Many small business owners, especially entrepreneurs, establish their companies in areas in which they have technical expertise. The downside of this is that running a business requires more than just industry-specific skillsets. As the saying goes, you need to work on your business as well as in it. It’s this wearing of many hats that makes business ownership so challenging, and inefficient processes only compound this challenge.
Improving your processes will not only be good for your bottom line, it'll allow for a lower-stress workplace, leaving you with more time and energy to manage your company.
Here are five ways you can streamline your processes to add more value in less time.
Adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement
When it comes to running a business, “That’s just the way we do things” simply isn’t good enough. Continuing with a process simply because it has become habit is an all-too-common source of inefficiency.
Regularly reviewing your processes allows you to identify problem-areas and take steps to prevent mistakes. What're the weak points? Is it a training issue or perhaps technology? If you find yourself constantly fighting fires, a continuous improvement program may end up saving you a great deal of time and money.
Consult with your team
No one will tell you more about what isn’t working than those doing the job every day. Ask your employees – especially new employees – for regular feedback on internal processes and technologies. See what common problems crop up and get onto fixing them pronto. This has the added bonus of helping employees feel listened to and valued.
Every business has grunt-work no one wants to do. But rather than dumping it all on the intern, consider how can you approach these tasks as a team. Breaking up monotonous, time-consuming tasks into smaller ones and sharing the load will mean no one gets stuck with the tedium for too long.
This way, communication is opened up, your office starts to work as a unit and no one is secretly surfing job ads on their lunch break.
Invest in technology
New is not always better, but slick processes require the right tools. An outdated phone system or computers running on Windows 98 will make tasks sluggish and employees frustrated. If you find productivity being bottlenecked by your tech, it may be time for an upgrade.
For example, using a network server to centralise your computer systems could make it easier to store, share and backup documents. If your phone system needs an overhaul, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is an inexpensive alternative that offers a wide range of customisable features. If to-do lists written in Word go unreviewed and unused, online apps like Producteev can help you keep track of tasks.
Upgrading your tech is by no means a sure-fire route to better processes, but in certain cases, it’s essential.
Setting down your processes (and any subsequent improvements to them) in ink can make a huge difference to your operation. Having a formal accounting system, for example, will help you avoid that most perennial of small business traps – poor bookkeeping.
Standardising your processes will not only make them more consistent, it will give you greater insight into your operation, facilitating easier trouble-shooting and making it easier to track costs. It also means that, should you need to expand, it will be easy to relay best practises to new members of your team, making for smoother and shorter training periods.
Joel Svensson is a Melbourne-based freelance writer specialising in politics and business.