What can you do to gain control of a runaway business that regularly requires long hours? The very first thing you need to do is take time to assess yourself and your business. You wanted to grow a successful business, but just how far do you want to grow? Henry Doherty, founder of Cities Service Co., said there are two abilities almost impossible to find. First is the ability to think. (If you have ever gone through the hiring process, you know how hard that is.) Second is the ability to do things in order of their importance. In other words, you must determine what your priorities are and arrange them from the most important to the least important.
Prioritizing is really establishing goals. If you decide your family is more important to you than your business, then spending more time with them becomes a goal. The lament I hear most is that there is not enough time for family. Also consider rest and relaxation time for yourself. That time is essential to rejuvenate the mind and spark the creative juices. If you knew you could find the time, how much time would you realistically spend on your priorities outside of business? If you worked a 40 hour a week job for somebody else, where and how would you spend your free time?
Once you have established the amount of time you need away from the business as well as the amount of time you should put into the business, then it is a matter of making the choice to do it. No excuses! Just because you have eight or 12 weeks of work on the calendar and your clients want their jobs done by specific deadlines, doesn't mean they should, or deserve to, get what they want.
So saying it and doing it are two different things, but it can be done. The place to start is with time management. Of course it's best to read a book or two on this topic or take a class, but if you don't have time for that, just analyze how you are spending your time. What can you change, delegate, start or stop in order to achieve your goals for yourself and your business?
If you are doing anything in your business that is not getting you closer to your personal or business goals, then stop doing it. For example: If you are making a product on a regular basis that is time consuming, but for which you are making very little to no profit, why continue? Someone else out there probably can do it and make a great profit. So let them have the work.
The next immediate thing you can do is raise your prices. Every time I say that I hear an immediate protest, "But I will lose clients!" Exactly! You will lose some clients. However, you won't have to work as many hours to do the jobs for the remaining clients, and you likely will make as much or more money. One of the by-products of this process is that as you regularly raise prices, you will work your way into a higher-end market, a market that is willing to pay you more for your skills.
You may want to think about farming out some of your work to other workrooms, and not just the unprofitable jobs. It's a particularly common practice for workrooms to farm out pinch pleats to another company. However, before you do this, investigate the other companies to be sure you will get the quality you want in the time period you need it. Also, be sure you will make money on this arrangement. Calculate the time and money spent to put the order together and to deliver or ship it to the other company. Will you have to press, steam or bag the orders when you receive them? The more time you put into this kind of arrangement, the less the reason for doing it.
Consider buying more equipment that will enable you to work faster. Be prepared to spend time shopping for the right equipment. You may need to hire a consultant to assist you in deciding which equipment is best for your operation. If you are doing a volume of pinch pleat draperies, there is a variety of specialized machines to increase output. Industrial sewing machines are many times faster than home machines, and a cutting/inspection machine is a valuable time reducer for any workroom.
The beauty of equipment is that it shows up for work everyday, doesn't require supervision, and doesn't ask for a raise! Don't make the mistake of thinking you can't afford it. There are lease options available. If you plan to be in business for the next five to 10 years, the right equipment will more than pay for itself over time.
Hiring employees is another option. Usually a lengthy, time consuming training period is required, not to mention the time expended during the hiring process. But once a good, capable employee is trained, that person can save you a lot of time. However, there are some pitfalls of which you should be aware. Employees require supervision. You can continue to sew and manage one or two seamstresses, but when you get three, four or more, you or someone else must be a full-time supervisor. On the other hand, when you have that many employees, they increase production. Other Options
If the above options don't work for you, then seriously consider dropping some clients. If you are a retail business, the best way to drop a few clients is to charge higher prices. If you are a wholesale business, you may have to go to specific clients, particularly the more troublesome ones, and say you just can't do their work any more.
I would suggest offering these clients a grace period to allow them time to find other resources. Yes, dropping customers will be a hardship for them, but you are going through a hardship yourself. And, yes, they will go to your competitors, but there's more than enough business to go around or you wouldn't be doing this in the first place!
Probably the most important step for finding more time is the simplest, but yet the most difficult. Just say "No!" It's OK to say it. Most of us are pleasers and we want people to like us, and it is good customer service to do everything we can for our customers. However, as a recent seminar attendee pointed out, we need to be nice to ourselves, too. It's also true that when you start saying no, you will gain more respect from your customers. You will find that most people will accept your answer and will work with you.
The bottom line is you must take control! When you start out in business, you must pay your dues and work long hours and take whatever work you can find. That is the price of starting a business. Establishing your reputation and reliability actually will give you more control of your business if you will just take the wheel and steer in the direction you want to go. You and only you have the power to give yourself more time away from business. The decision is yours.
Kitty Stein is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.