Efficiency and effective organisation are paramount for start-ups and entrepreneurs with limited resources. How can you grow your business and enhance your offer when all of your time is taken up by business as usual? The answer lies in successfully managing your workflow, and here are a few practical ways to do just that.
The first step to efficient workflow management is to set up a system that records what tasks need to be done as they emerge, and assigns an 'owner' to each task. Collaborative software tools like Trello are good for this, but you could just as easily use a large whiteboard and a series of Post-it notes. Whenever a new task comes over the horizon, capture it with one of these systems so it doesn't' get lost in the chaos of day-to-day business.
Once you've captured a number of tasks, you need to determine in what order they should be done. Factors to consider include when they actually need to be done by, whether you currently have everything you need to get it done and how long the task is expected to take. You can use a simple system to designate the priority of a task, such as one-three with one being a top priority. Record this alongside the task and change it as needed later on.
There are many different organisational systems that you can use for tracking tasks, but a simple one that can be highly effective for small businesses is 'Kanban', which was first developed by Toyota in the 1940s. With Kanban, workflows are visualised through a series of columns, with individual tasks flowing through these columns.
The simplest form of this is to draw three columns on a whiteboard - 'To do', 'Doing' and 'Done' - but you can customise this to suit your specific business needs. All tasks start off in the 'To Do' column, and from there they can either be assigned to or chosen by specific team members, depending on your organisational structure. In this way you can quickly see what tasks are currently being done and by whom, what's complete and what's in the backlog.
The less time that you spend carrying out mundane, simplistic, but nonetheless necessary tasks, the more time you'll have to spend on doing the things that develop your business. There are many software solutions you can use to automate tasks, such as Nuance's Power PDF, which allows for instant conversion of Office documents into PDFs and the ability to access them from anywhere via the cloud.
It's worth taking a look at what specific processes are currently slowing your work down, and then searching for what software solutions can be used to automate or simplify them.
Copyright © 2015 Nuance Communications, Inc, a leading provider of voice and language solutions for businesses and consumers around the world. Its technologies, applications and services make the user experience more compelling by transforming the way people interact with devices and systems. Every day, millions of users and thousands of businesses experience Nuance's proven applications. For more information, please visit www.nuance.co.uk.
Nobody likes dealing with paperwork. That's especially true when you've just started a business and there are a hundred and one other things to do.
Document management is likely to be the least of your concerns, but if it isn't done properly it could cause numerous problems for your business further down the line.
Now is the time to get the planning right and put in place best practice processes that will support your company's growth. So, why is electronic records management so important for your start-up business?
Having a good electronic records management (ERM) system will improve both internal efficiency and your overall business competiveness. There's nothing more distracting or frustrating than having piles of paper documents and files lying around.
And not being able to find what you need could ultimately prove harmful. Having an ERM system will ensure records aren't lost, and help you get any information or data you need quickly and reliably.
Saving money wherever possible is key for any start-up, and storing documents electronically is a cost-effective way to manage all your records.
Manual document management is a time-consuming back office process and you'd be much better placed freeing up internal resources and costly staff time. Reallocate them instead to more important and productive tasks that will help strengthen and build your business.
There are also costs associated with physical storage - particularly as a fast-growing business you will probably generate many files. Switching to digital storage will allow you to manage your expansion cost effectively.
The type of industry or jurisdiction in which your business is operating will dictate regulations with which you need to comply when it comes to document and data storage. Legacy files may need to be kept for a certain numbers of years, and you might need to show that certain procedures were followed and sensitive information stored correctly. Electronic records management takes the worry out of compliance. It can even be set up to ensure records are destroyed in a secure and timely manner when you no longer need them.
Finally, an ERM system is the safest way to store documents and files. There have been numerous high-profile data breaches in recent years, and your business needs to protect sensitive financial information and trusted customer details with a secure system. It also has the added value of providing an offsite backup, in case of a disaster that could destroy both physical and electronic files at your premises.
Electronic records management is a vital asset for the administrative function of any business, large or small. If you haven't got a process yet, it makes good business sense to set one up as soon as possible.
Copyright © 2015 Sheelagh Carroll, head of commercial for UK-based digital documentation management provider Kefron.
If there’s one thing the Japanese know a lot about, it’s effective car production. And that’s where the term “Lean” comes from. It all began at Toyota, when the car manufacturer found a new, more efficient method of producing cars. The principles learned at Toyota became known as Lean, and they are now more of a management philosophy that can be applied to almost any business.
At its core is the principle of creating value by reducing unnecessary risk and waste. More recently the term has become synonymous with start-ups, thanks to Eric Ries and his Lean Startup movement.
So what makes Lean lean?
OK, so how do I apply it?
Learn about your customers
A key component of Lean – customer development – is a method to help you find ‘product-market fit’, with the aim of delivering a product that people love. The best way of doing this is through interviews with prospective customers, conducting surveys, landings pages with email sign-up forms and demos to test various aspects of the business model (eg pricing, positioning, segments, and so on).
Build something to show them
Create your ‘minimum viable product’ (or MVP in Lean Startup jargon), which is the first version of your product that will enable you to learn the most. Perform regular testing with users, iterate and improve as you go. Make changes when there’s less risk and when you’re not too precious about what you’ve created.
Measure the response
Focus on metrics that really matter such as sign-up conversions, payments, referrals, returning visits and NOT vanity metrics such as total number of hits.
Rinse and repeat
Keep learning, building and measuring. It’s this feedback loop that ensures you get to where you want to be.
Some useful tools to help with running your Lean projects can be found here.
Lean in practice
We work with many start-ups and often get approached by entrepreneurs with a great idea, however, more often than not they have no validation to show that theirs could be a successful product or scalable business. It can be a painful lesson for many, that after spending lots of time, energy and cash – there's simply no demand for what they've built.
Our approach at Spook Studio involves exploring all aspects of our clients’ business models to ensure that we test out ideas at an early stage where there’s less at stake, which helps to reduce risk, create value and ultimately a better return on investment.
Now it's over to you...
1 Plan your marketing
Far too often, new businesses take a scattergun approach to marketing. They spend a huge amount of time and focus on marketing – which is correct – but there is no cohesive strategy, plan or thinking. So what happens is, 80 per cent of their marketing efforts results in little or no return.
If you have done your homework, you will be clear about how you help your target market with their ‘pain’, know where your target market hang out and how best to get your message to them. Use this knowledge to plan your marketing, so you focus your marketing on your target market, in a place where they will see it – and in a way that will encourage them to take action.
If you believe that word-of-mouth is going to be all the marketing you need, think again. Word-of-mouth works very well when you are an established business with a good name. Until you are an established business, word-of-mouth, in isolation, will not be an efficient marketing strategy.
Think very carefully about taking an enhanced listing in a physical or internet directory. When was the last time you looked in one of these for a tradesperson or supplier?
2 Know your costs
I’m going to be blunt. If you don’t know the cost of running your business, it normally means you are running your business as a hobby. Poor financial management of a new business is one of the main reasons for a new business to fail in its first year. Poor cashflow is a major factor in this. If you sell to businesses, see how short you can make your payment terms. For example, can you ask for some cash up front?
3 Look for recurring business opportunities
At the start of your business life, most of your business will have to be won from new clients. Winning business from existing clients is estimated to be between seven and 14 times easier than winning business from a new client. Aim to target new business from clients or customers that are likely to result in recurring business.
4 Be flexible
No one can predict exactly how your new business is going to perform. In the first 12 months of trading, you will probably need to tweak part of your business and marketing strategy. If you keep yourself open to opportunities and possibilities, you are more likely to be able to change strategy before it costs you time and money.
5 Work to your personal talents and strengths
In the early days as a one-man-band, you are going to have to be all things to all people. There are always going to be tasks that don’t fit your personal preferences. For me, this was bookkeeping. Be honest with yourself and outsource or delegate any tasks that can be done by someone else, without materially affecting the running of the business.
6 Set and write down business goals
Only about 3 per cent of adults have clear, written goals. These people accomplish five to ten times as much as people of equal ability and standing, but who, have never taken the time to write out exactly what they want to achieve. It’s the same with new businesses. Those businesses that remain focused on their goals are more likely to achieve greater things. In the early days, you are on a steep learning curve, so you will need to revisit these business goals every three months.
Outsourcing makes sense in a downturn because…
No company can escape the current financial downturn that’s affecting the global economy. Europe has slipped into a recession and the United Kingdom may shortly follow suit. In order to make the most of these tough times, many companies are looking to outsourcing specialists to provide much needed specialist support to maximise their efficiency and ensure their long-term survival?
Outsourcing is not a new phenomenon; it’s a tried and tested model. In the early part of this decade there was an economic slow down. During this time, outsourcing companies found more than ever that they were able to assist and support other businesses in times of trouble. Some companies are cautious about outsourcing in the current financial climate, mistakenly assuming it means an additional expense, but there are many reasons why outsourcing makes sense in a downturn, and here’s 10 of them:
ONE: You can cut costs without cutting corners. Outsourcing allows you to provide the same level of provision to your customers or clients without having to compromise or cut back on the quality of experience/service they receive. At the same time, because some core costs are reduced such as equipment, advertising and recruitment – you maintain your standards whilst reducing your costs. This will have a positive effect on your bottom line. If you’re in danger of dropping the level or standard of service that you offer your clients, you are in danger of losing those clients to your competition. Don’t even consider cutting corners – you can’t bounce back from this without the support of your clients/customers.
TWO: You can focus on your core concerns, the things that you are best at. Outsourcing is not just about saving financial cost implications, but also saving time and allowing you to focus on your core business issues. If the downturn has made you feel that there are no longer enough hours in the day, (were there ever?) then you’ll know that outsourcing could free up more time for you and your staff to spend on the central and fundamental concerns of the business. Decide upon which activities require your greatest focus and efforts, and free up your time by outsourcing the rest.
THREE: You may need to lose staff, but you don’t have to lose your shirt! There may be a need for redundancy, or saying goodbye to casual, temporary or part time workers. Outsourcing can cost you less than the cost of retaining those non-business critical staff/employees. You are doing this to safeguard your present full time employees, but it may be frustrating to see them go because you don’t know what’s around the next corner. When you outsource, your business remains effective, despite the reduction in numbers. If you’re ever to return your business to its pre-credit crunch glory, you may need to outsource to secure your current employee’s future.
FOUR: You can more efficiently manage your Human Resources. During this downturn, you may need 100 telemarketers for one campaign but only 10 for the next. Regularly, you’d have your remaining staff draining your budget. When you outsource, you can add or reduce your staff as and when you need them. By reducing some of your fixed operating costs you can deliver greater economic freedom to your company. With completely flexible staff numbers you can increase or decrease the workforce to whatever size you need to meet your current challenges.
FIVE: You can change horses midstream. When you outsource your needs, you can make amendments immediately, make a decision, change your mind, improve equipment, increase staff, decrease equipment – do whatever it takes, whenever necessary to keep your business afloat. Your outsourcing contract should be flexible enough to make a decision immediately in order to respond to necessary demands.
SIX: You can outsource many more services than you realise. Payroll, Sales, Marketing, Secretarial, Reception, IT, Lead Generation, Telesales and Telemarketing are among the many services that could all help you cut your short to medium term costs in a downturn. Telemarketing and Sales are particularly important. To effectively see your way through this economic nightmare, you need to bring in business – whether it is from new or existing customers/clients, you must increase sales and reduce costs in order to sail safely through this financial storm. Outsourcing can be used to achieve both of these goals.
SEVEN: Outsourcing is targeted professional activity. You can only go on losing money for so long before your business will start to collapse, so take action now! Whatever cuts you are going to make, you need to make them with the full knowledge that they are best for the future of the company. Outsourcing allows businesses to take proactive steps to maintain their status and trading capacity during difficult times.
EIGHT: Outsourcing can protect your company culture and staff morale. You shouldn’t force your existing staff to do more work for the same wages but without outsourcing, you may have to do it. It’s bound to happen if you have to reduce your staff numbers. As your workforce decreases, you still need the same tasks completed. Asking your current staff to take on these additional roles and tasks may cause problems in the workplace. You should expect an increase in the number of sick days, a decrease in general morale and this can affect your company’s productivity at a time when it matters most. Outsource before you drive your staff into early retirement.
NINE: Outsourcing helps you do more of what you do well. If your business isn’t badly affected by the downturn, you need to make hay while the sun shines! You’re lucky, you’re in one of those areas that people cannot do without, you’re a niche or a necessity, and perhaps you’re making even more money. Outsourcing can help you respond to the increased need for your product or service and allow you the room to do this without increasing your fixed operating costs.
TEN: Model other successful organisations. As the credit crunch takes a bite out of British commerce and despite the evident slow down in the economy and the threat of recession, billions of pounds in outsourcing deals are being agreed in the UK. If other companies are taking advantage of the benefits of outsourcing, then your business should be considering it too. Don’t be the last to realise that outsourcing solutions could save your business before it’s too late.
For expert advice on outsourcing your business needs, speak to a representative at VSL, the downturn doesn’t have to be a disaster for your business.
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