Time In Motion

I was four team members down to three literally overnight in my online business, and I had to act smart and fast if I was going to save the business I had been left with. Every task was under scrutiny. Every email, every phone call, every stock order, every delivery receipt. What could we do in our warehouse or in our office that was faster? Smoother? Cheaper? More productive? What could we eliminate from our work day altogether? How could we get the most out of every moment we invested into our workflow?

When our growing business demands change, the adage is true: time is money. More than that, time is the make or break point for our sanity, growth and reward.

These desperate days brought with them many blessings in disguise. We all know Business Success 101 involves reducing inputs and increasing outputs. Reduce overheads, increase revenue. Reduce staff, increase productivity. Reduce time spent, increase efficiency. In this situation, I ran over every business process with a fine tooth comb. Did we really need to have the phones open that long? No… we turned off the phones 2 hours earlier. Did we really need to buy that much stock? No … we started buying only what we sold. Did we really need to serve those customers? No … we stopped international orders altogether. The small gains were not worth the headaches of lost parcels, items in customs, and unavoidable delays beyond our control. I literally started forcing my business to become something different.

How long does it take you to walk from your desk to your kitchen, and then back again, five times? Go ahead, time it.

If you’re smart you will pick up those five items you need from the kitchen in one trip, right? If you were paying actual money for the time it took to get to your kitchen and back, you might even consider moving your desk.

As I watched my warehouse assistant picking his orders for the day I saw how truly absurd his small basket was. So we bought him a large trolley with three tall shelves to load up.

And I watched him wheel that trolley all the way down to the end of the warehouse to pick some of our most popular filters. I knew he was walking too far each time he needed to reload his trolley, so we moved the packing bench off the wall to the centre of the warehouse. We surrounded that work station with our fastest selling lines.

Then I watched my warehouse assistant resist the use of the trolley because now, most of the stock he needed was within ten steps. Before all this restructure had been necessarily thrust upon us, he had worked largely unsupervised in that warehouse. He was reliable and his work ethic was unquestionable, so that space used to be his domain, without conversation or question. The original layout was not genius by any stretch of the imagination … In fact, it had simply been inherited from our old garage operation, back when we first started from home. Our initial warehouse setup had evolved from our early days, when all we had was a single shelf of vacuum bags tucked in behind our car. In our ten years of operating this particular business, we had never reviewed the floor plan or evaluated the locations of the stock. Heck! We had never even labelled the locations. We were like the vast majority of small start up businesses out there. We made structural changes in a random, ad hoc kind of way, and we continued to do things simply because that is how they had always been done.

My warehouse assistant wanted to go back to the old way. It was comfortable and familiar, and now with the packing bench moved to a better vantage point, and the stock he needed right there at arm’s reach, he argued that it didn’t take that much extra time to simply walk to it, pick it, walk it back to the bench, and pack it.

“How long does it take you to walk from your desk to the filter wall and then back again, five times? Go ahead,” I said, “time it.”

He responded as if I was being contrary and argumentative for its own sake, and he refused to actually take the steps of those five trips to the filters and back again. I didn’t want the interaction to become any more confrontational than it already was, so I walked that little trip back and forward a few times myself to illustrate my point. The five trips were never timed, but thankfully, they were never made like that ever again. It was clear that even the short walk to those filters would happen five times faster if all of the filters were picked in one go.

Workplace inefficiencies are largely invisible to the long term user. The cows who walk those tracks into the side of the hill would never dream of walking a different way. Those tracks have been created over months, if not years of routine. But time passes and things change, and if your business is doing what it’s meant to do, you have grown into something different now. You do not have the small operation you used to have, and your old processes don’t work the way they used to.

If yesterday’s methods continue to be used today, your business cannot grow into a new tomorrow. The growth you have worked so hard for will choke your workflow, and the growing pains will become crippling. Your daily processes will end up being the bottleneck of your operation, and it will become tiresome and overwhelming. One day you might even look in the mirror and realise that you used to say, “The sky’s the limit” and now you realise that “This guy’s the limit.”

It’s time for you to examine the time you spend in motion.

Five Business Control Levers

“Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth” Archimedes

I saw it plain as day when I was preparing my old business for sale. My husband had died and I’d been left with a business that turned over truckloads of cash, but it was choking in supplier debt. My late husband and I had started out selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door, and nearly two decades years later I had been left with VacuumSpot, a website that sold vacuum cleaner spare parts. It was a great online business! No-one wants to go shopping for the perfect vacuum cleaner bag! It was a fabulous business, but I had to find solutions fast if I was going to be able to clear the debt and sell this operation to launch into my own new beginnings.

Every business has levers that can be pressed in a relatively simple, straightforward way to create a corresponding gain.

At first it was chaos. Despite receiving orders automatically through our website, we did most of the work to fill those orders and manage the rest of the business manually. As I slowly transformed this operation into something that would work on it’s own, I realised that my efforts in certain areas acted as levers, where strategically pressing on one part of the business would create corresponding results in related areas. These levers are universal in business, so these principles I learned in my own situation will apply regardless of your size, your industry, or your mode of operation.

  1. Business Processes: Leverage your routines to increase your efficiency

When businesses increase their output OR decrease the time it costs to produce this output, improvements in workplace efficiency will result. If the business can do BOTH at the same time, they are on a fast track to greater productivity, profits and staff engagement. Refining our daily workplace processes is a business lever that is often overlooked and yet it can yield the greatest results for the smallest investment. Examine your daily business processes with a fine tooth comb to eradicate time being wasted in confusion over what to do next, distraction from external sources, roadblocks of broken equipment, and the frustration of ineffective systems and procedures. Make your workplace work!

2. Pricing: Leverage your ticket pricing to increase the dollar value of your sales

So often in business we can become so mesmerised by turnover that we forget the greater benefits of profitability. The wise business owner will know that you are far better to sell three widgets easily at $40, than you are to slog it out to sell ten widgets at $20. Even though there is less cash in the till at the end of the day, you have worked significantly less to get those three sales, and there is greater business resource left to sell more widgets at the higher price. Take a good hard look at your pricing structures and find those lines that could serve you better with an incremental price rise right now. If you are like me you will spend hours poring over your pricing rules to screw down the most profitable pricing structure possible. If you get it right you will increase the average amount your clients spend with you without spending extra on advertising or serving more customers or filling more orders.

3. Advertising: Leverage your message to increase your the volume of returns

Having a strong, targeted business message is paramount to the success of your advertising efforts. It is not enough to simply sell your products. You need to have a crystal clear idea of what you do and who you do it for. Having certainty around these core aspects of your business identity will not only determine your business offering and your pricing, but it will shine a light forward for you with the types of offerings you develop, advertisements you create, campaigns you run, platforms you advertise from, times you run your advertising campaigns, and calls to action that you provide for your client to respond to your ads. You need the focus and precision of a highly trained assassin to leverage your advertising towards business growth.

4. Networking: Leverage your circles to increase the quality of your business connections

We’ve all heard it before. Jim Rohn says you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It’s amazing how much we know this, and yet we still find ourselves trapped at the wrong tables, attending the wrong events, and stuck in conversations that are going nowhere fast. For you to make the most of your networks, the people you invest your time into should have the potential to be your closest friends, most supportive mentors, your biggest clients, your best suppliers, your most valued service providers. I cannot emphasise enough how much difference it makes to our business outcomes when we commit to being shrewd in our relationships. Not lacking in warmth or authenticity, but acting like it makes a difference to have quality connections. Because it does!

5. Staffing: Leverage your training and development to increase your productivity and retention

As the owner of your business it is your responsibility to ensure your staff have everything they need to maintain focus, productivity and engagement at work. They need to know what their job is, how to do this job, and what that job looks like when it has been successfully completed. They need to have a sense of pride and ownership in their work so they experience some kind of reward when they have done the job well. For you as their boss, this means providing instructions that are without ambiguity, and then releasing your staff to autonomy in following those instructions. Performance should be reviewed regularly and accountability measures must be built into the process of completing the job. It’s hard to say which is more frustrating for your staff: Being micromanaged to the point of suffocation, or being given so much rope that they end up hanging themselves on your absence of leadership. Management is a fine art to master, but it’s a lever that is proven to create game changing outcomes if it is pressed in just the right way.

 

What To Do When Your Business Is Running You

For years I have been in one business or another. I started out selling vacuum cleaners door to door, which then took my husband and I to a Godfreys franchise, then our own small appliance repair centre, then we moved our operations to online retail, selling vacuum cleaner spare parts online from several different platforms as we outgrew each one. Along the way I became a teacher too, graduating with honours and moving to work in primary schools, high schools, and special ed. This opened opportunities for me to  train beginning teachers at university level too. I have been a busy girl! For as long as I can remember I have managed multiple pots on the boil and made progress in it all by committing first to excellence in management. Our time is our most precious resource.

When you are run off your feet chasing your business around, It is time to put yourself back in the driver’s seat.

So many business people struggle with the management of their work and run themselves ragged trying to keep their thumb in all of the different business pies at once. When people say they are having trouble running their business, what they really need is to learn how to streamline their daily management processes. It is important to realise that problems with the running of the business will affect lead generation, sales, cash flow and staffing. It is easy to jump the gun at this point and think that better staff, more money or more work will solve the problem, but let me tell you from experience that chasing these fixes will be a recipe for disaster. Business management is the umbrella that holds it all together and this is where the gains need to be made. Here are some key aspects of successful business management that will help you through:

FOCUS: Clarify the one thing you do in your business, and direct all your resources to that end. Time. Money. Physical resources. If you sell widgets, then your business is selling widgets. It’s not writing about selling widgets or telling people you sell widgets. Advertising, marketing and promotions are all vital for you to sell those widgets, but they are not your business. Keep the horse in front of the cart.

CLARIFY: Get rid of all peripheral activities. Clear your calendar of unnecessary appointments and abort projects that don’t get you where you want to be going. Unsubscribe all irrelevant emails and clean up your work space. If you are brave enough you might even consider detoxing your social circle by making choices to spend the most time with the people who contribute to your growth and well being.

CREATE ROUTINES: A big portion of your work is repetitive and like the proverbial “women’s work”, it is never done. Set your morning routine by creating a checklist of all of the ongoing tasks that will always need to be attended to. Jobs like email management, social media notifications, phone messages, opening mail etc can be done in a super fast daily routine if you have a list you work every morning to clear your mind and your desk.

GROUP TASKS: Most of the tasks you do are similar or the same in nature. Group them together and allocate a set time for them. Monday mornings for me are pays, accounting, super, bills and invoicing. Monday afternoons are for writing my blog, guest blogging for others and creating social media posts. This means I only do those tasks on those days or at the allocated time. This approach can be applied to content creation, filing, development of promotions and advertising, and meetings.

DOCUMENT: Invest time in creating detailed manuals for the repetitive tasks you do. These should be complete with every step of the task and screen shots or photos. Do Not Miss One Step. Every login, mouse click, and field to complete must be included. These documents will allow you to get help from someone else sooner rather than later. Better than this though, they will eventually become the comprehensive documentation that adds immeasurable value to a future buyer of your business. Make these as you go, right then and there, to make your connection with the job authentic.

SYSTEMISE: There are software programs, apps, and websites that will take care of many tasks you might be doing manually right now. Advance schedule emails, social media posts, and reminders with software. Put everything in the calendar you carry around with you in your phone. Everything. Organize your workflow with project software and manage your data storage and sharing with cloud tools. Do your accounting, pay your bills, and even manage your health and well being with apps that lead the way for you.  It’s time to move towards new ways of managing your work.