Being self-employed means you wear a lot of hats in your business. Over 10 years, I’ve been a project manager, account manager, developer and marketer. Through all these roles, I knew I was being inefficient and unorganized. And as an entrepreneur, time was my biggest constraint (not money). But, I wanted to take on more clients, build applications to sell and grow my business.
Change was needed. It took a lengthy overhaul to get things under control, but we quickly found ways to spend more time on profitable activities.
1. Put the Existing Processes on Paper
First thing to do is to understand your process. We put every single step of processes on “paper” – regardless of how ridiculous it was. This allowed us to get clinical about everything we have been doing, giving us a full grasp of each process and who was involved.
2. Identify Areas for Improvement
After getting a process on paper, it was easy to identify the problem areas. For us, it was three problems:
- Wasting time – Most of our time was misspent on non-value-added tasks that ultimately did not have any bearing on our customers’ satisfaction such as compiling time sheets, which lacks any profit potential.
- Communication breakdown – We had a lot of confusion about “who does what” resulting in duplicate work or client requests falling through the cracks.
- Patchwork client documentation – Our invoices lacked detail and were being challenged by clients. Sometimes the client found errors, but the larger issue was the time taken to put together all the detail. It delayed our ability to pay our staff.
3. Set Objectives
Fight the instinct to get overwhelmed, and use your new knowledge as empowerment. We established objectives for each area of need (primarily operations and finance) and prioritized them. This way we could improve one by one.
4. Invest Time and Money and Put in the Process in Motion
It was obvious that we needed to simplify our processes and find tools to help. After comparing some tools, two solutions proved instrumental in helping us finally find our equilibrium:
- Zendesk – It allows us to standardize and manage our sales and support inquiries. It also helps with assignments and responsibilities, and keeping roles clearly defined. The wiki feature helps us provide process and procedure documentation to the team.
- FreshBooks – It simplifies our team time tracking, invoicing and processing payroll. The invoicing feature (in combination with direct deposit services provided by our bank / payroll vendor) makes billing for time faster and more accurate. Clients no longer challenge our invoices.
We also invested time in building two widgets that allowed us to take better advantage of these solutions:
- ApproveTime, a Zendesk and FreshBooks time tracking widget bridges the two applications to make capturing billable time seamless.
- Time Tracker, a Google Gadget for FreshBooks allows our staff to log their billable time while using Gmail or iGoogle.
Before our overhaul, our senior staff spent 100% of their time reacting to client urgent requests and issues. Now our process allows our senior staff to focus 100% of their time on our value-add development. We have more satisfied clients, more clients and we can even build applications to sell.
How have you simplified or improved your business to get more revenue?
Interested in writing a guest post for Fresh Thinking? Please contact John Coates.