Working with small business clients we often see struggles between the owner and their employees. The owner is great at what they do, but managing others they often lack the training and skill-sets required. Managing others in conducting your business can be challenging if you let it. As a small business owner with employees you can improve the effectiveness of you as a manager and ensuring employees are productive, efficient and effective. Management/supervision can be summed up in three primary activities; 1. Set Clear Expectations; 2. Reinforce Expectations; 3. Be consistent.
Setting clear expectations for what you expect from employees is the foundation for ensuring they understand and are able to complete tasks and duties as you want them to be completed. Never assume that employees fully understand your expectations without an explanation and better, a demonstration. For example; an administrative assistant is asked to create a spreadsheet of recent sales. Be clear in giving directions by starting with, "This is what I want it to look like" - showing an example or sketching it out on a piece of paper. "This is where the information comes from to complete the spreadsheet." When possible, demonstrate how to complete a line or two of the spreadsheet then have them complete one while you watch and coach them through the process. Always remembers that a majority of your employees will want to complete the work as you want it be completed, just make sure they fully understand what is expected.
Reinforce expectations with employees that appear to deviate from the process, or fail to meet your expectations. Do this quickly, don't wait for them to completely fail before you become engaged with them. Use a coaching approach to help motivate the employee. This not only helps them do better, but you save time, money as you won't have to correct work that is not what you expected. Not taking quick actions to correct improper work allows employees to develop bad habits that will be more difficult for them to correct the longer they fail to perform their duties adequately. For example; one of business owners noticed that his receptionist would answer the phone with a nice and polite, "Hello" instead of providing the business name and asking, "How may I help you?". He approached her with a coaching mindset, "You are so polite in answering the phone. That's great. Remember when answering the phone to say "Hello" just like you are doing but remember to say our business name then ask how you can help them. He made sure to listen out for the next few calls to ensure she understood.
Be consistent in setting your expectations and reinforcing them. Inconsistency is the common mistake managers make when working with employees. Being inconsistent in setting and reinforcing expectations sends mixed signals to employees, making it difficult for them to ensure they are working appropriately. In our training we warn managers and supervisors that being consistent with all employees, all of the time, not only reinforces expectations, it creates a happier work environment. What better job to have than to clearly know what is required to be successful.
Setting clear expectations, reinforcing them and being consistent will help you avoid disciplinary actions which are never fun for the owner/manager or the employee. Also, this will ensure that your business maintains a great presence with your customers.
Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for a year or two it is important to look to the future, imagine what your business will look like in a few years. Will it have grown, have added products and services?
There are a lot of opportunities for you to prepare your business today to meet future growth.
1. Educate yourself - Whether you are a service or product based business, now is the time to begin learning more about how to operate your business, and new innovations in your product or service line. Adding skills to your personal business inventory will prepare you to grow your business. Consider other areas of your business such as accounting practices, supervision/management, marketing, or learning new skills to make you more productive and efficient.
2. Look for opportunities to upgrade - Do you have a production machine that is nearing it's productive life cycle, or have business technologies that are nearing the time for replacement? Consider an upgrade that will help you improve your business rather than replacing with the same equipment/technology. Having the infrastructure already in place will help you meet business growth with little effort.
3. Build capital - When you start seeing profits, put some away for a rainy day and for when you are ready to expand your business. We call these funds our "Fall Back, Fall Forward" money. Having the necessary capital without having to borrow is a safer, not to mention a less stressful way to invest in your business. Building capital, business savings, will help you in so many ways. Also, investing in your business before you grow can provide some interesting economics for your business. Consider taking on new product lines without having a large upfront investment because you already prepared for it.
4. Be mindful of "pop-up" opportunities - Depending on your business, there may be opportunities that just materialize. Maybe a competing consulting service is going out of business, or a local retail competitor. This may the opportunity your business needs to grow. Some call it environmental scanning. Take a few hours to scan your business environment to identify opportunities, and of course risks so you can plan accordingly. You might be able to take on clients from failed or closing businesses, or buy up supplies from a competitor to help you grow your product line.
Overall, practice, "Think Now for Tomorrow" - As you navigate the business world, thinking about what you are doing today, as compared to what you will need to do tomorrow, will allow you to make strategic planning decisions.
For example: One of our clients who had been in business for about a year ask us to review their existing technology and business infrastructure to determine what it would look like when their business expanded. We provided a picture of what it would look like. As service contracts expired, they upgraded, they invested more in their marketing, and technology. We assisted in developing company policies, mapping key processes, employee training programs, and procedures that would accommodate growth. Eighteen months later their business did grow exponentially and they were prepared. One employee that had been with the company since the beginning commented, "It's really hard to remember what it was like the first year we started because we always new it would be like it is today."
We think the key to their growth was their vision that they would in fact grow their business even when they were small. They never considered they would not. Keeping your vision on the future while keeping an eye on what you can do today to prepare is a great way to grow.
It doesn’t matter what type of small business you have, there are office tasks you have to complete to operate successfully. In this article we are going to discuss some key operations that you need to have in place to make your business run effectively, efficiently, and, most importantly, economically. We call this the three “E’s” to successful small businesses.
Method for tracking your business expenses and income. Maybe you are starting with only a few customers and keeping handwritten or developing your own spreadsheet seems sufficient. In time, as business grows, and your memory fades, you need to have a method to easily track your finances. Plan for business growth at the start with a method, or program that will meet future growth needs. Accurate financial records are needed for the dreaded tax season and to ensure you are being profitable. Several programs are available that are free and those you pay for, that will help you track your expenses.
Again, no matter the business you need the appropriate technology to operate your business. Technology includes devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, or technology specific to your business offerings. The list goes on and on and greatly expands depending on the business you have. It is critical that you budget for a technology refresh throughout the life of your business. As technology advances occur rapidly, you need to refresh your technology on a regular recurring basis, often every 3-4 years. Refreshing your technology improves efficiency. Reduced time waiting on slow computers, or having to develop work-around's where technology outpaces your existing devices.
Internet Presence & Management
In this category we include email, web pages, and even social media if you are so inclined. Having a business web page and social media presence increases your reach to customers. Those that do business with you on a regular basis, and potential new customers often look online for contact information, to learn more about your business. Forget the idea that having a web page will increase your business overnight. From our experience, word-of-mouth advertising, then being easily found on the web is what builds your business. Chances are you will need business email to send invoices, communicate with customers, and to receive information about your business.
In any small business you will have suppliers that provide services and products to keep your business going. Develop relationships, shop around for suppliers that can provide you with discounts. If you are a consultant that travels, consider using the same motels to get preferred status as well as business travel discounts, and ease of tracking travel expenses. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts in the beginning or if you have been a long time customer. Reducing your supply costs increases your profit margin.
Hard copy and electronic files need to be handled in a consistent manner to increase your efficiency, reducing time to locate what you need when you need it. Take time to develop a logical filing system, one that is not overly complicated. Include email filing as well. (See article on Email Organization) Include working methods that improve your effectiveness in accomplishing office tasks. Schedule time each day or a few times a week to focus on the filing and work systems to keep your business operating smoothly.
All of these ideas, or considerations, will help you operate your business effectively, and efficiently, which equals working more economically, saving you time and money. Set a reminder on your calendar every six months, maybe with a link to this article, to review each area presented and see where you can improve.
You have decided that you are going to start your own small business. It's an exciting time and there is a lot to do. One of the critical "To-Do's" that should be on your list is your website and office technology needs. Why?
First, understand that your website is only a small part of your company's technology needs. Your email addresses, color schemes, logo and back office functions are interconnected to your company's web page. The minute you decide you are going to launch your own business is the day you need to begin creating and implementing your company technology needs.
Must haves from day one:
Second, avoid these:
Again, think of your company website as only one small part of your business technology. It should tie in to your email, forms, and other communications related to your business. Starting it early in the business development and launch process will pay you dividends in the long run. Profit in your pocket!!!
Outsourcing functions to operate your small business makes sense in some cases. As a small business owner, it is often difficult to let go of specific tasks, the thought of paying someone else to do something you feel you can do. Here are a few ideas to consider when trying to determine if outsourcing makes sense:
Outsourcing can make a lot of business sense to improve your business in several areas. Outsourcing will help you grow your business, increase customer satisfaction and provide you with time to focus on aspects of the business that are important to you.
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