Spring Cleaning Your Business

The perfect time to simplify operations

by Dennis L. Prince
- Jun 01, 2015

Spring has officially sprung, but how springy are you feeling in your day-to-day work? Can you jump right into action and get real results before your coffee cools or do the prospects of the day fill you with dread before you've even taken your first sip?

If it's the latter, your business might be overburdened by process, technology, and products or services that don't return on the investment you've put into them.

Over time efficient startups begin to bloat, take on complexity and become more difficult to wrangle each day

Fear not—the solution might be a matter of simplification. While it may seem like a difficult proposition to undertake, if you work methodically, you can transform your daily business life into something to greet each morning. Through meaningful simplification, you can make your business more manageable and more profitable.

Inventory everything

"I want to simplify my business, but I don't know how it got so out of control and where I should even begin."

If you've ever thought this, you're not alone. Most small businesses are started with clear plans, documented methods and lean operation. Over time, though, that efficient startup begins to bloat, take on complexity and become more difficult to wrangle each day. It's time, then, to look at everything you do in your business work—everything.

  1. Begin by reviewing your list of offerings, be they product or service, noting any variations (i.e. customizations) on a base offering. Ensure you have a complete list of everything you actively sell and maintain.
  2. List all of your fulfillment tools, such as packing materials, electronic programs, online accounts and notification methods.
  3. Tally up all of your administrative tools, from laptops and smartphones to software programs and mobile apps.
  4. Take note of where everything is from items 1 to 3 above. Is everything in a central workplace or dispersed among several areas (including digital storage)?
  5. Lastly, collect your customer feedback, noting where you received it and, therefore, where you had to go to retrieve it.

For your business simplification, you first need to know what you're spending your time doing and what you're getting for it

Now that you've completed that inventory exercise, write down how long it took you. If you did it between other tasks, guesstimate the time. This is a telling bit of information because it will begin to reveal just how complex your operation might be.

Document your day

Borrowing from the dieter's handbook, log your activities by the hour for one workweek. If you begin your day by reading email, record that you did that from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. (or whenever). Let the clock be your guide and log what you do every hour. Most importantly, make a note of the actual results you achieved in the time spent. For example, you read and responded to 37 emails in half an hour, you packaged and shipped 10 orders in an hour, and so on.

Dieters use a daily eating log to uncover what they're eating, so they can determine what they need to do to reach their weight goals. For your business simplification, you first need to know what you're spending your time doing and what you're getting for it. If you're honest and thorough, you'll discover that the log doesn't lie.

Fess up and face your situation

So you have your inventory list and daily logs. Are they telling you something you didn't expect? Most business owners are surprised to learn just how inefficient their businesses have become and this honest assessment helps them to realize that. Don't be embarrassed—it happens to most everyone at one time or another.

It could also help you recognize exactly why you're feeling overwhelmed, overburdened and under-confident each day. These are actually all good things, as they point out what your real issues might be, setting you up to take action against them.

So, let's make this simple

Here's where it gets simple, with some steps you can take to simplify your business each spring and beyond. The good news is you've done the hardest work already: You've faithfully and thoroughly examined your business to arrive at a clear picture of what you're doing and how it is or isn't working. Now it's time to let that work pay off.

First, look for troubling trends. If your daily logs reveal you aren't operating in a repeatable (that is, refined and reliable) method, it's time to add some rigor to your workday. Are you starting your work at the same time each day? Are you managing the most important items in a prioritized manner? If not, the daily logs will bear this out.

Look for redundancies or wasted steps. If your process is too complicated or poorly designed, you're probably working too hard for a result. Cut out the extra steps; streamline your method and get more done faster (that is, simpler).

Sometimes, the best solutions for simplifying your business come directly from those you serve

Look for offerings you actively manage that aren't bringing good returns. If it's in your inventory, you have to expend effort to maintain it. But if it's not contributing noticeably to your bottom line, it might be simpler to eliminate it from your product line.

Look for unused (or rarely used) tools or applications. These can crowd your view and slow you down. If you don't really use it, you don't really need it. Get rid of it to simplify your access to the real tools you use each day.

Lastly, review your customer feedback, wherever it comes from. If possible, invite customers to give their thoughts in a single place (via email, on a social media page, etc.) to make it easier to review and respond to. You should also make sure your response includes taking that feedback and incorporating it into your business method.

Sometimes, the best solutions for simplifying your business come directly from those you serve. Always listen to your customers and you'll find it easier to please them—and yourself—in your quest to streamline your day-to-day operations. It's as simple as that.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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