Owning a business is hard. Growing a business is harder. Most small business owners aren’t satisfied with good enough—they want to push the boundaries and drive their businesses toward maximum potential. More customers, more sales, more expansion, more growth. However, growth isn’t a natural by-product of owning a successful business—it’s the result of an intentional investment of your time and resources. If you feel like your business is doing well enough and you’re complacent with your progress, this guide isn’t for you. This guide is for small business owners who want to dedicate a (relatively) short amount of time every week to up-leveling their business. Not ticking off task boxes, not putting out fires, not hunting down business hacks—instead, identifying business needs (now and in the future) and deliberately building solutions. Sound like you? Good—you’re in the right place. Your Business Is Either Progressing or Declining Businesses hardly ever stagnate. They’re usually either progressing or declining, even if it’s ever-so-slightly. To keep your business moving in the right direction, you should invest time and money into it. You’re going to need to identify pain points and come up with long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. Upgrading your business doesn’t mean you have to spend a huge chunk of change, though. There are plenty of inexpensive ways to up-level your business—you just have to spend your time on the right projects. First, let’s look at how you can find the right projects. Then, we’ll show you the 12 best ways to up-level your business in 60 minutes or less. How to Identify Top-Priority Focus Areas It’s easy to lose focus and waste time on the wrong things. Time and money are limited—don’t let “Shiny New Toy Syndrome” distract you from business initiatives that’ll actually make a difference. Don’t get caught up in the future of so-and-so and dump all your eggs into one basket. Focus on up-leveling your business to solve pain points, remove barriers, and enable scale. For example, if it’s a pain to do a specific task every week, then find a way to automate that task. Or if it’s incredibly slow to follow a particular process, then invest in software or procedures to accelerate it. Here are a few ways you can identify your business’s top focus areas: Track your time: Spend a week or two tracking how you spend your time at work. Track everything: answering emails, putting out fires, taking bathroom breaks, engaging in fly-by chit chat, completing tasks, etc. Once you’ve collected enough data, look at how you’re spending your time—this may reveal time-consuming tasks you can cut, automate, or outsource. Talk to employees: Regularly check in with your managers and frontline workers to see what’s working and what’s not. They’ll likely already be aware of deficiencies that need to be solved. Write down complaints: Ask for feedback and listen. Hear your customers’ and employees’ complaints. These are usually the pain points you’ll need to solve first, so don’t ignore them. Analyze your financial statements: Read through your cash flow statement, balance sheet, and profit and loss statement. This is where you’ll find trends or red flags that need to be addressed. Time is short—we get it. Below, we’ll cover 12 different ways you can up-level your business in 60 minutes or less. As you read through these methods, see if the solutions solve critical pain points for your business—not all of them will, so only spend your time on activities that’ll move the needle. If you identify a high-priority solution, move forward with confidence knowing that a 60-minute investment now can save you hours, money, and headaches later. 1. Automate Your Bookkeeping Ditch the paper receipts and manual entries and automate your bookkeeping. Bookkeeping software can automatically import and categorize your income and expenses. Plus, at the end of the month, you can generate important financial documents in just a few clicks. While old-school ledgers and spreadsheets might make you feel like you’re saving money, they’re chewing up valuable time—and time is money! Most bookkeeping software also offers free tiers that provide all the features you’ll need to take care of your small business books. For example, Sunrise can help you create personalized invoices, generate financial reports, track expenses automatically, process discounts and refunds, and even send unpaid invoice reminders—all for free. Setting up a bookkeeping software account and linking your bank accounts will take you all of 5 minutes. Once you’ve done so, you’ll save countless hours every week, month, quarter, and end-of-year. 2. Dive Deep Into Your Analytics It’s helpful to get out of the weeds periodically and take a step back. Spend time diving deep into your analytics to find trends that could benefit your business. Changing a keyword, adjusting your bidding price, or altering your email-sending frequency could reap you massive rewards. Review your Google Analytics, ESP (email service provider) data, Adwords results, and social media analytics. Search for opportunities to exploit and waste to cut. Your Google Analytics data might reveal that site traffic is trending downwards, and then a deep dive might reveal that there’s a teeny-tiny indexing error—finding and fixing the problem might take 60 minutes, but it could save your site’s position on search engines. A glance at your email analytics might reveal that your delivery rates have dropped, meaning most of your hard-won recipients aren’t evening receiving your messages. You’ll never catch these issues if you keep yourself buried in your to-do list. Routinely zoom out and look at the impact of your hard work—data can teach you essential lessons and inform critical business decisions. 3. Delegate Work to a Digital Assistant You’ll reach a point in your business’s life when you can’t run it alone anymore. Whether you own a local brick-and-mortar store or an e-commerce website, you’ll eventually need more help. However, as any manager can attest, managing (especially micromanaging) can often require more time than it’s worth. To up-level your business, you’ll need to delegate smarter, not harder. First, hire a qualified digital assistant. Set aside an hour at the beginning or end of each week to give your assistant plenty to do. Don’t fall into the routine of back-and-forth communication and delegation throughout the day—this creates a time-suck. Identify your top-priority items ahead of time and give your digital assistant all the information needed to tackle the project. If necessary, create short written tutorials or step-by-step videos to show your assistant how to perform certain functions and tasks properly. This will ensure that projects get done right—or the way you want them to be done, at least—the first time so you don’t have to follow up and fix things later. Creating a tutorial might take an hour, but you’ll recoup those 60 minutes in no time. 4. Perform High-Level Market Research Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Take time at the end of each week or month to see what your competitors are doing. Is there anything you could possibly replicate, borrow, or grow? “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible,” said Mark Twain. “We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely…” Research your competitors to see what new and curious combinations you can create from existing ideas. While you’re at it, look at recently released studies and polls to learn about your industry and audience. A single study could prevent you from building an “innovative” product that no one in your market actually wants—like when Ivaylo Kalburdzhiev blew $50,000 on an iPad racing wheel that had no product-market fit. 5. Follow Up on Unpaid Invoices Boosting your business’s cash flow could open up doors to brand-new opportunities, and it might require hunting down a few unpaid customer invoices. Chasing invoices month after month can be a tedious and exhausting process, but it can yield massive bottom-line benefits. Create a 60-minute-max process for following up on your unpaid invoices. This might mean setting up automated invoice reminders or sending one-off follow-up emails. Decide at what point you may turn to accounts receivable financing—and stick to that decision when the time comes. 6. Optimize Your Google My Business Profile Any location-based digital marketing strategy will rely on your Google My Business listing. It’s essential that you provide Google with your bare-minimum business information: location, contact information, hours of business, etc. However, there’s more optimization you can do to boost your local listing and increase digital and physical traffic: List your offered products and services Link your website Provide photos of your store (interior and exterior) and your products Manage and respond to all your customer reviews—both positive and negative Regularly check your Google My Business insights to discover how customers find your listing—and what they do once they find you Include all your store’s amenities and features: free Wi-Fi, parking, bar seating, kid-friendly spaces, public restrooms, etc. Take time monthly to ensure your business information is still relevant and up-to-date. A few minor tweaks could make a huge impact on your local search engine listing. 7. Learn New Skills You (and your employees) are your business’s most valuable assets. Invest time in your skills and knowledge so that you can become an even bigger benefit to your business. Browse Udemy, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, or YouTube for skills you’d like to hone. Maybe you want to learn some basic programming skills, accounting best practices, or digital marketing tactics. By dedicating 60 minutes each week, you could gain worthwhile new talents in no time! Offer courses and professional development opportunities to your employees. These could be digital courses, seminars, in-person workshops, fireside chats, industry conferences, or other programs. Team-building activities are another great way to foster relationships and build new skills. 8. Network With Professionals It’s not about what you know—it’s about who you know. Fine-tuned skills are invaluable, we’re not discounting that, but a network of relevant professionals could be the best thing that ever happened to your business. Take time to find and contact new people on LinkedIn regularly. Research individuals, read publications, and message the accounts with whom you’d like to collaborate. A friendship—or even a simple “connection”—could be all you need to open doors to valuable partnerships, collaborations, or other business opportunities. Remember to nurture your existing relationships, too. Message your old high school friends, college associates, professors, and previous employers and employees. Re-sparking these connections isn’t just good for business—it’s good for your mental and social health, too. 9. Shadow Your Employees Spend an hour in your managers’ or frontline workers’ shoes to see what their day-to-day tasks and struggles look like—this will reveal key business insights you’d never find from your executive seat. You may be able to help them resolve issues on the spot. If not, note their pain points and use your 60 minutes the following week to focus on finding (or creating) solutions to remedy their problems. This is a simple, cost-effective way to remove significant barriers and dramatically improve efficiencies. You may also consider letting your employees shadow you. A brief glimpse into your work life could train future managers—and also make you more relatable. 10. Forecast What’s Around the Corner It’s hard to get ahead if you’re always catching up. Make time to explore what’s hot on the horizon in your industry. Talk to other professionals, consult with accountants, converse with experts, and do your own research to anticipate what’s coming next. Look for trends in your market, your industry, or even your geographic location. If you own a frozen yogurt joint, it’s important to know if more fro-yo businesses are coming to your community—or if fro-yo is declining in popularity. Don’t forget to survey the big picture every once in a while. This quick and simple act could be all you need to realign your business priorities and ensure that you’re continuing on the right trajectory. 11. Experiment With New Technology While chasing shiny new toys can be counter-productive, it’s important you stay up-to-date on new technology in your industry. Be objective and determine whether new methods, software, or equipment could improve processes and eliminate waste. Use free trials and demos to explore what’s out there. You may find that a similarly priced solution can do more than your current one—but you’ll never know unless you research and experiment. 12. Examine Your Financing Options It takes money to make money, and there’s no better way to up-level your business than with a big stack of cash. Look at your business wants and needs and then determine how much capital is required to execute them. Investing in a new piece of equipment might be well worth the interest tied to a loan. And a business line of credit could give you the working capital you need to up-level your business using the other 11 tactics we discussed. Run through different financial scenarios to see what’ll be most cost-effective (and time-efficient) for your business. Use Lendio’s 15-minute application to see which loans your business can qualify for—there’s no fee and no obligation, so it doesn’t hurt to see what’s available. If you find a loan that makes sense, you could access your capital in as little as 24 hours. Now that’s 60 minutes well spent. Take Your Business to the Next Level The future success of your business depends on how you spend your time now. As a small business owner, it’s your job to break down barriers and take advantage of every available opportunity. You’re often the only one that can do this—if you don’t, no one will. Yes, you’ll still need to spend time focusing on to-do lists, meetings, and last-minute emergencies—it’s all part of the job. But this day-to-day grind will only help your business to survive, not to thrive. Just like you dedicate time to eating, sleeping, and exercising, you need to devote at least 60 minutes regularly to your business’s future health. Taking your small business to the next level doesn’t require massive amounts of time and money—it just takes 60 minutes of consistent focus on your top-priority areas. Incremental improvements can lead to lasting change. Find your pain points, identify the solutions, and spend your valuable time up-leveling your business.