How To Audit Operational Gaps Before Peak Season

There’s no doubt about it: 2021 has been a busy year for small business owners. As you navigate this strange season of balancing an ongoing pandemic with the need to return to normalcy, you may have found yourself too busy to tie up loose ends and create a sustainable path for future growth. 

During the peak of the pandemic, you may have used your innovative muscles to pivot, adjust and adapt. From side hustles and added services to podcast launches and profitable hobbies, you’ve gotten comfortable trying new things and seeing how else you can add value to the world. 

But, as the market reopened and in-person business was put back on the table, you’re now finding yourself overwhelmed and burnt out from trying to keep all the plates spinning. Fortunately, you do not have to give up a new project you love or sacrifice your schedule. All you need is to cover up those operational gaps that are taking up your time, money and energy.

As we enter a new year, there is no better time than the present to get clear on your direction and build the systems you need to keep the ship on course without taxing your resources.

Here’s how you can audit areas of your business to get ready for the new year: 

Put Everything On Paper

You have the great privilege of having tech on your side. From bookkeeping software to CRMs for small businesses, virtually anything can be done from a single screen. However, there is also something so powerful about good old-fashioned pen and paper. 

Writing down your thoughts helps your brain to organize, coordinate and clarify your ideas. Not only that, cataloging your business process will help you keep track of how you run different parts of your business. Creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) is a great business best practice that will help you not only better understand your processes and areas of opportunity, but also make it easier to hand over tasks to new employees as you grow your team. Knowing that you’ve taken the time to write down exactly how you want certain tasks to be done will give you peace of mind that they’ll be done correctly once you start delegating these tasks.   

Break Down Your Client Journey

Get clear on what your process is for serving your clients by taking the time to understand your client’s journey. 

  • List out the steps from first contact to final invoice and note the time each stage takes to complete. 
  • Keep an eye out for areas that take longer or require more effort than necessary. 
  • If it’s taking two weeks to get a contract signed and returned, what can you do to cut down on that time? 
  • Are your prospects confused by the contract-signing process?

You may find that something as simple as sending a questionnaire earlier in the process helps you start onboarding sooner and more efficiently. When it’s all laid out in front of you, it is easier to see where you may be missing a better solution.

Evaluate Your Backend

Next, turn your sights to the backend. Your customer experience is only one piece of the puzzle; you also have to manage internal operations, like sales, marketing, equipment maintenance, systems oversight and financial management. In fact, these tend to be the areas left on the back burner in favor of client-facing responsibilities. 

As you did in the last step, break down these areas of your business and how you get from start to finish. For example, in the sales category, outline the new inquiry process from initial response to closing the sale. Again, look for gaps that are costing valuable time and effort.

For your internal operations, you might find that hiring someone to take sales meetings or manage social media is exactly what you need to find consistency and open up more time in your schedule. You may also bridge the gaps with business automation software to streamline standard processes and procedures.

Prepare For Implementation

For major changes and operational overhauls, expect the transition to take several weeks or months for it to become a comfortable part of your business. You will need to work out the kinks and learn how your new solution fits in with your existing structure.

This is especially true if you take the hiring route. In addition to the interview and hiring process, you will need to set aside a fair amount of time for onboarding and training. New software and other tech solutions could also involve a lengthy transition, particularly if it is a robust program like a new client relationship management (CRM) platform like HoneyBook.

If you have a team, this timeline could take longer as everybody learns at different speeds. While you can start with a group meeting to discuss the change and present initial training, you may need to work closely with some employees to ensure they are making progress.

Try to space out your operational adjustments to avoid overwhelming yourself and your team with too much change at once. Start with the quick solutions that will give you results right away, then start implementing the bigger changes that may involve a learning curve.

Plan Regular Evaluations

Streamlined business operations are not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing; rather, they require evaluation and maintenance just as any working machine does. After going through the initial audit exercise, you will find that you are naturally dialed into inefficiencies that are wasting resources in your business.

Set intentional check-ins every quarter to revisit your systems and workflows to identify any new or lingering gaps that have not been solved. As time goes on, this process will become quicker and easier as you focus on building a leaner, simpler business model.

As you head into 2022, keep your goals in the forefront and know that they are well within your reach with the right strategies in place. Make this upcoming year where you finally get your business in order and create systems that eliminate stress rather than add to your workload. When your operations are streamlined, the rest of your business will follow suit!

Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor is the principal of Jen Taylor Consulting, a consulting firm that works with creative businesses of all sizes to implement streamlined workflows and organized systems to find more time and space for business growth and personal development. She is also the owner and founder of Taylor’d Events Group, a leading event planning company that serves local and destination clients in Washington State and Maui, HI.