Poor business processes.
There, I gave it to you up front without you having to skim the entire article or jump to the end.
So how is it killing your business slowly? Read on.
The story goes something like this. Person has a great idea and/or is very skilled in an area they consider valuable. One day they decide to create a business and work for themselves rather than work for someone else. They get some business cards, maybe create a website and put enough ideas on paper that becomes their business plan.
With much hard work, sweat and tears the business is launched and customers and revenue begin to accumulate. Because the owner is typically the best at performing the service and has the most passion, they become the "subject matter expert" and the best sales person. No one can sell like they can and they seem to have the answers to every problem.
The business grows mostly by repeat business, referrals and more hard work, sweat and tears by the owner. With this growth the pressure of delivering quality work to a larger customer base begins to become an issue. The owner can typically be heard saying "we need to hire more people to do this work" or "I need someone to take over sales so I can focus working ON the business".
A recruiting and hiring effort is launched with an listing on Indeed and/or Social Media. With each new candidate applying for the position the owner begins to realize how much time and effort it takes to speak to each person. Many are not qualified and he/she feels like the candidates are not even reading the job requirements.
After some frustration, the owner chooses someone they have a good "gut feeling" about. Other times they choose someone because this whole hiring thing has taking too long and customers need their attention.
The new hire starts day one and gets very little training due to the lack of time the owner has available. This leads to poor performance and missed expectations.
At some point through the story the owner has reached out to peer groups, friends and family for advice. In a effort to make things better, software systems are purchased, books are being read, conferences are being attended and podcasts are being heard. The owner is trying anything and everything to keep the business on track.
As they keep the business on track through an unshakable desire to survive, they continue to add people and software to keep up with the demands. This gets very expensive, margins decline and the business struggles. Furthermore, the owner cannot take their foot off the gas pedal or heaven forbid go on vacation, because the business would surely die.
How Business Processes Help
When a business takes the time to plan, document, implement, monitor, update and train on their processes a magical thing happens. The owner is less stressed and things get done.
This is not to say that Business Process Management (BPM) is easy, but it is also not as difficult as most believe. The benefits far outweigh the costs.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Create a process map - Sit down with your team (or by yourself) and think about how a customer travels through your business. How do they hear about you? (Marketing). How do you qualify them and hand them over to sales? (Sales) After a sale, how is the work scheduled and delivered? (Operations/Service Delivery). How is the customer invoiced? How to you hire, train and develop new employees to perform the work? (Human Resources). Don't overthink this step or try to solve problems (yet). Simply draw it on a whiteboard or a sheet of paper. Consider the high-level steps for each part of the journey.
Look for areas of improvement - Now that you have simple process map you can review it for improvement. Many times you will be surprised by the steps you take to complete a task. Capture all areas to improve on a separate sheet of paper and rank them. A good idea is to get the low or no cost items that are fast and easy to complete near the top of your page. Taking care of the low hanging fruit will create momentum and help your business quickly.
Document the steps - Once you have selected an area to improve, document each step in detail. A new employee should be able to read this document and perform the task with little or no supervision. If they cannot, add more detail.
Test the process - Train your team to follow each step to the letter. If you allow your team to do it the way they've always done it, chaos will continue. Have employees run this new process for a period of time and collect their feedback.
Measure - Find a way to measure the new process against the old one. A great unit of measure is time, but it isn't the only one. If using time, have your team time themselves performing the old task, then compare it to the time it takes to complete the new task.
Collect Feedback - Your best ideas come from your team. Be open to feedback and create a regular feedback loop regarding processes. Reward employees who come up with a better way or champion a process. If changes are made, give them the credit, update your documentation and train your team on the new process.
These are high level steps to increase the performance of your company and lower your stress level. There are many templates, coaching and videos available online to help assist you with business process management.
Once you have sound processes, adding software systems to automate tasks is a great next step.