What is one thing you have learned about business operations as a small business owner?
To help companies gain insights from real small businesses, we asked experienced entrepreneurs and small business CEOs for their best advice. From learning to run your systems to having a comprehensive business plan, there are several things small business owners have learned about operations that may help guide your company’s operation planning.
Learn to Run Your Systems So Your Systems Don’t Run You
A business cannot be sustainable, or scalable, if it relies on a manual process to operate. Quick test: If you step away, can your business continue generating revenue and delivering an exceptional customer experience?
If “yes”, take inventory of your operations to assess if updates are needed. If sales decline, cease, or your clients are dependent on your presence to get results, it is time to make a decision.
- You can decide to remain where you are, or position yourself for sustainable and profitable impact. If you choose the latter, you will want to:
- Take inventory of the all tasks required to operate your business.
- Organize these tasks into the following categories (I do, Automate, Delegate, and I Don’t). That last category allows you to see the things that you know impede your progress.
- Continue doing the tasks assigned to you.
- Automate or routinize the tasks that are repeated.
- Delegate, outsource, or hire someone to manage or oversee the automated tasks.
– A. Margot Blair, AMB Consulting & Co.
Administrative Skills Are Imperative
Most business owners start a business because they are good at something… cosmetology, gardening, accounting, advertising… But when we become a business owner, we realize that the most important task of any business is business administration, and most of us have not been prepared in that area. Hence, we learn – if we do – the hard way.
– Liz Topete-Stonefield, Multicultural International Advertising, Marketing & Public Relations Executive
Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
I run an online business and quickly realized that the only way to grow is to create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that list out processes for various tasks. Creating these SOPs help to remove you in the day-to-day operation and allow for you to hire others to complete tasks that normally would have taken the majority of your time. With the addition of SOPs, you can spend your time focusing on bigger strategy goals and growing your business further.
– Kristine Thorndyke, Test Prep Nerds
Clients Need Relationships With Multiple Team Members
As a small business owner, I have learned that relationships are integral to operations. Clients make connections with employees and come to associate these points of contact with the company. It is important for customers to have some exposure to more than one team member, because otherwise, if an employee moves on to other opportunities, the client can feel slighted or adrift and may feel like they are starting from scratch with a new advisor after so long as a loyal customer. While there should be one main contact, if clients are familiar and comfortable with more than one team member, then these transitions are much easier.
– Michael Alexis, TeamBuilding
Delegation, Communication & Project Management
Details matter more than ever when you have to maximize a smaller number of resources in your business and throughout your business operations. As a small business owner, I’ve seen time and again that it’s essential to define who is responsible for what tasks helps ensure no unintentional duplication of effort, and nothing slips through the cracks. This is done through delegation, communication, and project management. As a small business owner, if you can master these three things in your business operations, it will set you and your team up for continued success.
– Elyse Flynn Meyer, Prism Global Marketing Solutions
Don’t Forget About Long-term Goals
When running a small business, it can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day operations. While things like customer service, managing finances, restocking, and employee management take up most of every day, you should not forget about setting achievable long-term goals for your business. To be a smart entrepreneur, you want to have your business’s big picture in mind or you’ll limit your potential growth. Ensuring that your goals are realistic for your business but quantifiable as well so you can track your progress will help get your business down the path you want.
– Tom Mumford, Undergrads
Utilize Automation Where You Can
For small and medium-sized businesses, as an owner, it can feel like every second of every day counts, and oftentimes you aren’t getting as much progress done as you maybe would like, which is why automation is so important. Pretty much every large-scale company automates at least some of their tasks, but this isn’t just a tool for the world’s corporations. You can automate emails for lead nurturing, keep your to-do list on track and organized, automate customer service, automation for the hiring and onboarding process, and so much more. There are tons of new technology and B2B SaaS companies that aim to help other businesses run more smoothly and give you time back to work on other projects.
– Saneem Ahearn, Colorescience
Have a Growth Strategy
While it’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty details of everyday tasks, a huge part of your business operations should include creating a rock-solid growth strategy that will help steadily scale your organization in the long run. Not only will you have something tangible to work towards every day, but you can measure your progress at every step of the journey, and identify key areas for improvement.
– Harry Morton, Lower Street
Cash Flow is King
You need to be mindful of your expenses and make sure you are bringing in enough revenue to cover them. Having excess cash flow in a business enables owners to have more optionality, time, and leverage in both operating the business and raising capital, so it is critical that they get this right.
Two types of businesses often struggle to maintain healthy cash flow: 1) high growth businesses and 2) low margin businesses.
Although these businesses seem very different, both tend to spend too much on operating costs. Simple ways to achieve healthier cash flow are to hire contractors with fixed statements of work rather than full-time employees and to reduce supplier costs, which in technology typically means optimizing the use of hosting services and integrating more efficient workflows for contractors and vendors.
– Matthew Ramirez, Paraphrase
Build Local Company Relationships
The pandemic has taught so many small business owners the importance of building local relationships and how it can impact your operations during uncertain times. Establishing strong relationships with nearby companies, business leaders, and service providers can provide a guaranteed source of goods that might not otherwise be available from larger suppliers that are also used by your competitors. If you aren’t sure where to start networking in your area, speak with your local chamber of commerce that works with every business in your local community.
– Brett Estep, Insured Nomads
Importance of Customer Loyalty
As a small business owner, I have learned the importance of a loyal customer. Repeat business is so important. Your loyal customers will not only increase your revenue through their own purchases, but they’re also a great referral source. If you can incentivize your loyal customers to refer your business to their family and friends, you’re golden.
– Jesse Richardson, The Brothers Apothecary
Resolve Small Problems from the Start
Running a small business can teach valuable lessons about business operations. One of the most important things I have learned about business operations is that resolving small issues from the start can make a huge impact later on. Often times as a busy business owner, small glitches or issues can get moved down the list of priorities however, if left unresolved, they can turn into large problems costing time and money. Take time to identify and address any weak spots in your operations and areas you can improve. Asking employees can lead to valuable insight on areas of improvement as well. They are the eyes and ears of your operations and likely have ideas on how to improve processes. If the small problems are settled, you can focus your time on the rapid growth of your small business.
– Jeffrey Pitrak, Transient Specialists
It’s All About People
Every business is about people, and this is especially true with a small business. There are people associated with every business on the operational front and those associated with it as external stakeholders. And when a small business owner pays due attention to the people related to the business, the operational components fall into place automatically. From sharing ideas to optimizing the business framework, every part of the operational structure works smoothly when the people involved are on the same page.
– Azmaira Maker, Ph.D., Aspiring Families
Have a Comprehensive Business
I have learned the importance of a business plan. A quality business plan helps you create a winning growth strategy, determine your financial needs, and attract investors. It can also help achieve both your short-term and long-term goals. Without a comprehensive business plan in place, it will be difficult to run the day-to-day business operations. Your business plan ultimately helps you steer your business in the right direction.
– Natalie Waltz, Tabu
Learn more about how you can grow your small business with Arizona Small Business Development Center (ASBDC) Network.