One of the biggest challenges for a small business is attracting more customers, getting more sales, and accomplishing big goals with your limited resources. The answer is obvious: improving efficiency, but we all know how it is easier said than done.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how you should improve efficiency, one of the most effective methods is to map, analyze, and optimize your small business workflow (or workflows).
Why Workflow Is Important for Your Small Business?
The term “workflow” has become a jargon word when it comes to business productivity. Maybe you’ve used the term yourself when discussing your business, and most likely, you’ve heard the word at least once before.
Yet, what is workflow?
A workflow, also called a business process, is a structured and repeatable set of actions that, when executed (successfully or unsuccessfully), will either transform materials, generate information, or provide services to achieve a specific business goal.
Simply put, a workflow is a sequence of operations assigned to an employee or a group of employees to achieve a specific business objective.
The term workflow was originally used in the manufacturing industry that produces goods with the assembly line operation (hence, the “flow” of the assembly line). However, now the concept of workflow is also used in a multitude of different industries.
By mapping the workflow into a visual diagram, we can analyze whether the workflow is already efficient. If not, we can identify bottlenecks, redundancies, and inefficiencies to improve upon them and optimize the workflow.
Optimizing the small business workflow will provide many different benefits, but here are some of the most important benefits to consider:
1. Standardizing processes
If your small business employs more than one employee, you may notice how other staff may use different methods to execute a single workflow; one might be more efficient than the other. This practice can lead to inconsistencies and is prone to human errors.
By having a standardized workflow map accessible by all employees, we can have a higher amount of consistency, which will translate to more predictability.
2. Optimizing workflow efficiency
By mapping and analyzing the small business workflow, we can more accurately identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas that could be optimized further. We can, in turn, optimize the workflow to be as efficient as possible.
More efficient workflows will ultimately translate into a more productive business, more satisfied customers, a higher revenue, and more profits.
3. Allowing automation
By correctly understanding the workflow via the workflow map, we can also identify areas that can get automated.
Also, a general principle of automation is that we should only automate processes that are already efficient. Otherwise, automation will only amplify inefficiencies. By optimizing the workflow first, we can also maximize the benefits we’ll get from automation.
4. Higher customer satisfaction
Small business workflow optimization will help improve customer experience. Customers will notice and appreciate your efficiency and consistency, and a straightforward workflow will also allow better communication with customers.
Tips for Optimizing Your Small Business Workflow
1. Identify your workflows
All small businesses have at least one workflow. If you are a restaurant, for example, preparing and cooking your signature dish is a workflow.
You should first identify all the workflows there are in your small business. You can involve your team and stakeholders in this process.
Once you’ve got a list for your workflows, you should prioritize which workflow you’d like to optimize first. Of course, ideally, you should optimize all workflows, but with our finite resources, we should prioritize.
We can use three basic approaches when picking between different workflows:
- Picking the most important workflow for your business, the one that, when optimized, will contribute the most to your business’s productivity in achieving its goals.
- Picking a workflow with obvious inefficiencies and/or flaws so we can fix the problem ASAP.
- Picking a workflow that would most affect customer satisfaction—for example, fixing your delivery times.
2. Use the right workflow software
Various software solutions can help you in improving your small business workflow. An advanced Enterprise Work Management software like Aproove can help you in:
- Accurately mapping your chosen workflows so you can get an overarching overview of the workflow in achieving its objective
- Manage your business’s resources when executing workflows to ensure resource usage is in line with your business’s goals
- Plan, track, and manage all workflows down to the most granular level
- Manage different workflows and projects in a single, centralized dashboard
- Provide a centralized space for your team members, stakeholders, and even external collaborators to communicate and collaborate together in executing the workflows
3. Gather as much data as you can
When mapping and optimizing small business workflows, it’s crucial to gather as much information as you can to ensure accuracy. You can interview team members directly involved in the workflow and:
- Identify the beginning and end of the workflow (sometimes they are not very obvious)
- List the steps required to finish the workflow completely and accurately
- Identify decision points, and identify what kind of information is required for these decisions
- Identify roles and responsibilities
- Identify the timeline for each task
4. Identify inefficiencies
For each mapped workflow, you can identify inefficiencies by:
- Categorizing different tasks in the workflow based on their impacts. Identify which tasks are very important, important, nice to have, and not very important.
- Check whether tasks that are not very important can be replaced or fully eliminated.
- Look for potential bottlenecks.
- Look for automation opportunities.
5. Document everything
Small businesses often struggle with high turnover rates, so good documentation of your workflow optimization process is crucial in onboarding new employees to help standardize and optimize processes.
A proper workflow map can also be beneficial in standardizing the SOP and for use in training new employees.
When done right, optimizing small business workflows can help you use your resources more efficiently in achieving your business objectives. Efficient, easy-to-execute workflows will also help improve your team’s morale, which can help with productivity.