Work smarter, not harder

Work smarter, not harder 150 150 Cypher

Work smarter, not harder

A few months ago the Harvard Business Review included a special offer for a suite of books under the banner ‘working smarter not harder’. It’s a bit of a cliché that is often used but potentially misunderstood. What does it mean and how do we actually work smarter, not harder?

The Cypher business is based around this ethos, there are numerous mentions of it throughout our business plan and it won’t surprise you to know that the first example I’ve got of working smarer not harder is through your finance function.

If your business finance function- the way that data gets into your accounts- isn’t automated; you’re not in the cloud and you’re not letting software and all of Google’s robots do their thing, then you are working harder not smarter.

If anything written in the next part of this blog looks or sounds like something you do when you are managing your bookkeeping then you need to stop, immediately, and Google Xero, or DEXT.

If a supplier sends you an invoice and you print it, if you print your sales invoices to then send to your customers, if your customers pay you by cheque or if someone sends you a bill and you have to then manually type information into another system, quite simply there’s a better way of doing it.

I could bore people for hours on this subject, but basically, if at any point something crosses your desk and you have to do something with it other than take a photo, then there is a quicker, smarter way of doing it. That’s the way modern, automated, cloud-based finance functions like Xero work.

We’ve got clients, literally brand new businesses, which have finance functions that are now far more advanced than businesses that have been going for 10 or 15 years because they’ve had no legacy system.

You can receive invoices via an email and Xero ingests that email, takes a snapshot of the PDF, harvests all the data; the date, the invoice number, the due date, how much VAT is on it, sucks out all of that information and puts it into your bookkeeping system. It takes an hour to set up and then you never have to manually enter another purchase invoice.

Xero allows you to create sales invoices with links embedded in them so that anyone can click a button and pay you by card, so you don’t have to take a payment over the phone and you don’t have to send a cheque or even a bank transfer. If you are a trade’s person you can set up an app, so when you finish a job, you push a button, the invoice is sent and the customer can pay you automatically.

And then you integrate a feed from your bank in to your bookkeeping system so all of your bills are harvested from your inbox. The only thing left then is when you spend money on a debit card, you use an app to take a photo of the receipts and then all the info- all the data- is extracted and goes straight into the system.

That’s how modern bookkeeping works. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for bookkeepers any more, robots aren’t taking our jobs, but rather the clever bookkeepers are using technology to allow them to service more customers. It’s a great example of people working smarter.

How many small business owners spend hours at the weekend doing their bookkeeping, manually inputting data? Think, if you could get that time back, what else could you be doing; golf, pilates, watching the kids football?

Imagine how powerful that time could be if you used it instead to stop and actually think about your business? It’s phenomenal and could fundamentally change the work-life balance of a business owner if they use automation properly.

Sticking with the automated data entry theme, if you are spending more time completing your timesheets than actually doing the work, there is also a smarter way of doing that.

Another example of smarter working is choosing between sending an email and picking up the phone. It may be a bit old school, but we have a rule in Cypher that is very simple; if you have spent more than two minutes writing an email and you are still on the first paragraph-maybe the contents of the email you are replying to or the topic you are discussing requires more time and thought- then bin the email and pick up the phone.

Taking time to clearly articulate your thoughts or position on a more complex matter, rather than getting caught in a flurry of emails is another simple example of working smarter not harder.

Staying with the technology theme, how many businesses find their sales teams are having too many conversations with prospects that just aren’t the right fit; they’re not necessarily timewasters but not the right target market?

To improve their conversation rate a client of ours uses an app called Zapier, which if you haven’t heard about it is like programmable robots on the internet, plus some other tools to help filter out the wrong type of client. They have spent some time understanding their target client and found they had a particular sweet spot. So now if someone visits their website, the tech can understand who this person is by scraping data from Companies House and various other places, so even before they have started a sales conversation they know whether or not they are dealing with the right type of business. Within about 30 seconds of someone landing on the website the bots have decided whether this is a suitable client, given them prices and pushed them into the automated sales funnel. That’s smart.

Rather than a business cliché, working smarter, not harder might instead become a philosophy. One of our core values at Cypher is that we are digital first. If you distil that down, it means that if we can let software or automation do the job we should, because this actually frees up more time for the human contact that our clients really value. No software can replicate that. Our clients don’t care if a computer puts their data into the system or human does. As long as it’s in there, so they can see it and we can have the conversation about it, that’s where they get the value out of our business.

I’m sure this is the same for millions of different types of businesses, so, if you can get software to deliver it and it doesn’t affect the service and it doesn’t affect the human aspect of your brand, then get the software to do it and let your humans do what the software can’t, which is looking after the people, actually talking to the customers.

Moving away from technology and automation, we have also talked a lot about time, on the podcast, how best to use it and how to work smarter in the time you have. As a small business owner, you could be CEO, bookkeeper, credit controller, sales rep and social media contact. To work smarter, the key is to try and do more of the things that actually improve your business. Working smarter means considering what you can get off plate, what can you outsource and what jobs are absolutely not yours to waste time with so instead you can be really productive.

Lastly, in my opinion, one of the smartest things you can do is switch your email off. Having your email browser on your phone is a massive distraction. The constant pinging will mean it takes you longer to focus and get back to the job in hand, which then takes longer. It also means you never switch off and find yourself answering emails at 11 o’clock at night, which means you can’t sleep because you are stressing about this client’s email.

Instead of work smarter not harder, I think the saying should be ‘think smart, work hard’. You still need to work hard in order for your businesses to thrive, but you should do the thinking first. Understand the drivers for your business where your time is best used and then work on how you can get technology or supporting businesses to take away the things that take time to free up your time to deliver more human capacity to your clients.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.