Delegation and its consequences

What is delegation?

Delegation is sharing tasks and authority with your team in order to accomplish your goals more quickly and effectively.

What happens if you don’t delegate?

• Your stress levels increase because you have more work than you can cope with
• This leads to unaccomplished tasks on your plate
• Your small business suffers
• Client expectations are not met

What happens if you do delegate?

• You can meet the demands of your business
• You create competence in your employees
• You nurture a sense of responsibility and trust
• Your small business benefits
• Client expectations are met

Why is it so difficult to delegate?

I encounter small business owners daily who find it extremely hard to delegate. They know that it’s the right thing to do, but are scared of losing control of the outcome. They know that they can likely do the task themselves more quickly and better than if they delegate it. They also are afraid that the time it will take to supervise the task will be more than if they simply did it themselves.

I met a business owner with the motto: “If I do it myself, I know it will get done.” This may be true, but he has a huge amount of stress because he tries to do it all himself, and the prospects of his business growing past a one-man show is very slim.

A simple example of the consequences of delegation

A client contacts two small businesses to complete a similar project. The deadlines are tight.

The owner of Company A understands how critical time is. Because time is so tight, he cannot go back later to reconsider or check the work done. He considers that his team have made some mistakes in the past, so he decides to tackle the project himself.

The owner of Company B also understands how tight the deadline is. He also realises that he won’t have much time to review the work done. He therefore sits down and breaks the project into specific parts. He then delegates each part to a team member. This frees him to check the work, since he has also noticed that his team has made some mistakes in the past.

Both the small companies meet the deadline with their projects. However, Company B delivers a more complete and well-thought out project. Company A with its overburdened manager ended up sacrificing quality just to get the job done.

Who will the client chose for the next project?

Superior Customer Service System: Your Competitive Advantage

What gives a business the competitive advantage?

The secret is providing top-notch customer service.

When your service is better than the competition, profits keep rolling in.

Think of your experience as a customer.  Have you ever been frustrated with dysfunctional telephone technology that features such customer annoyances like voice mail systems with frustratingly lengthy menu options?  What about the caller-hold features with maddening distorted and loud elevator music punctuated by commercial messages?  And then to add insult to injury, when a real person eventually answers the call, they have little knowledge about the company’s products and no power to solve your problems or fix what is wrong.

How do you provide unfailing top-notch customer service?

You adhere to a system that provides consistent customer satisfaction.

When designing a system for customer service excellence, keep the following in mind.

Characteristics of a superior customer service system

The system focuses on your customer

Your goal should be to satisfy the needs of customers and potential customers.  Walk in your customer’s shoes.  What problems are your customers experiencing?  Which is the best system to address those problems?  What kind of service delivery system would please you?

Your products or services as accessible

Design a system that opens the way for customers to do business with you.  Analyze your existing system.  Remove obstacles that prevent  customers from easily and conveniently doing business with you.

You are responsive

Design a service delivery system that is based on your customers’ needs, desires and expectations.  Make an effort to know your customers as if they were family members.  Their loyalty to you is based on your ability to respond appropriately to their needs.

Provide customers with accurate information

Consistently providing accurate information is crucial. This is especially relevant when it comes to technical aspects of products and information about warrantees, price, delivery, billings, and so on.

Provide an integrated system

Customers should be able to obtain all of the information they need from one source within your company.  It is exasperating when customers have to approach several people in your organization to be able to get the service or products they want.

Design a user friendly system

The process that the customer follows to access your company’s services should be friendly, uncomplicated, and accessible.  Make it as easy as possible for them to make the right decision.

Speed is crucial

Customer service delivery systems should provide assistance to customers quickly.  Customers perceive speedy help as excellence.

A customer service system does not just belong to the customer service department.  It is everyone’s business.  In developing a customer service system, it is absolutely necessary to involve everyone in the company.

10 Free Business Tools to Help Your Small Business Succeed

Any small business owner would like to keep input costs to a minimum, and nothing beats free!  Listed below are free business tools (click on the image to visit the site) that most business owners will use at some or other time.

Dropbox

This application makes it easy to store, access and modify documents, pictures, and videos online.  With a 2MB free plan, it is to be recommended.

small business tools

Google Docs & Apps

Also very handy to access documents from anywhere online with Google Drive with 5MB free storage.  You can have an e-mail address end with @yourdomain for free through Google Apps.

online business tools

Dooster

A very handy project management tool that allows you to keep track of project, people, milestones, and online documents.  It also has a time tracker tool.  You can have up to 3 simultaneous projects for free.

project management, online business tool

Contactually

This application keeps track of all your e-mails, and reminds you who to follow up.  It can integrate with most CRM programs, and is useful even as a stand alone application.  For more information, see my detailed post reviewing Contactually.

online business tool

Quora

A questions and answers site for business owners where you can showcase your expertise or ask questions.

online business resource

Free Conference Call

This allows you to make conference calls and host webinars for free.  It also has a recording function, which is very useful.

online free conference call, webinars

Square

The easy way to accept credit cards on the go on your iPhone, iPad, or ITouch.  You pay per transaction in the same way as with Paypal.

online business tools, credit card payment

Skype

An indispensable way of communicating online with business partners and clients internationally, either for free, or at a very reasonable rate.

online business tools

Mailchimp

A free newsletter email list for up to 2000 subscribers.  A great way to stay in touch and build up your credibility as a small business owner.

online business tools

Wave accounting

A free accounting system which can be compared to Quickbooks and is specifically for small business owners and freelancers.

online business tools

 

If you have come across any other really useful small business tools, please share them below.

An updated post on business productivity tools can be found here: 30-app-ideas-for-your-small-business/

Be more productive: Hit “Delete”

As a small business owner, people are continually making demands on your time and resources.  Have you, for instance, ever analysed the email you get daily?  You may get an email that is either inappropriate for the moment (eg. someone who insists on partnering with you)  or high-maintenance (“I don’t know you but I think you can you fix all my emotional problems with your detailed answer to this email.”)

These distracting demands on your time can be very flattering.  After all, this person believes you are the answer to all their problems.  Or they can be very guilt-inducing (“Why do you continue to ignore my cries for help?”)  However, you need to evaluate how these demands tie in with your overall business goals.

Your goals should include how you can serve your target audience best.  Your time is very valuable because you can use it to help people who really need your help (and these people are willing to pay you).  If you get caught up responding to every demand on your time, the attention you give your target audience and existing clients will not be the best quality.

If you get an email from someone you don’t know, but you have the potential to help them quickly or refer them to the right person, by all means, respond.  However, as difficult as hitting the “delete”  button may be, you will be more productive if you use it more regularly (with discretion).

Being productive really boils down to doing the right things right.  Are you serving your target audience by responding to a particular demand?  Or are you neglecting those who keep a roof over your head because you feel it might be right to respond to those who do not compensate you and never will?

4 Key questions to ask when you are planning

Every business needs a plan.  In fact, once you have set your goals, you cannot move forward without planning on how to reach those goals.  The better the planning process, the better your results will be.  It is crucial to have a written plan if you want your business to succeed in the long run.

A written plan also helps you achieve the following:

  • It keeps you focused
  • It allows you to make better business decisions
  • It eliminates the feeling of overwhelm
  • It ensures you’re working on the right activities
  • It saves you time by cutting out the time-wasters
  • It gives you a tool to convey to others where your business is headed

When planning for your small business, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is it affordable?

Finances play a big part in many strategies.  Consider the costs of advertising, transportation, resources, postage, and any other resources you will need for your plan.

2. Is it achievable?

Are the set goals realistically achievable?  Do you really have the money, time, support, facilities, and personnel to achieve the planned outcomes?  It is better to start small and build into a larger project as others join the team and key support is given in other important areas.

3. Is it sustainable?

If your business plan is successful, it is certainly worth repeating.  It may also be the case that your plan is part of an ongoing strategy, in which case you will need to keep looking ahead in order to organise what is needed to sustain your business.

4. Can it be evaluated?

All aspects of your business plan should be able to be evaluated (eg. finances, training, personnel, etc).  For ongoing business activities, definite and regular evaluation times must be set and adhered to.  Also be sure to examine how this venture contributed towards your overall business strategic plan.

What to include in your business Standard Operating Procedures

Ever wondered what to include in your small business Standard Operating Procedures?

Below is an infographic detailing the basics.

 

 

Once your Standard Operating Procedures are compiled, your business will be more productive, because you will not be re-inventing the wheel with each task.

Do you need help in writing your Standard Operating Procedures?  Please contact Virtual Productivity Solutions.  We can consolidate what you have, suggest ways to do routine tasks, and help you create a solid basis for your business.

The top 8 ways small business owners can benefit by outsourcing

Imagine having the access to experts for every aspect of your business.

Imagine that this access is reasonably priced.

Imagine that these experts can help you from anywhere in the world and that your business can go on even when you are sleeping.

Outsourcing gives you all the above.  It can be used as a strategic tool for making any business more productive and profitable.  Outsourcing means that you entrust the processes of your business functions to external vendors.

The main advantages for small business owners are:

  1. You only need to do the tasks you are competent at and love doing. Imagine not having to dread coming to work because you hate doing all the peripheral duties that are essential to your business success.  You will be happier and more productive if you outsource these.  You can, for instance, rather focus on building your brand, developing new ideas, or developing wonderful customer service.
  2. You save money and boost your profits.  You save money by paying for productive time only, and you don’t need to worry about employee taxes, office space, equipment, vacation time, etc.   Outsourcing helps you to improve your continuity and customer service, while freeing you to pursue profitable activities in your business.
  3. You can achieve a better work-life balance. A person loses a lot of their creativity when they are stressed and overworked.  Outsourcing frees you to take time off from work, knowing that the work or customer service does not end just because you are not there.  You and your business will benefit.
  4. You have access to world-class capabilities. You have access to new skills and highly trained professionals at a lower cost, without having to manage them directly.  You can supplement resources that are not available internally.  You therefore have the same advantages as a large company who has these resources in-house.
  5. Focus on core activities. Often small business owners are consumed by the non-core activities at the expense of core activities.  Back-office operations and administrative functions take time and energy.  Outsourcing helps you to have more time and opportunity to grow your business.
  6. Staffing flexibility. There are some times during the year that you may need more support than others.  Outsourcing allows you to increase and decrease support for your business according to demand.
  7. Time zone advantages. You can get your work done while your business is closed at night.  This allows you to provide customer support even when you are not working.  Through outsourcing you can service your customers faster, provide better quality and decrease turnaround time.
  8. Boost your productivity and efficiency. If your business goals are properly aligned with the deliverables in outsourcing, you will increase productivity.  Outsourcing providers with the right expertise and experience can actually help streamline business processes and contribute to the bottom line.

What can I outsource?

You are basically only limited by your imagination as to what you can outsource.  To get your creative juices flowing, consider the following ideas:

  1. Website creation/maintenance.  Instead of spending hours figuring out how to do things or fix mistakes, you can pay someone to maintain your WordPress blogs (setup, periodic backup, etc)
  2. Content creation.  This is a process that takes a lot of time, and can be outsourced.
  3. Video creation.  There are people who can create a high quality video at very reasonable costs
  4. Graphics are great to outsource if you are not good at it, or it takes too much time.
  5. Customization and management of key business systems, for instance having Standard Operating Procedures compiled and revised regularly, database setup and maintenance, etc.
  6. Project management support.
  7. Human resource management support.

Your success and freedom as a small business owner depends on your ability to focus on what you love and what you do well, and eliminating or outsourcing everything else.

Ask yourself:  what is the first step I need to take to become a prosperous small business owner?

Make 2012 the year that you allow your business to grow more rapidly through outsourcing.  E-mail Virtual Productivity Solutions to start enjoying the benefits of outsourcing.  Not only can we do work you’d like to outsource, but we can help you determine your priorities and what you should outsource for optimum productivity. Your business will thank you.

Just your basic SOP!

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Small Business Fundamentals.

What are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?

One of the most useful systems to streamline your business is having a Standard Operating Procedures manual.  It is a working document (accessible to all staff) that provides detailed instructions on specific recurring work processes.  It communicates who will perform the task, what materials are necessary, where the tasks will take place, when the task must be performed, and how the person will execute the task.

This forms the backbone of an organization.

Standard Operating Procedures should be designed to achieve specific results.  Management must decide what business goals will be achieved through better management with SOPs and how those goals will be measured.

The purpose of SOPs is to assist employees in the daily operations of the workplace and to ensure that critical company policies are followed.  It provides written documentation of best practices.  It also provides the foundation for

  • Job descriptions
  • Employee training
  • Corrective action and discipline
  • Performance reviews

Why does a small business need Standard Operating Procedures?

  • It provides the basis for communication.  Employees work better when they are well-informed, able to perform their jobs autonomously, and are able to feel effective in completing tasks.  Management can feel confident that daily operations are running smoothly.
  • It provides clarity.  It decreases errors and mistakes, conflict, and enhances the feeling of fairness and equity in the workplace.
  • Because of its clarity, it reduces training time, provides direction, and improves work uniformity.
  • It protects employers in areas of potential liability and personnel matters.  A SOP ensures that all employees have access to those policies.
  • It maximises smooth operations.  The ideal is that the SOP will ensure that employees know the policies, rules, regulations, and standardized methods for accomplishing specific tasks and goals.  It also makes it possible for the work to go on when key personnel are not available.
  • It promotes consistency and reliability within the workplace to maintain quality control and assurance.

A few points to consider when compiling Standard Operating Procedures

  • In order to ensure that the Standard Operating Procedures address the goals of the organization, a needs assessment should be conducted to find out which policies and procedures should be included.
  • Standard Operating Procedures should be written as clearly and simply as possible.
  • Various formats can be used to enhance clarity.  For instance, you can use simple steps, hierarchy steps, graphic images, or flow charts.
  • The level of detail in SOPs should provide adequate information to keep performance consistent while keeping the procedures from becoming impractical.
  • Drafts should be made and tested before a SOP is released for implementation.
  • Make the document rigid enough to document the rules of the organization, but flexible enough to be able to be followed easily.
  • Get the input of the staff that actually do the job.  People are much more likely to accept and use a SOP if they feel a sense of ownership in it.

Revision of Standard Operating Procedures

Once the SOP has been approved, a schedule should be set for reviewing it.  Every SOP should be reviewed annually, or, at a minimum, bi-annually to make sure that the practices and policies are still relevant and have not changed.

Does your business have Standard Operating Procedures in place?  Do you need to revise your documentation to make is more up-to-date and relevant?  Contact Virtual Productivity Solutions to get your business processes mapped out.

6 Reasons Why Things Go Wrong in a Small Business

It may seem discouragingly pessimistic to start the new year thinking about business failure.

However, being aware of potential pitfalls help you avoid them in future.

Areas where businesses seem to most often experience problems:

1. A bad idea from the start

Introducing a product or service for which there is neither need nor demand is the surest route to failure.  A good idea must be commercially viable in order to succeed.

2. Unchartered waters

So many small business owners launch into their ventures without a plan or clearly defined goals.  It is like starting a journey through unchartered territory, without a map or even a destination.  How will you know when you are there?

3. Forgetting to budget

Very few small businesses yield a large profit from day one.  You need to budget so that you don’t run out of money just before you make it big.  Start-up costs often turn out to be much higher than expected.

Money is the life-blood of your business.  A cash-flow squeeze is the single most common cause of small business failure.

Sentiment can compound the problem.  Small business owners are often reluctant to charge people (especially family and friends) for the real worth of their products or services.

4. The human factor

Personalities play a crucial part in the success of failure of a small business.  Business partnerships are comparable to marriages:  tough times, long hours and constant contact can bring out the worst in the relationship.

Small business owners often cannot bring themselves to hire people to do the things they can’t or don’t have time for, or even to ask for help.  Others make the mistake of hiring someone just because his/her labour is cheap.  It is better to have someone who is competent working two hours a week than a full-time incompetent soul.

You are the driving force behind your business:  progress will depend on how much energy and enthusiasm you put into it.  If you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to succeed, you will succeed.

5. Falling off the rails

So many small businesses fail because their owners underestimate the importance of keeping up-to-date with simple day-to-day matters, picking up problems only when they have reached serious, even irremediable proportions.

One serious mistake can take you years to recover from.

Expanding too quickly when you don’t have the infrastructure to handle it can prove fatal.

Failure to keep up with what is happening in the marketplace can lead to major setbacks as you lose touch with customer requirements, new trends, and what your competitors are up to.

6. Marketing mishaps

Many small business owners assume that their wonderful product or service will sell itself – and they learn better, too late.

However, there is no surer way to learn a lesson than through your mistakes.

Staying a step ahead

Just because you are achieving what you set out to do doesn’t mean that you can sit back and relax.  Some guiding points:

  • Retain your focus and stick with your original, researched concept.  At all costs maintain your planned path, and stay with your market.
  • Be meticulous about keeping up to date with your financial management and accounting systems.  Maintain stringent controls and don’t take too much money out of the business.  Outsource this to a reliable VA if you don’t have the time to spend on it.
  • Customer service is paramount.  Develop personal relationships with your clients.  Extra special service is something people are prepared to pay even more for.  Poor service is the quickest and most effective way of shedding customers and a good reputation.
  • Keep up to date:  ensure that you are constantly aware of trends and take time out to establish what your competitors are doing.
  • Continuous marketing is a vital ingredient of growth.  Never sit back and expect business to keep on flowing your way, even if things are going really well.  Think constantly of new ways to improve your marketing strategy.
  • Take time often to reassess your goals, your direction and your strategies.

May this year be the year that you exceed your dreams for your small business!

Advice from a Google+ fan

This morning I had an interesting conversation with a friend from the UK, who has been using Google+ for 5 months.  He finds it really addresses his needs.

Lyndon says:  “Google+ is not so much about your circle of friends, but more about your interest circle. Think of it more in terms of Twitter, but Twitter on steroids. I joined Twitter very early on and I’ve used it exactly the same way I use Google+, but with hugely different results. To date I have a grand total of 22 followers on Twitter (over a period of 4 or 5 years).  Google+ opened about 5 months or so ago and I already 1118 people following me! It’s just so easy and natural to grow a network on here. The key is to follow as many interesting people as possible. Use the search to search on your own interests and then follow all of the interesting posters. There are a couple of extra tools and tricks that you will pick up as you go.”

The choice of social platform is a personal one, but Google+ certainly seems to offer so much.

He provided me with the following links as an overview and introduction:

The Google Plus Social Network
http://goo.gl/hPd1Y
http://goo.gl/1vPoh – excellent tips and shortcuts
http://techcrunch.com/2011/10/22/i-believe-in-google-plus/

As a small business owner, you will need a page for your business which is separate from you. You can use your business page for very specific news about your business and re-shares relevant to your topic. You use your own personal profile for everything else. Read more about business pages here:

http://goo.gl/vI5aX

So why not join Google +?  And while you are there, feel free to link with me at https://plus.google.com/103219313910843675416