With over 10 years of small-business marketing experience and over 13 years of direct sales experience, Brian King outlines several ways your small business can optimize operations and get back to what you do best, serving your community. Brian is the co-founder and CRO of Rain Retail Software and has a degree in Business Management from the BYU Marriott School of Business.
One of the charms of running a local small business is that you can take the time and energy to connect with each individual customer. Unlike big-box retailers, you don’t need to rush through each day to maximize profit.
That said, there are several benefits that arise when you prioritize efficiency in your small business. For example, you can create a more enjoyable experience for employees who feel as though their workday is productive and non-chaotic. When you save time and money, you can reallocate those resources to create the best possible experience for customers. And lastly, when you run an efficient business, few things can sway you— even if things change or you get busier, you’ll be prepared for the change and able to pivot while maintaining your company’s charm.
If your business isn’t as efficient as you’d like, it’s time to put some thought into how you’ll combat the challenges you’re facing. We’re going to cover the following four tips to add efficiency to your small business:
- Prioritize team member training and coaching.
- Maintain an online inventory of products and services.
- Automate marketing and outreach.
- Seek out industry-specific business management tools.
When you’re competing against big-box retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target, efficiency is the key to elevating your small business. When you spend less time on administrative tasks, you save time for what makes your business stand out from the crowd: your attention to detail and care for each individual customer.
Prioritizing efficiency at your small business will help your company grow during times of triumph and sustain during times of crisis. So, let’s get started with tip number one.
Prioritize team member training and coaching.
Team member onboarding and training can be expensive. Each minute that an employee spends shadowing a peer, listening to an educational presentation, or practicing key skills in a simulated situation (e.g. practicing responding to customer questions with a peer) is a minute that they’re not actively bringing in revenue to your business. That’s before you even consider the time used by the employee who’s leading the training.
As a small business leader, you understand that time is money— and, the last thing you want to do is dedicate significant hours toward bringing a new employee up to speed (let alone, conducting ongoing training for current employees). But, before you rush a new employee through an hour-long onboarding session, consider the many benefits of effective team training:
- Increased employee satisfaction. Astron Solutions, a company that specializes in small business HR consulting and technology, discusses ongoing training as a key aspect for organizations looking to increase employee recruitment and retention. When your employees feel well prepared for their roles, they’ll experience more success over time. And, when they feel like you’ve invested in their development, they’ll have more of a connection to your small business.
- Saved management time. As a leader, you want to equip your employees with the tools to solve challenges on their own— not bring every problem they encounter to you. By taking the time to impart much of your knowledge to your team members, you give them more autonomy in the day-to-day operations of your business. Then, you can spend more of your time growing the company, rather than putting out every fire that arises.
So, where should you focus your efforts when it comes to prioritizing team member training? Of course, you’ll want employees to understand the ins and outs of your product or service— whether you sell a niche product, like musical instruments, or you provide a specialized service, such as crafting classes.
Beyond that, employees should receive thorough training on navigating any technology you employ, such as your point of sale (POS) software. They should understand your approach to customer service to ensure they can maintain the highest level of care for each individual customer. And lastly, they should be trained on navigating a wide variety of crises that could arise— whether a natural disaster in your area or an easily-resolved billing error.
Maintain an online inventory of products and services.
How many times each day do you receive a call from a customer, asking if you have an item in your inventory or if you have any openings in an upcoming class? We’d guess quite a few. Each time you answer the phone for an inquiry like this, you’re using up time that could be spent on other activities— such as speaking face-to-face with the customers who are actually in your store at any given moment.
Of course, you can’t simply not answer the phone and leave the calling customers to fend for themselves. That approach will result in disappointed in-store customers, who made the drive to your business only to discover that whatever they were seeking is no longer available.
But, what if you could save time and make sure your customers are well-informed of your current offerings as needed? If you maintain an online inventory, you can do just that.
The easiest way to do this is to invest in a retail POS system that allows you to create a website with an online inventory that updates in real-time, as products and services are purchased through your POS software.
For example, let’s say you sell a variety of one-of-a-kind, handcrafted jewelry. When a customer purchases a piece in store, it will automatically be removed from your website. Then, other customers won’t see the piece listed in your inventory online, only to come to the store and discover it’s no longer available.
Your POS system should make it easy for you to create this online inventory. For example, seek out web-building tools such as:
- Ready-to-use widgets and templates that allow you to quickly create an attractive inventory site.
- An event calendar to share updates about upcoming classes and courses.
- Responsive design to ensure your site is viewable on various devices.
Beyond saving time and improving the customer experience, an online inventory can also increase the foot traffic to your business. Interested prospective customers can peruse your inventory and this could be what convinces them to visit your storefront.
Automate marketing and outreach.
We’ve come a long way from walking around the block and stapling up paper flyers about your business or hand stamping and mailing promotional materials. However, while email and text message-based marketing efforts are certainly quicker than analog methods, it’s not particularly efficient to press “send” on each communication one by one.
This is why it’s so beneficial to invest in small business management tools that allow you to automate marketing outreach, including emails, text messages, and even invitations to leave Google and Facebook reviews (both of which can be incredibly impactful for main street retailers).
Not only can these automated communications keep your company front-of-mind for loyal customers, but they can also prevent wasted time. For example, let’s say you run a dive shop. One of your service offerings is individual diving excursions, in which private parties schedule a session with dive instructors. These lessons often take up an entire afternoon, so if a party fails to show up during its booked slot, it can be a significant waste of time for your team.
With text messaging and email marketing, you can send reminders and notifications to confirm that the party is planning to show up for its booked time slot. And if they respond that they will not be showing up, you can quickly fill the time slot with the next available group.
Seek out industry-specific business management tools.
Aside from prioritizing team member training, each strategy in this guide relies on the small business management software in which you invest. There are a variety of general small business tools, many of which can go a long way to improve your organization’s management. However, to truly make your company more efficient, seek out industry-specific software.
For example, let’s say you run a music shop that specializes in stringed instruments. According to Rain POS, there are management systems created specifically for music store operations and therefore come with industry-specific benefits such as:
- Integrations with key databases and resources, such as Reverb, the online music gear resale website.
- Provider expertise, such as industry-specific association membership which allows the provider to be the first to know about innovations in music merchandising.
This is just one example of the benefits of industry-specific small business software; similar benefits can be found in tools created for other types of main street retailers, such as craft shops, dive shops, and ski shops.
During times of triumph and times of uncertainty, committing to your product or services is key. Industry-specific tools help you do so.
When you save time spent on administrative tasks, you have more time for what matters most: connecting with customers and bonding over a shared interest in your field. Over time, you may even be able to expand your offerings for customers and offer new opportunities for employees as well (such as exploring the world of workplace philanthropy).
By prioritizing team member training and investing in the right tools, you’ll add efficiency to your main street retailer.