Do you want to improve your business operations? If you are like most creative Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners, you focus most of your time and energy on the immediate needs for your business. On doing what needs to be done to serve your customers.
Sometimes it’s hard to step away and look at your business from a bigger picture. However, if you want to grow your business, you have to fully understand your business. Not sure where to start?
I’m a Strategic Coach and Fractional Chief Operations Officer (COO). After working with multiple Small Business Owners, I’ve found that we usually start in one of the following 7 ways to improve business operations depending on the business:
- Organize Your Thoughts
- Define Your Business Vision
- Determine Your Priorities
- Plan a New Project
- Create or Update a Strategic Plan
- Organize Your Operations
- Scale Your Business
1. Organize Your Thoughts
Do you feel like there is too much in your head in regards to your Small Business? Are you staring at your computer screen or blank notebook and can’t even start typing/writing/creating because there is SO MUCH bouncing around inside of your head?
Not to lump everyone into one group, but as a generalization, creative women seem to have this problem often.
And to break a stereotype that I HATE, it’s not because they are scatterbrained or have their head in the sky!
From my experience, it’s often because of three reasons:
- They are overwhelmed and can’t figure out where to start.
- They start to organize their thoughts but get distracted in HOW they are writing down their thoughts or WHAT to do about each thought.
- Or, they start making their list PRETTY instead of just getting it all out.
No matter the cause, the place to start is the same.
If this is you, I have one simple suggestion to start with.
JUST GET THE THOUGHTS OUT.
Without organizing, without thinking, without evaluating, without judging, without creating. Just get them out first until nothing else comes up. THEN dig into the details second. After your head is more clear.
If you can’t clear your head, you can’t even begin to improve your operations.
2. Define Your Business Vision
Let’s assume that you can easily define your Small Business purpose and mission. (If not, message me, I’ll recommend a few coaches who help with this specifically. That is definitely not my area of expertise!)
Take a moment and think about your Small Business Vision (the idea of what your business looks like in the future). Can you paint a picture in your head?
If you go blank or if you have multiple different ideas, you are missing a key element in a well-organized business. If you know where you are starting (your current state) but you don’t know where you are going (your vision), how are you planning to get there??
Your vision may not ALWAYS stay the same. You may create one, get there, and then realize you want to dream bigger. That is fabulous! You might even have your working business vision and then your really really big picture dream vision.
But – you need to have a focused, attainable end goal in mind to guide your efforts right now.
Would you start a road trip without any idea of your destination? You might start a casual Sunday drive that way, but I don’t think many people would start a planned road trip without a destination. Can you imagine the wasted time and energy driving around aimlessly until you decide where you are going?
Why treat your business the same?
Most of the time working with clients, there are three causes of not having a well-defined business vision:
- You are thinking of Goals, not a Vision. Goals are usually the stepping stones to reach a vision, not the actual vision.
- You have multiple visions that can be combined into one overall vision with a little bit of strategizing.
- You really have separate visions and need to step back and consider your business mission and purpose again.
If you don’t know where you are going… how are you going to improve your operations to get there?
3. Determine Your Priorities
Do you have a list of priorities for your Small Business that is a mile long? Do you know where to start? Do you know what you can postpone? Are some of them actually related and should be combined?
Note, if you are don’t have a list of priorities or think you have missed some, go back to #1. Organize Your Thoughts.
Sometimes we get so busy that it’s hard to figure out what to focus on first. This is what is often called analysis paralysis. You have a list. But you can’t figure out where to start (i.e. analysis) and instead of starting something, you do nothing (i.e. paralysis). Or… you start a lot of efforts but you don’t complete any of them.
If this is you, the issue isn’t as much determining your priorities as prioritizing your list.
To effectively determine what to focus on, it’s critical to step back from your list entirely.
What would help your business MOST right now? Do you need to increase your sales? Do you need to find more time in your day? Do you need more resources?
Start THERE. Then go back and look at your list. Whichever items connect with your overall business needs will be your priority.
4. Plan a Project
Do you have a specific effort that you are trying to focus on? Or in other words, a new project that you want to start for your business but aren’t sure where to begin.
To clarify, a project is simply any effort that has a defined scope of work with a clear start and end date (as opposed to a process which is an ongoing, repetitive effort).
I’ve shared before that I’m an OBSESSIVE planner. I don’t think it’s possible for me to do ANYTHING without some type of plan.
But a plan does NOT need to be complicated. It does not need to be formal. It just needs to be well thought out.
If you want to run a successful project, take a little bit of time upfront to really plan it out.
A well-written plan defines the purpose and details of your project, including how to measure the outcome. It should help ease stress or apprehension around starting a new major project and provide a road map to your project’s success.
Why would you start a new effort any other way???
5. Create or Update a Strategic Plan
If you know your current state, and you have a clear Business Vision, do you know how to connect the dots? In other words, do you have a Strategic Plan to get there?
Coming back to my road trip analogy, let’s imagine you are heading to a beach vacation. You know where you are now (your house) and you know WHY you are going to the beach. You know the NAME of the beach and the hotel. But somehow… you have absolutely no idea how to get there. You don’t have a map. You don’t have a GPS. You don’t have written directions. You just know that it’s relatively 5 hours away in one direction.
What do you think that trip to the beach will be like? I’m guessing you’ll waste a TON of energy and resources with wrong turns. Sure you can stop and ask for help, but, if it’s anything like growing up back home in Ohio, you’ll receive 10 completely different directions some of which refer to completely unknown landmarks or even to Mr. Jones’ cow.
A Small Business Strategic Plan, and the routine process to create one, establishes the long-term goals for your business, provides a sense of direction for your focus, and serves as a calibration tool for your decisions.
Doesn’t that sound like an effort well worth your time and energy?
6. Organize Your Operations
Are you running a successful Small Business but you keep getting bogged down in the details of your operations and feel you don’t have enough TIME?
Do you know that you could improve your efficiency but haven’t started? Do you need to streamline specific efforts? Do you want more time to focus on marketing your business instead of operating your business? Do you have an overwhelmed employee who seems to spend too long on something you think should be easier?
If any of these resonate with you, I suggest that you focus on better organizing your business.
It sounds counterintuitive but to better organize your business and free up more time, you have to first dig in and spend MORE TIME. Yes, I just said MORE time. But it’s temporary.
I recommend that you work on developing or updating your workflows for the primary functions of your business. If you know that you have issues in one particular area, start there.
For every workflow, you should be able to identify:
- Who? Person or group responsible
- What? Overall summary or purpose
- How? step-by-step process
- When? frequency and deadline
- How Much? budget and/or resources
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? how the action is measured
- Risks? what happens when this action does NOT occur
Once you have each workflow identified, you look for ways to save time. Or fix issues you were having. It’s hard to focus on something that you can’t even see.
7. Scale Your Business
Are you considering how to scale your business? I often see Small Business Owners focusing on the ultimate goal of scaling but not the systems needed to help them scale.
Here’s an example. Let’s consider an online eCommerce company. They have 3 major product lines and an engaged customer base that routinely purchases their products. They decide to add a 4th product line their customers are asking for.
They have waiting customers… they have a demand for more products.. and they have found great suppliers. Is it time to load the new products on their site and start selling right away?
My answer is NO! I would encourage this company to pause and look at HOW they deliver their products to their services. Can their existing workflows/processes handle the increased product line and additional shipping?
If not, they could end up releasing the product BEFORE they can handle the fulfillment. It could lead to unhappy customers if they can’t sustain their typical level of customer service and shipping time.
Before scaling anything in your business, I recommend that you stop and look at your Operations Plan and identify HOW your operations will be impacted by the growth and if you need to change anything FIRST (such as different or expanded systems, more or different employees, additional resources, etc.).
If you still aren’t entirely sure where to being, or if you would like a free exercise or checklist to help with one of the above 7 categories, I can help.
Following is a link to a free quiz. It is 4 questions or fewer and should only take you a few moments. Based on your answers, you’ll receive a recommendation for one of these 7 areas on where to start to improve business operations (or I’ll refer you elsewhere).
Good luck with your operations improvement efforts! I’m always available to help if you are interested.
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