As an entrepreneur, what does a typical day look like to you? It probably involves getting up at six, reading the news in your industry, grabbing a quick shower and breakfast, and then heading to the office.
You arrive at the office early and start making your way through some of those boring routine things that just have to be done before the deluge of phone calls and emails start arriving from 9 am onwards.
The problem is that all of those issues take up an enormous amount of time. Problematic clients, technical issues and members of staff with emotional problems. Before you know it it’s six in the evening and the day is over.
The typical day of an entrepreneur emphasizes the growing importance of streamlining: having the ability to remove many of the daily, routine tasks so that you have more time to spend on the things that robots and computer algorithms can’t do, like what new product your customers might like.
Kevin McElligott is the founder of a California technology consulting firm. He says that streamlining your business can make life less of an ordeal for everybody in your company, including you. Here are some of his ideas on how to do just that.
Empower Your Employees
These days, top-down organizations aren’t doing all that well. Take Kodak, for instance. Instead of relying on information from its employees or looking at the data, Kodak relied on the expert opinion of the people at the top of the company. They believed that they had insights into what the market wanted that were better than anything the data or their employees could tell them. As a result, when the digital camera revolution hit in the late 1990s, Kodak – which had focused on old-fashioned film cameras – was left high and dry. Within a few years, it had completely gone out of business and had been superseded by other, more innovative outfits.
Now think about the companies that are doing very well for themselves. Take Valve, for instance, the company behind games like Half Life 2 and the game purchasing platform, Steam. Valve doesn’t have a hierarchy, per se. Instead, each person who works for the company is able to work on projects of their choosing and have their input taken seriously. Because of this policy, Valve is now considered to be one of the most innovative companies in the world, able to quickly adapt to changes in the market.
Startups that are hierarchical rarely do very well. This is because it is almost impossible for CEOs to have all the information that they need to make the right decision. It’s much better to make use of other brains in your organization – that is, your employees – to find out what it is that the company could be doing better. Delegating responsibility to employees also frees you up from having to constantly make decisions about things that you don’t have any particular expertise in.
Automate Routine Tasks
Over the last decade or so, it’s become increasingly evident that software is eating the world. But what exactly does that mean? Essentially, it’s referring to the fact that some processes that used to be done by humans or separate pieces of kit are now being embodied in computer algorithms. For instance, 3-way matching automates a lot of the human work that used to go into filing invoices, doing payment orders and filling out the appropriate accounts. Now all those things are essentially done by computer, with no human involvement whatsoever.
It’s quite amazing just how much time even modern startups spend doing things like processing invoices and making payments when these are precisely the activities that are ripe for automation. Invoice processing takes up an enormous amount of time in most companies, and it’s a boring task, one that many entrepreneurs could do without.
It’s also possible to automate a lot of the so-called “knowledge work” in your company by investing in software. Remember, software isn’t just able to do basic, routine tasks anymore, like add things up. It’s also increasingly able to do complex things, like understand handwritten receipts and automatically make entries in your accounting software.
Some business processes can’t be automated away using software. They can, however, be outsourced. There are dozens of examples of outsourcing in the business world. Perhaps the most common is the outsourcing of business IT infrastructure. Thanks to the cloud, it’s becoming easier and easier for businesses to get another company to take care of their IT systems. Companies avoid all the hassle of employing people to fix their systems when they go wrong, and they enjoy faster turnaround times if something does go wrong, thanks to the fact that experts are usually on hand to monitor and solve problems.
Another popular example of outsourcing for startups is fulfillment. Many e-commerce startups don’t want to spend a fortune developing their own parcel management systems. Instead, they go to an external company who already have the machinery and the expertise in place to fulfill all their orders.
Small businesses who successfully use outsourcing put themselves at a cost advantage and remove a lot of the “grunt work” from their operations.
Get Rid Of Paper
Most startups are on the software bandwagon, but there are still some that rely on paper. Paperwork can pile up quickly and lead to unnecessary delays.
It’s a good idea to find out why your business is generating paperwork to begin with. Go around your organization and ask members of staff why they feel that it is appropriate to use paper in any given circumstance. Next, get them to tell you what information they get from paper that couldn’t be found online or displayed on a screen. And finally, make sure you know why paperwork is important for them to perform their job. This will help you ascertain whether it is something that is truly necessary.
Often you’ll get answers like “this is how I’ve always done it.” Answers like these prove that for a lot of paperwork in your office, there is no real business case and things can be improved.