The autumn months are upon us, which means that many small business owners are starting to gear their operations back up following the relatively quiet holiday period.
But if you didn’t manage to use any of the summer downtime to do some fine-tuning to your business and prepare for the oncoming pick-up in sales, don’t worry – there’s still time to do so.
Find your pain points
Take the time now to systematically go through each of your business’s systems – including how you track sales and invoice customers, how you calculate commission and how you pay your bills. Don’t be tempted to just do this in your head, because it’s easy to skip over vital information by mistake: write down each step in the system as if you were creating an instruction manual for someone new to your business.
Once that’s done, try to properly analyse what you’ve written down. Are there any specific pain points in those systems that become immediately obvious to you – such as, for example, if you spend a lot of time re-entering the same set of data into two different places, such as separate spreadsheets? Make a list of these issues and then…
Search for alternatives
When you know where your main pain points are, you can start looking for ways to alleviate those problems. Make sure you do your research and look for any software solutions, new technology or even just alternative methods of working that could make life easier for you.
For example, if you’re still spending a lot of your time doing your admin by hand, are there any apps or other software available that could help ease the burden? Could you be photographing and storing receipts via your mobile phone, rather than needing to meticulously file hard copies or manually upload data? Or could you save time by using dedicated accounting software rather than wrestling with spreadsheets?
Also, use your contact networks to find these alternative systems. Ask your colleagues at networking events, or your contacts on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, to see what they’re using – and whether they would recommend that you also use these systems for your business.
When you’re working with clients, it’s not uncommon to feel like there are areas where your knowledge could do with brushing up. For example, if you’ve had to learn to use a specific programme for a piece of project work you might not feel you have a full level of expertise with it yet – or that you’re using its features to their full potential.
Make sure that your knowledge is up to date and as full as possible. That way, you’ll not only be able to address any shortfalls but also identify the areas where you’re overcommitting – for example, using multiple pieces of software on one area of your business when a single package would do the job just as effectively.
Consider new integrations
Take some time to review your current system providers and see if they partner or integrate with any other services that your business could benefit from using. For example, is there a bank that offers direct data feeds into your accounting software? Or does your invoicing system integrate with services like PayPal or Stripe that could help you get paid quicker by your clients?
You may find out that these service providers also have special offers available for customers who use their integration partners, so you may end up saving your business some money as well as some admin time.
Will outsourcing help?
When you’re running a small business, it’s easy to try and do everything yourself – but that’s not always great news for your venture. But while you might be apprehensive about giving up control of certain areas of your business admin, you may find that you benefit from outsourcing some of those tasks.
For example, if you find yourself constantly fielding cold sales calls, could you outsource that work to a specialist or even a virtual assistant? You might find that doing so frees you up to concentrate on the more specialist – and valuable – parts of your business.
Just remember to do your research and consider all of the options available before you choose a virtual assistant. You need to be comfortable that you’ve made the right choice for your business, otherwise you’ll just worry more and, potentially, get less done!
Emily Coltman is chief accountant at FreeAgent.