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Dive into improving your business operations with the amazing Eleanor Hecks — founder and managing editor of Designerly Magazine.
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No matter how old or new your business might be, you can always find ways to improve processes. Part of the battle is figuring out which processes you want to fix and knowing what to focus on first.
Your daily business operations can become so commonplace to you that you don’t even realize when there’s a bottleneck in the system.
You can’t improve your business operations if you don’t understand your own mission and why it matters to your target audience. Around 42% of consumers say they’ll leave a brand if their values don’t align with the customer’s.
The best way to figure out where things aren’t working in your company is to ask those closest to the processes. Talk to your department heads, individual employees and even conduct an outside audit by a neutral third-party. The more information you can gather about areas needing improvement, the more smoothly your business will run.
Here are some steps you can take to identify which processes need to change immediately and some tips for making big changes in a growth environment.
Once you have an audit and see where you might make improvements, choose one thing to fix at a time. You don’t want to overwhelm your staff or have a ton of projects going at one time. Which thing would make your business better today?
Perhaps you need a better shipping system. Maybe your returns are bulky and take too long so customers grow frustrated. Identify the one thing you want to work on first and then make a list of other processes you can tackle later.
If you’re in retail, you may be coming up on one of the busiest seasons of the year. Don’t focus on fixing everything else and ignore the marketing processes that help drive your profits for the year.
Online sales make up around 20% of all retail sales and are expected to grow another 15% this season. What processes would help you reach more customers now? You can then perfect your delivery and follow-up processes in the first quarter of the next year.
Whatever process you choose to improve first, make a map of the current situation. What happens first? Then what? A map allows you to spot any holes or make some improvements on paper you can then implement in real life.
A map is also something you can send to consultants for feedback. Do you have a business mentor? They may have some additional ideas for ways to implement artificial intelligence (AI) or other automation to free up your time for more creative pursuits.
A high percentage of entrepreneurs battle time management and creating a positive work/life balance. Female solopreneurs are particularly at risk as they juggle family time and building their business.
Look for the things that eat up your time but don’t return a lot of value. If you have a process in place because it worked in the beginning of your new venture, but it really doesn’t add value now, don’t feel bad about ditching it.
Look for ways to hand off processes to others in your company as you grow. Can anything be taken over by machines or third-parties without losing control or sacrificing quality? Perhaps you created the product packaging by hand, but you can farm that out to a custom box company and save countless hours on production.
Did you identify bottlenecks in your various processes earlier during your audit? Once you know a few bottlenecks, look for less obvious ones. For example, if you sell children’s clothes online and your customers complain about slow delivery times, where are the delays?
How quickly do you send out your items once ordered? Do you need more packers to get them out the door faster? Perhaps your shipping provider is too slow and you need to find a new one that delivers quickly. You can’t fix the bottlenecks without knowing what they are.
Look for inconsistencies in who you say you are as a brand and what actually happens in your interactions with customers. Around 86% of consumers say they’ll stick with a brand that is honest with them. If they feel you aren’t being genuine, though, you risk losing them to a competitor. Build your brand identity around who you want to be and stick to it.
Ask new customers if you give the impression you want. What can you change to better meet their needs and showcase your values as a brand?
Before you change your processes, map them out. What is your ideal change to anything that isn’t working? What goals do you expect to achieve from the changes?
Test out the new process by filling orders for some test clients or ask valued customers to give the new process a try and give you feedback. You may want to let them give it a try for free as a reward for being loyal to you. Also, if things don’t go well with the new process and they didn’t pay anything, they’ll be much more forgiving as you make adjustments and perfect the plan.
Business operations will morph as your business grows and your client base matures. Never stop auditing how things are going and adding in new concepts. Technology changes over time, so you may discover new tools each year that help things run more smoothly. With a little effort and consistent attention to detail, your business will thrive.
Mom entrepreneurs can gain access to a community of other mompreneurs trying to grow their companies. Sign up for a Grow It membership to learn from others and bounce ideas off other like-minded business owners.
Eleanor Hecks is the founder and managing editor of Designerly Magazine. She’s also a web design consultant with a focus on customer experience and user interface. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dogs, Bear and Lucy. Connect with her about marketing, design and/or tea on LinkedIn!
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