Labour intensive businesses such as real estate agent websites with map search or other boutique design & production companies often suffer the deadly cycle of working hours & expenses going up proportionately with their revenues. Even worse, many business operators seem to think this is just normal and they keep racing in the same wheel, working themselves harder, or they never grow past a certain point. For further growth, refinement is necessary to not let your expenses/time investment grow along with your net revenues – in other words, increase your margin percentage (duh).
Efficiency is something I am very passionate about, and I often observe things and people around me to see what inefficiencies exist, and contemplate how to mend those. It drives me a little bit crazy, yes – noticing all the flaws and problems around me is relatively exhausting and even disappointing at times, but it’s in my nature – and that’s probably why I am running a business rather than writing poems (nothing against poets – just making a point).
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#1 – Refine frequent tasks that takes away your time
Repeated tasks are the best parts you want to dissect, analyze and improve. If a certain activity in your business takes 30 minutes per session, and this happens 5 times a week, it consumes 2:30 hrs of your time per week. Assuming you take a 2 week vacation each year, this adds up to 125 hours a year. What if you came up with a workflow that reduces each iteration to 20 minutes? Your 2:30 per week task just shrunk to 1:40, and over a year you will spend only 83:20 on this. What will you do with the extra 40+ hours (in other words, a full work week!)? Once a week, look at something you do several times a week – and find a way to shave even a few minutes off each iteration.
Some examples of saving time on an everyday task:
- Having a pre-set question template that asks all the right questions – so that no pertinent information gets lost. When working on a branding job, something as simple as whether the company should be displayed as an .ltd or an .inc, or .corp can often be overlooked, and results in having to make another phone call or an email just as you start the process. The simple solution was to have a series of checkboxes in our intake form that addresses this in a multiple-choice format. Wufoo or Google Forms will do the trick.
- Yesware email templates allow you to have canned responses for frequently written verbiage (with option to customize & individualize each email before sending, of course) – and best of all it works with Google Apps emails as a plugin with the Chrome Browser.
- Preparing your wardrobe for the week is actually a great idea. Doing it all in one Sunday afternoon takes less time than spending several minutes each morning. Or better yet, be like Zuckerberg, Jobs & Obama, wear same clothes every day. I do this about 2~3 days a week with a set of sweatpants, and V-neck t-shirts from Motherland Clothing for Men in Gastown.
#2 – Invest in the right tools and don’t be afraid of subscription fees
One of the greatest regrets I have is not switching to a Freshdesk support centre sooner, even when the team was only 2 people in size. With a team of 5 we are at now, this tool allows us to avoid the “Let me forward you this email..” scenario which happens every day without a centralized client support channel. Having the right tools that are online & accessible can improve your efficiency greatly. I often hear the old “I don’t want to be tied down to monthly costs.” cry-fest, and that is probably one of the worst attitudes to have when you want to seriously grow a business. You can keep toiling away with book keeping, confined to your one computer and its spreadsheets, or you go for Quickbooks Online or Freshbooks to have a universally accessible accounting system. If a few hundred dollars in monthly fees for these services is a huge burden, you need more revenue, or yet, a new business model. The amount of time you save, and therefore generate more productivity for the services/products you ACTUALLY sell, should easily outpace these meagre expenses.
#3 – Not at the sacrifice of quality! Do be efficient; do not take shortcuts.
Last but not the least, be sure to distinguish between efficiency modules and shortcuts. Shortcuts indicate a lack of quality, or lack of performance, in order to simply say you’ve crossed the finishing line. As result oriented as we are, the HOW matters to a good degree to ensure great results.
Unless you are running a sweatshop that sells easily breakable gizmos at a cheap price with no longevity in mind, your product or service quality for your customers cannot suffer. For example, creating a AI template for logo designs is probably a bad idea – your products will all start from a similar framework base, which is not ideal for nurturing creative & unique branding jobs. Setting up a short & simple client survey in order to quickly gather information about your new leads (just don’t dig too deep – forms with too many fields do NOT get as many entries) is OK. Automating your invoice flow from work slips to Quickbooks is an excellent route! Just the other day, we rushed a job for whatever reason, and we ended up getting the business name wrong on the logo. It was a massive failure (and admitting our failures is the first step to fixing the broken chain, but we’ll cover that another day).
We are what we repeatedly do. Therefore, excellence is not an action, but a habit.