I’m going to guess that if asked, you’d say you want your business to provide a great product or service to your customers, that you want to keep costs as low as possible to maximize your profits and that you want to minimize your time investment and not be living paycheck to paycheck.
That’s what you want but is that what’s really happening?
Grab something to write a few notes with. Then answer these four questions:
- What things are you doing really well in your business? Where do you feel like you’re absolutely crushing it?
- Where do you feel like you’re falling short? Where do you find yourself screaming for help?
- Are there things you’d like to add to your business or customers you’re not currently servicing but wish you could?
- Where are you vulnerable in your business right now? Is the business 100% dependent on you? Is your payroll too high?
Now that we’ve got the juices flowing, let’s jump into how you can have enough time, energy and business, which is really…..making sure that your genius ideas have the soil they need to grow!
Let’s look at three areas in your business that will free up your time and energy to invest in other things without seeing a dip in profits.
You’re going to:
- Find ways to automate tasks that suck time and joy and ways to streamline complicated processes. All without losing your personality or incredible customer experience as a result.
- Look at ways to reduce expenses. Because we want to make sure your expenses are lean and mean so you’re spending money on the right things and not duplicating services.
- Think about developing new channels or products. So you can serve customers you aren’t, but wish you could or launch the product you’ve always dreamed of. Or talk to your customers in a new, more effective way.
I’ve used these same strategies in several companies and organizations and they’ve seen incredible results:
- 35% More Time
- 4x Increased Revenue
- Enhanced Customer Experience
- No Additional Expenditures
- Greater Passion
Let’s start with automations.
We’ve all been checking out at the store when the register runs out of receipt tape. The cashier is trying to quickly remedy the situation while also keeping you engaged and happy. And they’re not doing a great job at either.
This is how I like to think about automations in business. A lot of companies think automations will strip them of any personality, customers won’t feel connected and they’ll go somewhere else.
Looking back to the receipt tape, if the tape hadn’t run out, the cashier could have continued talking with you about that SUPER COZY SWEATER you’re buying. But instead, her process broke down. She’s scrambling to find another roll behind the counter….this happens so infrequently that not only is it buried under a million other things, she totally forgot how to feed it into the register and instead of making eye contact and meaningful conversation, she told you she has the same one in blue for the second time and isn’t responding to anything you say.
One minute of meaningful connection turns into the equivalent of talking to a teenager with airpods in.
The same is true for your business! Putting cumbersome processes in place or no process at all distracts you and your employees from providing the best experience for your customers.
The first place I like to look for possible automations in a business are with the tasks you and your employees do everyday. Not the ones you tell friends you do, the dirty and boring ones you intentionally don’t tell your friends about. Uploading social media posts, downloading reports, scheduling meetings, running errands, answering customer service calls, tracking down packages, watching a tutorial to figure out how to update your website, asking someone for the tenth time for a file, your employee stopping by 50 times a day to ask you something.
I’m happy to be proven wrong but I would bet that almost 30% of those could be automated or eliminated entirely.
I had a client running a 1 on 1 consulting business as a side hustle. She spent 10%-15% of her time setting up appointments with clients and gathering paperwork and information from them to use during their sessions. Finding a time to meet isn’t related to the magic that happened during their sessions but she was spending a decent chunk of time doing it.
She was spending that much time because she didn’t have an automation in place for it. When she started the business, she didn’t know how successful she’d be and there weren’t as many options for reasonable, easy to use scheduling software. Once she started getting really busy, it was just easier to keep doing it this way….it wasn’t taking THAT much time…..it seemed easier than taking a beat to research other options.
We were able to find a very cheap scheduling software that allowed clients to book online and it also automatically collected and organized the documents and information she needed from the clients prior to meeting. The software created client files that would build as they continued their work together. She had previously been filing them on her computer, etc.
Implementing a scheduling software is probably a no brainer for you but the feeling of “I know it could be better but I’ll just make this work” is probably familiar and shows up often in your business, I know it does in mine! And the 10-15% of her time that we reclaimed, didn’t provide less of a service to her clients, in fact it enhanced the experience because they weren’t going back and forth trying to find dates in the midst of everything else they have going on. She could either reinvest that time in being better prepared for her sessions, seeing more clients or heading to the spa!
Another consideration when thinking about automations is to look at opportunities to clarify or clean up your services or offerings.
Is there a question or questions that you and your staff are fielding frequently from customers? This usually means that there’s some confusion for customers in what you’re offering.
Another client of mine, had a coaching business that offered two types of services when we first started working together. Brain Storming sessions and Strategy Sessions. She wanted most people to book strategy sessions. The brain storming sessions were used when she had worked with someone previously and they had something very specific to cover together.
Both session types were offered in 30, 45 and 60 minute increments. The session descriptions were very similar but the price of the strategy sessions were 15% higher.
Her customers weren’t trying to give her more money if they didn’t have to so almost every new client asked which one they should be booking. So instead of connecting with new clients about how beneficial her services would be for them, her first contact was usually focused on what service was the best fit for them. That should be obvious to anyone interested in doing business with you.
We removed the brainstorming sessions from the offerings listed on her site and still made them available within her CRM so that she could send them to specific clients to purchase and book. Which is what she was doing before, but now she didn’t have to spend the time clarifying upfront for every single client and potential client.
A final place that automations can be helpful is with infrequent but important tasks. Think about the register tape example again here.
Infrequent things are usually easy to forget (taxes!), they’re easy to make mistakes with because its been a while since you did it last and its easy to forget all the nuances. And they’re also difficult to track if you don’t have a process in place.
Invoicing is something that comes to mind for me here. If you focus on a few clients with larger and longer project lead times, you’re probably sending huge invoices very infrequently versus someone that’s working with 40 clients for an hour or two each week.
If you’re invoicing infrequently, it might be tempting to throw together a word template that you fill out and email off. But who’s tracking it to make sure it gets paid once it’s sent? The file is in a folder on your computer, without a date or a reminder that its due. Or if there is a reminder, you have to manually turn it off when the money’s been collected, etc, etc.
Revenue is the foundation for everything you do in your business. Without it, you won’t be able to keep sharing your special sauce with the world. You won’t have a kick ass team anymore. And that probably keeps you up at night, so make that process tight!
Let’s journey on from automations to expenses.
As you grow, everything changes. The needs of you and your customers. Technology. What you have to leverage. It all looks different than when you first started. If your costs aren’t reviewed holistically on a regular basis, you may be spending time focused on bringing in clients you don’t actually need.
You can start by reviewing your relationships with your suppliers.
Most of the companies you write checks to base their pricing on the volume of business you do with them. Each year or every six months, you can reach out to your suppliers to show them your growth since you last connected and the growth you’re planning to see over the next year. They’ll likely be able to lower your fees. Suppliers for everything from software to physical products or materials.
Even if you haven’t grown but feel like your pricing is holding you back from the growth you expected, share that with them. If it’s clear that dropping your prices x amount would make you that much more competitive, they may be willing to invest in you.
If they’re not open to either of these, you can always look for another vendor. Its all about partnership and if you’re showing up to the partnership but the other person isn’t, there are always other fish in the sea!
Payment processing companies are great places to start. They often have an introductory rate of 2.75% or something like that but if you’re doing more than $25k annually, they’ll give you a better rate than that. Depending on your business, that could be really meaningful to your margins!
Another place to look regularly is at the services you’re paying for to see if there are any redundancies. There have been so many changes in the Software As A Service industry over the last 5-10 years. Newsletter services, CRMs, marketing platforms, all started out laser focused on one thing. But as people built add-ons or plug-ins to fill a beefier need, many that started out with just one or two features, now have hundreds of things you can do with them.
MailChimp or Constant contact come to mind. Back in the day, newsletter platforms used to be just that. You could send a newsletter to your list, you might even be able to schedule it in advance. As the online business world grew, plug-ins were built to allow you to do more with the list you built. I set up a client years ago with a newsletter service as well as a drip campaign tool. They were paying their monthly fee for the newsletter and a monthly fee for the drip campaign.
But now, a few years later, the newsletter service offers a drip campaign tool with their regular monthly subscription. Its not much of a cost on its own but when you add things like this together, you can significantly reduce your monthly costs by using all of your platforms to their full potential.
Cleaning up or clarifying your offerings gets a highlight here as well.
The same client we talked about that offered the brainstorm and strategy sessions also offered mock interviews with two add-ons to her clients. Clients could book a mock interview, a mock interview with written feedback or a mock interview with written feedback and audio.
In the mock interview, feedback was given to the client. If they wanted the written feedback my client would spend 45 minutes after the session typing up the feedback she shared during the session and then emailing it to the client. That was basically doubling the amount of time she was spending but she wasn’t charging double. Because of her time investment, it was costing her more to do the sessions with the add-ons than she was making on just the basic service.
She was meeting with all clients remotely so we had her shift from regular phone calls to using a free conferencing platform that offers free recordings.
This isn’t unfamiliar to any of us now that we’re living through a pandemic! But, rather than typing notes that repeated what she shared in the session, the recording of the session was transcribed and given to the client. A free service made the add-on the same cost to her as the basic service but she could charge more for it because it was a value add for the customer.
Next, make sure you’re getting a Return On your Investments
Start asking questions like, is the marketing company you’re working with actually converting clients? If you don’t know, you can ask them to send you a monthly report.
Or are there areas you’re not spending money but should? A client I worked with was doing a killer job of bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in business. And making sure that every one of those clients was incredibly satisfied with the service they were providing.
But the person responsible for generating business was the same person responsible for invoicing those clients after their projects were complete. And it wasn’t happening, luckily she was the owner of the company or she would have been relieved of her duties long ago.There was a block for her that wouldn’t allow her to ask for what she had earned so she just didn’t do it, unless the client asked for it. And because they didn’t actually have revenue, they had a lot of potential revenue but no checks to cash…she was of the mindset that they couldn’t afford to hire anyone to do it.
After understanding the cycle she was in, and that she did have the money if it was just collected, they ended up hiring a part time accountant to handle issuing and collecting on invoices. This one change has tripled their revenue and they’ve doubled their headcount in less than two years.
In this case, the ROI was so strong that investing that money was well worth it.
This last one initially sounds like it might be a sensitive subject…Headcount. Now, this is coming from the perspective of someone that has time and time again automated herself out of a job. BUT I think its important to consider the folks you have on payroll and if WHAT they’re doing is necessary. Notice I didn’t say if THEY were necessary but if WHAT they’re doing is necessary.
Automations can create an incredible company culture of mentorship and career development. If you’re able to cover someone’s salary right now and can find ways to automate some of their tasks, that frees them up to take more off someone else’s plate. They can slowly take on more and develop skills to grow with your company. The time they free up for others can be used to focus on additional sales or other revenue channels OR instead of working more than 60 hours/week, you get 20 hours back without spending a dime!
Now that we’ve got automations and expenses covered, let’s move to new revenue channels and new products. Sounds scary, right?!
More products usually means way more work! But once you’ve automated parts of your business and gotten your expenses in order you should have space to fill. Even if you don’t want to fill that space with more work, you can probably use what you already have in a new way that opens up a new market. Or hire someone else (like me!) to implement the idea in a fully automated way so that it takes on a passive income vibe.
A client I worked with had a consulting business but also wrote books as a way to reach those that couldn’t afford her regular services.
The books were a good way to reach this diverse audience but between writing, editing and publishing, she ended up spending 60% of her time on the books that only generated 15% of her revenue. 60% of her time for 15% of her revenue.
Since video is the wave of the future, we moved her to an online course format to reach these folks. All she had to do was record herself talking about what she already knew like the back of her hand. Heck, she could have even recorded live sessions and turned those into lessons.
Either way, it took much less time to create the content and she could offer the information in a format that spoke to her customers more. The goal was to align her time investment and revenue more closely BUT her revenue ended up growing well beyond what would justify her time.
So the three ways you can always have time, energy and business are:
- Reduce expenses
- Add new revenue streams
The idea is not that you’ll copy and paste these exact ideas or examples into your business because every one of your businesses are different. BUT you’ll see similar patterns and be able to apply similar strategies. You’re smart, you started and are running a great business…so you’ll find great solutions.
Many of the examples I’ve given are very minor changes that created big shifts.