Figuring out how to make your small business thrive isn’t always easy. In the beginning, you’re struggling to find new customers and turn a profit. Later in your company’s lifespan, you may seek enough cash flow to grow. Business operations may be the last thing on your mind, but improving them can help take your brand to the next level.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for operations research analysis is growing at about 25% per year, which is a phenomenal increase compared to most industries. The demand for business operations improvements shows that entrepreneurs understand the importance of better functions within their companies.
You don’t have to spend thousands on a professional analyst to create more efficient processes. There are many things you can implement in the next year that will take your business from surviving to excelling.
1. Track Your Finances
One of the reasons why many small businesses suffer from cash flow issues is because they don’t have a handle on where their money goes. When you’re a one-person show, it’s hard to be an accountant, marketer and salesperson at the same time. Paying attention to cash flow gets pushed to the backburner until it’s a serious issue.
Invest in at least a basic accounting software package and plug in costs as you go. Make a determined effort to run a report at least once a month and review where your money is going. You might be able to cut costs and increase your profits simply by using a different vendor, cutting back on services you don’t use or preventing overcharges.
2. Organize Your Work Vehicles
Over time, it’s easy to grow a bit disorganized even with the vehicles you send your technicians out in daily. As your business grows, you may have to try to handle multiple calls and not yet have the funds to hire additional workers to cover the demand. However, an organized vehicle also means a more productive and efficient process.
Something as simple as adding shelving makes a difference in your workflow. You’ll also get a better handle on inventory, so your service vehicles can remain fully stocked. This prevents a situation where your technician has to return to the warehouse and waste precious time restocking.
3. Audit Your Processes
Figuring out where the little glitches in your processes occur helps you make big improvements. You can’t fix something you aren’t aware of. For this particular task, you should call in a professional third party to observe your everyday operations and then make suggestions for improvements.
Study everything from the sales department to how you track inventory. Don’t leave any bit of your company’s functions out of the equation. The more areas you look at, the more rapidly you can make improvements.
4. Involve Department Heads
The people who are in charge of each department in your company know a lot more about the processes than you do. Get them involved in the audit process and ask them if they have any ideas of how to make things more efficient.
Is there software that might make their job easier? Are there any red tape-type requirements that take up precious time and resources they could use better elsewhere?
5. Integrate With the Cloud
In a study by Gartner, researchers found that lacking digital integration costs 25% of businesses their competitive edge. No matter what type of business you operate, the ability to access information at the drop of a hat helps you increase productivity.
Imagine you have a technician out in the field and they want to look up the customer’s history and see how they’ve serviced their furnace in the past. With a cloud-based server, they can pull up the details on-the-fly.
There are many other ways of integrating operations on a digital level benefits small businesses. Maybe you’re lying awake at midnight because you’re worried about whether you have enough inventory for the holiday shopping season. A quick check of your inventory puts your mind at ease and lets you get some much-needed rest so you can be fresh for work the next day.
6. Merge Insurance Policies
Although you might think you could save more by shopping around for different types of insurance policies, you’ll usually get financial breaks by keeping your business with a single company. You can also have the same renewal date, which keeps you from having to write multiple checks or keep up with various providers.
Spend time looking at how well the policy works for you. You need policies to protect your building, inventory, and personal liability. An umbrella policy gives you some peace of mind against lawsuits, but it doesn’t cost a lot of additional money to add to your protection.
7. Train Workers to Be Self-Sufficient
You can spend untold hours training your workers in your customer service policies or how to work together as a team. However, the most important thing you can instill in your staff is a sense of ownership. Make sure they feel confident trying new things and don’t need their hands held for every little task.
You’ll free up your time and your managers’ time and create brilliant ideas in the process. Of course, it starts with hiring the right person. You need to trust they won’t make decisions that hurt the company.
Next, train them in the company policies and your customer outlook. Then, reward them for their ideas, even the ones you don’t use. Encourage them to come to quick brainstorming sessions with ideas for ways to improve the brand.
8. Manage Customer Relationships
Customer relationship management (CRM) software has grown in its capabilities in recent years. Investing in some high-quality programs allows you to reach out to customers on special occasions or when they haven’t ordered in a while. You’ll be able to automate some of your communication processes.
CRM software also gives you an edge because your sales team can look at past buying behavior and customer preferences before reaching out. Your marketing team can run analytics and see which ads might resonate best with your target audience. Leaders can see which products are similar to others that sold well in the past and make better buying decisions.
Look for Little Changes
Not every change in your company has to be a massive overhaul. Some small shifts in the way you do things can have an impact over time.
For example, if you used to print every communication between department heads, shift to an automated digital archive and save on paper and effort. Look for the small things that make a big difference and you’ll improve your business operations in far less than 12 months.
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