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Timing is everything when running a small business

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Timing is crucial in business – especially if your trade is train driving, clock-making or stand-up comedy. In reality, timing is important in every business, all the time, right from the word go.  

In fact, when you say ‘go’ is the first bit of timing to get right. Three identical businesses can have completely different destinies, dependent on when they started. Huge business cycles are constantly in motion, and the trick is to get into business on the upswing and not the downswing. Judging which swing is currently happening where is a business in itself. 


Once you’re aware of a trend, it’s probably getting a bit late to take advantage of it. The trick is to notice a trend before it emerges. This can often happen when you’re in a big business and you notice that something small is growing fast and no-one is noticing.

That’s the time to get out of a big business and start a small business. 

Years later, when you’ve ridden the trend for all its worth, you have to decide when to leave the business. Small business owners often dream of building their businesses and selling them. Stepping off at the top is the business equivalent of stepping off a boat and onto the bank without ending up between the two. 

For everyday business, one of the big issues is that time seems to have contracted. Everyone agrees that the pace of business has sped up. Customers want overnight or same-day delivery – or a ring at the door as soon as they’ve clicked. The danger for a small business is that you’re forced to work every hour of the day and most of the night to meet those expectations.  

There is a way to manage this so you’re not worked to death: devote some of the little time you have to the talking to the customer. When your business takes the time to do what you do properly, make your communication lightning fast. 

Railways have learned this the hard way. We’re a lot less bothered about waiting if we’re kept informed every five minutes. Once we’re told, “We are being held here because of sheep on the line”, we’re almost happy waiting.  

Some businesses make a virtue of the wait: “We’re delighted to tell you that your special signature malt whisky has been laid down today. We’ll be back in touch in 10 years to tell you how it’s coming on.” If you can make a narrative of the production process, it increases the intensity of the purchasing experience. You can say “currently not in stock”, or you can say “your product is now being unloaded at Felixstowe. It’s on its way.” 


Just-in-time management is crucial to big businesses, which use it to speed delivery, reduce stockpiling and stay lean. For small businesses, just-in-time can mean close shaves after a series of heart-stopping last-minute crises. Doing this on a regular basis is not good for your health. Lots of people set up their own business to escape the 9 to 5 and instead end up working 5 to 9. That’s fine if you love what you do and the business is growing, but not when you don’t and it isn’t.  

Ultimately, you can judge the success of your business by how much control you have over your time. If you haven’t really thought about it, maybe now’s the time.