When Excel is not good enough anymore

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Stagnation, lack of development is something no business can afford, especially in its early days. Entrepreneurs often wonder if they’re heading in the right direction, and where the company is on its business journey. How to check it?

Have a goal

To measure progress, first — you need something to keep the measure of. Therefore, from the very beginning, you should choose and define your Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. KPIs are used to chart a business on its way to success and profits. Things like web traffic, conversion, or average order value — can be all your KPIs.

When establishing your goals — you might be better off listening to line managers and frontline employees instead of just making assumptions yourself. As each of them is responsible for a specific process or its part, they will be able to give your business specific KPIs. This will truly show how your company is doing.

But what business processes really are? Actions that lead your business to achieve intended objectives can all be referred to as a process. From the way you handle phone calls with clients to whether and how your company supports them when they receive the finished product. Each task can have a significant impact on achieving the defined objectives.

Monitor changes

Most companies today are well aware that business processes are key to increasing competitiveness. The processes are central in acquiring new customers and keeping existing customers satisfied over the long term — all while reducing expenses. To achieve this effect business owners have to keep a very close eye on their processes.  What’s more, they need to apply substantial effort to identify and, at a minimum, document their processes.

As an example, we can take the process of managing purchase orders. Quite accurately, most of us choose the simplest and most familiar tools to handle the process. Therefore, in the first phase of the company’s development — customer base or stocks are usually written down in a simple notebook. If you want to present an offer to the customer, you usually do it talking about what you have to offer. Likewise, when it comes to emails — you write each message personally, word by word.

Although these are not the most sophisticated methods of running a business, I think we can all agree that if they fully satisfy your needs — you can call them effective. Unfortunately, they tend to lack one important thing — room for growth. Working on your business processes, you should never forget about potential growth or upcoming changes.

Don’t be afraid of the revolution

A revolution in process management usually starts at a point when the number of your customers — let’s say from 5, suddenly increases to 20. It turns out that writing everything in a notebook is a very ungrateful method of collecting data. Similarly, when it comes to offers. With a larger number of customers passing information orally becomes, to say the least — troublesome. At this moment, usually followed by optimization of inconvenient processes, the notebook is replaced by an Excel file. The offer, on the other hand, takes the form of a visually attractive presentation. In case Excel solutions start to fail — it is worth to look for software that will support and automate at least some of your actions.

On the market, there are many off the shelf solutions that successfully help improve everyday work of the company and its customers. Look for existing programs that provide administration and finance support. Don’t hesitate to find applications that help with sales and marketing as well.

When it comes to projects and files management try apps like Asana, Trello or Dropbox. As for the payment, you may find PayU, PayPal, and Braintree helpful. You should also try some instant messengers to stay in touch with customers and employees, for example, Slack, RocketChat or LiveCall. Applications for managing the entire sales process, like PipeDrive, LiveSpace, and Outreach. Moreover, programs such as MailChimp or FreshMail can help to prepare and handle mailing campaigns, as well as build communication with customers.

Invest in best

There is also the possibility that after optimizing several processes you’ll run out of tools that respond to the challenges your company is facing. At this point, when you already understand your business processes and how your business is developing, you may want to reach for a dedicated solution, designed specifically for your needs. This approach will enable the software house that will prepare a solution for you not only address your needs but also the corporate culture and management style.

The key to controlling processes is monitoring them on a regular basis. and you moving forward stage by stage. Just like in programming, you might want to start with an MVP. Find out what it is that you really need, as well as when you need it. Each company and each business process have individual development path. Following the changes closely will let you react accordingly in time, making room for further development.

The values that you define as your KPIs — even estimated very briefly, allow you to check whether you fulfill your business goals. There is no need to fear numbers — you can always adjust them. Only having your indicators in mind while working on your business processes will allow you to find the best way to optimize — off the shelf tools, or dedicated software? Once you know what you seek — finding the right solution is only a matter of time.

Originally published in Polish at http://mamstartup.pl/rozwoj/10673/kiedy-excel-juz-nie-wystarcza-dojrzewanie-procesow-w-firmie

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