As a small business owner, I want to know all the secrets of how to make my business stronger, faster, and — importantly — more successful. When I learn something new, I absorb that knowledge and apply it to my business as soon as possible. Does this sound like you? Great, because this article is all about one of those secrets that every small business or startup needs to know and that every successful large business uses all the time.
The missing ingredient
So what is it? Let’s illustrate with a story. Imagine this scenario:
Everyone keeps telling Sue that she makes the best sandwiches, her attention to detail, excellent flavor combinations, and high-quality ingredients make the difference. People keep saying, “You should open a business selling your sandwiches, everyone would buy them!” So, Sue finally did it. She created a sandwich kiosk, and people love her food and are buying sandwiches in droves.
Sue got so busy during the daily lunch rush hour that she realized she needed to hire staff to keep up with the demand. This is where Sue’s story deviates. For some reason, Sue’s initial success seems to have slowed, and she doesn’t know why. Additionally, when Sue is working her shift at the kiosk, all the customers ask that only Sue make their sandwich. It seems that people don’t want Sue’s staff to make their lunches.
This situation is a lousy place for Sue. If she doesn’t figure out how to scale up by increasing her staff, she will burn out. She’ll never have time leave the kiosk. She will spend all of her energy making sandwiches instead of developing new products, managing, and all the other tasks involved in running and growing the business. In short, Sue’s company can’t scale up, and it will lock her into a trap that kills many small businesses.
What is the solution? The solution is processes.
Don’t click the back button
Just the sound of the word “processes,” feels overly technical and boring. I can hear you saying, “Meh, I’ll save this article for when I have absolutely nothing else to do.” Let me try to change your mind about processes. Soon you will see why they are the game changers you wish you had always known and appreciated. Many successful business people reading this will surely agree that using processes was how they got their business to the next level. They will urge you to embrace the power that well-documented, entrenched and monitored processes will bring.
See how Sue saved the day
What exactly is a “process?” The best way of explaining processes is to show them in action.
Sue, now armed with the knowledge of processes, realized what the problem was with her business. She could see the inconsistencies in her product. Each of her staff did things differently, and her customers knew it. They knew that if they wanted perfect sandwiches, they were only going to get them from Sue.
Sue now set out to correct things. She documented how to do everything the right way, created procedures that were easy to understand and learn. Sue made checklists that everyone could find and follow, then trained all of her staff rigorously to make sure that they followed the procedures and met all the criteria in the checklist every time they made a sandwich. She monitored things by training team leaders to evaluate the work and food regularly.
Finally, Sue is back on track. Her customers are happy with the food made by all of her staff because they know that they can get a consistently good sandwich every time. Profits are up and Sue’s time is freed up to expand and improve the business. Kiosk number two is in the works and Sue is grateful because she now has the leverage she needed to grow.
So what are “processes?” They are your businesses’ documented, trained, and monitored steps and procedures. By having well-known established processes that ensure quality and consistency in your products and services, you too will be empowered to grow and make more profit.
Don’t tell yourself this destructive lie
“Well, that is great and all for Sue. But, my business, product, or service is too custom to make processes for it.”
If you believe that your business is the one sole exception to needing processes, you might as well quit now. You will save yourself a bunch of headaches. The truth is, that if you have more than one person in your business, you need processes.
As a website design firm, I can say that the work my company RdyToGo does is very custom. No two websites we make look anything alike, and no two clients interact with us the same way. In the early years, when it was just my business partner, Brett, and I who did everything, we had no processes. When we hired our first web designer to ease the workload, we were surprised by the inconsistency of the web designs our company made. It seemed that what I thought was common sense was lost on our designer. We kept thinking to ourselves, “How could he possibly think that this design was remotely acceptable for our client?” And, “Why in the world, would you design something like that?”
Immediately, we realized that we needed a checklist to make sure that we always addressed critical details. That checklist grew over time and then split into separate lists that we use at various stages in our projects. We created processes. The thing is, no product or service is too unique to not need processes.
Reward those that get it
It’s time-consuming and tedious to document a new process, train staff, and put a system in place to verify that everyone follows your procedures. Once I finally embraced processes and set out to implement them in our business, I realized that I should have done this from the start. I would squeeze hours out of my busy workday trying to write and establish processes that we should have already created and been regularly using.
That is when I wondered, “What if I was not the only team member creating processes?”
So, one day, I was explaining the importance of processes to one of my employees that is a rising star in the company. I shared a similar story to that of Sue mentioned above. He seemed to get it. Much to my surprise, I found him creating processes the next day and training his teammates not long afterward. I can’t describe the glee I had from seeing the payoff of using processes and now seeing my staff embrace them.
There is a valuable lesson here, establishing processes must be part of your company’s culture, and people who get it must be empowered to create processes too.
Think about that for a second. Not only should we make processes, but the process of making new processes should be part of your operations. How much time will you save if you can build this kind of system into the core of your business?
Putting it into action
Why not start today? When you take the effort to improve your business or startup with processes, you will realize additional rewards. As you analyze how you do things and prepare to describe them, you may find better and more efficient ways of doing them. You may realize that you can cut out some steps that were a waste of time.
If your business already has several people, you may discover that work and information don’t flow through the organization how you thought it did. Before long, you will see huge savings or detect a significant problem you never knew you had. Now, that is a reward worth the effort.
How far you take this new-found apreciation for processes is up to you. Large organizations have set up computerized systems that track and monitor their processes as they happen, and they constantly react to their performance metrics. That may be overkill for your small business or startup now but someday as your business keeps growing you too may need to do this. Until then, keep in mind that Business Process Management (BPM) software exists and learn about Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and how they are used to track the performance of your processes.