Business processes may sound like corporate-speak, but companies of all sizes, including small businesses, can benefit from operating with clearly defined procedures that align with the business plan. You may have identified and streamlined these workflows when you launched your business, but it’s worthwhile to periodically audit and update procedures. Efficient business processes can improve customer service, contribute to better employee experience, conserve resources, and keep your overhead costs to a minimum.
There are three basic kinds of business processes: operational, support, and management. Operational processes, such as sales, are essential to your business and usually involve direct contact with the customer or client. Support processes are internal and don’t provide direct value to customers but still bolster operational processes. Things like procurement management would fall under support processes. Management processes, like accounting, provide oversight, control, and coordination to both operational and support processes.
The first step in refining any business process is to consider whether you currently have in place a formal or informal procedure. Formal processes are a defined set of actions that are documented, often for safety or legal reasons. Informal processes, however, can live in your head and could benefit from being clearly articulated, charted, and refined. Periodically updating business processes can become the lynchpin that turns your entrepreneurial endeavor into a thriving enterprise, firing on all cylinders and well-positioned for long-term growth.
1. Product Development
If your company does produce a product or service, it’s essential to revisit the steps of that development process and consider whether it needs adjusting to keep pace with the current market. Customer preferences change and new competitors emerge, so evaluating whether your product development process has adapted to customer feedback, market trends, and competitor pricing is crucial to staying relevant. You may also find redundancies or bottlenecks in the product development process that you can remove to create a quicker time to market (TTM).
2. Customer Sales & Support
Do you have a clear picture of your customer’s journey? Mapping the experience can help you spot and alleviate bottlenecks that are impacting customer satisfaction. It’s also an opportunity to evaluate whether your business might benefit from some automated solutions. Chatbots, waterfall emails campaigns, and customer service templates can keep your employees from chasing issues and enable them to focus on resolving customer complaints and building relationships on behalf of your brand.
3. Employee Onboarding & Development
Onboarding staff is an internal process that even the big businesses often fail to formalize, and it’s a huge contributor to employee turnover. The Society of Human Resource Management points to a study that says 69% of new employees are more likely to be retained by the company for three years or longer if they had an organized, positive onboarding experience. In the same way that you take the time to map the customer experience, you should be equally concerned about the employee experience. Think carefully about the culture you want to create and the work environment you currently have and how you might bridge that gap.
It’s also true that the more informal process of onboarding that worked for a smaller staff may no longer be adequate for the team you currently support and train. Assess what formal processes and procedures need to be put in place both for new and existing employees to address organizational problems. Make sure you have a way to gather feedback to craft a meaningful training process that genuinely reflects the needs and concerns of your employees.
4. Overhead & Procurement Management
If you have vendors, you know the drill. Moreover, it’s likely you already have a process in place for ordering, invoicing, and paying contractors or vendors. However, looking at the process with fresh eyes may expose some vulnerabilities you’ve never noticed before, including opportunities to introduce technology that could make the work more efficient.
Even if your small business doesn’t have a traditional procurement process, you still have overhead costs and contracts that need to be managed on a monthly or yearly basis. Consider how those costs impact your bottom line and where you might be able to slim down and save a little to invest in growth. Utilities like phone service, organizational or trade organization memberships, and downsizing into a space that better fits your needs are all excellent first steps in trimming overhead costs.
5. Sales Process & Client Onboarding
Whether you sell a product or cater a service to clientele, there may be easy improvements you can make to your existing sales process or client onboarding to earn customer loyalty and repeat business. Mapping the buyer experience and focusing on defining clear handoffs will smooth out rough spots in your sales process. The same is true of the client management process. A friendly welcome, clearly articulated points of contact, and a procedure for follow up on concerns help manage expectations and sets the tone for a positive, ongoing relationship.
6. Accounting and Financial Processes
Invoicing, taxes, financial reports, payroll, and more all fall under the umbrella of financial processes. A failure to periodically review and tighten up accounting procedures could make your business vulnerable to fraud. If you ever must endure an audit from the IRS, a paper trail of reports and a thorough balance sheet could save you a considerable headache and potentially catastrophic penalties. Make a list of your accounting procedures, and if you’ve farmed them out to an accountant or financial advisor, ask them to explain and document their process for your benefit.
Last, but certainly not least, it’s vital to have an auditing process in place for evaluating your business processes. Every analysis should start with identifying the existing procedures, mapping the flow of that process and any sub-processes, and articulating opportunities for improvements to increase efficiency and reduce bottlenecks. From small businesses to large corporations, periodic review, and a consistent commitment to the renovation of processes go a long way towards ensuring the continued success of your business.