If you want to affect a business transformation and scale it significantly certain things have to be done almost before you break ground.
- Workout the workflows
- Workout the procedures to ensure that the workflows happen
- Organise training so that people follow the procedures.
- Design a monitoring system
- Set up your accounting system
Only then can you be sure that your objectives might be achieved in a reasonably consistent manner. If you don’t do these things first, it’s likely that your monitoring will be slow and late and will be some sort of guesswork because you won’t know which bit of your system is creaking and how it affects the others.
If you don’t act at the beginning, you will end up putting out a lot of small fires instead of steering the ship.
Your decisions will be based on a little more guesswork than you will be comfortable with, and it will all feel like hard work, and you won’t achieve everything that you’re aiming for.
The danger of linear thinking
It’s important to recognise that the route to growth is far from linear and if we wait for one thing to be done before we start the next it’s very likely that your growth will be slower and more difficult.
Unfortunately, we tend to assume most things are linear, when a moment’s thought proves to us that almost everything isn’t. Apart from the misdirection it gives, linear thinking utterly confounds any sort of planning. A linear plan means that because A happened, then we can now do B. If A doesn’t happen then everything following it doesn’t happen, not just B but all the C, D etc. actions that follow. Sometimes we can make A happen, but with more effort, cost and time. And A may still make B fail because B was time limited, or you don’t have the resource any more or some other reason. Changing thinking sounds hard, but it need not be, if you break it down into easy chunks.
Workflows that work for you
Why work out workflows? After all, you know how your business works don’t you? No one else does. Also, you have enough experience to be able to wing it when things don’t quite go to plan. No one else does.
If you start with the attitude that no one can do it better than you, you will be busy but you won’t grow.
Growth means getting other people to do the work. Which means telling and showing them how. Which means writing it down. If you don’t, you will tell one person one thing and another person a slightly different version. Neither of them will remember it all, they will talk amongst themselves, and you will get version 3. Growth means some standardisation of approach. It doesn’t mean standardisation of customer experience. You can still personalise what customers get, but your approach will be very similar each time.
It is easiest to draw your workflows rather than write each detailed procedure at a time. Include a method of feeding back to you (or your supervisor/manager etc.) when it doesn’t go to plan. Build in IFTTT (if this, then that) loops, so your people know what to do in most situations when it goes a little off-piste. Online tools such as miro.com are available quite cheaply.
Workflows are not just for the technical parts of the job. They can be used to include how you get new customers, onboard them, then do the work – create the app, build the house etc, get the customer to agree it’s done, invoice and collect payment. Your team will see how each part they are responsible for relates and depends on other parts, so improving understanding, and saving effort.
Procedures come next
Now you can get into the detail of the procedures for each element of the workflow. This needs to be written down – bullet points with examples of forms etc will do. Next, walk through it – does it actually work that way? What needs to happen to information so that it gets from one procedure to the next? Once they are all done, ask someone else to see if they can follow it – your vocabulary will be a little different, as will your experience. Without doubt, you will have unrecorded knowledge that needs to be included to make the procedure complete.
Is this sounding like a lot of work? It can be, but as you are running a business you want to grow, you need to act like a business owner, not a one-man band and not go it alone. And doing it once, means that every time you take on someone new you don’t have to repeat yourself or firefight every day because they don’t understand something.
As you did for procedures, write out what you want people to learn and how you want them to learn it. On the job, classroom, short chat, video (video the short chat). Script it so that everyone gets the same message every time you deliver it.
This isn’t just the accounts. The books record the past, and as such have limited use in helping your decision-making. You need metrics from the number of sales enquiries, how many you convert, average order value, how many you can complete and invoice in a given time, how productive your people are and so on. Your business will have some industry standard measures and your unique ones. How will you know, and how quickly do you need to know? A lot of it can be automated, even in some trades, so there’s no reason why you can’t get this promptly and accurately. And you feed into your procedures ways of populating your monitoring systems.
Here are some workflows that might apply to a builder:
- Onboarding a customer
- Quoting, including bill of materials
- Scheduling and allocating people and goods
- Getting materials on time on site and in the right quantity, receiving supplier invoices and paying them
- Monitoring the work
- Dealing with delays, shortages, and work order changes
- Completion and sign-off
- Invoicing and cash collection
Procedures can be developed for all of these, and monitoring would be against project timelines, actual cost against budget, cashflow and overall profitability. These can be fed back during the job to ensure it finishes on time and on budget or that variances are known early and managed to minimise losses. Information from this job informs the next one.
This is last because it records earlier decisions. Your accounts system should be able to draw from other systems to make life as integrated as possible, so you get the information you need on time, accurately and easily. For example, once your job scheduling system gets to the client acceptance stage, it then takes the quote and turns it into an invoice. Apart from saving you time, the accuracy and speed of recording enables you to make better decisions quicker.
Value your time
Systemising takes you away from doing the work to managing the work and thinking about how the business can thrive. This is, after all, your job alone. So many times we have seen growth stalled because the owner does too much that could be offloaded to outsource, or automate, or get someone else to do for them. No thinking time equals no growth. No busy fools here please.
No thinking time = no growth
Let’s assume you value your time at £50 an hour.
If a job makes you or saves you £50 or more then do it yourself. If less, then get one of your team to do it or outsource it.
Doing your own admin stops you from doing work that brings in money or thinking about how to make your business better. It doesn’t matter what hourly rate an outsource firm charges, it matters how long they take, so what really matters is the value they give you.
If they specialise in the work you need done, they will be quicker and better than you. If they can do it for less than £50 an hour and in fewer hours than you, then give it to them.
Most SME’s should outsource their bookkeeping, turning it into a variable cost and getting better information to make better decisions. And yes, we do a lot of client bookkeeping. This is why. It’s not about fees, its helping clients to grow. Here’s the basics on cloud accounting and a hint on limitations. To help you more, we’ve posted some QuickBooks videos for you.
At Hixsons we make sure our clients are agile, flexible and resilient so that they are better able to respond to shocks. You can also read the helping in a crisis stories of how we helped 6 local businesses turn things around in the early days of the pandemic.
In the spirit of helping our business community we have new Brexit resources in our learning centre where you will find various tools and templates for your business. We do not ask for your data, and it’s completely free.