TL;DR - people repeating the same data entry in multiple systems costs a lot of time. Pick one thing this month and find a way to automate it and make it better.
A big part of running any business is pushing information around - i.e. communication. Typing in customer orders, sending invoices, packing lists, shipping information, design specs, the list is endless.
Every time the information goes from one person to the next, it can take a lot of time to do that communication well. You need collate the information from one source, thinking about what the next people need, reorganise and format, and communicate it on.
Having multiple staff repeating the same data entry across systems is
- Not the best use of people's time. Your team could be doing many other things - such as contacting customers and growing business.
- A source of error. You could miss a decimal point, add a zero, leave out a time sheet line. Each error is small but can have a significant impact. Imagine if you incorrectly typed time sheet data to create your invoices, and under-billed a customer by thousands. You can either absorb the cost or have egg on your face and ask for the extra money.
- Really boring. Unless you are charging by the minute. It's still boring, but you do it anyway.
- Occupies a lot of head space. When you have a task coming up that you don't particularly like, its very easy for it to weigh on you and worry about it, procrastinate about it, and deliver late. I'm personally super guilt of this one.
This is really common though, it happens in every business. It's happening in yours and definitely happening in your competitors.
But what if you made it better? What you if you improved your tools so that you saved 5% of your staffs time?
That would mean your team could talk to customers and find new business 5% more than your competitor. That's a big deal. Imagine the increased satisfaction of your customers when your team has the time to call them, find out what issues they have, and improve things?
What if you were able to reduce the average time to invoice?
What if when that REALLY important customer emailed you, you and your team got an SMS?
What if you could automatically get invoices from one system into your accounting system with zero effort?
Little improvements over time
The great part about modern software is there is a huge amount of choice in different tools for invoicing, reporting, time sheets, information management and many others.
The down side of modern software is there is a huge amount of choice in different tools. Far too much choice.
It's overwhelming and too much effort to evaluate whats good, and what is needed. Look to your networks and people you trust who have had success, and find out they have done. Talk to people who have been down that path before.
The important thing to remember is you don't have to fix everything at once. If you try, there is a big chance you will feel overwhelmed and not make any progress.
Take little bits. Pick one thing this month that's been bothering you about your processes and find a way to make it better. Talk to your team, find out what annoys them and find ways to remove road blocks.
Too much to choose from
There are lots of tools out there to them with automation:
- DIY options like Zapier, Integromat, If-this-then-that (IFTTT). These let you join together different services with repeatable actions. e.g. When xero adds an invoice, send an email here and update this google doc. You can even connect up your Alexa device to do things.
- Custom integration joining systems together (that's what Bitplex does). We make things connect, share data and do reports.
- Go for a all-in-one system where all of your data entry is in one system and it takes care of everything.
The challenge with the DIY is it can take a great deal of imagination to go from "I have this problem with my process" to "Oh, I need to connect this spreadsheet, to this report this this other thing". It is definitely doable, it just requires some clear thinking and some space.
The all-in-one systems, typcially ERP's is a great option, but only if you have the space for a company wide change. They are typically challenging to adopt in small increments, but often they can be worth it. This other downside to these is you often need to shift some of your business processes to suit the tools, rather than the tools to suit you.