By Annie Sisk of Pajama Productivity

In a recent survey of over 1,100 solopreneurs and creative freelancers, my good friend Tea Silvestre asked a boatload of questions about digital marketing and small business. One of the questions was “What’s your biggest challenge in marketing your business?”

A full 40% of the respondents answered: “Time management.

It wasn’t even a close race. The second biggest challenge cited by respondents (confusion over branding/marketing message) clocked in with just over 20% of the respondents selecting this option.

(You can get access to the full report free of charge here.)

So what’s the solution? Believe it or not, it’s as simple as one principle and three steps.

The Principle: There’s No Such Thing as Time Management

Time is the same for all of us. We each get the same 24 hours a day, or 168 hours a week. Try as you might, you will never eke out an additional minute or two.

And given that there are “those people” – and we all know a few of them – that get seemingly endless task lists done by 5 PM every single day of the week and still have time and energy to pursue hobbies on the weekends, we all have to face the fact that the amount of time we’re given is most likely not the problem here.

So what is the problem? It’s us, in a word.

What we really mean when we complain about our poor “time management” skills is “I’m not making the best choices about what I do with my time.”

Completely, utterly understand that – let it soak in and become part of your entrepreneurial DNA – and you will have won at least half the battle.  To get more done, or to get the same amount done in less time, we have to focus on making better choices about how we spend your time.

The rest of the battle? As simple as 1-2-3 …

One: Get Crystal-Clear On Your Social Media Marketing Goals

If you want to get your social media marketing (SMM) tasks done more effectively, you absolutely must start with specific goals.

Specific goals will impact each of the following factors, which in turn determine what specific tasks belong in your SMM program and how long it will take you to achieve them:

  • Which social media platforms you’re most active on – and which you can safely ignore;
  • What types of content you should be sharing, and in which percentages;
  • Who you’re talking to, and what they most need/want to hear;
  • Whether you can safely automate some portion of your SM activities and, if so, which ones;
  • What times of day you should schedule your activities for; and
  • What metrics you need to collect and analyze.

Even if you’ve never had specific goals for your business’s use of social media, it’s not too late to start now. Your goals might include:

  • Increasing awareness of your brand (among which segment of your market?)
  • Creating a community of loyalists among your targeted market
  • Provide customer support to existing clients/customers
  • Keep up-to-date on industry developments
  • Create and empower brand advocates among your most loyal clients/customers
  • Identify and capture leads
  • Keep tabs on target market for future product development ideas

After you choose your goals, consider next which platforms most closely align themselves with those goals. Which seem like the best fit for your business?

If you’re truly overwhelmed with social media tasks, try limiting your approach to one or two platforms only, and choose the platforms you’re experiencing the most success with already, in terms of both engagement and reach. When you feel comfortable with those platforms and have developed workable, realistic systems and routines for their use, you can always add another platform at that point.

Two: Systemize and Automate Tasks Judiciously

Now that you’ve established your mission-critical social media goals, and chosen one or two platforms on which to concentrate your efforts, you can begin to employ systems and automation to trim down the time you spend on social media marketing.

A system, in this context, is simply a structured series of steps, or a routine, that you’ve developed and refined to achieve a repetitive task. Systems are incredibly useful for small business owners because they help clarify and streamline often-repeated activities.

Many times, in the process of developing a system, you might surprise yourself by discovering a way to do the task more efficiently. But even if you don’t, the mere act of writing down a series of steps for a specific task can help you perform more quickly.

Automation is what we call using a piece of software or other technological tool to perform some part of a task without direct human input or participation.

Automation can be a boon or a boondoggle for small biz SM marketers. Improperly configured website plugins that compete with each other can result in a never-ending death-spiral of perpetually pushed content sure to drive prospects nuts. On the other hand, you can use some automation tools to schedule certain content to publish at peak traffic times throughout the day, with just a minute or two of set-up first thing in the morning.

How you use systems and automation together for best time-management results will depend on your goals and your own schedule.

A full list of automation tools would make this a very long post, indeed. Currently, I use BufferApp for automation and HootSuite as the workhorse in my SMM systems.  Other apps are out there; you just have to start with what you need, and then evaluate the apps available for how well they meet those needs.

Three: Chunk Your Efforts Into a Consistent, Realistic Schedule

Chunking is one of the most universally helpful strategies for streamlining and increasing your efficiency at any repetitive tasks or workflow.

Chunking is basically the act of scheduling defined groups or chunks of time (15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour) at specific times of the day, and then matching each of the chunks up to a distinct purpose or goal. You might surprise yourself with just how much you can get done in a small amount of time, when you focus your efforts on a single purpose.

This is a great way to combat time creep: you start with the intention of “checking Facebook” – but you’ve checked all your notifications, and then started a hot political debate on a friend’s page, and then decided you might as well play a few rounds of Bejeweled Blitz while you’re waiting for that moron to reply …

The next thing you know, it’s two hours later, and you’re wondering why you spend so much time on social media but never seem to get anything done. It’s fine for personal use, but as a business marketer, you need a more focused approach.

Putting It All Together: An Example

Meet our imaginary friend, Flo the florist.

Flo wants to use social media to drum up more business in two segments of her market: individuals and corporate purchasers (step one: know your goals).

Flo’s less busy in the early morning in her little shop on Main Street, but by 10 AM, when the vendors start dropping off raw cut flowers, she’s swamped until well after 2 PM.

Given her goals, she’s decided she wants to use Twitter to give out coupon codes for individuals and to engage with local businesses in her delivery area, to create relationships with key employees in those companies.

Flo decides on BufferApp for scheduling. She examines her Twitter stats to see what times of day her tweets get the most interaction, then schedules her buffered tweets to publish at those times. (step two: use automation and systems judiciously). 

She takes fifteen minutes early in the morning to craft and schedule a series of three or four tweets, each differently worded, to promote the coupon code via BufferApp (step three: chunk your schedule). After the rush, she takes another fifteen minutes to develop conversations with contacts at local businesses with Twitter accounts.

One Last Word of Caution

The old saw about “having it all” might apply here: You can have it all, but not all at once.

As a business owner, you know all about tough decisions. You make those tough decisions with your financial budget all the time – eschewing a pricey professional development seminar in Hawaii because it’s just not in the budget this year, for example. (That one hurt, I admit.)

The same is true with your time budget, too. Be selective about what you allow on your list, and once it’s on that list, take the 1-2-3 approach to get it done.

Photo credit: © Amriphoto

Annie Sisk, a writer and marketing consultant, is essentially lazy by nature, so she’s learned from necessity how to do more crap before noon than most of those folks in the snazzy corner offices do all week. And yes, she does it in jammies (actually, yoga pants and t-shirts, but since she often sleeps in yoga pants and t-shirts, it totally counts). You can read more of Annie’s get-your-crap-done advice at Pajama Productivity, the go-to productivity site for creative workers. Annie lives in the North Carolina mountains with her daughter, as well as the (possibly imaginary, but don’t tell them that) llamas who make up her support staff.