I recently came across an interesting blog post by preeminent business author, Seth Godin (of ‘Purple Cow’ fame), on increasing efficiency in small businesses.
He advises that by having a technical expert watch you work for an hour (someone who is intimately familiar with basic, commonly used business software and tools), they will be able to make recommendations that will make you more efficient, and that these efficiencies will more than pay for the services of the expert within a week.
Excellent!  Boom-bang-done!  Presto-chango.  You’ve just gained hours a week and the drudgery of several tasks has gone by the wayside, replaced by an automated system that will continue to pay dividends with every passing week!  And who am I to argue with such advice?  After all, a key part of our business offer is to provide just such insights to our clients.  This is the essence of our 'Acceleration' phase.
So, I’m not going to question Seth Godin's advice, per se.  Clearly, I embrace his intent.  However, I feel compelled to augment this with the caveat that you will get far more useful recommendations if the technical expert you engage has a strong foundation in business management.  Indeed, in my experience, the business management perspective is more important than the detailed technical expertise.
In a small business, you are generally dealing with relatively basic programs and tools, and as such, the technical details of implementing a solution are relatively straightforward.  If not, you just might be using an elephant gun to hunt squirrels.  If this is the case, you may want to consider simplifying your toolkit to suit your needs, rather than massaging a complex, expensive system and modifying your processes to fit the system.  ‘The right tools for the right job’ is the best approach every time.
But back to the point at hand, first (and most importantly) you have to know WHAT you want to implement.  With business management experience comes the ability to prioritize the many possible technical solutions that might be of value.  A clear understanding of what the programs and tools can do within the context of running a small business will have a far greater impact than an expert implementation of a ‘cool’ or ‘cute’ solution that ultimately has marginal value.
So, think about the software and tools you use to run your business and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are they serving your business, or have you modified your processes to fit their system?
  2. Do you know how to use them, or do you just know how to access the information you need?
  3. Is there more power within the tool that you can benefit from if you had time to look into it?

The biggest challenge is that most people are vaguely aware of the answers to the above questions.  But taking action and addressing the problem is postponed for more urgent tasks - "I'll look into it later"...really means "never".
Over the years, we have been able to transform the tools used by many of our clients, often with only a few minor tweaks and a little tutoring.  Electronic systems often mirror the paper-based ledger systems, lists, forms and reports that they replaced well over a decade ago.  With an intimate understanding of what the tools can do, and driven by the context of business management, tools can be transformed from isolated activities into systems that fully support key activities as well as the strategic and tactical objectives of the business as a whole.
So, simplify your business.  Don’t go hunting squirrels with elephant guns.  Know what you’re trying to do and use the right tools to get you there.

Call me if you need help with this.  It’s what I LOVE to do!
Yours in Success, Differently.

  - Brian