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Service based small businesses

Chances that a small business that provides services instead of selling products has a complicated structure of one job from beginning to end are high. Yet, many businesses do not pay enough attention to proper management of how the jobs they work on flow.

When a business is run by one person it could be no trouble juggling all the work since all the knowledge is in the their head or at least they know where to find it.

Things get messy as soon as more than one employee is involved. How do they take care of communication, tracking of job’s progress, recording the history of the jobs and client management?

Client management would most probably be taken care of by using one of many CRM systems available. However, not every small business uses them.

The reality is that a busy small business owner would take notes on postit notes, use spreadsheets or even fire up instant messaging programs on their phones to send messeges to themselves. Then comes the joy of tracking down where they noted down that piece of crucial information they suddenly need because one of their clients is chasing them up.

Managing the flow of your business is important and it should be done in one place no matter which tool you use. If you have all the information centralised you can analyse the data and use it to the advantage of your business. You would instantly get access to reports like business profitablity, quoted vs actual costs, full transcipt of communication between employees related to the specic job and many more.

Collaboration in small business

A typical example of collaboration between the employees of a small business is calling on a mobile phone. A phone call is great for quick delivery of a message but not so great for storing it away safely so it can be re-used or found by a third employee should they need it.

Sending a message via an IM service like WhatsApp, Viber, SMS etc. defintiely leaves a trail that makes it easier to track down. However, it is still not perfect since the messages are stored only on the devices of parties involved.

Then comes in the email. Yes, it is great, it can include more than one recepient and can be searched for very easily. However, it is still a message: it has a sender and a recepient. It only exists on devices of the sender and the receiver.

What you are really looking for is a way to send a message and make it available to all the parties related to the subject of the message. What if the job that the employees are working on becomes too complex or the dead line shifts closer? You should be able to easily “hook up” another employee to this job and instantly give them access to the trail of communication related to this job.

An example of such a system would be an online application available for the users who have a login to the business account. Instead of emailing or sms’ing each other, the employees would leave comments and upload files against the jobs managed by that online system.

Client management

To take things further, if a business does not yet use a CRM system, this online job management application would be a perfect place to store the information about the clients. This will allow to track, for example, who the clients of the jobs are or run reports that would show all the jobs that the business worked on for a particular client.

You may think of such a system I am prototyping in this article as a private social network:

  • Your friends are your employees
  • A post represents a single job that the business is working on
  • Comments and file uploads is the trail of communication between the employees involved with the job.

The good old spreadsheet

Lots of small businesses love spreadsheets. And there is a reason – spreadsheets are great. Have you ever watched a mini-series “Pride and prejuduce”? There is a scene there when Mr Bennet is going over his estate possessions for the months. He was counting things up and writing things down in his special notebook. In fact, that special book was a 19th century version of a spreadsheet!

Look at spreadsheets as an export of data. But, where does this data come from and how do you collect it?

You could use spreadsheet itself for data entry. However, a well suited online application would be a better choice. Collect information, communicate and collaborate with others, upload files and leave comments within the job management application.

Then, if you really need it, export all that into a spreadsheet and you are back in the world you are used to – spreadsheets. Use the data the way you need to and once finished with it, delete the spreadsheet or archive somewhere.

Conclusion

It is always hard to change the way you do things especially if you have been doing it that way for a while. Online social networks like Facebook aren’t so popular without any reason. They added to the menu of ways to socialise and it definitely found its approval with millions of users.

Applying the same thinking approach to your small business definitely makes sense and now is the time to start thinking about the ways to improve how you manage the workflows of your small business – it is going to pay off.

It might be hard in the beginning but it will get easier and the moment when you start asking yourself “How could I work without it before?” is going to come sooner than you think.

You can use any device that is connected to the Internet to enter data. They are the interfaces to the core – your preferred online application for managing the jobs.

What’s next?

There are lots of applications available out there that could suit your requirements. Majority do not allow heavy customisation but some do.

You need to remember that no matter what tool you use the first step would always be a set up. If you are after an online application that is built to suit almost any model of a small business you should definitely consider Jobloggr.

Jobloggr allows total customisation of business workflows. It is very flexible and there is a very fair free plan that you can subscribe to. Register with Jobloggr or read more about it at http://www.jobloggr.com.

Anton Zaroutski

WordPress Specialist, Front End and PHP Developer, @xeiter

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