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SME Owners - How to improve 3 key business areas to leverage the power of process

Article By Brent Charlton | | Business Consulting

The power of process is often overlooked due to the evolutionary nature of a small to medium business. Owners generally start out doing all the work, paying the bills, managing the accounts and hopefully there is some time left over for attracting new clients.

Understandably, the idea of documenting processes doesn’t seem important when you’re doing everything yourself.

Then you employ an offsider, followed by another and then maybe another.

Despite growing as a business, no processes are documented. Everything is passed down verbally – if it all.

Then one day, you realise that Mary and James aren’t doing things the way you want them done. The same day a client complains that something wasn’t done on time - or at all.

This leaves you with two options:

1. Telling Mary and James that it’s ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disappointing’, followed by a period of micromanagement and double-handling of tasks, resulting in more work for you and two team members who feel you don’t trust them.

2. The team (Mary, James and yourself) discuss the incident openly, suggesting ways to work together to develop a process that mitigates the chance of it recurring. Mary and James leave the meeting feeling valued and part of a solution and, over the coming weeks are tasked with developing a process for your review and approval.

If you’d rather be part of something positive than negative, then start getting serious about the power of process in your business.

Introducing quality process documentation allows you to trust your team, delegate more, and ultimately free up more time to work ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ your business.

In order to leverage the power of process, you need to focus on three main areas of your business:

1. Sales

2. Delivery

3. Administration

How to improve your sales process

Without customers we don’t have a business, so sales should be high on the list of priorities.

Despite this, most businesses do not have a defined and repeatable sales process. Instead, the responsibility of sales falls solely on the owners and is done on an ad hoc basis.

By establishing a sales process that is well-defined and consistently followed, new clients will be generated without being 100 percent reliant on you, the owner.

A sales process should include the following steps: Prospect > Research > Connect > Present > Close > Follow Up:

  • Prospect – Who is our ideal client? How best can we find them?
  • Research –What are the pain points they need addressed? How can we help them? What do they value?
  • Connect – How can we connect with our ideal clients? Calls, emails, social media? What’s our engagement strategy?
  • Present – How do we present to prospects and existing clients? Templated written proposals or in-person presentations, or both? How do we demonstrate we can solve their pain point or problem, without giving them the solution? How can we do this efficiently?
  • Close – Answer questions and address concerns. Re-sell the value you’ll be providing. Get sign-off. How long between delivery of proposal and the close?
  • Follow Up – After the project has been completed, seek feedback and, where appropriate, ask for referrals.

A good sales process is repeatable, tracked, and measured. There’s no point doing something over and over again without measuring its effectiveness. If it’s not effective, review and adjust it.

By far the easiest way to measure the effectiveness of your sales process once it has been developed, is to incorporate it into your CRM (Client Relationship Management) System or other Sales Pipeline Management tool.

By utilising the full capabilities of your chosen CRM, you will be able to ensure everyone is using the same methods (repeatable), recording all of their interactions (tracked), and report on both your successes and missed opportunities (measured).

How to improve your product/service delivery process

The delivery of your service or product should follow a defined process. This will provide:

  • A more consistent experience for your clients
  • Greater accountability for your team and the client
  • Effective use of resources (who does what)
  • Efficiency - saving time and reducing mistakes
  • Reduced training time and costs

The most common objection to developing and implementing processes is customisation. Some businesses state that “our work is bespoke and therefore not suitable for the rigidity of process” or “our customers are all different and have different needs”.

However, no matter how customised or bespoke your offering, there is a need for documented process.

A bespoke offering will still have elements of administration and multiple people will be involved. Here’s a generic example for a service business:

1. Set up the project for time recording and project management – Admin

2. Prepare and send mobilisation invoice as per proposal – Accounts

3. Set the internal budget and deliverable dates – Manager/Owner and Tradesperson/Professional

4. Do the work – Tradesperson/Professional

5. Initial review of works – Manager/Owner

6. Complete the works – Tradesperson/Professional

7. Final Review – Manager/Owner

8. Deliver to client – Manager/Owner

9. Prepare and send final invoice – Accounts

10. Send feedback questionnaire – Admin

Each of these 10 process stages may have templates and a detailed how-to explaining the various steps required.

Whilst custom or bespoke offerings may have few templates, all processes should have expected timeframes, which allows for capacity planning and accountability.

Tools such as Trello, Asana, Basecamp and others can help you document and track these processes to ensure an efficient delivery of the project and provide your clients with a far more consistent experience.

How to improve your administrative processes

Make sure all the small but important stuff gets done and done efficiently.

All businesses should have processes for:

  • Invoicing
  • Debt collection
  • Payroll
  • Purchasing – from materials through to milk
  • Human resources – recruitment, induction, performance reviews, etc.
  • Technology usage – have everyone using your core systems the same way

If any of the above processes are still being performed manually, it may be time to consider a review of your traditional business functions to see if they can be streamlined using software or other technologies.

Investing in new software or systems to assist with carrying out regular process tasks can help tremendously by reducing the amount of manual entry and potential for human error at each step.

To find out to what extent your business is leveraging the power of process, take part in our free assessment of your current systems here: Business Process Review.

Remember: Documented processes allow the multi-billion-dollar business of McDonalds to be essentially run by groups of teenagers!