Running your business efficiently is one of the best ways to stay profitable and keep your employees happy.
When your business runs like a well-oiled machine, you can spend more time thinking about your long term vision. Your employees can stay productive, and with fewer frustrations are happier in their job. These benefits extend to your customers, who will have a pleasant, simple experience and hopefully recommend your business to others.
But, many businesses find that this is easier said than done. When business owners and management staff face problems, they often react with “band aid” solutions, which takes valuable time and energy from everyone on your staff and doesn’t solve the actual problem.
It can be easy to fall into some of the bottlenecks that come with day-to-day management of your business, undermining your efficiency and your goals for your business. Watching out for the bottlenecks below and learning to manage them will help you avoid chaos so you can focus your time on the true priorities of your business, instead of the problems of the day.
Bottleneck #1: Confusing Store Layout
Your layout needs to work for your customers, but it’s critical that your layout is also built for your employees to do their best work.
While your store may be subject to space constraints, you should do everything you can to make it simple and intuitive for your staff, since they will be responsible for bringing stock to the floor. Consider the path they’ll take, and avoid unnecessary obstacles or lengthy routes through the store. The best layouts allow for fluid, unobtrusive movement and ease of access by those who need to do the running and stocking.
**Solution:** Make sure your store layout is designed with key employee tasks in mind.
Bottleneck #2: Technology Problems
Many small businesses rely on part-time IT help to save money. That’s fine, until your software programs fails or your Internet goes out. Without your technology working, you’re subject to cut off communications from suppliers, vendors and customers, and you’re losing potential sales. And when you’re back up and running, you’re stuck playing catch up with a backlog of orders and emails. When these things happen, you need to back up and running quickly. The faster the problem is solved, the better your employees can do their job and keep your business running smoothly.
When you have reliable, available IT staff (whether full- or part-time), you can quickly address these problems so you’re not suffering losses due to time offline. It also helps to have IT staff who can train you and your staff in simple fixes in case of an emergency.
**Solution:** Prioritize your IT staffing and training appropriately so that time stuck offline is minimal.
Bottleneck #3: Inventory Management
Inventory management differs from company to company, but one thing is for sure: when managed poorly, it can be a time drain and an energy suck for your staff.
Many companies today still rely on manual inventory management, requiring staff to participate and keep careful track of all inventory changes. But these days, you’re dealing with customers through multiple channels and it’s critical to update your inventory to reflect real-time changes. When you’re built to respond to these changes, you’re not left worrying that someone forgot to manually mark an item as sold or out-of-stock.
Technology can be a huge help in managing your inventory process. Whether you’re in a restaurant or a gift shop, using an automatically-updating software system to track sold items, waste, returns and other items will ensure you’re tracking exactly what you need, and will help you better plan for future purchasing needs.
**Solution:** Use technology to help you manage inventory in real-time.
Bottleneck #4: Paperwork and Data Entry
From customer complaints to phone messages and price adjustments, relying on a paper trail to stay up-to-date with developments at your business is a recipe for disaster. Not only can notes get lost or forgotten, but there’s no long term record of issues so that they can be solved at the management level.Encourage your employees to help you develop a simple process for logging data and other paperwork. The process should include response time expectations for all staff so that things are taken care of in a timely manner and no one is left waiting for another employee to handle an issue. Whether it’s capturing these items with a software program or developing an email system to alert appropriate staff, having one clear, agreed upon process in place to handle paperwork and data entry will curb mistakes and oversights, making your team more productive.
**Solution:** Put a clear process in place for data entry and paperwork.
Bottleneck #5: Vendor Relationships and Scheduling
Small business deal with a number of vendors on any given day, and depending on the structure of your relationships with them, this can be a positive experience or a negative one. Sometimes, the confusing nature of agreements leads to missed or rescheduled delivery dates, which means you can’t get your team or your customers the items they need at the right time.
Defining clear terms and sticking to a calendar can help avoid this tricky bottleneck. When you have a calendar in place, make sure everyone who is affected – including the staff on call that day – is aware of the plan and how to manage any unexpected changes.
**Solution:** Make a specific calendar part of your agreement terms with vendors.
We’ve shared more tips on how to save time and avoid bottlenecks before.
If you’re not sure where the bottlenecks are in your business, start by talking to your employees about the time they spend on certain parts of their job. Then, develop a flowchart that explains each step of your process, as well as the reason for it, so you can work together to identify where your business’ problem areas are and work together to solve them.