By Rieva Lesonsky
In our 24/7, always-open-for-business world, it’s tempting to set long hours for your business so you don’t miss any opportunities for making a sale. The same goes for answering your phone and email long after the office “has closed.” How do you set limits when consumers want answers now (no matter what time it is)? You could take out a small business loan to hire a round-the-clock customer service team—or try one of the following tips to help you decide set reasonable business hours.
- Location. Consider your location when setting your hours. If most neighboring businesses close early, like 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., you can be pretty sure walk-in traffic will slow or stop altogether after that time. If your business is near residences or is home-based, you may be up against noise restrictions and zoning laws. If you own a home-based business, your hours can be more flexible depending on your personal obligations. If you’re in an office building, consider the other businesses in the building and when most people leave for the day.
- Lifestyle. In the beginning, it may not matter what kind of work/life balance you envision yourself having. It always takes more time than you expect to set up your business and get it up and running. But once you’re growing your business and hiring help, you’ll need to decide how to achieve the right balance for you and your business to survive.
- Test. You can test your business hours and see when the peak times are for your customers. You may have to play around with the hours until you get it right. For special customers, you can always set up a special email or give them your personal cell phone number so they can reach you in a crisis outside regular business hours.
- Expert help. Go over your hours with your accountant or a mentor from SCORE to get their opinions on what kind of hours you should set and what it could mean for your revenues. If you’re keeping the doors open or phone manned at times when very few customers are coming into your store or trying to get in touch with you, you could be paying a larger utility bill or employee wages than you’re recouping in income. In this case, keeping longer hours might be counterproductive.
- DIY. Get the best of both worlds—reasonable hours and 24/7 service—by tapping into technology. Make your website easy to navigate so customers don’t need to contact you for help. Explain products, services and processes clearly; set up a FAQ page so customers can find the answers to common questions any time of day or night.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports