Launching a business tends to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience. Every day something new comes up – new customers, new challenges, even new solutions and opportunities.
As your business matures however, you will need processes and systems that allow your employees to help you run your business smoothly and efficiently.
Fast and informal is fine when you’re a start-up, but businesses that stay informal will never achieve real, sustainable growth.
Here’s how you can run your small business like a big business – ensuring you reach your growth goals.
1. Create Operational Documents
An operational document is any document that describes the way a process or system is performed or followed inside an organization. It is designed to ensure consistency in the way the business operates.
Ops docs are important for the following reasons:
- They set the benchmark. Once you have found the most efficient and effective way to do something, you want to ensure that is the way it is always done within your business.
- They give you the ability to leave your mark on your business. As your business grows you cannot do everything yourself, but you still want internal consistency that delivers the same quality you personally deliver.
- They impact the bottom line. This will keep costs down and productivity high.
- They give new hires a roadmap. People leave companies all of the time. If you have systems, processes and operational documents in place, it’s not only faster to onboard a new hire, but they know exactly what to do and what’s expected of them. There’s also a cost-saving benefit when a new employee doesn’t need too much training before they are up and running.
- They deliver exceptional customer service. Delivering exceptional customer service is the product of consistency as well – customers need to know that they will always receive the same level of service from your business, no matter who they are dealing with. Ops docs ensure that everyone has a ‘rulebook’ to follow when it comes to customer engagements. This builds trust and loyalty.
Before you start creating your operational documents, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a system or process that you follow for each function in the company?
- Has it been documented in some way?
- If more than one person does a job, do they do it in the same way or differently to achieve the same (or similar) outcome?
- Have you tracked whether a system or process is efficient, or if it could be done better?
- Have the people who actually do the task given their input into how the process or system should look?
How to create an operational document
Operational documents (or ops docs) simply catalogue the way a system, process or task should be done in a step-by-step manner.
To get started, document each step of a process. Next, get someone else (usually the person who performs the function) to do the task according to the ops doc. They can give you feedback on what they believe works and doesn’t work. Tweak as you go along – the goal is to find the mots efficient, user-friendly way to do something, and then to document each step so that anyone else can follow the process as well.
Finally, make sure each ops doc is filed and named in such a way that the appropriate people have access to it.
- Link KPIs to ops docs to make sure they are followed properly
- Do spot checks – once corners start getting cut and processes start slipping, quality control is no longer guaranteed
- Create an ops doc that details how to create ops docs – eventually, your team members will be able to document how the business is run without your input and intervention – that is a business that can scale beyond its founder.
2. Leverage technology to run your business
Cloud-based solutions ensure that small to medium-sized businesses have access to range of different tools to help you run your businesses efficiently and cost-effectively.
Businesses are about making money. This requires growing your revenue while simultaneously keeping your costs as low as possible, while maintaining the ability to deliver a quality service.
Online collaboration tools, customer relationship management (CRM) tools and accounting tools give you an affordable way to run your business without investing in expensive software and IT infrastructures.
Why move to the cloud?
The rise of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions have gone hand in hand with the steady increase in businesses moving from on-premise servers into the public cloud. Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google and Microsoft Azure ensure security and 99.9% uptime.
More importantly, any software or tool you previously needed to purchase is now available to you on a per-user, per-month subscription basis, meaning you only pay for the amount of people you need on the platform.
Some services have monthly fees, others, like Slack, Monday and airtable, are free or almost-free, and all platforms give you a free trial to test them out.
Most tools are designed to grow with you as you grow your business. Zoho CRM, for example, is free for up to three users in your business. Zoho’s functionality allows you to manage client contacts, monitor leads and deals and automate your workflows.
Key questions to consider:
- Does your team work from multiple locations across multiple devices? The flexibility and accessibility of cloud-based tools means your team members can access the information they need and work collaboratively any time, from anywhere.
- Would you prefer to pay for tools on a predictable, monthly basis, rather than purchasing software at a large, up-front cost?
- Are there key areas in your business where the overall efficiency and productivity of your team could be improved?
- Do you have a firm handle on your numbers, or would a dashboard that gives you your figures, cash flow, and how much you are owed by whom (and for how long) be useful?
These are all areas that the right online tools can assist you with.
3. Track meetings, reports and metrics
The subject of meetings has been a contentious topic amongst business and productivity experts for decades. When should you have a meeting? Who should be in it? When do meetings start eating into your productivity levels and stopping everyone from getting their jobs done?
Here are a few rules of thumb to ensure meetings in your business add value instead of becoming time thieves:
- Only invite attendees who absolutely must participate in the meeting. If they can receive a quick email update after the meeting, they don’t need to be in the room
- Create an agenda and stick to it. If a second meeting needs to be held, so be it, but make sure the issues that had to be addressed in the meeting were addressed
- Take action points. Email them to all attendees afterwards and give deadlines to each point – there is no purpose to a meeting that doesn’t result in follow-through actions
- Replace formal meetings with ‘walking meetings’ where appropriate. ‘Walking meetings’ have been popularised in Silicon Valley – a walking meeting keeps things short, on point and ends when each point has been addressed, instead of at the end of the appointed hour for the meeting. As an added bonus, walking increases creativity, resulting in a better, solutions-orientated meetings.
Metrics and reports
Just as meetings should be kept short, to the point and only including relevant parties, so should reports be focused on key metrics and information and sent to the people who absolutely need to read them.
Reports are generated for a reason – when they stop serving their function, they start becoming time wasters.
Key questions to consider:
- How many reports does your business generate?
- Is each report necessary?
- What is done with it?
- Who reviews it and takes action based on it?
- What would happen if the report didn’t arrive?
Across the world, businesses generate millions and millions of reports, wasting time, resources and paper, and no-one ever looks at them.
However, the right reports can have a huge impact on your business. For example:
- The ability to see who owes you money, when they should have paid and how long their payment has been outstanding is valuable information you should be checking each day
- The activity levels of your sales people, from how many phone calls they make each day, how many connects they have and meetings held, are important metrics for your sales manager (and you, as the business owner) to be tracking
- Stock reports, how long it takes to turn stock around and if there is old stock tying up your cash is also important information, as this impacts your cash flow.
Ultimately, reports should be giving you valuable, collated information that allows you (and your team) to make better decisions in your business.
Metrics feed into your reports. A metric is a system or standard of measurement. In other words, it’s a value you assign to activities so that you can keep track of them – this information is then delivered via a report.
For example, if you know that each sales executive in your business needs to make 100 calls per week in order to make 10 connects, and 10 connects are required on average to book two meetings, you have metrics that can feed into key activity levels. All sales execs need to make 100 calls per week to hold two meetings. You can now track their activities, their numbers, and pull reports to see whether they are doing the required activities to meet their targets.
- Ultimately, whether you are holding a meeting or reading a report, you want to use your time in the most effective and efficient way possible. This is true for yourself as the business owner as well as for your entire team.
- If it’s not adding value or serving a clear purpose – ditch it
- Regularly review the meetings held, metrics tracked and reports generated in your business to ensure no one is wasting time on unnecessary and time-consuming tasks.
Mistakes to avoid
Don’t follow the corporate model. Many entrepreneurs who come from corporate backgrounds are used to reports and meetings as central to the business’s operations. While large enterprise reporting structures might require this, following the same practices in your small and agile business will just hold you and your team back.
Don’t create reports for the sake of reports. Stay focused on what adds value – if it doesn’t add real value that helps you grow your top-line revenue or trim back on costs to increase profit margins, you could be using your time more effectively.
Don’t invite unnecessary people to meetings. Consider an executive who only holds critical meetings on Saturday mornings. Why? Because if the same meeting was held on a Tuesday afternoon, it would take twice as long, have twice as many people in it and there’d probably be cookies. A meeting on a Saturday morning on the other hand only includes mission-critical people and is as short as possible – treat all your meetings like they are on a Saturday morning.
Don’t use tools that don’t add value. There are many online tools that are both affordable and great boosts to productivity, financial management and the overall operations of your business. Find the right solution for you, make sure everyone is trained and able to use it effectively, and don’t force it on the business unless it definitely adds value.