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Designing Processes That Work For You

Olivia Chiong, The Unbusy Entrepreneur

The thing about developing business processes is that every business and every business owner is different. Thus, this will not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Use this article as a guide to help you consider what works for your unique situation.

Now that you know what tasks you are spending the most time on, decide on their orders of priority and start getting items off your desk. The objective is to systemise most of your administrative and operational tasks so that they can be easily delegated and you can spend more time on developing the business and the things you enjoy.

Before you start generating sales, you must have a sales process in place. The process starts with the first contact you have with a prospective client, all the way through submitting a proposal, closing the deal and delivering the product or service. It needs to be systemised and cannot happen based on whims and fancies. The best way to figure this out is to note down how you are currently doing it.

For example, say you are in the exhibition business. A large part of your sales process begins with going out to meet new vendors. You do this by attending other people's events or networking sessions. From there, you collect name cards of the people you meet and follow up with a phone call or an email.

The problem with this process is that you often spend so much time going out and meeting people that you start neglecting the other aspects of the business. Emails start piling up because you are constantly out of the office. After your initial phone call or email with the potential vendor, there isn't any 'next step' in the process so you don't sign them up as a client. Eventually, you feel overwhelmed because you've met 100 people but only two clients have signed up to be part of your exhibition.

Without a process in place, you're not getting enough sales.

Contrast this with hiring a salesperson to go out and meet new vendors. After meeting the vendor, the salesperson follows a 5-step process to close the sale:

1. Send the potential vendor a brochure of your upcoming exhibition. Offer some added value by including a small booklet of the top 10 tips for exhibiting at any event.
2. Follow-up with a call a week later and arrange a meeting to discuss participation in the exhibition.
3. Meet with the potential vendor and provide a detailed proposal on why they should take part.
4. Send the standard contract and close the deal.
5. Book the vendor into the exhibition once payment is made.

Only when an effective process is in place can the sales happen consistently. Having a step-by-step process will help you to more easily identify and tweak parts of it for greater efficiency based on the results you are getting.

This is especially important when you start hiring and delegating sales-generating responsibilities. An established sales process serves as a guide for your salespeople to understand what works for your company and how you like things done. This is true for all areas of your business.

Another big time sink is administrative tasks or paperwork. I generally recommend going paperless as far as possible. At the same time, streamline your processes to minimise unnecessary paperwork by automating as much as possible. One example is customer orders. Ideally, you would have a platform where everything can be processed online. Let's go back to the example of the exhibition business.

Commonly, customers need to print and fill out a registration form, then physically mail or scan and email it back to your office. Upon receipt, you have to check it and enter all the information on the form into your database. After this, you then manually allocate a space to the customer and email them again. They, in turn, email you back to approve the booth allocation before you issue an invoice for payment. Finally, you wait to receive the payment before being able to complete the sale.

This is a long-drawn-out process that is likely to take place over a week or more.

Contrast this with an automated online checkout process. Customers proceed to a website and enter their registration details. This information is sent directly to your database and booth allocation is automatically made for the customer using those details. Customers can change their preferences from options you have made available on the website and make their payment online. In most cases, you will receive payment confirmation immediately. The whole process takes less than an hour.

Since all the registration information is already digitised and sent directly to your database, you only need one person to double-check the information and payment details. Everything else can be automated and validated through technology. If a customer would prefer to speak with someone, you can still have someone call him and talk him through the online registration process. However, as far as possible, encourage customers to submit information directly to your system. It will save trees and, more importantly, time.

By now, we know that we cannot do everything ourselves. We need a team to support us. Your operations team will be the heart of the business because it is what makes the company tick. In order to run an efficient business, we need to outsource the areas of operation that can be easily taken care of by others and keep only the essential strategic parts for ourselves.

Operations are different from admin and sales because it typically is a huge part of the business. There will be operational functions you cannot remove yourself from completely. It's a little bit like being the principal of a school. Even if you are not the one teaching, you need to know the overview of what everyone else is teaching.

As the business owner, you should be taking a high-level view of your operations and delegating the daily running of the business to others. In the ideal scenario, you should focus on the strategic aspects of operations and not the daily processes. Usually, when we are too close to a problem, it's difficult to figure out how to fix it. However, once you are able to look at it from a distance, you will be in a better position to guide the business to greater heights.

The objective is to work on your business, not in your business.

Remember, we want to be spending 80% of our time on what we enjoy and only 20% of what we don't. Outsource, automate or strategise. Regardless of which method you deploy, the key is always to ensure that you are happy with the business and that you get up each morning excited about it.

So, if what you like is the sales process, then focus on doing that and minimise the other two aspects by outsourcing. If you enjoy running operations, then allow yourself to take on that role and outsource the other tasks to a virtual assistant that perfectly matches you and your business needs.

This article was originally posted on the Unbusy Entrepreneur blog.

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