Improving Performance in Your Small Business
by Jacqui Brauman
As a small business owner myself, I am continuously striving for improvements. I truly believe that if we are not growing (as in learning, improving, being curious, and searching for more efficiency), then we are dying.
Part of the problem being a small business owner is being able to focus, because there are so many hats to wear, and so many things to do. Other than your usual weekly tasks, try to only focus on one or two extra things each week to improve your business. That quickly adds up to 50 to 100 improvements over 12 months!
Here are some ideas:
- Manage interruptions. The purpose of this is to maintain focus. Block out times where you can focus and you wonâ€™t receive phone calls or interrupts from anyone. There are various software packages that also prevent you from surfing the web or using social media, if you really have trouble focusing. You can use the software to block particular websites at particular times.
- Emails. Emails are a huge interruption, and need to be managed better by most people. Email is not supposed to be a form of instant messaging, but we all seem to fall into the habit of using it that way. Email can be sent when someone wants to send it, and looked at when you want to look at it. So stop the automatic notifications of new emails, and only check it at particular times a day. Trust that nothing will collapse because you are doing this!
- Not To Do List. As a small business owner, there will be plenty of tasks that you will be doing that is not in your financial interest to be doing. Your time is valuable, and should be focused on growing your business, or improving particular aspects. You are not supposed to do all the tiny tasks that everyone else forgets. Delegate. Look closely at your days and weeks and write a list of things that one of your staff can do, or that you can pay someone else to do. This will allow you more time to do the things you should be doing in your business.
- Position descriptions. Small businesses often overlook some of these details. You should not assume that you staff know exactly what they should be doing. If they do not have position descriptions, then they will not take responsibility. They will sit back and wait to be told what to do. It is also helpful to have a position description if you want to conduct any form of performance management. If you donâ€™t have a position description, how do you set a minimum standard?
- Scripts and protocols. If you have scripts and protocols for how the little things are done, then you wonâ€™t be interrupted by your staff all the time wanting to ask for your approval for the smallest of things. Give them responsibility. Make sure they know what to do in certain situations. Scripts and protocols can put the little things on auto-pilot.
- Processes and checklists. This is a level up from the scripts and protocols. More detailed tasks should be written up as a work process, with checklists to remember what needs to be done each time. This stops things being forgotten, and stops the standard from slipping. It is also easier to train new staff, when you have a process written up for most tasks. Having processes in place also makes your business more valuable to a third party purchaser, when it comes time for you to exit the business.
- Target audience. Who are your customers? Take some time to even figure out who your best customers are – I donâ€™t mean specific people, but I mean the type of customer. Age, gender, occupation, interests, family, geographic region. Once you know who you should be targeting, you can work out where those people go and do, so that you can target them.
- Social media. Once you have a target audience, usually your target audience will be on a particular social media channel. There are lots of people on Facebook, and Facebook has wonderful targeting technology. Other types of people are on LinkedIn, on Instagram, on Pinterest, on Twitter, or various other places online. Every small business should at least have a Facebook page these days, and be adding regular content, and be spending some money on targeting their audience. You no longer have organic reach on many of these social media channels, so except to pay maybe $20-$50 per week.
- Staying connected. Donâ€™t forget your existing customers. Develop some way of keeping in touch with them. You want to make sure you are in front of them frequently enough that they will return to you when they need you. You can do this through social media. You could have an email newsletter or physical newsletter. You could write a regular article in your local paper, or for another physical newsletter.
- Cash flow. It is good management to have a close idea of where your money is going; weekly, monthly and quarterly. Doing an annual cash flow forecast can be worthwhile, but it would be better to keep it a bit tighter. When you know your actual expenses, do a comparison regularly, so you can keep close track and see where your money is going.
- Targets. Know where your money is coming from, as well as where it is going. Once you know where most of your income comes from, focus on it. Set some targets around your best performing product or service. If there are areas that are under-performing, consider cutting them away, because your time spent on them is probably not worth it.
- New income streams. Once you know your best performing products or services, and youâ€™re focusing on a particular target customer, your next step is to add more value. Create more around what you already know is working, instead of going off on a tangent. Donâ€™t focus on things that arenâ€™t working – focus on what is working best and amplify.
These tips have really helped me over the last 18 months, and continue to help. I keep returning to them, and constantly tweaking and improving each over and over. Focus on what you want and why you want it, and then chip away at a couple of things each week. Youâ€™ll get there.