Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Mladen Ryhard @mladenryhard. Mladen is the Owner and Chief Trainer of IX Productions Technology Training and is at the forefront of business efficiency and business process improvement with his “IX Efficiency Modules” for successful companies. He is a well-respected entrepreneur and professional in the community, having consulted with various prominent organizations. Mladen’s ultimate goal is seeing everyone “working smarter not harder,” doing more with less.
SmallBizLady: What do you think causes the productivity challenges that you see in small businesses?
Mladen: As a business grows and develops, there isn’t always time to update operational processes. The strain builds and the operations can’t handle the increased workflow which starts to affect customer service. They’d love to keep expanding, but worry about whether they could actually keep up with any further new work.
The challenge is how to leverage their existing technology tools to the fullest extent.
SmallBizLady: What are some of the specific challenges facing expanding businesses?
Mladen: Staff struggle with everything from password management and document storage to painful month end reporting. Invoicing and payroll start to consume a lot of time, and it gets difficult to keep focusing on expanding the business. Following up with referrals and slow paying clients, or touching base with existing clients can look like a huge luxury!
As stress increases, the “wish list’ items so important to an entrepreneur’s dreams can fade far into the background.
SmallBizLady: There’s a ton of software out there that’s supposed help create efficiencies – should small businesses be investing in it?
Mladen: There is some amazing software out there. But software doesn’t fix processes. There is no silver bullet. Software magnifies the situation – if have well documented and thought out systems already, it will help make them better.
I recommend working on improving the systems and processes before jumping into a software solution. The second system a company buys is the best one. They’ve painfully learned everything they need to know on the first one!
SmallBizLady: What is one of the traps that expanding businesses fall into?
Mladen: When people get frustrated with their software, they often want to abandon it and purchase something new instead. Yet, people usually have the tools they need to solve most problems – the advanced features of Word and Excel.
If the software can’t create a certain report don’t throw it away! Export the data and create an automated Excel report. Often you can create several automated reports in Excel from the same exported data with macros or Pivot Tables.
SmallBizLady: Everybody knows Word and Excel. Are you saying there are some secret magic features?
Mladen: They do have thousands of features and using them in a unique way can often produce some pretty magical results.
For instance in Word, Mail Merge can be used in a magical way to fill out the same information on multiple forms. Put all the forms in a single Word document. Turn it into a merge file with the wizard but use a blank source file.
Now set up ASK fields for say a first and last name and put the name fields throughout all the forms.Enter the first and last name once, and all the forms get filled – even if one form uses JOHN SMITH and other SMITH, JOHN.
SmallBizLady: Can Excel and Word tricks really have a serious impact on a business?
Mladen: Absolutely! With the Mail Merge trick, one company was able to double its clients while keeping the same number of staff.
Even more powerful is when Word and Excel are combined. For example, some dispatchers fill out forms for drivers by hand. But what if they miss something or make a mistake? Instead, what if the dispatch form was a mail merge document? In seconds, all the relevant information in the dispatch spreadsheet could be printed on the form – legible and complete!
Now there’s no guessing and no more redoing jobs. The savings in frustration is huge – savings in dollars even greater!
SmallBizLady: Why is it that so many people use Word and Excel yet so many small businesses have operational issues?
Mladen: You can walk to the store, or you can drive to the store. You’ll end up at the store, but how fast did you get there? If someone is going copy, paste, copy, paste all day long, chances are that Word and Excel are not being fully utilized.
I’ve seen people take 8 hrs to manually rearrange monthly sales data. Using formulas and macros – 10 minutes.The value of automating tasks is huge. In this case, the task 48x faster and it’s created over 7 hours out of thin air!
SmallBizLady: When does it make sense for a small business to buy a larger software system?
Mladen: In my experience, small businesses invest too soon in large CRM and ERP systems putting a financial strain on the company. The automation and streamlining capabilities of Word and Excel allow the company to grow with the same number of staff.
By working on its processes, the company improves its odds of making a successful transition to a large software system. It also improves its margins in the process by the time it is ready to make the purchase.
SmallBizLady: You mentioned keeping the same number of staff. Don’t staff worry that improving processes will put them out of a job?
Mladen: On the contrary, companies love to keep good people. Being more efficient makes them even more valuable. Companies worry about their key staff leaving. Improving the processes actually increases retention of great staff.
In 20 years, I’ve never seen staff let go because of process improvements. Instead, I see them busier than ever! Greater efficiency allows to people to spend time on tasks that previously no one had time for.
SmallBizLady: What is one thing that a busy company could do right now?
Mladen: Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Book a Friday afternoon with staff. Write down the time being spend on processes like invoicing, payroll and month end.
Pick one of the easier process. Brainstorm what it will take to shave off half an hour a week. Next month, choose another process. Making this small change will save over 250 job-hours per year.
In my experience, investing in the business like this yields huge returns. It really is like making time out of thin air.
SmallBizLady: Is there another productivity tip you can give our audience?
Mladen: Here’s a simple small business document management system that you can implement today. Get a numbering stamp, a reasonably fast scanner (at least 10 pages per minute will do) and some bankers boxes. Every piece of paper that comes in gets stamped with a number, scanned and then goes into the box in number stamp order. The scanned documents can now be organized on the computer in any preferred order – by client, by priority, by project.
Make sure you take advantage of long file names and name those scanned documents as descriptively as you can. For instance “2015-12-03 – Smith Co – Proposal for new sign” or “2016-03-30 – Allstamp – Numbering Stamp receipt (Visa)“.
It will take only seconds to search for what you need. Need the original? The number of the original is in the top right.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses move beyond becoming overwhelmed by their own success and make the leap to the next level?
Mladen: Don’t wait. I can’t stress enough the importance of preparing ahead of time for the next stage of growth. More specifically, plan for expansion by getting operational systems in place that will grow with the business. Set up good systems for your payroll, invoicing, and month end. And don’t forget about kpi reports. Technology tools should be used to their maximum efficiency. This in turn creates more opportunities to think and plan!
Download the template specifically developed for #SmallBizChat to calculate your Top 10 sales, Top 10 clients… tiny.cc/Secret07
Join me on my free webinar for more productivity tips and tools – this Friday, April 1 at noon Eastern: https://ixproductions.clickfunnels.com/webinar-registration8614558
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz
For more tips on how to start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.