Be Ambitious To Be More Efficient

Brian Weaver, The Lean Six Sigma People

Coming out of recession, every business  - large or small - needs to be as efficient and lean and possible to maximise profits, keep costs to a minimum and boost efficiency.

It’s all about making the most of your assets - and we all know that your workforce is the greatest one you will ever have. But assessing and streamlining other vital areas such as cash-flow, office processes, vehicles, premises and suppliers can make a significant difference to the bottom line.
So here are some of the most important areas to look at for boosting your company profits longterm:

Think outside the box
For smaller businesses, areas such as HR and bookkeeping often don’t require a full-time employee on staff, and can also be very time-consuming for the business owner. So it can be much more cost-effective to outsource these business functions, thereby freeing up precious time to focus on taking the business forward.

The technology exists to even outsource other areas such as e-commerce, warehousing and stock level control - so you can run a small, lean full-time team and keep your costs low.

Time to switch
Reliable suppliers are worth their weight in gold, and business loyalty is always a plus. However, over time their prices for the products you buy will inevitably rise, so it’s good practice to review on a regular basis.

It is very possible to find cheaper prices from new suppliers, and you might even consider international suppliers, as improved overseas trade has made this option more viable and cost efficient than ever before.

Business utilities, such as telecommunications and energy, are also areas where looking at price comparisons can yield big savings. The government has done away with monopoly providers in favour of central regulation, which means a number of smaller suppliers have emerged to offer exactly the same products but at a lower cost.

In addition, regular reviews of suppliers will keep your existing suppliers on their toes, and make them aware that they need to keep their prices keen to keep your business!

Space - the final frontier
Business location is a major factor, and one of the biggest costs is finding new premises. You need to keep a canny eye on the future growth of the company to avoid setting up a rent agreement that doesn't factor in expansion, and could result in another costly move down the road.

So the best advice is to calculate exactly how much space you need well in advance of looking. However, according to research, the industry standard of 100 sq ft per person is around 10 to 15 per cent too much.

Look for flexibility in a lease. Ensure that it includes the right to sublet, or assign the office you are taking on in the event that your business grows and needs larger premises.

Keep on trucking
Crippling fuel costs mean that many firms have been unable to improve their business vehicle and travel efficiency. But this can be overcome by choosing the right vehicles, and with careful logistics and journey planning.

Think about improving fuel efficiency by taking the shortest routes and monitoring speed. By installing GPS tracking systems in vehicles, you can have instant visibility of your staff on the road, allowing you to assign new jobs to the closest driver, spot and avoid traffic jams, and take the most efficient route.

Head in the clouds
We have seen technology revolutionise the business world, and using it wisely can make a vast difference to productivity and efficiency, particularly for smaller businesses. And here is where you can put your head in the clouds!

By moving core business functions such as bookkeeping and word processing to a cloud or web-based systems, you can dramatically reduce the amount of time and money spent buying, upgrading and maintaining in-house software and hardware.

In addition, you can access your business information and services from anywhere in the world. And, most importantly, many of the essential functions in the cloud are free.

It’s all about the process
Creating business processes is all about finding the most effective way to run your company day to day. Some of these will be formal, such as invoicing or safety regulations. Others are less formal, and these include the way individuals note meeting reports or communicating new sales leads.

Get your formal processes wrong and you could encounter problems such as customers complaints, unhappy staff, duplicated or incomplete work, cost increases, wasted resources and missed deadlines due to bottlenecks.

If you encounter any of these problems, it’s time to review and update your procedures. You can do this through a programme of mapping, analysing, redesigning, resourcing, implementing and communicating, and finally reviewing the changed process. It can take time and effort, but if the end result is satisfied customers, happy staff, increased profits and hitting targets, it is certainly worth it.

Paper chase
How about this for an eye-opening fact - professional services firms in the UK could collectively save more than £45m a year by changing their printing practices?!

We’ve all done it - we print documents and don’t read them, forget to collect print-outs from the printer, and run off things we don’t need.

It’s all about educating your workforce to be more vigilant, and perhaps arranging some training in areas such as duplex printing. Maybe consider introducing swipe cards to enable printing; which means whoever has swiped the card is more likely to pick up the print when it's finished.

Play time is over
Every boss knows that time is money, and if his workforce is wasting time, it can make a very costly impact on the business. Be aware of time-wasting activities such as surfing the net and playing games online, spending too much time on Facebook, or using smartphones.

If you feel that any of these are becoming an issue, you need to address it head on by setting some rules so your employees know what is and isn’t acceptable. Or avoid problems altogether by establishing a no mobile phones during work policy.

For more help on how to work leaner and smarter, contact The Lean Six Sigma People on 0789 9007 083, or go to www.sigmap.co.uk

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