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Canadian business owners spend too much time on tasks that don't promote growth

By Daniel Kosir |

Small business owners in Canada say they are putting too much time into activities that aren't core to their business, rather than focusing time on how to expand.

The AMEX Small Business Monitor, conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, found that while entrepreneurs realize the importance of planning, hiring and marketing, much of their time is devoted to tasks such as office administration, repairs and cleaning.

Almost 60 per cent of respondents say their business would improve if they could focus more time on doing what they're good at, the reason many decided to become entrepreneurs in the first place.

Yet respondents say a quarter of their day is spent on activities they don't consider central to their business and almost half can't focus on growing their business because they are spending too much time running it.

Findings show that rather than hiring outside help, owners are devoting much of their time to:

  • Secretarial work (49 per cent);
  • Technical support (48 per cent);
  • Repairs and cleaning (40 per cent); and
  • Website construction (30 per cent)

Control a big factor

While 38 per cent of respondents note that a lot of their time goes to tasks that other people would be more qualified doing, over half are reluctant to give up control over any aspect of their business.

Small businesses owners are apprehensive about outsourcing for a variety of reasons:

  • 38 per cent are worried about maintaining quality;
  • 24 per cent believe hiring and managing outsourced contractors is too time-consuming; and
  • 52 per cent think outsourcing is too expensive.

Though it seems that the majority of Canadian small businesses owners are opting to go it alone, hiring help is not uncommon. When it comes to tasks that require specialized knowledge, 59 percent of owners have outsourced at least once in the past six months. The most frequently outsourced activities involved:

  • Business taxes (37 per cent);
  • Website construction and maintenance (35 per cent); and
  • Technical support (32 per cent).

Of the owners who did turn to outsourcing, 34 per cent cited recognition that others were more qualified for the job as the main reason for seeking outside help.

Growth a priority

Finding the right time to hire contractors can be as important as finding the right contractors.

"There's a sweet spot for outsourcing between the time when you are too busy to do everything yourself and when it makes sense to hire someone full time," says Eric Neilsen, VP and GM of Small Business Services Canada, American Express.

"The nature of outsourcing makes it easy to bring that function back in-house when the time is right to hire."

As owners become more focused on expanding their businesses, the willingness to outsource tasks and take other risks grows. And expanding is high on the list of priorities, with 31 percent of respondents saying it is their main concern.

On top of the drive to grow, 22 per cent of respondents say they are willing to take significant or above average risks within the next 6 months.

"We're now seeing them test the waters with a greater appetite for risk and in some instances, gearing up for growth plans with outside help," says Neilsen. "If the trend continues, we should see some interesting activities during the rest of the year." 

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Additional statistics

  • 33 per cent of respondents are seeing an improvement in their business
  • 38 per cent of respondents are experiencing a downturn
  • 28 per cent of respondents are not expecting any change to their business' financial position

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