As an online business manager, one of the key functions of my role is to help my clients find ways to improve business efficiency.
Whether it’s documenting things their team does every day or outlining processes for my clients’ content creation, there are so many things within a business that can be replicated to not only ensure consistency, but also save a ton of time the next time you go back to do something similar.
A common struggle I often see with clients is over-complicating things that could be done in fewer steps, and as a result, I’m always looking for ways to simplify the experience of running a business. In my experience, when it comes to shoring up processes and systems, the biggest benefits can be found in two main areas — internal processes and content creation.
Over the years I’ve written multiple blog posts outlining some of these processes or “how-to” actions, and I call these my “Unpack It” series. I’ve taken various things that business owners do and tried to strip them down into the easiest, most actionable steps possible.
Now, hot on the heels of a global pandemic, a lot of business owners are using this opportunity to look critically at their business and find ways to improve efficiencies. So if you’re one of those people, this post is for you!
To help you get started, I’ve rounded up 10 ideas for things you can look at to improve business efficiency along with tips for how you can streamline.
Unpack It: Your Internal Processes
#1. Customer Service Manual
If you’ve ever read any of my content, you’ll know I’m a BIG proponent of making sure your internal processes are airtight, and for me, that begins with having a great customer service manual.
Any business will have some frequently asked questions, along with common customer service related tasks that may come up, including:
- Refund requests
- Delivery of items
- Client responsibilities
- And more!
Build out how you commonly handle these issues item by item until you’ve covered the basics. The goal is not to cover every possible request, but rather to focus on addressing the most likely issues your customer service team will see. This creates a solid foundation for your customer service manual that will allow them to handle the majority of issues without your direct input.
#2. Deliverables and Deadlines List
Having a deliverables and deadlines list serves two purposes:
- It provides a clear timeline for your team when completing tasks.
- It helps clients know how much time projects are going to take. (I like to include this in their welcome packet).
To get this started, create a list of all the different things you provide for clients. Consider all the things you provide, whether they’re project-based, retainer-based or add-ons.
Next, you’ll want to figure out roughly how long each item takes to complete. This is clearly something that can vary, depending on your team’s current workload. However, having a base amount of time is enough for the purpose of the list and can be adjusted later on if you realize the time you’ve estimated is way off the mark.
One key to making an accurate list is accounting for all the back and forth that will happen as you build your timelines. You need to allow for changes or testing, so you don’t want to assume that delivery day actually means something is final.
#3. Expense Management
A common issue I encounter when I first start working with a business owner is they’re looking for help reigning in their expenses.
I know all too well how easy it is for things to slide out of control — whether it’s an annual renewal you forgot to cancel, or paying for two tools that do the same thing. All those little things add up to more money going out the door than necessary.
The first action I take with business owners looking to cut costs is to have them create a master list of their recurring expenses. When making the list, note the following:
- Name of the item
- How it appears when charged
- How much it is
- How frequently you’re charged
- What it does
- When to cancel (if applicable)
- How long duration of charge is (if applicable)
Once that list is created, it’s critical to schedule regular reviews to audit and update it. Doing this quarterly is usually appropriate, but depending on how your brain works, you may prefer to just update as you go and simply review the whole thing at regular intervals.
Not only does tracking this way help you keep a better eye on expenses, it also makes things MUCH easier come tax time.
#4. Rightsizing Your Email Provider
As your business grows, what you need out of an email service provider may change. However, if the idea of changing from one email provider to another makes you break out in a cold sweat, it may be something you’re dragging your heels on.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Like most things in business (and life), with some good planning moving email providers doesn’t have to be a huge hassle. Before you start the move, you’ll need to have a full inventory of what you’re currently running, including things like Lead Magnets, Priority Wait Lists, Automated Email Sequences or Content Upgrades.
Changing providers can improve your business efficiency and it’s actually the perfect time to take a look at what you have, and ask yourself if you really need something or if you can let it go with the move.
Depending on the type of business you have, how you handle your customers through the transition may be a tiny part or a huge part of the process. It’s very common for e-commerce businesses, for instance, to use an all-in-one platform that houses both your payments and email automation. In this case, you’ll need to consider how switching services will impact a number of things.
Look at things like:
- Order forms
- Confirmation emails
- Past customer access to purchases
As for timing, I always recommend making the switch at a time that’s less busy. Look at the ebb and flow of your business, and try your best to do it during a downtime so if there are any issues it will have less of an impact.
#5. Customer Testimonials
Customer testimonials are an essential part of building and marketing your business, but if you don’t have a process in place to gather them it can be all too easy to let them slip through the cracks.
When you choose to ask will really depend on your workflow — depending on how you work with clients, asking for a testimonial might make the most sense after a big win during an ongoing engagement, or it may be better suited at the end if it’s a one and done project.
What matters most when asking for customer testimonials is that it’s easy for your clients. By having a set list of questions you ask and a template you use to make the request, your clients can simply fill out an automated questionnaire and that’s that.
Once you’ve gathered the testimonials, you should also have a place to store them, whether it’s a testimonial folder on your shared drive or a master google doc where all testimonials are copied and pasted into.
Finally, just a word of encouragement. Don’t be shy to ask! You know who your happy clients are, so asking for a testimonial is no big deal. Nothing beats being able to show how you get results using words from your very own clients.
Unpack It: Your Content Creation
#6. Blog Posts (That Get Results)
Most business websites nowadays have blog posts, but creating blog posts that help grow your business can be time consuming and overwhelming, especially if writing isn’t one of your primary skills.
It’s all too easy to just throw together whatever and not look at how the content links to the bigger picture of your business goals, so you want to have a strategy before you even get started. The more you can plan out, the better your business efficiency.
Look at your business plan for the next six to twelve months so you know the big milestones that are coming up and when. By knowing what your next offer is, be it a webinar, a course or something else, you can create blog content that seamlessly leads your audience in that direction.
From there, you can create a content schedule that supports your goals, along with a plan for how to roll it out. Consider where you can promote the post, what images or video you can use and how you can get the most eyes on the content.
The more you plan this in advance, the easier it is to stick to it.
If you want to have a newsletter that goes out at regular intervals, having a newsletter system to do so will help you avoid the last minute scramble of realizing it’s Wednesday and your audience is expecting to hear from you TODAY.
One of the most important things about newsletters is consistency, so before you do anything else, you need to decide on frequency – doesn’t matter if it’s weekly, biweekly or monthly, you just need to stick to the schedule. Once you know when the newsletter will be going out, you can then build a workback schedule for the creation of the content.
I’m all about creating templates, so take some time to nail down some of the smaller details like:
- Fonts you like
- Font size you want
- How headers should look
- How images should appear
- The “from” details, etc.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what your newsletter should contain, I suggest you look at the newsletters you receive and make note about which ones you love and why, and then decide how you can leverage some of those concepts for your own content.
Creating and hosting a webinar can be a whole lot of work, but with some effective webinar prep from the get-go, it’s much easier to manage all the moving pieces.
Like any other content you create, webinar planning starts with choosing a topic and creating an outline. This doesn’t mean you need to write an entire script, but you want to plan out all your key points.
Obviously webinars are heavily reliant on technology, but before you go out and blow a whole bunch of money on fancy tools you may not even get your money’s worth out of, make sure to do your research.
Consider whether a support person would be helpful during your live webinar. It can be useful to have a dedicated person manning the chat for instance. They can focus on helping audience members with tech issues and answer basic questions so you can focus on the content. This person can also collect questions for any Q&A period as well as provide you with important feedback on things like audio, screen sharing, and slides.
Once you have the what and how nailed down, then you’ll need to move on to registration and promotion, including:
- Creating your sign up page.
- Creating a confirmation email.
- Creating a follow up email sequence
- Deciding on your call to action for webinar participants.
#9. Facebook Ads
These are one of those things that people often outsource, but if you know how to prep Facebook ads effectively, choosing to DIY can be much less painful than you think.
There are five essential pieces of information you need when setting up a Facebook ad:
- The place you are driving traffic to: Whether you’re driving traffic to a landing page, a sales page, or anywhere else on the web, be sure to have the proper URL handy.
- The ad image: There are lots of do’s and don’ts for ad images, but the exact steps often depend on what works in your industry. Also, when dealing with Facebook, the rules that applied six months or a year ago may not be true today so it’s always best to check what the latest parameters are.
- The ad copy: Your ad copy has three main pieces — the above the image text, the headline and the newsfeed description.
- Who you’re targeting: Targeting is essential to the success of your ad. Even if you have the perfect image and stellar copy, if you’re showing it to the wrong people your ad will still flop. So, decide how you want to target your ideal clients and don’t be afraid to test until you get the right combination.
- The pixel: Your pixel should go on the final destination of where you’re driving traffic to. You can get pretty slick with pixels and place them on a variety of pages but, if you’re just getting started, keep it simple on just worry about the end goal of your ad.
Bonus Unpack It: Taking a Break
While this particular tip is a little different from the rest, I still want to include it.
Because entrepreneurs and small business owners are notorious for not taking enough time away from their businesses, and we all know that over-working actually leads to serious overwhelm and exhaustion.
Fact is, you NEED to take a vacation. Nobody should be working 24/7 and not having an opportunity to rest and reset.
By unpacking all these different processes and systems to improve business efficiency, you’re making taking time for yourself much more possible.
#10. CEO Vacation Time
After some initial struggles trying to figure out how it was even possible for me to disconnect, and a few mishaps along the way, I’ve come up with my own little list of things to do in order for my team and my clients to be successful while I’m off enjoying some down time.
- As soon as you decide on your time off, be sure to block it off on your calendar.
- Check in with clients about any outstanding projects so you can plan appropriately.
- Check in with your team to ensure any necessary coverage is available.
- Prep your marketing for the time away.
- Prepare for any expenses or invoices that’ll need attention while you’re gone.
- Empower your team to handle as much as you’re comfortable with — and perhaps even a bit more.
- Establish clear parameters on when and how people can get a hold of you.
- Wrap up early! Don’t work until the last possible moment.
Once you’re sure everything is under control, you can turn on that out of office notification and get busy relaxing!
Improve Business Efficiency One Step at a Time
As you can see from all the different options, there are lots of places you could start and it would be easy to be overwhelmed trying to do it at once. But if you want to improve business efficiency, you have to start somewhere!
Choose ONE area of your business, like content creation, and make a list of what you’d like to accomplish. Then prioritize the list, starting with the areas that will make the biggest impact. Most importantly, don’t forget to involve your team! They’re your most valuable asset when it comes to gathering insight on how your business runs and how you can make it even stronger for continued growth.