Productivity and efficiency are frequent topics of conversation for businesses for a simple reason: when you figure it out, your revenue increases.
Getting to that perfect level of productivity and efficiency can be tricky, though. Your small business is a complex machine, made up of customers and employees and everything in between. How do you get the cogs and gears to move in the right direction?
Here are seven essential tips you can use to boost productivity at your small business.
1. Consolidate your errands and tasks.
The errands and tasks you do at your business are different than other businesses, but there is a strong similarity in how you do them.
Think of it like this: when you make a grocery list, you get all of the items at once. You don’t drive back and forth between home and the store for each item. In the same way, you should consolidate your errands and tasks.
Group similar tasks and or project work on a specific day, or time of day. Use the morning to answer your email, and once again in the afternoon, for example, instead of checking your email constantly throughout the day.
By consolidating your errands and tasks, you put an end to distracting multi-tasking and regain the focus needed to actually finish something.
2. Get control of your meetings.
Have you fallen victim to the seven deadly sins of business meetings? Long or pointless meetings that waste your time and your team’s time and solve nothing. They are a source of dread and annoyance for everyone involved. To keep your meetings short and save your business from an expensive exercise in time-wasting, remember to:
- Think of meetings as a huddle. Brief, to the point, break quickly.
- Stand during your meetings. It helps to keep them short. No sitting.
- Have a specific and singular goal for each meeting. Keep all conversation to that agenda.
- Only have the people who must be there present. The more unnecessary people you bring in, the more time is wasted across the board for your business.
- Kill meetings that have no purpose other than “we always have them.”
- Avoid meetings that are lectures. This is about communication, and that is a two-way thing. Don’t let people who like to hear themselves talk run a meeting.
- Have your meetings later in the work day. The morning is your team’s most productive time. Don’t waste it with a meeting.
Meetings, though, have a real place in your business. They are how you make sure your team has the same focus, and keep on top of what is happening in your business.
So what does a good meeting look like?
Quite simply, you came in with a goal and you accomplished that goal in the minimal amount of time possible.
3. Give your team ready access to the information they need.
Forcing your team to go hunting for the information they need is not productive. It’s also pretty frustrating for your team, and encourages a lack of accuracy. After all, it’s easier to just guess rather than hunt down the information.
Your team needs to know:
- When they work. An app like When I Work is perfect for team members who need to get immediate answers about their schedule. It answers who is working, when they are working, and questions about vacations or time off. Team members are part of a team, and they need to understand the schedule as a whole, not a separate unit.
- Customer support knowledge base. For team members working directly with your customers, they need ready information to answer customer questions. Without that fast access, they face the frustration of the customer and your business’s reputation takes a hit.
- Customer history and tickets. Access to past customer interactions, transactions, and support tickets allow your team to build off each other’s work instead of having to reinvent the wheel each time a customer has questions.
- Communication channels. How does your team communicate? Simplifying and unifying that into one place keeps the important information that your team is creating in their daily communications accessible. If some use email while others use Skype, your communication chain is broken.
- Details about group projects. Does your team know the goals of the particular project they are working on? Do they know where they are at in the timeline of a project? Make that information available so they better understand where they fit and what needs to happen.
This is just a start. Think about the kind of information your team needs on a daily basis for your specific business. Do they have it at their fingertips, or do they have to go to a manager and work up the chain to access it?
Whether an online database or actual books or manuals, the information needs to be available to everyone. This also means a reliable phone and computer network, depending upon your business, and continually updated software and hardware. Nothing is as frustrating for a team member who wants to do his job and has to fight the tools to do it.
If information is power, reducing easy access to it is a serious weakness for your business, and it wastes time.
4. Get in the cloud.
Using cloud-based apps can significantly improve efficiency. Team members who are on the road or working remotely can work from anywhere, whether on a sales trip or home sick with the flu. You should consider getting the following in the cloud:
- Custom tools. Have someone build a cloud-based app for your custom databases. Manage your sales and inventory in the cloud. Make it easy for your sales team to work on the road, inputting live sales and updates into your system.
- Project management. Project management apps aren’t necessary for every type of business, but if you feel as if team and customer communication for various projects is starting to get out of hand, head to the cloud and streamline it.
- Documents. Put your documents (and documentation) in the cloud so your team can read, edit, and share them easily. Avoid using email to send out versions of documents. Save time by making the original accessible by all. Google Docs or Evernote are always a great choice.
- Task management. If full-blown project management doesn’t make sense for your business, using a task management app is still going to be useful. Apps like Todoist, Wunderlist, or Any.do are great for teams that need to see who is doing what.
When you and your team can do the work they need to do from any location, your productivity will obviously increase. Not all of your tasks can be pushed to the cloud, but look for ways that you can shift your business to the cloud to tap into this always-possible work approach.
5. Build a team, and let them work.
For many small business owners, the start of their business was a singular affair. They became used to pulling long work days, doing everything themselves. As the business grows they (hopefully) realize they need to begin hiring additional help.
Oddly, though, many business owners have a hard time letting their team do the work. Maybe they have control issues, or don’t think anyone can do the work as well as they could. Efficiency begins when you understand that as the business owner, there are mundane jobs you no longer need to do. Your skill and knowledge needs to be focused elsewhere.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you better understand if you need to be turning work over to the team you hired:
- What are you worth? In other words, figure out what your time is priced at. What is your hourly rate? Now look at how you are spending your time during the day. Would you ever pay an employee as much as you are paying yourself to do menial tasks?
- Follow your clock. Track your time and see how you are using your day. It might be an eye-opener to realize that much of your time is wasted chasing after what doesn’t give you joy.
- Check for outsourcing. Find the tasks that are sucking up a lot of time that you and your team can’t afford to waste. Would outsourcing those tasks be more efficient and cost-effective in the long run?
- Make a priorities list. Decide what are the most important skills or work you should be doing in your business. Compare them to how you are using your time. Are you making the best use of what you have to offer? Prioritize how you should use your time, and delegate the rest to your team.
Your team wants to help. They want to do their job. If you insist on control and micromanaging, not only are you destroying your attempts to be productive, but you’re not making your team feel too great about their job, either.
6. Track your actual performance.
You probably track the performance of your website, but are you tracking the performance of your business? This is more than just checking the books to see that there’s money in the bank. This is about spotting trends (positive and negative) in both your team and your customers.
Consider looking at your booking and appointment software, or your weekly sales. Are you retaining customers? Do you have a lot of no-shows? Without being too invasive, track how your team is doing as well. Are they hitting deadlines? Is customer support handled in a timely fashion? Is there a lot of absenteeism?
You track your website and social media performance. You should use the same approach, finding the apps and tools that can help you do it, with your actual day-to-day business.
7. Be serious about team member satisfaction.
Your team will work as hard as they are motivated to. If they are satisfied and feel safe and happy, your productivity will increase. How do you show your team that you care about them?
- Give them good tools. As mentioned in #5, clunky or obstinate tools are a source of frustration for your team. They can’t do a good job, even if they want to. Give them the best tools you can so that their job is made easier.
- Have a break area. Do you give your team a great place to take a break where they don’t feel like the boss is watching them? Provide a place where they can relax, have lunch, get away from the computer, and not feel like they are still under observation.
- Value their input. Businesses often tell their team that they value their input, but they don’t always walk the talk. In your meetings, do you encourage, listen, and periodically implement your team’s ideas? They want to feel like they are a part of something bigger.
- Celebrate the important moments. Remember your team on special events or days. Perhaps you’ll mark important project completion dates or hiring anniversaries by taking the team out for dinner. Whatever you choose to do with your team, help them feel important by celebrating them.
- Provide a good work space. Some team members like the open office floor plan, while others like the privacy of cubicles. Provide yourself and your team with a workspace that they feel comfortable in. If they feel walled in or overly observed, they will waste time fighting the feelings they have about their workspace instead of doing actual work.
- Be generous with personal time. Your team members need a break. And so do you. Be serious about allowing your team personal time, both during the work day and in general. Make sure your team members take frequent breaks. Schedule a break for everyone with healthy snacks, if you have to. Give them regular days off. Help them feel that the work-life balance is in order so they don’t grow bitter towards their job.
Studies show that happy employees are more productive. If there is one single thing you can do to increase productivity, focus on that. All of the software and efficiency in the world can’t top a team member who wants to be at work and who wants to do a good job. If you get this one right, the rest is all dessert.