get the opinion of lots of customers in a structured way before you move forward so you can strengthen your business case and getting real feedback.