Process optimization is often considered a super boring topic by most.
Well, just the word process (pra-cess for the American readers!), seems to lull people to sleep.
It inherently means to many the implementation of boundaries, documentation, and red tape. All of the above which give small business owners extreme anxiety.
I spent several years as a strategy management consultant for large retailers.
More often than not, the biggest challenges facing these retailers were not how they were going to market, but how they were operating internally. Their processes, and consequently internal communication channels were mixed up.
As a result, much of my consulting career was spent untangling a web of messed up processes that drove everything from marketing, buying, to social media management, ecommerce and store operations.
Processes are considered as something you do not need until you are 'large enough', but my firm opinion is that processes are necessary for any business of any size, at any stage.
As you grow, your processes will have to change, and flex.
You will need to adjust, and grow with the increased business, but one truth is certain, you cannot NOT have process.
Without process is chaos
Imagine your business today.
You get an order. You likely pick the order, print a ship label, possibly put some marketing material in the package depending on the product, maybe a hand-written note, and seal the package, put a sticker on it, and drop it at a post office.
Now, picture doing this 100 times a month, now 1,000 times a month, and finally, 10,000 times a month.
You're certainly NOT the one who will be shipping that 1000th package on a monthly basis (or at least I hope not), but how will you ensure that the shipping is done in a way that meets your brand and business standards?
The answer is process.
Implementing a process helps build efficiencies into your business early on.
It also will streamline operations, and make the transfer for knowledge way easier once you actually hire your first employee, and when you want to scale your business to new levels.
Without process you are stagnant and restricted to knowledge that only YOU hold.
How to Create a Process
Creating processes doesn't have to be cumbersome.
Start with the end objective in mind. What is the objective of this process? Shipping? Inventory receipt? Returns?
Grab a sheet of paper, and map out every single step that is involved in the process. Make each step in a box or square with arrows pointing in the direction of the process. If there's a point in the process, where it changes depending on an outcome of a step, be sure to notate that. For example, for returns of goods. START PROCESS. Customer Requests a Return --> You send the Returns Process Information and a Return Authorization Number --> Customer Ships package back to you & Sends tracking information --> You sign-up for email updates for tracking --> Once notified the package has arrived, you pick up the package. --> Inspect the returned goods --> If the goods are in saleable condition, re-open the customer order, and process refund. If the goods are NOT in saleable condition, email customer. --> Send customer a confirmation email of return, and re-enter inventory into system. END PROCESS.
Test the process. With your next use of the process, test it by walking through it, or better yet give it to a friend or family member (or better yet, an employee) who is not familiar with the process and see if it makes sense. Notate any stumbling blocks or questions that come up during the process.
Clean up the process map -Using Excel or PowerPoint (or Pages/Numbers) is a good way to document a process cleanly. Here are a couple of examples of process maps that are fairly basic. Example 1. Example 2. Ideally you want a flow chart type document with an associated narrative (basically a document writing out all of the steps, and frequently asked questions at each process step). These can be stored for future use on Google Docs or DropBox, or Trello or other project management software.
Share the processes with your team - As you grow your team, onboard employees to each process. And don't forget to go back and review each process that you develop periodically to see if there are opportunities to optimize the process and make it more efficient.
What Types of Processes should you create
Start with the biggest processes that drive your business -- Shipping, Fulfilment, Inventory, Buying, Marketing, Returns, Exchanges, Customer Service. Many of these processes may require smaller sub-processes as well.
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