As small businesses look ahead to 2017, these tips can help leaders find and target common areas and ways to improve efficiency.
Often, small businesses don’t attempt to improve efficiency as a means of strengthening the business and increasing cash flow and profitability. Many owners are simply too focused on working in the business instead of on the business. However, that appears to be changing; as small businesses look ahead to 2017, leaders are searching for ways to become more efficient in order to grow their business and increase overall performance.
Provide Secure, Consistent Information Access
As a small business owner, your advantage is often that you’re more nimble and flexible than your larger, corporate competitors. However, if your employees don’t have the information they need to quickly respond to customer inquiries or requests, make changes to supplier-scheduled deliveries or troubleshoot an operational glitch, your advantage can evaporate. According to a Cisco article, having a secure intranet or shared file system on site, off site or in the cloud, can provide the infrastructure your company needs to ensure that all your employees have consistent access to the knowledge and information that will enable them to be responsive and make decisions quickly. Such a system improves efficiency.
Streamline Your Hiring Process
The U.S. has been steadily adding jobs throughout the past few years. While this is great for the economy, it may also make it more difficult to find good employees at the price point you want. The searching, recruiting and hiring process can be time-consuming and expensive. By determining what positions you will need to fill and by when (weeks or months in advance), you can schedule in related activities when time is available.
By writing clear job descriptions for those positions, using that information to create job postings, incorporating details about your company culture and including an action item beyond sending in a resume, you’ll attract more of those who qualify and are a good fit. Clearly outlining all the steps in your hiring process and who needs to be involved when — i.e., to conduct interviews — will improve efficiency in your hiring process.
Enhance Communication With Customers and Prospects
Using sales management and customer relationship management (CRM) software can help you track your entire sales funnel from the time people or businesses are identified as potentials to the time they actually become customers. Tracking the interactions will save you significant time because you can see where they are in the sales process and what steps you or your team members need to take next. For existing customers, you can track what current products or services they have and more readily identify add-on services or products to offer. You can also track service issues. These tools, when used properly, can help you improve efficiency while also improving your sales processes and customer satisfaction.
Train Your Employees
As your business grows and people are promoted into new roles or take on new responsibilities, your employees often need training. Training may be required to learn the safety or regulatory requirements of a job, enhance existing capabilities or learn new skills. This training will help your employees perform their jobs better, which can improve your business’ efficiency.
Make Your Website Work for You
As many Fortune 500 consumer-focused companies know, interacting with customers through a website costs significantly less than interacting with them on the phone or in-person. While not all interactions can be handled over the web, servicing more of your customer’s needs over the Internet can help improve your company’s efficiency. If your customers can be billed, pay their bills, have basic questions answered, submit requests for information and more through your website, you will ultimately spend less employee time per customer and save money on personnel.
Automate Where Possible
Automation removes the manual repetitiveness from certain functions. By embracing automation where and when possible, you can free up time for your employees to engage in more productive, business-supporting activities. For example, instead of mailing out paychecks each week, you could use direct deposit or outsource to a payroll company that provides options. Your bookkeeper can spend that newly available time doing credit checks on new business customers to determine if they should pay in advance or have 30-day terms.
Using the suggestions above will help you increase your business’ operational efficiency. Your company will always have areas in need of development, so these may also help you to identify even more areas in which to improve.