7 Ways to Improve Processes and Save Time
When you’re bogged down in the hard work and long hours of running a small business, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to knock hours out of your working week. However, if you stop and take a look at where your hours disappear, you might notice there are certain repeatable processes which could benefit from a systemised, streamlined approach.
Your business might be humming along nicely using your existing processes, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. From production and finances to marketing and selling, the efficiency of your processes dictates the way you operate.
Think about the way you go about tasks like issuing invoices, handling new clients, dealing with customer complaints, record keeping, marketing, shipping products, tracking projects and money management. How long has it been since you had a good look to see if it’s possible to do any of these differently, better, cheaper, faster?
Work smarter, not harder is about identifying if there is a simpler way to improve a performance outcome. For example, your business might routinely lose precious time chasing up late paying customers. By introducing a new process for obtaining credit risk information about customers and suppliers, you can put your business in a more powerful payment position.
Here are seven ways to streamline your business processes and free up your time.
Make it formal
Sometimes processes are so informal that they’re not even written down, they’re just ‘in your head’. Start by formalising these processes – document their steps, including every little detail about your involvement throughout a typical business day.
When your processes are visible in writing, you may notice patterns emerging. For example, you might realise that your business is continuously fielding customer questions. Or that you’re spending a lot of time responding to emails or reacting to problems. These are the kinds of issues solved by systemised processes.
To take the example of answering common customer questions. Work out how and why these questions come into your business, and whether they can be solved just as easily with simple processes like sales scripts, online templates and auto-responders.
Be prepared to put time and effort into getting to the root cause of your business inefficiencies. You don’t want to overlook any issue, so it’s vital to consult with other people in your business, and even customers who are affected by the process.
Drill down into the detail with questions like ‘What are the steps that create bottlenecks?’ ‘Which parts cause frustration?’, ‘Where are the time delays?’
Follow this up with a series of ‘why’ questions, all aimed at finding out what, if anything is going wrong.
For example, “why did our customer stop paying us?”
Answer: Because they’re in financial difficulty.
“Why did we not know about this earlier?”
Answer: Because we don’t know much about this customer
“Why didn’t we know much about this customer?”
Answer: Because we don’t include credit reporting as part of our processes.
Now you know how the process is currently handled and what it is supposed to achieve, you can start problem-solving. Gather ideas for improvement by asking your team for their suggestions and looking at how your competitors deal with the same processes.
If you can identify processes that are efficient in time and output, select these as the ones that you standardise. For other processes, you may be able to make improvements by changing the tools you’re using or by removing steps or adding in safeguards.
No talk of processes would be complete without mentioning automation. From invoicing and file sharing to project management and lead generation, there have never been more opportunities to use technology to run your business efficiently.
Automation can be as simple as tweaking the code on your website to improve functionality or as committed as hiring a Virtual Assistant. When choosing what areas of your business to automate, it’s crucial to select technologies that are a good fit – that can perform the task well, while enhancing the customer experience. Introducing a new online tool without researching the pros and cons will not necessarily save you time, nor will taking a lousy process and attempting to improve it by automating it.
The greatest processes are useless if not performed correctly by the people using them. For this reason, it’s essential your team is on board and supports the process change. As mentioned previously, requesting their input during the analysis and improvement stage will help them understand why the changes are necessary.
When rolling out new processes, allow time for teething issues and ensure your team know how to handle potential problems. Inform and educate every step of the way and use staff meetings to discuss positive and negative feedback.
Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest. There’s little point in wasting time on grunt work like administration and scheduling when you could focus on what matters most to your business.
It can also make sense to outsource work that isn’t in your skillset or requires technical or specialist know-how. If it doesn’t play to your strengths, you’re better off finding a way to get it done cheaper, better, faster.
When outsourcing, it’s a good idea to put together checklists and step by step guides to ensure a smooth transition.
Use smart analytics
Being informed of the risk profile of the customers you do business with is a vital part of developing efficient business processes. When equipped with the right credit insights, you can make smarter business decisions and adjust payment terms for higher-risk customers. Not only can you be more strategic about how you use your resources, but you can also safeguard yourself against risk at every stage of the payment cycle.
Reduce your risk and improve your business processes with accurate credit reports from Equifax SwiftCheck. The Invoice Payment History function of a SwiftCheck report contains a record of how frequently a business pays its bills and invoices, enabling you to focus your efforts on customers who pay on time.
The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Therefore, you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your circumstance before acting on it, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a finance professional such as an adviser.