One of the big ones I come across on a regular basis is the use of the wrong tools to get something done. I am aware that this is often due to changes in the business, and especially business growth, of course. That is no reason to lag behind the times and to continue using a system, a tool, a strategy,… that have seen better days and are no longer suitable for the kind of volume they need to deal with.
Here’s an example to clarify what I’m talking about:
Imagine a husband and wife combo running a small electrician company. One of them goes out every day and does the jobs on site, the other one stays at home and deals with paperwork, accounting, advertisement, client contacts and so on. That works fine, right? It does, as long as the work doesn’t grow to overwhelm the partner who goes on the road, or the administration isn’t bodged because there are other obligations outside of work, like dealing with an elderly family member or the arrival of kids in the household, or other practicalities of life.
Let’s assume all goes well with our little outfit, business grows and our couple start employing a handful of electricians to deal with much more work, and maybe another person in the office to deal with customers or coordinate the work schedules. Maybe even more than one person… the outfit might need to switch from a sole trader situation to a limited company, with all the administration that goes with it. Things are getting more complicated, already.
Now fast forward a couple of years: things have gotten more complex, with maybe a storage facility for parts, a planner person for larger projects, a runner to deliver items from storage to the work sites, longer distances to work sites, an in-house bookkeeper or accountant… our little outfit has grown considerably.
That growth brings with it certain changes in function – for one thing, the original couple don’t do all the tasks between the two of them, and communication becomes more of an issue, with verbal communication over the dinner table being replaced by lots of notes, emails, message and phone calls to coordinate things. You can see where this is going, I’m sure.
Here are a couple of notions you might want to consider:
When it comes to workflows and task assignment, those would be subjects to other posts, let’s have a quick look at the software side of the business. I have mentioned the dinner table talk earlier: that is how most small businesses tend to convey information: “don’t forget that extra expense I made today, needs putting into the books”, “there’s this lady who called today, let’s talk about the quote tomorrow”, etc. No big deal, things get sorted easily. No software necessary, really.
Once this business grows, most of the people working for them will likely not join them at the dinner table, which makes communication a key point to consider. Email and text messages are nice enough if you add ONE more person, but that is really just a half-measure, as it is by no means ‘future-compatible’ or scalable: once you add more people this system will break down without a doubt. A more sophisticated way to communicate is needed, most likely a web-based one that involves task-assignment, follow-up by checking boxes, an electronic workflow system that keeps track of details, questions, contact information, spare parts needed, cost, etc.
I’m not saying all of those need to be incorporated into one unique system, but all of them might be linked and could be combined, depending on task distribution and personnel structure: let’s assume that one person does all the administration, then communication about these things is not an issue. If there are 5 electricians working together, then communication amongst them about remaining stock in the warehouse becomes a more important issue. It’s all relative and depends on the situation in that particular company.
The biggest issue appears to be the lag in necessary change: whenever things become overwhelming, it is actually already a little late to consider change. Just think about it: you are already stretched to the limit and considering change is just another thing on your plate that does not appear to yield any immediate effect AND would involve investing time into research, development of a new solution for whatever is starting to go wrong. And time is exactly what is lacking at that moment.
My advice to all business owners is simple: make sure to schedule regular review periods when you assign all your efforts to auditing your business for ways to improve workflows, task distribution, and time assignment. Besides that, maybe spend some time doing research in state of the art software solutions to deal with the kind of issues you have come across during your review. It might be a good idea to take someone on board to look at your business from an impartial perspective, too.
Let’s face it: it’s YOUR baby, and all seems to make sense because you know the back history of it all. Things may not appear quite as sensible to an outsider!
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Some pertinent ideas from the 'old office dog' who has seen it all, to help clear away the mess in your office.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.