By: Amy Linley
Your ideas and goals for your small business strive to be anything but small. Competition often drives you to build up your company to keep up. Too often, improvements and additions become unmanageable and worse, unprofitable. If you have realized that your business is in danger of collapsing under its own weight, you know there is only one solution. It’s time to streamline!
To most people, streamlining a business means downsizing your workforce. Of all assets, people can be seen as the easiest to live without, or replace. While sometimes this can be a good thing -- to banish redundancy for example, or to clean out freeloaders – downsizing could mean overloading the employees that are left. Again, the foundations of your company are shaking.
So what can you do to shore up your business? You can’t sell off expensive, but vital equipment. You could get rid of the free donuts, but that won’t make much of a dent, will it? Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at the core basics of your business and how you do your day to day operations. It might not be possible to eliminate, or cut back, but maybe you could do things differently. Let’s take a look at what the internet has to offer small business.
1. The Telephone
Does your company spend a lot of money on phones in your office? Is a large chunk of your phone bill going to advanced messaging, extensions, or transfer systems?
Let’s take a look at a different solution. There are several companies that offer “virtual PBX” systems. These are call control management programs that will take a call, offer a choice of extensions – each with its own greetings and voicemail options -- and deliver that call to where ever you choose. Options include recording all greetings and messages yourself, choosing which phones ring in which order, varying rules for different times of day and week, as well as email and messaging integration. All of these can be accessed and managed from your computer. No need to purchase special phones or services and prices are shockingly low.
2. The Database
The most important part of your sales staff is the database. It tells you who to call, who you have already called, what they said, what they bought, etc. How are you handling all that information? There are many expensive programs out there, made even more pricey if you need to load them into multiple computers. Of course, you run into time wasting procedures when you need to update and sync all the different computers. What about accounting or shipping? More time and money is wasted bringing them into the database loop.
How about this? Instead of multiple programs on multiple computers in multiple departments, let’s have one online program that everyone can access. Online CRM (Customer Relations Management) programs have revolutionized the office place. Now your sales staff can log in online, see who they are supposed to call, see who they are not supposed to call, record their notes, and mark their sales. Accounting can go in, grab reports – all real-time – to process and invoice. Shipping can see exactly what to send, to who, and when. All of this is viewed by you, either piecemeal, or in custom reports you can create yourself. Imagine now how much equipment this could replace, how much less paper would be used, and how much money could be saved.
3. File Management
How much time is wasted each day by looking for, or sending crucial documents and spreadsheets in your office? Each minute is wasted when someone has to stop what they are doing, pick up the phone, or shoot an email requesting some file or another that they need to do their job. How can you improve on this? There are custom servers available that come with a large price tag -- and an even larger IT bill -- but we want to streamline your business.
There are online programs that connect your computers in new and novel ways. One such way consists of a form of folder sharing where the files that need to be shared are actually saved on each computer that is authorized to access them. With automatic syncing, anytime someone opens a document or spreadsheet and changes it, these programs will automatically copy the new version to every computer that particular folder is shared on.
Think of this application: a shared folder called “sales.” In it is everything any of your sales people need, including memos, handbooks, guidelines, vendor reports, etc. Anytime a salesman needs a particular file, they just open the windows explorer on their computer and search through the folders and open the document just like they would any other file. No more time lost to searches; for the file or who has the file.
4. The Meeting
Meetings are very important for businesses. They can get people on the same page and working in the same direction. They bring departments together to work as one to reach your company’s goals. However, if you have any configuration of employees, vendors, and clients other than all in the same building, meetings can be very hazardous by wasting time and money. Say you need to meet with a vendor, or a client, or you have offsite employees, then setting up a meeting takes planning. Not to mention the money spent getting everyone to and from the meeting. How can you change that?
Let’s go back to the phones and computer for this one. The conference call has come a long way from the days of the “three-way call”. Now you can easily, instantly, have a conference call with ten or a hundred people as easily as, well picking up the phone. The calls can be recorded for future reference. They can even be accessed by anyone who missed the meeting.
When we bring the internet into things, it gets even better. Now you can talk to all your people while doing your PowerPoint presentation which they can all see on their own computers. You can also share a “whiteboard.” You can even share documents and spreadsheets. But doesn’t that take away from the value of a “face-to-face”? That’s when you can turn to video conferencing. All you need is the online service, a webcam, and a “virtual F2F” is yours.
5. The Office
The scope of the suggested changes here is large, but can it be larger? In most companies, the biggest expense – after major capital equipment if applicable – is the office space. What if you didn’t have to pay for it?
If the first four suggestions helped your business in fundamental ways, you could take a closer look at your office structure itself. How many employees could work from home if everything they do is on their computers? Is it possible to outsource your production? Could your shipping needs be handled by another company? Could customer service be 100% accomplished over the phone?
Obviously, you would save vast amounts of money if you didn’t have the overhead of the office, but how feasible would that be? Ok, maybe not the whole office, but if you made some major changes, would it be possible to do everything in a much smaller space?
Business these days is conducted in ways unlike any other time in history. We have the internet – and faster computers – to thank for that. As newer and better programs and technologies step forward, it is good to study each to see if they could help or hurt your business. At any moment, something may be created that could change again our way of doing the business of business.
Amy Linley gives practical and usable advice regarding communication and meetings at AccuConference - www.accuconference.com. Find out more about our conference call, web conferencing and video conferencing services from AccuConference - www.accuconference.com/conferencecalls.