“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”
William A. Foster
While you may associate the word ‘quality’ with large corporate reengineering efforts, if you are running a business, you can’t ignore the importance of systems and process. What goes on “behind the scenes” can make or break the experience you provide to your clients, prospects, and members. How you do your work, the tools you use to run your business, and the steps you take with new clients can be a significant differentiator, productivity tool, and lead to loyal customers.
Michael Gerber in the “E-myth” tells small business owners that ‘replicable processes’ can help them make the shift from working ‘in their business’, to working ‘on their business’. Gerber says that to transition from an entrepreneur to a business enterprise there should be a “franchise prototype” with well-documented process.
Quality processes can range from simple paper checks and balances to complex, internationally sanctioned, certified procedures. Quality management systems (QMS) help to define policy and objectives, identify and document processes, and develop methods to maintain and improve products and services to consistently meet or exceed the customer’s needs.
Big companies implement six sigma processes, meeting International Organization for Standards (ISO) requirements and work towards the Malcolm Baldridge award. In small businesses creating standard operating procedures acan make or break your ability to stay in business, and continue to grow.
Standard processes will help to assure that there is a consistent experience and service level for all clients. Breaks in communication can result in broken commitments, which can lead to lost customers.
What is really going on behind the scenes in your business?
Think about the following questions:
- Through how many hands does each piece of paper pass?
- Where does work come from, where it is going?
- Are information systems in place to provide everyone with the data they need when they need it?
- Is client information complete and current?
A great way to begin is to look closely at the needs of your customer and then decide on the best way to satisfy those needs.
Small Business- Financial Planning Office Example
In the “Journal of Financial Planning” a financial planning company shares the steps they took to systemize their process. They began by looking at everything that took place with the acquisition of new clients, the handling of ongoing client retention and review, and how they promoted and rewarded referrals from clients and referral partners. What resulted was an office management system that assured they were being consistent, efficient and proactive.
While detailed, I share the following to get you thinking about your own processes:
For every ‘prospect referral’ the following steps now take place:
- All available contact information is put into the system
The system automatically produces:
- A cover letter for a brochure to be sent to them,
- A thank you letter is generated to the person who made the referral,
- An action alert is sent to the principal of the firm to call to set up an appointment
- A note is automatically entered in the prospect record that documents the date and who referred them (and a record in the referrers record as well).
- A keyword is added so the prospect will receive an ongoing newsletter (unless they opt out).
‘Alerts’ go out to different members of the staff for follow up:
- Admin receives an alert to complete data entry, set up client files, send out a welcome kit, and provide a list of missing information to the financial planner.
- A designated administrator sets up investment account information in an asset management system, sets up investment accounts and gathers basis information
- The financial planner is alerted to outline the steps in the financial planning process with the client.
- Activity reports are created and delivered to clients on a periodic basis to remind them of all the activity undertaken on their behalf
There are many ‘back office’ business management software tools that can save you time, and reduce mistakes. These include:
- Accounting system/billing system such as Quickbooks
- Project management software, and collaboration tools such as Same Page
- CRM Systems such as ACT, Goldmine, or Peoplesoft
What steps do you repeat on a regular basis that can be standardized, documented and automated?
Written by Helene Mazur
Helene is the founder of Princeton Performance Dynamics, an executive coaching and strategic planning facilitation company for business and non-profit leaders and their teams. Helene’s passion is helping her clients to focus their goals, see new perspectives on their current situation, put in place realistic, motivating plans, and execute to achieve new levels of success.