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Streamlining isn’t just a perk for small businesses. It’s a necessity.
While they tend to run fairly light already, small businesses can lose time, money, and good employees to inefficiency, hobbling or even mortally damaging a company.
Here are seven ways for business owners and managers to streamline their operations, from automating to eliciting customer feedback.
A long, unorganized to-do list does more harm than good. Break down tasks by importance and strategize when you and your company will tackle each. That might mean shifting creative tasks to the mornings when minds are fresh, auditing at the head of each month to coordinate priorities across the team, or concentrating on fundamentals in the first few years to set up the company for future success.
Don’t be tempted to bring every task in-house to increase efficiency. Rote work -- which wastes the valuable time of talented employees -- and highly specialized tasks -- which are outside the skill set of any worker on staff -- come with huge opportunity costs. They distract workers from their real jobs, preventing them from doing the work that brings in new clients and profits. The SBA suggests investigating outsourcing in manufacturing, IT, sales, research, and shipping, among other areas.
Seek out client feedback
It’s easy to say your company needs to eliminate unproductive tasks, but it can be hard to tell which aspects of business are essential to sales. So ask the people who know best: your clients. Customer feedback can illuminate the pieces of your organization that are bringing in cash and where effort is wasted. Input can inform your team about how customers use your products, allowing you to strip away unnecessary features. Plus, these conversations with customers will increase the chances of repeat purchases by making your business more attractive.
Provide opportunities for internal feedback too
The view from the top of an organization is skewed, making it difficult to root out ingrained problems in the team. Employees, from your executive team down to the summer intern, can provide valuable insight into the company: which emails they find unnecessary, when they need better direction on assignments, where the broken links are in the command chain. But workers need to feel they have a safe space to speak these thoughts, so be sure to set up structured opportunities for feedback between managers and subordinates throughout the year.
Automate what can be automated
Invest in software to help with billing, automate email responses to leads, publish digital content to various platforms, follow up with existing customers, and track employee time. Automation can also alleviate financial strain in the office if you install a smart energy meter to accurately measure energy use, install light sensors to keep empty rooms dark, and program thermostats with schedules to avoid heating the business when no one is around.
Unless your organization is especially small, try to avoid having managers oversee just one or two people, which can lead to micromanaging. According to the Harvard Business Review, poor organizational structure can waste time as managers hover too closely over subordinates and waste everyone’s time reviewing their work too much. Reexamine your management structure periodically, looking for ways to reduce levels of management and increase the span of each manager’s control.
Document processes and train accordingly
If you don’t record changes to business practices, staff turnover will set your company back again and again. Without updated guidance, every new employee will need to reinvent those same best practices. Encourage employees to update training documents constantly, including any fixes they engineer for broken aspects of the business. Keep company documents on a central server to make it easier for everyone to update them.