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How Long Should It Take

As a small business owner-operator and one who works on a wide variety of tasks and projects, a recurring question is the amount of time I should devote to a particular task. This is very important on several levels since billing, priorities among projects, customer needs and expectations, and unpaid but necessary work all compete for my attention. With the limitations inherent in clock and calendar, it is critical to know what to expect and how much time to allot.

One thing you quickly learn is that unlike auto mechanics there is no set schedule defining the hours necessary to a particular task and unlike the salaried employees of big business, there is every reason to work hard and get things done. No one else will do it if you can’t arrange for it to be done and slacking hits your bottom line, not that of the faceless corporation.

Here is where experience helps a great deal. If the task is one you have done before – even if involving different facts and circumstances – you will have a good idea of the minimum effort it will require. As you assess the information at hand and what else you might need, your prediction will become more accurate. It helps to remember that in some businesses, like mine, no two cases are alike and there are real differences in each situation.  This means that exact times will vary and client expectations must be set accordingly.

I knew of at least a couple of restaurants that would tell me (and other customers) that the expected wait time for a table would be on the order of thirty or forty minutes. When we were seated after only fifteen minutes we were always happy. Coming in sooner and under the time budget can be attractive to customers. The hazard of course is that the customer told of the time (or cost) estimate might balk at once and you will not have the opportunity to come in under the estimate since the customer would not go for it in the first place.

Fortunately, going back to experience, you will be able to better predict time requirements as you build experience and so will better manage expectations and retain clients.


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