Efficiency is a bit like the Holy Grail of business. Everyone wants it, the quest to find it never really ends, and in a lot of cases people aren’t even sure where to start looking.
In fact, the best place to begin is with a question: “Where does it hurt?”
Every business has pain points – areas where things just aren’t going the way you’d like. Maybe your team is too slow getting back to customers when they call, or maybe your production line isn’t getting enough finished goods out the door.
Getting specific about where improvement is needed helps you transform efficiency from a fuzzy, idealized concept into a concrete business challenge you can solve.
Right process, right tools
Oftentimes, efficiency gains come from having the right processes in place: breaking down the steps involved and following them consistently. But the pace of business is so fast these days that the only way to get through those steps quickly and smartly is with the help of technology-based tools.
Canadian businesses do seem to appreciate the importance of digital adoption. A survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found roughly four out of five small businesses, think digital adoption is important to their business success.1
Here are a few common areas where small businesses face efficiency challenges – and the kinds of tools that can help overcome them:
Keeping projects on track
No matter what your business is – whether you sell products or deliver a service, have a brick-and-mortar storefront or operate exclusively online – you probably have a ton of details to stay on top of. Inventory, staff schedules, client meetings, production management, deliveries – all of these need to be organized and monitored in a way that ensures your milestones are met, your targets are being hit and your customers are getting what you promised them.
While there’s a common misperception that project management software is only for big companies, the truth is it can be hugely valuable to smaller businesses, too.2
There is a huge range of project management software tools available to help with this. Some can be very simple, others can be enormously complex and sophisticated. The key is to choose something that meets your needs today, that you can use easily, and that has some capacity to grow with you in the future. Too many bells and whistles or a system that’s too much work to learn can actually bog you down instead of speeding you up, so be choosy and honest with yourself about how much “solution” you need.
Standard features of project management software often include team calendar and scheduling functions, as well as milestone and deadline planning, with notifications and alerts to help you stay on track. Another common feature is easy access to documents, correspondence and other resources, so you don’t have to go searching to know what the last step was, and what should come next.
Let’s face it: paperwork (physical or virtual) is a pain. You went into business to sell your product or service, not spend endless hours keeping track of invoices, receipts and tax notices. Fortunately, there are many tools out there to automate and simplify your business’ record-keeping. Many of these are now available as cloud-based services, which means instead of having to install software on a specific machine, you can access your information from anywhere, on any device, either over the web or through an app.
One of the advantages of many cloud-based solutions, such as accounting programs, is that they can be shared and integrated with other professionals you rely on in your business, like your accountant or financial planner. This not only cuts out the need for a whole lot of correspondence, but also helps make your records more accurate – for example, when your accounting software links directly with your bank account so all transactions automatically appear.
Selling more effectively
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software can be a huge benefit for businesses with longer sales cycles that require ongoing communication with customers (nurturing) to keep them aware of and interested in your business. CRM solutions keep all your customer information in one place, let you track your interactions with them, and usually provide some analytical capabilities so you can identify buying trends and patterns – and fine-tune your marketing as a result.
CRM solutions range from the fairly simple to the very complex, so be sure to kick the tires and test out the features before buying – not only to save money but also to save the time and effort of setting up one system and then having to start over with another if the first one doesn’t work out. Many solutions offer trials and demos that allow you to explore them before buying so you can get a feel for how they work and how they fit with your business.
Tracking inventory more precisely
Good inventory management software not only lets you know what you have in stock but will let you know when you need to order more, and how much. You can realize just-in-time fulfillment to reduce costs of excess inventory and the software will automatically adjust order amounts according to season, special holidays and even upcoming promotions.
Bringing technology into your business to boost productivity does require some dedicated time and focus. It’s a good idea to schedule “tech time” for yourself to explore your needs and the kinds of solutions that are available. That will allow you to be more confident in your decisions, and better prepare you to manage the change of adopting new technology – so you get the benefits faster.