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May 2024   |  5 min read

How Microbusiness Owners Spend Their Time

Does owning a small business mean that you are always on the job?

According to a recent survey, the answer is yes. Between May 6 and 13, 2024, UENI surveyed 837 US businesses with five or fewer employees to explore how much time microbusiness owners dedicate to their business, where they spend their time, the nature of their struggles with time management and the tools they use to cope with it.
Below are the insights on microbusiness time management and suggested areas for further research.
Key Insight: How many hours microbusiness owners work per week

UENI found that 62% of business owners worked more than 50 hours per week; this is precisely the figure reported in a 2005 Wells Fargo/Gallup poll. The consistency in this data over time dramatically illustrates how much things have remained the same for small business owners despite tremendous progress in all areas of business and technology over the last 20 years.

Hours worked per week

The median number of hours worked per week among microbusinesses surveyed was 60 hours.

Key Insight: Where microbusiness owners spend their time
Only 33% of business owners' time is spent directly performing the service or making the product the business sells.

The breakdown of time spent across activities points to the diverse activities that compete for the business owner’s attention. Concerningly, administrative tasks combined with legal and compliance consumed, on average, 22.4% of business owner time, which is 79% more than the amount of time spent on marketing and sales, which are crucial for business growth. Administrative tasks include managing staff, finances, scheduling appointments and inventory.

An interesting discovery was that 88% of business owners allocate time to professional development as an investment in their future success. On average, business owners dedicate 11.2% of their work time to learn new things. Further investigation is warranted into the nature of the professional development work: does this learning meaningfully impact their business, or would the business owner be better served by delegating or outsourcing the activity they are attempting to learn by themselves?

Key Insight: What tools microbusiness owners use to manage their time
78.6% of micro business owners use tools to manage their time.

Of those using tools, only 9.1% report using exclusively a paper calendar to manage their time, showing the dominance of digital tools, particularly digital calendars like Google Calendar and Outlook. 21.4% of micro business owners do not use any tools to manage their time.

Time management tools used by microbusiness owners

Of the business owners surveyed, 60.3% reported using a digital calendar, 30.9% said they used a paper calendar, and 14.6% reported using task management software like Monday.com or Trello. Notably, paper calendars are more than twice as prevalent as task management software overall.

How many time-management tools

44.6% of respondents said that they used a single kind of tool , while 34% used more than one kind of tool and 21.4% used no tools at all. The most prevalent pairing of tools was digital & paper calendars (17.6%).

The data shows that while digital tools have been extensively adopted by even the smallest businesses, there is still heavy dependence on paper and limited movement into more elaborate and usually paid-for task management tools. Nevertheless, digital calendars’ popularity shows that such businesses can benefit from tech tools that present an easy-to-use interface like Google Calendar, Calendly, and UENI.

Key Insight: How many microbusinesses are using AI in their business
25% of microbusiness owners use AI to save time in their business.

This statistic is consistent with GoDaddy’s February 2024 survey of 3500 businesses with 10 or fewer employees.

This adoption rate among microbusinesses contrasts with 65% of enterprises that are already using AI tools internally and 74% that are testing these tools (Deloitte, December 2023). Notably, microbusiness adoption contrasts even with the behavior of larger small businesses. The SBE Council's October 2023 survey of US small businesses, defined as businesses with fewer than 100 employees, indicated that "75% of small businesses are utilizing AI tools for an expansive range of business functions”.

AI adoption by business size
Microbusinesses using AI in their business save 5 hours per week.

This is material, representing 8.3% of a median 60-hour work week, but there is substantial room for even greater time savings, particularly in managing administrative tasks.

Most experts agree that we are in the very early innings of AI development and the usability of this technology will improve dramatically to increase adoption among solo entrepreneurs and small teams. Productivity gains are likely to come in different areas based on the business in question, but for microbusinesses, the largest gains are likely to come from:

Operational automation to reduce repetitive administrative tasks and assist with things like bookkeeping, scheduling, and inventory management.

Customer service to interface more ably with customers for an ever-increasing number of questions.

Marketing automation to write and personalize emails and communications as well as digital or offline content that previously took many hours to compose.

Analytics to review internal data and provide insight that facilitates decision making.

Where AI will save time for microbusiness
Key insight: microbusiness challenges with time management
85% of respondents face challenges managing their time. But only 29% of them had strategies to mitigate those challenges.

But only 29% of them had strategies to mitigate those challenges.

Why micro business owners struggle to manage their time:
Time Constraints
(26.4%)

Business owners simply feel like they don’t have enough hours in the day for all the things they need to do. Another 7.4% explicitly say they need an extra pair of hands to get the work done.

Focus and Distractions
(14.3%)

Small business owners struggle to stay on task, with competing priorities, unexpected interruptions, and additional issues impinging on their time, namely personal issues (11.9%) and an inability to properly prioritize their work (5.3%).

Personal Issues
(11.9%)

Children and their own health are the primary personal issues cited by small business owners when describing what has made it hard for them to control their time.

Organization and Tracking
(11.9%)

Poor organization and forgetting things also gets in the way of efficiency. Another 8.5% lose time because of scheduling issues.

Why microbusinesses struggle with time management

Among the 29% of respondents who have a strategy to mitigate time management challenges, most address them with scheduling and planning, tools and technology, and self-discipline and focus. These are all logical strategies but are often elusive to a micro business owner who feels overwhelmed with responsibilities.

The pervasiveness of time management problems suggests that micro business owners need more help prioritizing their work and better leveraging themselves. Small business-friendly tools and AI interfaces that make their adoption as easy as using a smartphone are sure to help small business owners cope and possibly achieve more in less time.

That said, tools and technology need to be complemented by coaching and advisory. At UENI, service is deeply embedded in all solutions—whether launching a website or growing your business through online channels. These coaches, along with other advisory organizations like SBDC, Score, or JP Morgan Chase’s Coaching for Impact, can help develop a business plan, prioritize milestones that need to be achieved, and identify the tools that will help business owners best achieve their goals.

Key Takeaways
Microbusiness owners continue to work overtime, which shows the huge effort involved in running a business and the need to find new sources of efficiency. The median number of hours worked is 50% more than the standard work week.
These business owners are pulled in many directions, often allocating attention to administrative tasks instead of more value-added activities like service and product delivery, marketing, and sales.
The potential benefits of AI adoption are substantial, but today, only a minority are yielding productivity gains. Most microbusinesses struggle with time management and require guidance on where to focus their time and how to best leverage technology.

Want to save time in your business?

Find out how UENI can help you.