The Yearly Review Every Small Business Owner Should Conduct

Are your processes efficient, or just old and comfortable? A systems review can save you time and money.
yearlyreview
Use a yearly review to evaluate your business’s processes and boost customer experience. (Photo: Christian Chan/Shutterstock)

If you’re like many small business owners, you’re too busy running the business to step back and ask yourself if you could be doing it more efficiently. But chances are, at least one aspect of your day-to-day operations could use improvement.

A yearly review of your processes can wake you up to some long-needed changes and possibly transform your customer experience, your employee satisfaction and even your bottom line.

Denise Oberry

“Sometimes I have people call it a spring cleaning. The point is, do it. Don’t just get stuck in the way you’ve done things.” -Denise O’Berry (Photo: Denise O’Berry)

“Running your business efficiently equals better cash flow,” said Denise O’Berry, a small business consultant and author of “Small Business Cash Flow: Strategies for Making Your Business a Financial Success.”

In a process review, you sit down with key employees, look at the processes within all your systems — sales, customer service, payroll, etc. — and consider “what to keep, what to improve, and what to let go to make sure the company is most efficient,” said O’Berry.

“Small business owners get really stuck in their old ways of doing things because they’re comfortable.” But those old ways may not be the best ways.

“If it takes you 30 minutes to do a daily task that could be narrowed down to 15 minutes, think how much time in a year that would save. That equals a lot of money,” said O’Berry.

Tackle one system at a time, starting with any that are obviously broken. To get through all your systems, you might need to meet for several hours a day over the course of a week. That sounds taxing, but even small changes you make as a result could have a huge impact.

O’Berry consulted for one deli whose long, inefficient lines were causing customers to walk out. The solution was a simple as moving the drinks machine to improve traffic flow and reducing the size of the menu (which contained “probably a hundred different sandwich and meal combos”). In addition, O’Berry suggested moving the add-ons (desserts, etc.) into a case customers had to walk by before they place their order, which boosted sales.

The deli was also using its POS system like a cash register. “They weren’t using it to keep track of what they were selling or any of that, so they couldn’t get sales or inventory reports out of it.”

Define each system you use and look at it from end to end, analyzing all the processes involved. For your customer service system, one process to examine if you’re a retailer is product returns.

“What’s the process? Is there a time limit on returns? When does that item get put back in inventory? Consider the actual customer experience part of it, too, how the customer feels. That starts before the sale by educating customer about what your return policy actually is.”

Can customers contact you via your website about a return or another issue? How do you respond? “If they’re a millennial, they probably would rather hear from you via text,” said O’Berry.

For each process, ask yourself if there’s a tech solution, or a better tech solution.

“A lot of small business owners track inventory using pen and paper, or maybe a spreadsheet on the computer. As a result, they’re doing a lot of manual work,” which an inventory app could streamline.

Look for technology overkill, too. O’Berry switched to a cloud-based CRM system that included email service, texting, a shopping cart, an online membership site and more. Turned out it has too many bells and whistles she wasn’t using, so she dropped it and saved $200 a month.

Use your process review to identify missed opportunities. Look at what happens when a customer buys something. Does he pay and walk out the door — or do you capture his email address so you can make him a repeat customer? “One of the main things I see from small retailers is missing the opportunity to create a relationship with the customer instead of just having a one-off experience,” said O’Berry.

A process review can happen at any time of year. If the holidays are your busiest time, you could do it immediately afterward. “If they do it after a peak sale time of year like the holidays, they have really fresh information about where they are, what happened that went really well and want happened that didn’t go so well,” said O’Berry. Or you could do it in the spring.

“Sometimes I have people call it a spring cleaning. The point is, do it. Don’t just get stuck in the way you’ve done things.”

In other words, don’t be like the woman who always cut both ends off her Christmas ham before sliding it into the pan for baking. She couldn’t explain why, it’s just the way her mother did it. Her mother, in turn, had borrowed the technique from her own mother, who, when asked, explained she did it out of necessity: her pan was too small.

“That’s doing things because you’ve always done them that way and not looking at the reason behind it and seeing if there’s a better way.”

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