Tax & admin · 10 June 2020

How to overcome bottlenecks in your business

Retail expert, Catherine Erdly, shares her advice on dealing with bottlenecks in your business…

During these strange times, while many businesses have been negatively impacted by coronavirus, others have grown exponentially. It’s natural for business owners to want to grow their business – to sell more products, to grow their core team, and to increase their profits.

However, not every business is prepared for growth. Some businesses aren’t able to scale because their current systems, processes and resources are limited, causing bottlenecks in production or delivery.

But just because a business isn’t ready to scale at the moment, it doesn’t mean that it will never grow! Potential bottlenecks just need to be identified and overcome in order for a business to develop and flourish, and every business owner has the ability to do this.

To successfully overcome bottlenecks in your business, there are several factors that need to be considered in order to identify potential obstacles on the path to growth:

Physical resources – do you have the physical resources in place to deal with a sudden increase in customer demand? If you hold stock, do you have systems in place so that you have sufficient time to order (and receive) more stock before you run out of an item?

Do you have the storage or office space necessary to store your stock and to pick and pack orders? Do you have enough computers and associated hardware and software to deal with customer orders, enquiries and other day to day business tasks?

Think about all of the ways that a sudden increase in customer demand would affect your business, and highlight the potential problems that you could face. Once you have identified how your existing physical resources could limit growth, it’s time to think about how you could relieve the potential pressure that would have on your business, either by increasing resources, or adjusting your existing systems and processes.

People power – do you have enough hands to deal with all of the extra work that is associated with growing your business? When you are starting out, it’s all too easy to try and juggle numerous roles within your business, from buyer to warehouse manager, customer service assistant to accounts manager!

However, if you’re working every hour of the day, I’m afraid the likelihood is that you aren’t working effectively. We all have our unique ‘zones of genius’ within our business, and for every business owner there are tasks that can be outsourced (or passed to an employee) to free up valuable hours. Customer service enquiries and picking and packing orders are just a couple of the tasks that are relatively simple to pass to another individual to manage.

Why not create ‘how to’ videos to clearly demonstrate your tried and tested processes for packaging items or dealing with customer issues?

That way, new team members can easily learn your preferred methods and watch and re-watch the video as many times as they need to pick up all of the useful hints and tips you provide.

Time – Are there enough hours in the day to deal with an increase in customer demand?  Would your working hours increase far beyond a level that is healthy and sustainable if you were suddenly over-run with orders? If you answer ‘no’ to either of these questions, it’s worth seriously considering taking on help from freelancers or employed team members.

Remember, if you have more time to focus on attracting customers and finding positive business opportunities, it’s likely that you will be able to bring more money into the business to help cover the hourly wage (and associated costs) of team members. Admittedly, growing your core team can be an incredibly daunting process because of the increased financial demands on your business, so start small and be realistic with your business goals. Part time staff or freelancers helping for short term contracts could be a better solution if cash flow is an issue in the early days of your business.

Efficiency – This is a bottleneck that affects every business, large or small! There are always things that even the most successful business can do to improve efficiency, so it’s worth regularly reviewing your own systems and processes to make sure they are the best they can possibly be.

Something as simple as organising your work area so that you can quickly and easily find items you need to dispatch when an order comes in can help to improve business efficiency.

Also, if you manually create emails for every customer to advise them that their order has been shipped, have you considered using an automated email marketing tool that can send these personalised emails for you? Every minute that you can free up from these tasks gives you and your team longer to dedicate to other important aspects of your business.

When identifying potential bottlenecks in your business, it is important to note that you are unlikely to find them all in one go.
Set aside some time every quarter to review your business systems and processes and establish whether you could be doing anything better.

If you do encounter a bottleneck, don’t panic! You haven’t done anything wrong. Every business will face obstacles on their unique path to growth and success, and the vast majority of these can be overcome effectively with a little thought and effort.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Catherine Erdly has over 19 years experience working with product businesses of all sizes from high street names (such as Paperchase, Laura Ashley and Coast), all the way down to brand new businesses with just a handful of customers.

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