Guest post by Caroline White
Building and growing an online store is a challenging yet rewarding process. Success depends on your ability to understand your audience and speak to them, but it also requires you to think strategically about your business. This means identifying areas where you currently excel and also determining where and how you need to get better.
However, to be able to do this, you need to make sure the day-to-day functioning of your business is going smoothly. This helps guarantee your business runs efficiently while you look at things from a different angle.
In other words, you need to have your business as optimized as possible so that you are as efficient and profitable as possible while still innovating and growing.
This requires you to go through and audit all of your processes to find out if there are ways you could be doing better.
What you find and what type of response that solicits will depend on the process you’re looking at, but to really dig deep and understand how you can get better, you should consider taking an approach that looks something like this:
- Step 1: Understand Your Processes
You can’t possibly expect to radically improve the efficiency of what you do if you don’t first understand what it is you’re doing.
Of course, you likely know what each process is supposed to do, but what happens in most cases is that the process you set up when you first start loses relevance. Your business grows, and this means you need to do things differently, but all too often we stick with the same process and expect different results, which simply doesn’t work.
As a result, you need to step back and clearly define the end goal of any given process.
It could be to design and place the most effective social media ads, or it could be to create the best possible content in your niche. It doesn’t matter, so long as you’re clear, and this means having a specific, tangible purpose. Examples include, “it drives sales,” “generates leads,” “streamlines shipping,” etc.
In most cases, you want these to be short phrases of just a few words. While it’s important to understand how different processes complement one another, looking at things too holistically is going to make it difficult to truly identify where you need to improve.
- Identify Inputs
Once you identify the purpose of your process, you need to think about what it needs.
What research, tools, resources, etc. does it need to be successful?
At this point, you are most concerned with how things are right now, not how you want them to be. It may be helpful to draw out a map or similar diagram that shows exactly how a process works. This will be very useful later on.
It’s also important to think about costs as well. Assign a value to each step, either in terms of money or, even better, in terms of time. This will help you get a better idea of how you are allocating your resources.
In some cases, optimizing may mean comparing the costs of two services you need and finding a better deal, details you will miss if you don’t understand how time and money is being spent on getting things done.
- Step 2: Determine What’s Necessary and What’s Not.
Now that you’ve got a better understanding on what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re currently approaching accomplishing it, you can take a look for steps that are either not needed or could be combined with others.
At this point, it’s a good idea to consult heavily with your team. There may be things that they recognize as potential time and effort savings that you overlook. Or, perhaps more importantly, they may be able to stop the implementation of changes that appear more effective than they actually would be.
Experiment with different combinations of tasks until you find something that either reduces the time it takes to do something or allows you to do more in the same amount of time.
However, we should point out that this isn’t always going to become clear on the first round. As a result, when you make changes, you need to continue to communicate with all the relevant stakeholders to make sure your changes are having their intended effect and also so that you can spot any areas for continued improvement.
- Step 3: Identify Who Is the Best Person for Each Process
Once you have a good understanding of how you’re going to rework and optimize your processes, the next step is to think about the people you have involved in said process. Start by double checking that the people you’re asking to take on new responsibilities have the tools and the training to do so
When this is not the case, you’ll need to figure out where your gaps are and invest in helping people fill them. Optimization can go terribly wrong if your team is not prepared to make the needed adjustments.
There may be instances where you realize you don’t have anyone on the team with the skills you need to take on the tasks at hand, or it might even come to your realization that your optimization efforts are slowed because you don’t have enough hands on deck.
This is good news, as it means you are growing and are ready to bring on new people. And since you’ve done this exercise first, you can be very clear about what you need and what will be expected of anyone you hire.
- Step 4: Implementation and Evaluation
It’s important to never forget that optimization is an ongoing process, and that being a good business owner means never accepting things as “done.” Growth brings increased complexity, and as the business environment provides you with new challenges, you will need to make adjustments.
This is why evaluation needs to be integrated into everything you do. You need to always be asking if things could be done better. But it’s also important that everyone involved in the team feels free and comfortable about speaking up when they see an opportunity to optimize.
Making sure this happens means not only organizing consistent meetings where you discuss the processes that you have and how your changes have improved them or not, but also soliciting feedback directly from people through one-on-one communication.
Doing this brings the team closer together and gets everyone more committed to continued optimization and improvement, which is the real secret to building a healthy business that can stand the test of time.
Exactly how you go about auditing your business and optimizing will likely differ slightly based on the nature of your business and the people you have working on it, but if you follow this core structure for dissecting a process and determining its path to optimization, you’ll be setting yourself up with important building blocks for your business’ future success.
Caroline White enjoys writing about all things business & technology, with marketing media being a special area of focus. Additionally, she enjoys a good cup of coffee, Greek food, and spending time outdoors on the beach.