It began as everything does: at the beginning. Your business was just a seed of an idea, taking root in your brain until one day it made it onto paper. From there you nurtured it and marketed it, and it blossomed into a living, breathing thing that pays the bills.
Now that your business has matured, you’re finding that however exciting it is to be at the helm of a successful business, with every day comes a new and completely different challenge. Doesn’t your business almost seem to have a mind of its own sometimes?
Let us guess. It never feels like you have quite enough help. Departments have multiplied and so has the number of employees within them, and processes that used to be simple now take way too long from start to finish. Whether your business is small or large, there’s simply more paperwork in general, and all of your filing cabinets are stuffed to the gills and taking up too much space. The projects you take on today have extraordinary scopes, requiring you to meet stringent regulations and rise to higher standards.
Yep, sounds like growing pains.
Occam’s Razor might have you thinking that the solutions to these problems are simply to hire even more staff or move to a bigger space to fit all those filing cabinets. However, we’re lucky that today’s technology provides us with a host of other solutions that are more cost-effective, more scalable, and more sustainable in the long run. We’ve got some ideas to help you address your booming biz pain points, plus some inspiring stories from other business owners who did it first.
Growing pain #1: Not enough hands on deck
In a growing company, no matter the size, it’s natural that as more business comes in, so does more work for everyone. Little odd jobs keep popping up, and in order for them all to be handled everyone has to get on board and wear multiple hats. While wearing multiple hats can be a fun challenge at first, it can also easily morph into major employee burnout if it goes on for too long.
Wisdom from Seth Levine, partner and co-founder at tech investment firm Foundry Group: if you start to notice that certain “odd jobs” come up repeatedly, it might be time to outsource them. Here’s more from Seth:
- Low-hanging fruits are the ones you want to outsource – tasks that don’t require much specialized knowledge about your business but do take up time. Think things like calendaring and handling travel logistics.
- Create workflows and routines around repetitive tasks. For example, if you notice yourself spending time to craft a thoughtful email reply full of resources and helpful links, save that response (Seth recommends TextExpander) so you can repurpose it to help somebody else.
- Leverage an executive assistant and/or support staff to help. If you can’t afford to hire a full time assistant, consider hiring one part-time or just outsourcing specific tasks to firms or software (e.g. Clara Labs for scheduling; Pana for travel logistics).
The benefits of outsourcing these types of tasks are many. While one alternative might be to hire in-house staff, that’s much more expensive because it involves a time-intensive recruiting, hiring, and onboarding process, plus salary, benefits, and equipment. Plus, outsourcing to remote staff means you won’t have to make room in your already-cramped offices.
Seth Levine mentioned that tasks like scheduling or travel logistics are perfect candidates for outsourcing, but let’s think about what else could be outsourced:
Consider working with a marketing firm or freelancers on branding, copywriting, or social media. You can also utilize an email marketing platform like Constant Contact to automate lead nurturing emails based on customer behavior, location, or demographics.
Mail and email processing
Outsourcing your mailroom lets you direct all incoming mail to an offsite PO box, where it’s professionally opened, scanned, and indexed. Digitized images of your mail are delivered electronically to the appropriate parties within your organization for review and processing.
Email inbox management can also be outsourced to save you the hassle of managing your inbox and downloading and trying to organize attachments or embedded documents to prepare them for processing.
We asked Meredith Wood, editor-in-chief at Fundera, about using technology to simplify business finances. She told us:
“Tech solutions have the potential to be game-changing for busy small business owners and entrepreneurs who have so much on their plate. Smart use of technology can save a business owner time and money by automating some of the nitty-gritty financial tasks that need to get done, leaving them time to focus on the things they love doing – running their company.”
A great example of this is AP automation. Automating key AP processes might mean you may never have to open another invoice again! Instead, invoices are scanned and indexed before processing so they can be routed for approvals electronically. Plus, OCR technology captures the full text of an invoice during the scanning process to allow you to search for any invoice using words, phrases, or numbers.
Growing pain #2: Stuck in processing purgatory
In a large business, getting paperwork done isn’t so simple. Documents needing approval probably have to travel through a manager, a director, and a VP, each of whom have different schedules, different priorities, and different systems for organization.
Imagine an invoice going through this kind of process before it can be approved and paid – if it takes too long, you could face a late payment surcharge. (And that’s not in the budget, now is it?) And picture the effects of long processing times in your human resources department. A new hire process with too many steps could cause you to lose out on the best candidates to companies whose hiring processes are swifter than yours.
In these cases, the solution is to implement workflow automation technology that removes the unnecessary steps from the process. Basically, workflow automation means digitizing documents and forms to allow them to be swiftly organized, shared, and processed. Workflow automation is versatile and can be applied to any department or process that needs it, from human resources to order fulfillment, and even to grievances and appeals.
We asked Kayla Matthews, owner and editor of the blog Productivity Theory, how she uses automation to maximize productivity and she had this to say:
“One of my favorite tips for eliminating workflow inefficiencies is to use templates. Apps and software are really great for creating templates that you can then use to totally streamline your work day. I have a template for almost everything I do, from designing images for my blog to outlining pieces for freelance projects. It might sound simple, but this really is my go-to productivity hack. And all the tech and apps we have available to us on a daily basis just makes templating super easy!”
While your business may differ in scale from Kayla’s, her advice still applies: automate repetitive workflows to save time. Start by automating one segment, like accounts payable or your mailroom, and take it from there.
Growing pain #3: Drowning in paper
As much as we try to stay on top of it, sometimes paper just piles up. Photocopies, filing cabinets, each department with its own methods for organization…it’s a familiar story, but not one without a simple solution: go digital.
If you digitize your documents, you’ll be able to access them easily when you need them rather than trying to sort through endless manila folders. Plus, they’ll be protected from the elements, will take up no space at all, and will be more easily searchable thanks to document indexing.
If you’re not ready for a whole-office digital overhaul, even the simplest of forms and processes can benefit from digitization. Satisfaction questionnaires can be created using electronic forms that do all the tallying and charting for you. Even moving to cloud document management software instead of dealing with the constant “Save As…” and “track changes” that come with cumbersome .doc files could make a world of difference in the efficiency of your business.
Sometimes technology does come with a learning curve, but that shouldn’t stop you from thinking creatively about ways that tech can help improve your business.
What are your favorite productivity tech solutions? Free software, paid services…we’re all ears!
Want to learn more about outsourcing your mailroom? View our infographic to find out how your mailroom can be outsourced in five easy steps!View the infographic