Business Growth Series: Fine tuning your processes
In our previous Business Growth articles we’ve explored how your business can increase sales by finding new customers and nurturing your existing client base. Another very effective method for creating business growth and competitive advantage is to fine tune your business processes.
When systems and processes don’t change over time they can become a bottleneck for the business. Quite often the processes in a busy business go unchecked and become ‘the way we’ve always done things’. This may stem from a resistance to change but an alternative explanation is that many businesses simply don’t have the capacity or resources to manage change. In a busy small business environment, it can be hard to constantly stop, review and modify. But, in our experience, businesses that thrive are those that have an appetite for innovation and a culture of improvement.
As well as reducing the costs of supplying your product or service, streamlined processes will give you improvements in:
- customer service
- business value
Where to start?
It makes sense to start your process improvement strategy with the areas of your business that aren’t working well. Generally speaking, if you have management, team or customer frustration around a particular area then you may have a process problem. Some sure signs of broken processes are:
- Unhappy customers
- Unhappy employees
- Delays in the provision of your service or product
- Write offs due to rework, mistakes and waste
- Procedures are circumvented to expedite work
- Finger-pointing and blaming between staff
- Constantly putting out fires
Keep in mind though that business processes don’t necessarily have to be broken before they are reviewed for improvement. A good process can always be better and a few tweaks may be all that is needed. As well, process improvement isn’t something you do once and never think about again. To have the most impact, improvement should be continuous and ongoing. As your business grows, technology changes, and customer demands change, your processes need to evolve to keep up.
Process areas to review
Your critical business process areas will vary according to the type of business you operate. Depending on your individual business, these may include:
1. Customer service
Improving the customer experience begins by aligning internal business processes to deliver better external customer outcomes. By continuously evaluating your customer’s needs, you can build robust business processes that consistently meet their expectations.
2. Debtor management
Good debtor management is critical to ensuring your business has sufficient working capital to meet expenditure requirements, reinvest and grow. If your business isn’t collecting cash quickly, then you are funding the customer’s business as well as your own. Remember that a good customer is one that pays, so make sure you have a solid credit policy and an efficient debtor collection process in place. Read more about the impact of slow payers on cash flow.
When processes aren't working correctly, or they don't exist, the ability to achieve sales goals is severely hampered. You need to ensure processes are light enough to ensure velocity and efficiency, but at the same time be flexible enough to adapt to individual circumstances so you’re not rushing customers through their buying process.
What does your sales process look like? Does it accelerate the sale? Or does it slow down the pipeline? Reviewing this area of your business will give you insight into which parts of the process are affecting your sales performance.
4. Staff training
Your staff are one of your most valuable assets, and making sure they are trained with the skills and knowledge they need is essential for meeting business goals. Processes clearly spell out how to do every single business task required to deliver your product or service and make it easy to train team members and delegate work - leaving you with more time to develop your business.
More help for successful organisational change
The adoption of a disciplined approach to solving process problems provides substantial rewards to businesses and separates them from their competitors. Leaders who are genuinely focused on continuous improvement demonstrate to staff, customers and competitors a dedication to excellence and a commitment to quality.
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