Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting a Grip on Your Workflow

Inundated with the thousands of processes and software solutions, small business owners often find it daunting to change how they do business. However, taking a step back and looking at the big picture will often expose over-complexities and over-simplifications. So, how do you figure out what the correct balance is?

Try these four techinques to help you get a grip:

(1) Analyze how work requests reach your desk - Whether you are in the business of fixing legal problems or fixing health problems, take a step back and determine how work currently gets to your desk and what processes can be cut out. Draw a flowchart; although it may seem parochial, it will expose unnecessary complexities in your business process. Some small offices that I have worked with simply add on "things-to-do-when..." tasks to their existing process. Over time, these become cumbersome and inefficient.

(2) Figure out a way to measure productivity and start tracking it - Measuring productivity does not always have to be in dollars. But, let's be honest; the bottom line is what small business owners really want. However,tracking non-monetary metrics will help you figure out where improvements can be made to ultimately boost your bottom line. Although every business in unique, some common indicators of inefficiencies are time spent per client, complexity of work, risk associated with work, and predictability of work. Putting empirical values behind these indicators will help you get see hidden problems.

(3) What business goals are important to you? (e.g. productivity, predictability, visibility, etc.) - Focus on what is preventing you from taking action. If you cannot predict your work, you might be keeping on too much staff to handle work that may or may not come in. If you lack visibility, you cannot determine which clients are generating the most profit for you. If you cannot measure productivity, you cannot determine how many hours you should be working to reach your revenue goals. Instead, you work as much as you can and lose your work-life balance, which of course will lead to burn-out.

(4) Create a sustainable process to achieve your goals - Take a day out to plan a new process by walking through your process from marketing to fulfillment. It does not take much, but a little thought will go a long way. If you need to, hire a professional to help you through designing a process. The efficiency gains can be tremendous.

The point here really is to cut out the fat and streamline your business process in a way that is focused on increasing the dollars in your pocket. Focus your business around your core revenue-streams. Instead of creating new revenue streams, broaden and deepen the ones that you have.

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