Five steps to fire up your productivity

The cold weather is coming, but there’s no time to hibernate in the fast-paced world of small business. As you set goals for the next financial year, it’s a great time to check if your productivity matches your exciting plans.

Productivity is quite the buzzword, but for good reason. On a national level, The Productivity Commission findings will be revealed in September 2017, and it's likely to recommend we need to boost our collective output to get Australia back on track.

For small businesses, productivity means making the best use of every resource – people or technology – to ensure you meet your goals while keeping costs in check. It’s about being process-savvy and set up to continually exceed your customers' demands. Being productive makes you competitive, ready to take up new opportunities and can help establish a great reputation that leads to growth.

Business performance coach Pollyanna Lenkic recommends asking if your team and processes are ‘high-performing’, or if there’s potential to fire things up.

“To grow your productivity, leaders need to invest in working not just ‘in’ the team, but ‘on’ the team, to help grow their engagement and output,” she says.

In today’s tech-driven world, focusing on five areas – how to automate, innovate, delegate, communicate and educate – could give your business the industrious spark it needs.

Step 1: Automate your admin

Thanks to tech advances, there’s great cloud software and apps to help you streamline processes and cut out repetitive work – a sure way to boost your productivity.

Business technology advisor and founder of digitalchampionsclub.com, Simon Waller, says to take advantage of affordable, off-the-shelf automation software. He uses tools to quickly pay invoices, reconcile credit card payments and streamline timesheet processing, saving precious time.

“Any small business that has employees, subcontractors or casuals can use software to get people to [automatically] track their time, and the type of work done,” he says.

Just remember to do research and test products, says Founder and Managing Director of Change Meridian, Michelle Gibbings.

“Ensure the tools you’re selecting are fit for purpose and can be easily customised to what your business needs,” she says. “Technology aids productivity, but only when the purpose for which it will be used is clear, and it’s integrated into how your business works.”

Step 2: Set time aside for innovation

‘Innovation’ is on everyone’s lips, from the Prime Minister through to startups in Silicon Valley. It’s a great way to boost your productivity, and could put you ahead of your competitors.

“Innovation is about improving and looking for ways you can do things differently,” says Gibbings.

She recommends setting aside time every quarter to focus on the pain points, and to encourage your team to create new, more efficient solutions to both internal and customer-oriented processes.

“Ask what’s working well and what’s not working well. What will help me close the gaps? How will taking that action benefit the business?” she says.

In theThe Innovation Formula, Dr Amantha Imber, founder of Inventium, writes that to help your team along, aim to build a culture that welcomes ideas, but also set an agenda to give innovation some structure.

“Clarify where you will focus efforts on sustaining innovation – existing products and services, internal innovations etc.,” she says.

Another way to do it, she suggests, is to "divide and conquer".

"Different stages of the [innovation] process require different skill sets. Allocate employee ‘champions’ to the front-end and back-end of the process based on their talent and experience."

Make time to innovate with your team

Step 3: Delegate and use time wisely

To make sure everyone’s focused on productive tasks – in other words the tasks that ensure you're on track to deliver your strategy on time and cost effectively – Lenkic says it's vital to do an honest review of what everyone does, how long they spend on it, and the impact it has on your company's output.

“I review the time spent and my resources. If I say yes to 10 proposals, I think about what that means I’m saying no to,” she says.

Lenkic says to set priorities, then reallocate work in a way that matches those priorities, and what people are best suited to achieve.

"Then as leader, get of the way and give them space to achieve. [But] be there when they need you."

If you find you or your team are stretched, or are struggling with tasks they don't have the right skills for, delegating externally could be the trick. Tapping into the vast online talent marketplace could help you get a task done faster, by the right person. Sites such as Airtasker, Freelancer, Fiverr or Upwork are designed to make briefing, booking and paying for assistance simple.

Gibbings says with both onshore and offshore freelance talent options, remember to check any risks, such as privacy or security.

“Test a few people on small projects before committing long term,” she says.

Step 4: Communicate efficiently

As a small business, you’re in a perfect position to build great relationships with customers. A customer relationship management (CRM) technology program can make this straightforward.

CRM software is a great way to boost productivity, as it helps you capture all of your customer data in one spot, track your interactions with them, see patterns of their interest in your business and communicate to one or many customers – particularly for marketing purposes – quickly and accurately.

Waller says there are a handful of good CRM options suitable for small businesses that are more accessible than expensive, large enterprise packages. When searching for the right option, he always asks, “How do we bring all our customer data into the one place? How can we access it anywhere? What better service can we provide?'”

Waller says a system like Base CRM can be installed on your mobile. He uses one personally, and when a call or message comes from a client, it brings up details of their last conversation, helping him to instantly pick up where they left off.

“After the call you can quickly add in details of what it was about and if they’re interested or not,” he says.

Outsourcing work during busy periods can help your team to get on top of workloads

Step 5: Educate yourself and your team

It may seem counterintuitive, but Gibbings thinks one of the most productive things you and your team can do is to stop and take some time to learn new skills or explore technology tools.

“There are fabulous courses available online. EdX and Coursera are two of my favourites. These are free and provided by universities around the world. For example, you can learn how to code, lead teams, or design budgets,” she says.

Armed with great technology, bright ideas, external help, a handy CRM and some new skills, you and your team will be on track to being super efficient, customer-focused, industry competitive and successful!

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