I've decided to start creating a monthly report so that I can actually monitor my progress with projects, how I'm getting on with my targets and also to ensure that I am in fact working less and not doing more! As much as I have designed by businesses to be automated and easy to run, so that I can spend less time working, I seem to be spending more and more time in front of my laptop. I'm hoping that if I actually document what I am doing on a daily basis and collate it into a monthly report, I might actually find out where I am going wrong and find areas to improve so that I can spend more time relaxing.
This report will be slightly longer than normal and covers bits from the first three months of the year, just to help put everything into context.
Profit and Loss
I'm still working out the best way to monitor profit so that I can run monthly comparisons. The difficulty is that in many ways each business is set up as an independent entity. What I mean by that is each one has its own finance system so collating data from each business, each month and then comparing it to the previous months is quite difficult so for now, I am just comparing figures for the web design, hosting and SEO businesses.
Compared to February, March saw a 4.19% increase in income. Although that's not a huge number, it's important to remember that - especially for these businesses (web design, hosting and SEO) - these are recurring customers so unless a customer leaves, this will be a permanent increase in profit.
I was also fortunate enough to have a large order through the drop shipping business in March so there was a one-off boost there although this isn't shown in this figure - again, still working on how to work out how to monitor all of the businesses in one report.
I've just started collecting data on this to monitor how much time I am spending on each activity so nothing to compare it with yet. What I have realised is that this is a really useful activity. After only a few days I am already surprised at how many hours I am spending answering e-mails and generally being tied to my desk. This really needs to improve!
At the end of 2018 I bought another web site design business. This meant that the end of the year and part of the Christmas break were rather hectic as we prepared for the handover on 1 January. The beginning of 2019 was also busy as I carefully worked out how the business was run, introduced myself to the new customers and generally made them feel at ease with the transition over to this new guy who they hadn't heard of before. Most of the customers are small business owners who have built up a relationship with Chris (the previous owner) over the years so I needed to break them in gently and make them feel at ease. All of this meant that the first few months of the year were busy.
All of this work was combined with the normally January rush. I swear people can't spend two weeks at home over Christmas without going a little bit crazy and either can't wait to get back to work or spend the time thinking of what business they want to start in the new year. This means that January is always busy as everyone rushes back to work and lots of people get in touch to ask for a new web site. This is great for me as it means lots of new customers but ideally I'd like them spread out through out the year rather than having a huge number in January. Statistics do show that more new businesses are started at the beginning of the year than at any other time.
Things have settled down now and I only have around three projects in progress.
I did get to a point where I was seriously considering how I could put off new customers as I was doing too much. I can't think of a way to do this and I'm not sure I want to be turning away business. It does raise the question though, at some point I will reach maximum capacity and so I will either need to turn business away (which seems silly) or employ someone to take the load off of me. Neither option really appeals to me though.
The hosting business has been doing really well recently and I've managed to pick up quite a few new customers through e-mail marketing. A lot have come to me as their current host isn't offering the service that they would like i.e. good customer service. Three customers have moved over to us all from the same company and all because the original host just stopped replying to support requests. Great news for me but someone needs to remind the old host that customer service is key!
I've taken on around 10 new search engine optimisation (SEO) customers this year so far. It's something that I've done in the past but was considering giving up simply due to the time commitment it takes to get a web site moving up the Google rankings. After some thought and quite a bit of research, I have managed to put together a step-by-step blueprint which can be used for most web sites to improve their rankings and a lot of the steps are now being outsourced. Although the outsourcing does mean I lose some of the profit, it does free up a lot more of my time each month.
I'm still testing the blueprint on a few sites but so far, the results are very positive. Once I'm confident that it works across various types of web sites / businesses, I am going to increase my charges for SEO to factor in the additional costs of outsourcing.
I have a drop-shipping business which I haven't touched for around six months now. The site is still active and usually brings in one sale a month. It's not a lot of profit but something is better than nothing. I do need to improve this by finding more suppliers, updating the site with new products and automating more of the order process. Currently when an order is made, I receive an e-mail, I notify the supplier, they invoice me, I pay them and the product is shipped to the customer. Although each order only takes around five minutes, I would like to fully or partially automate the process and save myself some more time.
All of my businesses use the same help desk system so that if customers need to get in touch, they simply e-mail the support@ e-mail account for that business and their message gets added to my list. Everything is on one screen and things are customised so that if I reply to a web design customer, they receive an e-mail with the web design business e-mail signature on it, if it's a hosting customer, they get the hosting business signature... From a customer's point-of-view, there is no link between the businesses but for me, everything is controlled and managed in one place.
I've recently upgraded the help desk system that I use to the Enterprise version so that I can add more businesses (the Standard version is limited to 10) and also so that I can trial the integrated live chat system.
As I have already mentioned, the time and motion study that I am doing has been a real shock to me and I am keen to reduce my working hours, a lot! One of the main reasons for going self-employed was to reduce my working hours and at the moment, I am failing.
I have another project which I am hoping to spend a lot of time on over the next few weeks. This is likely going to take a good four weeks' of work and I really need to set some time aside to focus on this. I don't want to say too much at the moment but hopefully this will have a big impact on a lot of small business owners.