When you first start a business, whether you do it alone or with partners, the temptation is often to try to stamp your identity into the business world and break the mould. Lots of businesses that operate out of retail premises will base their daily routine around the physical layout of the space they occupy. Obviously, as a business grows, it will need to develop routines and procedures that can be applied to multiple outlets, regardless of their specific layout.
Any small inefficiencies in your business processes when you are just starting out can rapidly become baked into your corporate structure if you don’t make a specific effort to combat them. You should regularly be evaluating and re-evaluating your processes, your suppliers, and all the other vital components that are at the heart of your business’s operations.
Streamlining your business – ensuring that it is operating as efficiently and as profitably as possible – shouldn’t be something that you do occasionally; it should be an ongoing concern. If you let your oversight lapse and leave your business freewheeling, your efficiency will go off the rails with everything else.
Here are the key components of any streamlining strategy. If you want to make sure that your business is operating as efficiently as possible, and maximising profit, this is what you need to know.
Don’t Race to the Bottom
One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make when attempting to streamline their operations is that they just try to do everything as cheap as possible. However, there is an important difference between being cheap and being economical. If something costs less initially, it can still have a financial impact on your business in other ways.
We will discuss break room supplies in more detail later, but these are a fantastic illustration of how spending less money can ultimately harm your bottom line. If you skimp on the break room supplies, leaving your employees with undrinkable coffee or unappetising food, it will harm their morale. Any good business manager knows why employee morale is so important.
If your employees’ morale is in the toilet, they aren’t going to have a productive attitude. You should be willing to spend a bit more if it means that your workers will be happier, more productive, and more loyal to your business. Consider these benefits when you are assessing the ROI for any business decision and don’t be guided solely by the cost.
Introduce Automation (Strategically)
Automation has got a bad rap in recent times, largely owing to its incorrect association with the closure of coal mines and its correct association with job losses in manufacturing. The perception in some quarters is that automation costs jobs. But while some people have obviously lost their jobs because of automation, automation doesn’t necessarily have to eliminate a human job.
In fact, the kind of automation you should be looking at for your business can free up your key workers, enabling them to offload the most time-consuming tasks that they have to perform each day to an automated system. As your business grows, shaving seconds off the time it takes to complete everyday processes will add up to a massive saving when applied over your whole business.
Not only can automation free up the time of key staff, it can reduce or eliminate human error from important processes. For example, automated accounting software can process your invoices more accurately and quickly than a human can. Cloud services providers who are able to harness AWS cloud computing power are able to provide increasingly sophisticated document reading by machines. There are now solutions that can read physical documents accurately and pick out key information.
Of course, you don’t need to go for anything that high end if you don’t want to. There are automation software packages available at every price point and for every part of your business. There are even open source solutions that can be used for free.
Whether automation makes a worthwhile difference to your business will depend entirely upon how you deploy it. Automation is a tool like any other, and if you don’t implement it properly, it can end up costing you money without any tangible benefit. For example, if your business is still in its earliest stages and is run by an individual or small team, there might not be many benefits to automating yet. However, even if you are the only employee of your business, you can use automation to free up your time.
Regularly Evaluate Your Suppliers
Whether it’s the plastic cups in your water dispenser or the electricity you use to power your operations, you should always be on the lookout for ways to reduce the amount of money that you are spending on essentials. The market changes regularly, and the market for most office supplies is very competitive. You should check regularly to see if anyone is able to beat your current arrangements.
That’s not to say you should just automatically default to the cheapest suppliers. Some businesses have adopted this approach as a cost-saving initiative. While it might look better on paper, those money savings hide other costs. For example, employee morale is a very important resource – if your workers know that you aren’t willing to spend on them, they won’t develop the same sense of loyalty to your business.
When the overall costs are so much lower, businesses also often overlook that switching to a cheaper option has meant sourcing an inferior product. If the supplies are more prone to breaking or failing, or otherwise need replacing more regularly, you will have to pay more each year, even if you are paying less per unit. If the item in question is fine for a number of months when it is expected to last for years, the issue won’t become obvious until months after the decision has been made. This is why it is important to audit regularly.
Some businesses are good at keeping up with the obvious stuff – office and breakroom supplies for example. Employees will quickly raise a stink if any of these supplies aren’t up to scratch, but you should look beyond these. For example, have you ever considered where your business electricity is coming from? You can compare business electricity providers using Utility Bidder. Their online comparison tool can be used to compare suppliers of electricity and gas to businesses.
Similar price comparison websites exist for most of your utilities and other essential purchases. If you have searched for a new phone contract, broadband package or car insurance package over the last decade or so, chances are you used a price comparison website to find the best available price. A simple internet search should reveal plenty of other comparison websites for your business essentials.
The easier your workers find it to communicate with one another, the more effectively they will be able to work together. Communication is at the heart of any business and poor communication will have a corroding effect on how your business operates on a day to day basis. You certainly won’t be able to maximise your efficiency if you don’t make it easy for your workers to communicate with one another.
As well as ensuring that your business has an effective communications structure, you need to ensure that all your workers are on the same page with how to communicate with one another. If there isn’t any kind of common language or standardisation of terms, your business will suffer more and more as it grows in size.
There are a number of things that you can do as a manager in order to enhance the effectiveness of communications between your workers. First and foremost, you should lead by example and demonstrate to your workers that you are able to listen to them and respond. The most common mistake that managers make is to wait to talk, instead of actually listening. Even if you have something to say, when the other person has finished talking, you should acknowledge what they say.
If you aren’t showing your workers how to communicate well, and showing them why effective communication benefits the whole business, it is very unlikely that you will get optimal communications efficiency organically. You might get lucky and end up with a team of workers who are naturally able to communicate effectively, but the larger your business is, the more likely it is that you will end up with pockets of good communicators in your business.
These pockets are groups of workers who can communicate well with each other, but not necessarily with other pockets, or with the floating employees between them. You should look at these pockets to find your best communicators. Use them to form a communications strategy that doesn’t just make it easy for your workers to communicate, but makes them want to communicate more.
Hold a Short Meeting at the Beginning of Every Day
No one likes meetings, and you should aim to reduce the overall number of meetings that you have during the average day. It might seem a little counterintuitive, but if you hold a short and relaxed meeting at the beginning of every day, you can address issues easily without having to take time out of people’s days. Holding these short meetings each morning is also a good way of encouraging communication amongst your staff.
If your business is too big to have a single meeting, then look for a sensible way of dividing your workers up into groups so that everyone can benefit. Don’t try to hold a meeting with hundreds of people, as that will be counterproductive. You should also make sure that the managers who lead these meetings compare notes afterwards so that everyone is up to speed on important developments throughout the business.
Streamline Your Software Solutions
There are software packages available today to help you manage each area of your business easily from a single hub. For example, the right business management software can enable your business to manage everything – accounting, scheduling, ordering from suppliers, while also enabling you to automate many administrative processes.
All of this adds up to a more efficient business. Many business management platforms offer their services in tiers, with businesses paying a subscription price according to the tier that they choose. In some cases, there will even be a free tier available that you can take advantage of to make sure that it’s the right platform to you.
Some business management platforms will be aimed squarely at either small or large businesses. But as businesses embrace the cloud, and software as a service becomes more common, a growing number of these cloud-based business management services can scale up or down with ease and can serve businesses of any size.
In general, you should aim to minimise the number of different software packages that your employees need to learn to use. You don’t have to necessarily go for an all-in-one solution; for many businesses, it makes more sense to introduce software where automation is needed the most than bringing it in for the sake of it. If your business has grown without a central business management platform, introducing one can be a headache. It is much easier to look for specific software packages.
If the people in your accounting department use a particular accounts payable setup to automate their daily tasks, while the workers in your marketing department use an entirely separate content management system, that doesn’t add to the complexity of anyone’s job. The only potential issue is compatibility, but most service providers are eager to enable integration with existing solutions.
Streamlining your business shouldn’t be a one-off process; it should be something that you try to infuse into the DNA of your business. If you do undertake a massive reorganisation in order to effectively streamline your business, you should also plan for how you will ensure that your business proceeds with efficiency at its heart. Once you have started identifying opportunities for streamlining, you will start to find it easier. Make sure you consult your workers to get their suggestions.