Is lack of time holding you back? Are you running your business or is the business running you? Amy Lanning offers some help.

Running your own business can make you feel like you have the world on your shoulders with no time for family and hobbies, no summer holiday and, importantly, no time to implement those brilliant ideas that you know will be good for business.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, says professional coach Neil Kirby. So, in association with Unilever’s Partners for Growth category management scheme, Convenience Store sent Kirby into Mayur Patel’s store in Hove, East Sussex, to see if he could help the retailer free up some time to make all-important changes.
Mayur has been running Hangleton News with his wife Rita for nine months. They have no extra staff - just the part-time help of their children after school and at weekends. “The shop used to be a Post Office store but when that closed, the store went downhill,” says Mayur. “All we had was sweets, news and basic groceries, so we slowly introduced an off licence, frozen food, more grocery and sandwiches. We’ve built up the business and now turnover is about £5,500 a week. But time pressures stop me from being able to make more improvements.”

On first impressions, Kirby is impressed with Mayur’s attitude to running a business, and his commitment to having a life outside of it as well. The couple made sure they had a family holiday this year - something that’s often alien to many sole traders. “Some owners see only the problems in having a holiday,” says Kirby. “They think it will all go horribly wrong if they go away, and that no one can run the store like they can. But Mayur and Rita identified that having a holiday was something they wanted to do, so set about working out how they could make it happen.”

In the Patels’ case they made an arrangement with another store owner to run their business while they were away. In future, they’ll reciprocate for him. “It’s important to ask ‘How much time do I want to spend with my family?’, ‘How can I get a holiday’, and ‘What am I going to have to do to make sure I enjoy my holiday?’,” advises Kirby.

Mayur had discussed his options with a friend at the cash & carry depot and was advised not to allow someone from an agency to run his store while he was away.

“I’ve known this friend for 10 years and he offered to run the store for me if I agreed to look after his business while he took a holiday,” explains Mayur. “It was the best possible solution because I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about whether he was selling alcohol to underage kids because he has an off licence too, and he’s used to going to the cash & carry so I knew we would always have product in the store.”

Kirby advises all small business owners to have Mayur’s mindset. “A holiday is a good thing for the business because it forces you to get jobs done that would be put off for a while,” he says. “You start to work more efficiently because you have a deadline.”

One area in which Mayur is keen to make changes is in store layout. Kirby says the answer is all about time management, and his coaching session has prompted Mayur to make some firm decisions, in response to advice from Partners for Growth. “Some store owners and managers find it hard to dedicate the time to change their store layout,” he says. “Perhaps they see this as a luxury, something that would be nice - if they had the time. Well, we do have the time - 24 hours every day. We simply need to choose how we spend our time - this means making decisions. Goals should be clear and as specific as possible, with a clear timescale or deadline. Ask yourself what it’s worth to do the things that aren’t getting done.”

Together, Kirby and Mayur ascertained that the layout changes would take about four hours but could add £200 in extra sales a week if space was freed up to stock more products that customers had been requesting. So, looking at his options, Mayur worked out that he could create time during quiet periods to plan the changes, but would need to make the actual move after hours, as long as it didn’t eat into his vital family time too much.

“Retailers need to decide whether the shop is providing them with the life they want,” concludes Kirby. “The danger is that the business ends up owning you. You can decide what you want the business to do for you. Quite often, people change when it’s too late and their relationships or health are suffering, or their kids are upset that they never see them. You should review things once a year.”