Despite being referred to as “small businesses” there is really nothing small about the complexities involved in running such enterprises. Even when things are going smoothly the proactive entrepreneur will always want to know how much smoother things can be done.
Naturally, you can expect the best results if the measures employed to achieve improved productivity are efficient, creative and cost-effective.
Here are 14 practical ways to improve your business’ productivity.
1. Come up with a plan and execute it
Crafting a well thought out plan that details your business goals and objectives will ideally ensure that you have a road-map to follow and refer to as you begin your quest.
Identify a measurable goal/s e.g. a revenue target of $1.5 million in 2015, or securing 20 new clients in 2015. Having such specific objectives will allow you to formulate an effective strategy for their attainment.
The next thing is to execute your strategy. This is where you assemble your immediate team and everyone else who you have identified as being integral to the achievement of your objectives. Ensure that everyone understands their immediate role and how it plays into the overall plan’s success.
Productivity is most likely going to be spurred this way; hardly anyone relishes the thought of being viewed as the weak link in a team.
2. Consolidation of tasks and duties
Different businesses have different ways of handling tasks and duties but the principle of doing this in an effective manner is basically similar. There’s great convenience in finding an efficient way to do things.
For example, you don’t go to the local store to buy one thing at a time; you make a shopping list and buy everything you need. You can then fully concentrate on whatever it is you must do next.
Don’t expect to get much done at the office if you are, for example, always checking and replying to what you find in your inbox. Instead, identify an appropriate time/s for emails, say mornings and early afternoons. This will allow you to totally focus on other tasks that also need your full attention.
3. How effective are your meetings?
Meetings are definitely important for the streamlining of workplace operations because everyone is kept in the loop about on-goings and developments in the business.
Nevertheless, productivity will be decreased if these meetings don’t serve the purpose they are intended for.
Is your business notorious for routinely long and rhetorical meetings that the productive guys simply dread while the lazy guys look forward to them because they can simply sit back and look at the clock ticking away?
Why not borrow a leaf from soccer teams?
They briefly huddle together before kick-off and, led by the captain, agree on what to do and then get down to doing it. Standing during these huddle-ups helps to keep matters brief (they of course also know that the referee’s whistle will blow any time).
Only the required guys are there (the players only; the coach and substitutes are off the field of play). This helps to save time and restrict the agenda of the huddle-up to the game plan.
Points are kept brief and direct, no speeches. Shortly after, the huddle-up breaks up and everyone gets into position ready to execute.
4. Ensure that necessary information is readily accessible
Keeping your team in the dark about things they ought to know is a sure way to kill morale and undermine productivity.
While they may initially resort to hunting for information they may sooner or later become comfortable with making assumptions and guessing. Talk about sabotaging your own business.
Let the team always be aware of what the work schedule looks like. This will allow the employees to get organized at a personal level and also foster a culture of taking responsibility for one’s actions.
Employees who need to interact with clients need accurate information to answer inquiries factually. If such information is inaccessible you will soon have to deal with a frustrated customers and employees crisis.
Indeed, letting employees in on company policies for dealing with various situations is much better than leaving them to their own means when these situations arise. Does the wheel have to be reinvented every time?
What about the projects your team is working on? Are the goals and objectives clear to them? Is the timeline for each stage involved known to them? Are they aware of the progress being achieved?
Furnishing them with such information is an effective way of making them feel part and parcel of the development agenda and this is certainly very motivating.
5. Streamlining of communication channels
It is important to establish communication protocols to ensure that the team is always conveniently accessible and that information can be simply shared.
If, for example, workplace phone numbers are to be used for official communications, would you then blame team members if they missed messages you sent to their personal numbers? Not only can this result in time wastage, promising opportunities may be lost.
6. Entrust your team with responsibilities and then let them work
Unfortunately many such business owners are also micromanagers; they do not trust people enough to believe that things can be effectively done without their constant “interventions”.
Constantly inquiring for details of progress from the team instead of concentrating on your own responsibilities tampers with their productivity and considerably diminishes your worth as a leader in their eyes.
I have experienced this personally when The Word Garage had to hire writers in order to handle the new business we were getting from our expanding client base. After emailing assignment requirements to respective writers I had a constant urge to inquire about their progress, fearful of them not being able to make the set deadlines for submission. I also insisted on taking writing responsibilities.
I soon realized, however, that my skills had to be put to use elsewhere – work sourcing, editing and quality control. My team was doing its part and I had to do mine as well. This enabled us to create a well-oiled machine that was able to take up more work volumes and earn more money.
Lesson learned: Micromanaging is counterproductive; delegate responsibilities to your team for more efficiency.
7. Leading by example
While delegating responsibilities has been identified as a promoter of business productivity, the situation may occasionally call for a temporary disregard of protocol.
Every now and then it may be a good idea to roll up your sleeves and help the team to get things done. Hands-on management can be especially applicable for tasks you handled before ascending to management status.
The team may actually learn a new trick or two from you.
8. How well is your business actually performing?
For many business owners a simple peek at their bank account balances suffices to assure them that things are well on course.
This can however be quite misleading because it doesn’t tell the entire story.
You need to have an eye on KPIs like customer trends and employee trends. This is especially crucial when things seem to be going really well and the future looks bright.
In as far as customer satisfaction metrics are concerned you need to ask the following questions:
- Despite the ease of acquiring new clients, how well are you handling the existent ones? Is their expectation of quality service being met?
- Are deadlines being met?
- Are your clients offering repeat business or are you increasingly gaining the reputation of being a one-off service provider thanks to your promise-all-deliver-nothing tendencies?
As for employee satisfaction:
- What is the state of the team?
- Are they handling clients professionally?
- Are they motivated to work?
- Are they motivated to stay or are you losing them as fast as you are hiring them?
Monitoring such trends is crucially important for business productivity and growth.
A great deal of what needs to be monitored doesn’t require software or analysis tools; entrepreneurial instincts often provide timely alerts about things and situations that need your urgent attention.
9. Guaranteed team member satisfaction promotes productivity
Do you want your team to increase and maintain productivity? Take very good care of them.
Employees who feel content and job secure almost always give their all when handling their responsibilities.
As an ambitious business owner who is keen to achieve business growth and expansion you must begin by hiring a competent team that can deliver real value. Follow this up by providing them with a suitable working environment, keeping them motivated, and paying them well and promptly.
Going back to The Word Garage, I can attest to the positive rewards that accrue from having a well motivated team. I opted to attract and hire some of the best local talent by offering to pay rates that were much better than what the market was offering.
I ensured that assignments requirements were sufficiently explained and that enough time was allocated for their completion. Payment for submitted work was done promptly every week.
Team members responded in kind. Assignments were promptly submitted and there were very few cases where assignments had to be reworked. Even when some of them decided to venture elsewhere the parting was almost always cordial. There were challenges, of course, but nothing too significant to prevent the upward growth we enjoyed.
10. Increase productivity with cloud computing
Working in the cloud, that virtual space where your business’ databases, recovery volumes, thin client apps, and more, are contained, will allow you access to a relevant abundance of options resulting in streamlined operations and a better grip on business developments moving forward.
Using the cloud is a great way for small businesses to do more, using less resources and money.
Using the cloud:
- More can be done faster– Considering that data is not limited to team members’ machines at the workplace it means that employees can access the data wherever they are, any time of the day. Things can therefore get done faster and more efficiently thanks to this convenience.
- Using apps in the cloud is a most flexible and scalable way to handle data– The development of cloud-based applications effectively ended the era of purchasing software and hardware. Today your business will no doubt save lots of money by opting to pay the monthly fees required to use the thin-client and subscription-based business tools available online via the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. This as opposed to purchasing software suites at typically outrageous prices and the accompanying uncertainty about how soon you may need to upgrade because a newer, more effective version has been launched. Additionally, the SaaS option allows you to select the exact applications needed for your business instead of having to pay for an entire suite.
- Data security is enhanced– Working with the best data centers the market has to offer guarantees that your data is always going to be safe. Such data centers typically invest in biometric technology to deter data damage and theft. Data is also protected from the threat of fire, heat and moisture damage because the storages are environmentally-controlled.
- Backup and recovery is more efficient– Small businesses are typically notorious for employing ineffective data backup practices. Using external hard drives can hardly be considered sufficient. Cloud backup is the way to go. In this case data is stored offsite and conveniently so thanks to automated scheduling. Offsite storage of recovery volumes guarantees that data can be immediately retrieved without the risk of possible corruption or loss.
Some of the apps you can use to increase productivity include:
- Asana – Use it to assemble all your team’s goals and projects in a central place therefore ensuring that everyone is in sync
- OneNote – A brilliant note-taking app with an easy-to-use layout
- OneDrive – With this cloud-storage service you can easily backup files and access them anywhere
- Microsoft Remote Desktop – Use it to remotely connect to your office computer via your iOS or Android device
- DocuSign – This provides an extremely convenient way for you and others to remotely sign documents using your iPhone or iPad.
- Producteev – This free task management app is used by organizations to designate tasks to multiple individuals. It also facilitates the creation of subtasks and implementation of privacy settings and can be used for Android, MacOs, Web, iPad and iPhone.
11. Investing in inexpensive tools that’ll help to ease crucial business tasks
There are lots of inexpensive tools that virtually every business ought to be using today. I’ll provide examples:
- Graphic design – Fiverr
- Bookkeeping – Xero, Quickbooks
- Social media scheduling – Buffer, Hootsuite
- Email marketing – Constant Contact, MailChimp
- Email inbox management – Boomerang for Gmail
- Project collaboration and management – iMeet Central, Trello
- Resource sharing – Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox
- Keeping track of great content – Google Alerts, Feedly, TweetDeck
12. Thoroughly exploiting immediately accessible technology
Technology is with us everywhere but it is almost always the case that we don’t get the most from what we have.
A deliberate attempt to find out just how much more can be done with these resources will obviously result in greater productivity.
Perhaps if we can learn to use more of what our Smartphones can do there wouldn’t always be an urgent need to hire consultants or spend money on computer upgrades.
13. Don’t let technology and social media become a distraction though
Before your team can adopt point no.12 as the perfect excuse to get away with wasting precious company time you need to establish a policy for Smartphones and personal social media at the workplace.
It is common knowledge that checking Smartphones and updating social media statuses results in substantially reduced employee productivity considering how much of a distraction these practices are.
Inasmuch as point no.12 is expected to positively impact on the business, ensure that employees do this in their own time.
14. Outsourcing transportation
Hiring a reliable trucking company can be an effective way to boost your business’ logistical efficiency. Such companies typically employ cutting-edge GPS and KPI technology to track deliveries, and guarantee their clients real-time visibility.
The decision to outsource makes further sense given that warehousing and in-house product shipping costs are catered for. The package you sign up for could also see the trucking company’s trailers and drivers uniforms branded with your business’ colors and logo, effectively marketing you up and down the highways.
With your business no longer required to deal with the rigors of tracking deliveries, shipping and warehousing, more resources can be spared and used to advance the core business mandate.
These are a couple of practical approaches that small business owners can employ in a bid to improve their enterprises’ productivity. Have you applied some of these to your business? What has the impact been like? What other approaches can you suggest in this regard?