How to deal with time wasters when you run a small business

Time is money. When you run a business, it's crucial that you spend time wisely, so you make good money, allow yourself some downtime and get the most out of every day.

But when trying to be efficient, often the biggest obstacles we face are 'time wasters'. Those people who steal away precious minutes or hours for various reasons, forcing you further and further away from doing your work. So how do you deal with them? The following tips will help you gain back control...

Dealing with visitors

When we work for ourselves, many people weirdly assume we're not really busy and they'll make a habit of 'popping in' to say hello. The next time someone drops by unannounced, stand up and fold your arms! This will subconsciously send the message that you're busy and don't have time to chat. If the subtle approach doesn't work, be honest. Thank them for stopping by but tactfully explain that you really need to get back to work.

You could even suggest a drink after work or a coffee at the weekend somewhere, saying something like: "I'd love to chat now but I'm always so busy during office hours. Shall we arrange something when I'm not chained to my desk?". That should do the trick.

Dealing with phone calls

Similarly to visits, phone calls from friends and family during office hours can be distracting. Establish boundaries where possible by politely saying something like: "Can I call you later when I've finished work?".

Again, you're trying to subtly get the message across that you're not available during work hours. Friends and family will eventually learn to leave you alone. Failing that, screen your calls and allow the voicemail to kick in.

Dealing with emails

Keep on top of your emails by cleaning out your entire inbox every day. Make life easier for yourself by reducing the amount of clutter you receive. For instance, are there any newsletters you could unsubscribe from?

Also, don't use your business email address for personal use – set up a separate personal email account. And if you find yourself dealing with the same emails again and again, create some 'canned responses' so you can quickly respond.

Dealing with freeloaders

There are many people who will seek your free advice when you work for yourself. It comes with the territory. Weirdly, I never got asked for help when I worked for someone else, but since launching my own business, there have been many freeloaders wanting my skills and experience without having to pay for it.

How do you tackle these types? Well, I used to help them all – but then I realised how much of my time and energy was being hijacked. Life is too short. Don't feel guilty about turning people down gently and politely saying no. You will feel liberated when you realise that you're not doing anything wrong by taking back control of your life. Read my tips on when and how to say 'no' when freelancing.

Dealing with friends who want free favours

Speaking from experience, 'helping' friends never works. You'll end up losing their respect and they'll keep coming back for more. This can essentially destroy friendships as you give up your valuable time to work for free. It can leave you feeling bitter and disappointed with them. Bottom line? Don't mix business with pleasure.

If a friend asks for help explain that you'd have to treat them like any client and charge for the work. But then say how you don't want to work for them anyway, because you value their friendship and don't want to ruin it. These days, I always decline and change the subject, explaining how I don't like to talk about work with my friends.

Sounds a bit blunt, but you have to get into the habit of saying no and not feeling bad about it. Besides, if a friend kicks up a fuss – then they're not really a friend are they?

Dealing with clients who never intend to hire you

When you've been n business for a while, you'll be able to smell these types a mile off. They're the kind who approach you and want your 'help', promising big budgets and all the rest of it. All you have to do is put together a kick-ass proposal, full of creative ideas on how to solve their problem. But lo and behold, they never hire you – and weeks later, you discover they've stolen, sorry 'used' all your ideas.

Get wise at spotting the signs – they normally don't reveal how much budget they have to spend; they normally don't bother with an initial meeting and they're normally very vague. Read my tips article on how to spot difficult clients before it's too late for some extra pointers.