Managing a virtual business has some added challenges over managing a traditional one. There are wonderful pros, but there are a few cons, as I wrote about previously. The first and foremost challenge is managing you.
While some personalities find a virtual business or work-from-home environment more difficult to manage, you can create a structure so that it is a little easier. It might take more willpower for some than from others. If you get distracted or can’t maintain focus easily (or even if you don’t!), developing a structure and schedule for managing a virtual business is very necessary.
Get a good digital calendar that can sync to your smartphone. I am a huge fan of Google Calendar because of the power and ubiquity of it. You can create multiple calendars within your Google Calendar for better organization. Plus, you can subscribe to other calendars, like family members, teammates and “calendars of interest” (e.g., federal holidays, the Chicago Blackhawks or Texas A&M football schedules).
The first thing you want to do on your calendar is to block out your personal obligations. Your God, your family and your health should be your priorities. If you are not taking care of yourself first, you will not have anything to give to your clients and your team. Take Sundays off. Make sure that gym visit is booked and that you are taking breaks for lunch. Go to your daughter’s soccer game. And don’t forget to walk the dog.
For me, managing a virtual business “starts” at 6:30am. I calendar my morning routine. It is usually the same – morning readings, a few light chores, walk the dog (that’s exercise too!), breakfast, yoga, and shower. I usually move into work mode around 8:30am and have a 1/2-hour blocked for lunch. I “sign off” at 6pm, because that’s when I cook dinner, spend time with my husband and our creatures, and do personal tasks like meal planning, etc. Of course, if an emergency arises or I get behind, I can tap into that time. But, if I have to do that, I do it intentionally and don’t make it a habit.
Working from home brings the challenge of isolation, which can lead to depression – and a loss of social skills. So, make sure you are getting out at least once a week. It can be lunch with a friend, a networking event, a client meeting at Starbucks, or a volunteer gig. But, make sure you have some in-person socializing as part of your schedule.
Side note for women who have a few vanity issues, as I do… schedule your video calls on those days so that you’re more presentable to be on video. I avoid putting on makeup and professional attire unless required. The days when that is required take a little more “shower time”, so I make sure to work that into my morning.
Continuing with the calendaring concept, block times into your calendar for when you are going to work on client projects, marketing, financials, sales, etc. Be sure to save your best focus times for the biggest challenges. If you have promised a certain number of hours per week to a specific client, block those as well. This is especially important if you are a subcontractor. It allows you to see how much availability you have and prevents overpromising.
Other Tools for Managing a Virtual Business
Software is important when managing a virtual business. You need tools for communications, finances, sales, project management, time tracking (if you do that), and social media/marketing. I love how technology can help you solve problems. To that end, I have written a couple of articles on business tools. Feel free to peruse them for ideas:
- These are A Few of My Favorite… SaaS Tools for Small Business, and
- Business Tools for Software Developers (this applies to others as well)
Accountability is another area you need to address. Even if you are great at holding others accountable – Project Management 101 – you can still be challenged to hold yourself to the same standards. A business coach, such as my colleague and friend Carol Williams, or a teammate or spouse can help. I have asked Laura Elliott, Beyond the Chaos’ project manager, to manage internal projects to hold me accountable. And I have done some accountability coaching for other small business owners. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength!
Mastermind groups can be a great source of accountability. They can also give you the opportunity to be challenged and strengthened by others who are in the same situation. My group consists of women running their own consulting/coaching businesses, from around the country. We meet monthly via Zoom video calls. While our businesses are diverse, having a group of people who are in the same situation who can provide insight and friendship – and the occasional referral – is invaluable. If you can’t find one that already exists, start one!
While working from home allows for flexibility, if you create structure and generally stick to a schedule, you will be more productive. I notice on days when I decide to skip pieces of that morning routine, I’m off for the whole day.
But don’t structure yourself into stress. The beauty of having a plan is that you know what to do if you need to change it. Having all those blocks of time on my calendar allows me to move them and shift them – like a puzzle – into a schedule that works for me. Sometimes I move them just because I feel like it. Others, I stick to that schedule like glue because I know I need the extra focus that structure allows.
Creating your own structure can create more freedom in managing a virtual business.
Also published on Medium.