5 Time Management Truth Bombs

Managing Time When You Have None
April 4, 2019 by
5 Time Management Truth Bombs
Laser Cut Quilts, Madi Hastings

Back when we first started Laser Cut Quilts in 2016, we were a laundry room operation. We had one tiny laser and big dreams. We spent countless night shifts cutting fabric, applying fusible, running lasers, and emailing customers, utterly overwhelmed with the workload, and seemingly never able to get ahead.

Fast forward just two years, and we now have 10 full and part-time employees and three huge lasers working around the clock (and other than the occasional pressing deadline, the business owners aren't running them)! We're here to humbly impart the things we WISH we would have known at the very beginning about time management in hopes that we can help spare anyone who cares to read this from brutal time swirlies and deadline bullies.

Also, please don't mistake our passion for preaching -- every lesson we've learned here has been learned by hard experience, and has taught us significantly. We're still learning, and we're sure hard lessons are ahead. That being said, we derive joy from seeing learning, growth, and success in small business owners, like ourselves! We'd love to hear your learning experiences as a business owner -- shoot us an email to share your story with us :)

Keep reading below, though, to hear our 5 time management truth bombs. And prepare yourself for embarrassing management faux pas about our painful first years...

1. Get Your Priorities Straight

The first three months of Laser Cut Quilts were spent designing products, ordering way too much fabric (we leveraged all our personal credit cards and the profit off a house we had flipped), and designing a website where we sat and waited for someone to click a button and order. Those first three months we had almost zero, zilch, nada in sales. The fact was--we had spent too much time in product development, too much money in inventory and nothing on sales, marketing, or process because we expected that if we created a product, people would buy it.

Without sales, a business isn't a business at all. The word "sales" tends to leave a bad taste in people's mouths. It did in ours, at first, too. When most people think of a good salesperson, the simile..."could sell ice to an Eskimo," is usually brought up, the saying regurgitated with a tone of awe and simultaneous disgust. But in fact, as you already know, "sales" is the fuel that keeps your company (and ours) alive. Sales is connecting great people with a great product, a product that they need and love. And there's absolutely nothing deceitful or distasteful about it. 

It took us a while to arrive at this conclusion, and the indecision almost crippled us, but now, we spend almost as much time on sales and marketing as we do on design, production, and fulfillment of our products.

If you're asking the question, "What does increasing sales have to do with time management?" the answer is EVERYTHING. When sales are down in your company, everything seems down. It's harder to keep track of tasks. Harder to delegate. Harder to feel motivated. Harder not to stoop into full-on panic mode when you're juggling all the balls. When sales are up, you're better able to hire who you need, delegate efficiently, and focus on the tasks that are most important and not just the most pressing.

If you know you have a problem with sales and marketing as a business owner but feel paralyzed in knowing how to proceed or are feeling hopeless about improving your game, read on. Paralysis is part of the process, and if you can overcome that, you can overcome anything.

2. Inefficient Processes Eat Your Time

For the first year, we felt like we were drowning. We had inefficient processes for inventory and order tracking (let's be real--we weren't even tracking inventory), kitting (we were writing notes on painter's tape {WHAT!? Why!?}), and practically everything other process was equally chaotic. Continuous improvement is exactly that --you can't start with everything perfectly -- but the fact was, the inefficiencies were eating away our precious time. They were leading to fabric losses, wasted employee time, and more time spent managing (read: micromanaging).

These days, we use Excel sheets that directly integrate into a full-blown business management software which auto calculates our fabric, bag, and paper inventories based on pre-sets we specify, printed stickers for fabric kitting that prevent our staff from mis-cutting, and a custom developed laser program that tracks efficiency. Sound a little more streamlined? It is, but it didn't all happen at once!

In the beginning, we would blame mistakes on staff, frustrated that they couldn't follow instructions that were right in front of them. As we went along, we realized that 9 times out of 10, the problem was our process -- NOT our people.

Our focus on continuous improvement was as simple as this: 

1. Identify your problem...what is eating your time? 

    We realized that tearing off pieces of painter's tape for writing production notes to stick on fabric was not a practical or efficient solution to our problem.

2. Identify a possible solution, and try it.

    ...what else would adhere to fabric? "Stickers", we thought! Initially, we struggled with this solution, though, because formatting stickers for a regular laser or inkjet printer was nightmarish. But the sticker would need to contain lots of information like WOF cuts, sub-cuts, sku of the fabric, and the name of the file to run on the laser. One day, we realized a label printer would do the job. A problem that we didn't forecast, though, is that because the label printer uses heat or pressure rather than ink to stamp the label, it would not be able to go through our heat presses (which use both heat and pressure to glue fusible to the back of fabric). Eventually, we adjusted to this setback and it paid off with efficiency.

3. Get your employees on board.

People, as a rule, are resistant to change. Once you've honed in on your process change, ensure all of your employees know the process too and how to follow it, and hold them to it! It may cause its own inefficiencies at first, but it will pay off.


As a side note, Andrew, our in-house continuous improvement guy, is the one responsible for fixing all our company's inefficiencies. He's developing an all-in-one business management software based off our current one that will streamline inventory, kitting, transferring fat quarters from bolts, and other processes like email marketing, blogs, project tracking, POS management, and much, much more. If he weren't such a perfectionist, he would have already launched this system, but he will be soon because it's getting close to his specs. To follow along and receive updates on his upcoming launch, click the button below and shoot him an email.

3. Laser Focus and Time Tracking

When a laser is out of focus in our warehouse, it burns the fabric in a wide swath rather than a single, exact point. The result is hundreds of burned fabric pieces that remain attached to the initial sheet of fabric. Essentially, the laser does not accomplish its intended task because its beam was unfocused. 

I love to use a laser as a metaphor for my own time/focus, as I have ADHD tendencies, and can forget where I set my keys while simultaneously reciting a poem I learned in 2nd grade. In short, when my list is a mile long, if I hyper-focus on one task for a given period of time (sometimes I set a timer for myself), I am able to accomplish that task, am intrinsically rewarded, and feel more motivated and refreshed to accomplish the next task, rather than feeling beaten, dejected, and/or overwhelmed by my list. 

I would encourage you to imagine yourself as a laser the next time you have a long to-do list. Will you burn the fabric without accomplishing your intended goal, or precisely cut each beautiful piece of fabric?

4. Hire People Who Outshine You

Initially, we were hesitant to hire people for jobs that, in our mind, we were best suited to do and for which we didn't want to budget. It was mindbogglingly difficult to relinquish control of processes that involved someone else representing our company/branding: namely management, design, and marketing. But as we realized that we couldn't do EVERYTHING, we discovered the freedom involved in establishing a process, creating accountability, and letting someone else's skills shine.

For example, we initially hired our marketing intern with the intent that she would take over blogs and email marketing, but were blown away by her picture-taking skills a couple months into the job. She certainly outshone the rest of us in that department. We handed that responsibility over to her, and she has thrived in that role!

You may be asking, again, what hiring has to do with time management, but we discovered that if we get the right person in the right position with the right process in place, it's smooth sailing ahead. If you're struggling with an employee right now, we challenge you to ask yourself: Do I have the right person in the right place with the right process? 

5. Delegation is painful, but critical.

As a juxtaposition to our previous point, no amount of "right" will fix a problem of accountability. Even if the "right" person is in the "right" position with the "right" process in place, a lack of accountability will quash all your efforts to delegate.

At one point, we weren't thrilled with the results of our marketing team. We wanted more content production, planning, and reporting, and felt disgruntled when expectations weren't met. However, rather than placing blame, we experimented on the fact that our process might, again, be broken. We were right, and the discovery opened our eyes to the importance of accountability and employee reporting. Our team began to strategize with us in our marketing efforts and set deadlines for tasks in our business management software. Once they had completed each task, they would assign the task back to us (with an automatic email) with notes on problems/successes they had encountered. In this way, we were able to manage parts of the marketing process in which we weren't fully involved, allowing employee autonomy (and severely reducing our need to micromanage, which boosted employee confidence and performance), and prevented ourselves from constant derailment/distraction in checking on employees. 


In fact, delegation is the whole draw for our company! Shops delegate their kitting/cutting needs to us to save time, fabric, labor costs, and headache, to name a few ;) We won't turn this into a full-blown sales pitch like we're tempted to. But while laser cut kits have a {false} reputation for being expensive, they're a great way to earn more than a 50% margin on a product that is almost too easy to merchandise. Mic drop.

You have a lot of follow-through to read to the end of this insanely long blog post. If you're still reading this, you deserve a break. Email us with the code word: FOLLOW-THROUGH to get 20% off any of our custom services. Stay awesome, fellow small business owner. And please don't hesitate to share your story with us too. Thanks for reading!

5 Time Management Truth Bombs
Laser Cut Quilts, Madi Hastings April 4, 2019
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