Are you hoping to retire someday? If you’re like most people you’re looking forward to the day you can hand over the keys, shave a few strokes off your golf game, and finally enjoy your favorite cocktail, beach side. Being that you are a business owner, you are supposed to be living the “American Dream”. Making your own hours, being your own boss, and getting privileged with early retirement. The sad thing is that for most small business owners this just isn’t the case. Small business owners are usually left working long hours, for little pay, with a lot of liability or even debt. And unfortunately, a business isn’t something you can just walk away from without consequence.

Being organized is a necessity! It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simplicity is key for scaling.

Enough with the negative talk! Let’s figure out how you’re going to gain that sense of freedom that being your own boss is supposed to give. The day will come when you will need/want to sell your business and having it completely under control is going to play a huge part into how much bang you will get for your buck. Stay with me for a few more paragraphs and I’ll help you turn your business from an energy sucking black hole to a profitable and fun adventure.

Operational Manual

Start doing everyone a favor and get your brain on paper! Too many business owners treat their place of business as a second home. They get too comfortable being there and they forget they are running a business, not organizing a sock drawer. You have a certain way of doing things and I’m sure there is some sort of method to your madness so you need to start writing down the steps you take to handle each situation. Each business is obviously different so there’s really not one way to write an operational manual. There can be a lot of variables, but just start with the easiest ones and the rest will come more naturally.  An operational manual will not only make it easier to train employees, but it will help to train the new business owner when the time comes to sell.

You can always reorganize the order of the steps at a later time so don’t feel like it has to be perfect right off the bat. Remember, DON’T be overwhelmed when you start this. It really is just one “long” document made up of many small ones so it’s more about consistency over time and not about endless hours of writing. For tasks that are better explained with pictures you might consider training videos or step by step screen shots. See the resources section for some helpful software that will help you achieve this.

What to include:

  • Opening and closing procedures
  • Your return policies
  • Important phone numbers
  • Sales:
    • Entering a new customer
    • Pricing out material
    • Writing up/taking a sale
    • Giving discounts
    • Shipping/Freight quotes
    • Processing returns
    • Placing orders with vendors
  • Warehouse:
    • Shipping orders
    • Receiving orders
    • Regularly stocked items

*Any other repetitious tasks that can be listed in a step by step or short paragraph layout. Remember, if you don’t train them on it you can’t be mad at them for not doing it.

Have A Reason for Your Choices

We all know you think you have a method to your madness, but chances are some of your methods are in need of serious help. Have you ever actually thought through why you handle situations the way you do? Not necessarily problems or stressful situations. I’m talking about what you just wrote down in your operational manual. Why do you charge freight the way you do? Is it really the easiest way to do it? Is it really the best way to do it? In this section I challenge you to really think about why you do what you do. I’ve learned that putting the extra thought into my ideas before I implement them gives me a far greater result than if I were to just wing it!

I own a tile store so it’s really easy to let things get cluttered in the showroom. We get hounded by sales reps every day trying to get us to carry their products and it honestly gets tiring saying, “No”! There must be this unspoken belief among salesmen that small businesses should just throw any and everything into their business if it’s at a good price. I know some good wholesome business relationships can get started this way, but most of them are just fly by night companies that really have no business deciding what goes into my showroom. Think with me for a second. How does a grocery store decide where to put product? Do you think they just wing it and decide to put the Cheerios on an end cap because they have no other place for it? Heck no! Brands pay a lot of money for prime floor and shelf space. Grocers spend millions of dollars on product placement analytics. They know exactly what areas in the store are going to sell the most and they organize their inventory as such. I’m sure you don’t have that kind of capital to spend on analytics, but we can use common sense, some basic organization skills, and a little research to figure out what product will sell best where.

Change the layout of your business every few months. If you own an online business you should be updating things a lot more often since you have more analytics at your fingertips.

Test, test, test! You won’t know how something will sell if you don’t try a new way of displaying it.

Look for patterns of extra attention or little to no sales. After changing things around, see how it effect your sales.

Pay attention to the questions your customers ask. If you hear the same question more than once in a day you might consider adding a sign or flyer that will answer those questions.

Lastly, DON’T get emotionally attached to your products and displays. Remember, we’re not organizing a sock drawer. If a product hasn’t sold in a long time and it is taking up valuable space in your business then GET RID OF IT!
Using Software to Your Advantage

Today we live in an age of technology where we are expected to have answers quickly and efficiently. Email was just the beginning of quick replies and text messages have only made it worse. There are pros and cons as to what technology has done to and for our society, but if implemented correctly it can enhance your customer experience ten fold.

We check out tile samples to our customers for free so we have to constantly follow up with them to get the samples back. We take on this burden because it curates a more personal experience for the customer and gives us an advantage over the “big box” stores. But because of this we have to make this process easy to manage. A simple to do list, Toodledo, has done the trick for us for a few years now. Each staff gets their own reminder to follow up with their customer and there’s a place to take notes on each interaction too. Being that the previous owner was using a pen and paper, this was definitely a step up for us. Another software we use that has become a Godsend is Smartsheet! We use this web based spreadsheet on steroids to manage our purchase orders. It has more features than I could write about and really has increased our efficiency. Both of these softwares are used to manage a large chunk of my business and the crazy thing is they cost me less than $50/month together! When I took over this business it was in a significant amount of debt so I had to figure out ways to improve efficiency without breaking the bank. We’ve now grown to the point where a CRM, customer relationship manager, is much needed so we’ll see what new features are in store for us over at VTiger CRM! Remember, the software you choose doesn’t have to be the shiniest of them all. If it meets the needs of your business then it will be a great first step.

Labels & Charts: Why I love em’!

I’ll tell you why I love labels and charts! It keeps things organized and makes life just so darn easy! 🙂 Labels and charts will empower your employees so they don’t have to ask you how to do everything. On the job training is great and necessary for a lot of tasks, but there are just some things that a simple chart or sign would fix in seconds and help reduce stress. We all know that one customer that comes in that can just suck the life out of you. They have a million questions that seem to be asked for no other reason than to hear themselves talk. To help keep you from getting angry and getting yourself a bad online review, I suggest making use of signs and charts so your days will become a lot brighter.

An idea that we’ve had great success with is our “showroom pricing guide”! We sticker each tile display with a certain color and the laminated pricing guide gives them a ballpark idea of the retail price of the tile. When we get slammed busy or have that one needy customer come in,  these guides are our saving grace. They allow people to browse freely and migrate to the area of the showroom that is within their price range or if they want us by their side they allow us to offer a quick reply when asking how much “everything”, I mean something is.

We also have a way of labeling samples that we bring in that has helped us track exactly where and when each sample comes from. This simple system helped save a $50,000 job. Seriously!

Another simple sign I put together that has saved us from having to read through the eye squinting credit card machine manual is a “how to” when running credit card payments. During a rush of customers this has taken what was ordinarily a big ordeal to something we can accomplish in a matter of seconds. Another smile saved!

In summary, I believe anyone can turn their business around with the right amount of focus and dedication. The above steps can really enhance the quality of service offered to the customers and the quality of life offered to yourself and your employees. Thanks for reading this one all the way through and don’t hesitate to write me. As always, best of luck and keep on keeping on!