We all have those moments - usually when we're still in the office after 9 pm - where we start to think there must be a better way of doing things. A quicker, simpler, more efficient way. A way that makes you feel like you've made progress at the end of your day rather than having spent it fighting fires or lost in pointless meetings and email chains.
Lo-and-behold, here is your remedy. This is your personal 10-step plan to running a leaner, meaner and altogether better-functioning business. This is enterprise colonic irrigation. Because you need to be as efficient as possible if you want to move forward. So follow the programme, and by next week, your newly detoxified and utterly re-energised business will be fighting fit and ready to race ahead.
Get customer relationship management software if you haven't already. It'll let you control your communications with clients much more efficiently, so you know who you should be contacting when. Use it to pinpoint who your most loyal customers are, then focus your efforts on selling more to them. Getting existing customers to buy more is easier and much cheaper than customer acquisition. Use this guide on cross-selling to help. You can also use CRM to re-engage customers who haven't bought for a while.
Alongside that, spend a day examining your existing sales data forensically. It shows you which items work best together for cross-selling - one of the best efficiency generators in the sales strategies handbook.
Look into strategic partnerships with businesses who cater to the same target market as you, but who are non-competitive. Flogging or at least recommending each others' services to your respective customers is a common sense quick win to double your reach by halving your workload. Providing it's a good fit, customers will also appreciate you're helpfully recommending another service they need.
Get signed up for internet banking if you're not using it already - we cannot emphasise enough how much more convenient it is making everything happen for yourself at the click of a button, rather than going into a branch or making a call. It also saves you splurging cash on banks' expensive 0845 numbers.
And make sure your customers are paying when you want them to. Consider charging interest to late-paying clients if you think it won't put them off doing business with you - or alternatively offer incentives for them to pay early or, even better, in advance. On the flip side, get as much credit and as many flexible payment terms as possible from your suppliers so you can put that freed up cash into the places that make it work harder (see the rest of this feature for ideas!).
Not everyone can afford a contingency fund, we know, but you can make sure your money is in the most high-interest account available to you. Use Moneysupermarket.com to check.
Email is a time killer - so be brave and stop it. If you're checking your email more than a couple of times a day, you're going overboard. Think that sounds extreme?
Put a semi-ban on internal email too. It's so much quicker to talk to the person on your team for a couple of minutes, rather than letting that conversation drag out over an afternoon as you both type, read and re-draft responses to the inevitably - and pointlessly - long email trail that happens otherwise. Talking is a lot friendlier than emailing too. We decided to switch from internal email to actual conversation here at Smarta, and it did wonders for our productivity and the general atmosphere.
Even better, save the minutiae for a weekly or, if need be, daily meeting so you can nail it quickly in one go and there are fewer interruptions.
The same rules apply to clients and suppliers. Call someone rather than emailing wherever it seems like the more efficient option. Your relationship and your productivity will flourish as a result.
As a rule, you should aim to automate every business process you possibly can. Read this case study to see what we mean. You might need to invest in a bit of software to speed all those processes up, so calculate how much time each function takes in a month, how much per hour you pay someone to do that, then how quickly you'd break even on the investment. If it's less than a year or two, go for it. The person doing that job is then free to focus on the aspects of the job a computer can't replicate - having ideas and making decisions. Usefully, these are also the things most likely to move your business forward and make you money.
You need to focus on what you're good at too if you want your business to get ahead. Getting a virtual PA can cost as little as £5/hour (and you could use one for just a couple of hours a week), but it screens you from those persistent nagging sales calls, travel arrangements and diary changes that break your concentration and productivity. Try it for a fortnight to test the water.
If you've gone to the trouble of creating a website, you need to make sure people can find it. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is what makes you findable - read this advice guide and then the rest of our content in this section to make sure people can actually find your website.
Getting your Twitter feed to appear on your website's homepage keeps it fresh without any extra effort from you - perfect if you're too busy to blog. And it only takes about five minutes. Read this article for guidance - it includes lots of other handy Twitter-based tools too.
Everyone has those couple of customers who you just seem to spend your life chasing - they always pay late, they don't respond to your calls about not paying the invoice, and they take up far more of your time than they should. So get rid of them. Learning to be selective with your customer base is a tough lesson because it feels like you're cutting yourself off from potential revenue - but if it saves you time and hassle, it's worth it.
Think of it this way - the less time you spend handling problem customers, the more time you have to get out there and find new, more reliable and more lucrative ones. Your CRM software will help with the cull. Note: don't go overboard with this - to start with, just be firm with the worst offenders. Give them a chance to repent before blacklisting them. Addison Lee founder John Griffin gives some sage advice on being choosy about customers in this interview.
If chasing invoices is taking up all your time but you're not quite ready to make the cut, look into invoice factoring. An invoice factoring agency buys your invoice debt off you, so you have instant access to the cash you're owed, while they then go off and chase the invoices and take a slice of the final money paid. They may be more aggressive on the phone to your clients than you would be, but it gets the job done and saves you time.
You need to apply this thinking to new customers too. An online credit check from the likes of Creditgate.com start at around £10 for a simple check, going up according to what you need (though Experian.com is probably the most well-known and trusted name in the sector). Not really a large amount - but the future struggle it could help you avoid is enormous.
The difference between fast and slow broadband may only be a few seconds per web page, but it adds up. The difference between 2Mb/s versus 8Mb/s broadband is more than four-fold - so those Flash and image-laden pages that normally take you one minute to access could be chopped down to a snappy few seconds. Multiply the free 54 seconds by 30 web pages a day, five times a week, and you've just shaved 2.25 hours off the amount of time you waste waiting for your internet to actually just work normally.
Read our feature on more ideas on speeding up your broadband.
You really don't need to be involved in every micro move that your business makes. Empower staff to make as many decisions for themselves as possible, then sit back and watch how they thrive with that newfound sense of responsibility and ownership.
As a bonus result, you'll handily find yourself with more time to focus on the strategic decisions that will drive the business forward.
Equip your team with smartphones too, so they can squeeze every last minute of productivity out of travel time and other dead time. You may even find them working weekends.
Well, not entirely, but you can massively reduce the amount you have. Try cutting your number of internal meetings by half for a month and see what difference it makes. And follow the example of Fabio Capello - no, not ruining the country's sporting chances but banning phones in meetings. The increased group focus keeps things moving at the pace you want.
This applies to clients too - while obviously there are plenty of meetings you just can't cross out in your diary, try to make calls or have video conferences where possible rather than wasting time trekking across the UK.
Unless you're willing to exist off a daily diet of Red Bull and less-palatable stimulants for the rest of your life, it's highly unlikely you'll have time to do everything that's asked of you. Learn to say no. Draw up a list of priorities for everything that's landed on your plate, then chop off roughly the lower third. This is where a virtual PA really comes in handy.
Abiding by the 20/80 rule as per this feature will also help you out.
To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website Builder, Business Plans, Accounting Software, Legal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.