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Author Biography:

Stephanie Taylor Christensen  is a freelance writer who covers personal finance, career, health,and small business news. She is the founder of Indebtedless and Om for Mom prenatal yoga in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Twitter.@STCWriting or www.stephanietaylorchristensen.com

How "Lean" Routines Can Reveal Efficiencies & Cost Savings
By Stephanie Taylor Christensen Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Though turning to “lean” operation processes may sound like a complicated undertaking best left to large corporations, small businesses are actually ideally equipped to leverage the advantages of a lean business model. When you're small (and the boss), it's not that hard to make truly impactful change happen. To adopt the common principles of lean management known as the 5 s's (Sort, Straighten, Sweep, Standardize, and Sustain), start by taking a look at your business routines —and how you might change them to realize more efficiencies---and cost savings.

Are There Recurring Themes?

You probably spend a lot of time in a day communicating with your clients, vendors, and staff. But have you ever taken a close look at why you have so many of those conversations? If the topics of your business conversations tend to involve a lot of the same questions, standardizing your operations could present a huge opportunity to save time, and eliminate such redundancies. Take detailed notes of the email and phone conversations you have for about a month, and what they entail, and ask your team to do the same: Are vendors frequently asking the same question? What about staff, and customers? As you compare notes, write down the information that repeatedly seems to drive communication, and get creative about how you might develop a standardized system for addressing such recurring issues. If customers tend to email or instant chat with similar questions, develop various email templates that you can send to them in a matter of seconds could prove a real time saver. Better yet, incorporate clear language onto your website that answers the questions so they don't even have to contact you. If customers who've ordered tend to have questions about product use, include a letter with their order answering their questions.

Likewise, simply reviewing and standardizing how you present images, prices, and an item's dimensions on your site and in product literature can help you spend less time answering the same questions, and more on profitable aspects of growing your business.

Always Meet For Momentum

You can't eliminate every meeting from your day but serial entrepreneur and author Dave Kerpin suggests that you can improve the effi ciency of every single one of them (and save 900 hours a year) with a simple shift: Don't end the discussion until everyone clearly understands their next steps, and you actually begin your own. Kerpin insists this eliminates the odds that miscommunication and confusion linger (which will only lead to further conversation), and reduces the amount of time you'll spend trying to figure out how you need to move forward. Suppose for example, that you have a meeting that lasts five minutes. Before you hang up, take no more than one minute to repeat (or type in an email) what has been agreed to essentially reviewing the takeaway for the both of you. Send it before you hang up the phone.

Write down every operations task you do more than once a week. Take a moment to scrutinize the many operational tasks (outside of time-sensitive functions like checking email and voicemail) you do several times a week. Then ask yourself where there is opportunity to ¬¬¬-streamline. If you go to the bank every day for example, is there a real business reason you can't take advantage of technology tools like mobile deposits? If so, it may be time to switch banks—and eliminate many wasted trips. If you find yourself ordering inventory frequently, could you forecast more appropriately, to reduce the frequency and possibly, realize cost savings from placing one larger order?

What's Crowding Your Space Unnecessarily

Take a look at how your office is structured, and if its conducive to your most important business functions. If you're always searching to find open space to unpack inventory or ship orders, for example, consider what you might need to change—even if it means letting some of your staff work remotely part of the week. Likewise, can you eliminate objects that once seemed necessary (think, the whiteboard and file cabinets that typically go unused), but aren't beneficial to operations. Even clunky items you do use, like scanners and fax machines become extinct with the right mobile app, so you have more space to dedicate to profitable business functions.

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