Felix Dennis correctly stated “Ideas don’t make you rich. The correct execution of ideas does.” So what is correct execution? It is not only doing things right, but also doing the right things at the right time. And the right things are the ones that will produce the best returns and outcome for your company as time evolves. This is including enabling efficiencies for your entire organization whenever possible.
In my over two decades of founding and running a company, I have adopted many digital optimization techniques that have paid off handsomely over the years. Efficiencies are best produced by cutting fat, enabling multitasking and automating repetitive tasks. Here are 10 efficiencies using digital strategies that small business CEOs and entrepreneurs can consider.
1. Build a Digital Foundation with a Functional 2.0 Website
Average marketing costs at a company are expected to have a range of 9-12% of total company revenues. Diverting much of your marketing budget to create “set and forget” lead generating assets and processes will enable your marketing dollars to generate returns year after year. Building a professional website in WordPress and packing it with valuable content leading to gated prime value content will amass leads and email addresses. WordPress is a recommended CMS platform due to its open source status, low cost of maintenance, high support with themes and plugins to do pretty much anything you need, and its ubiquitous presence and support. Once a website is properly designed and setup, adding content and value becomes very easy.
2. Implement a Digital Content Strategy with Keywords
A robust digital content strategy to include writing a blog leading to whitepaper, webinar, podcast, video and eBook assets will create a constant stream of traffic to your website generating leads and sales. Train yourself to jot down ideas and real life experiences that are valuable to your clients as you encounter them in your every day’s work. Then when time permits, create a blog post outline and expand it to formulate a 600-1200 word blog post. Appropriate content brings the right traffic to your website, which will create valuable leads. Leads include email addresses. If you are not good at authoring content, hire an editor or a ghost writer to do it for you, but oversee and add value to his or her work. You can find writers on Craigslist and Upwork, or outsource to agencies like textbroker or Ghost Blog Writers. Consider hiring a professional translation service to convert your content into the top 10 languages used on the web. It can more than double your web traffic. Build your website content over time. Build it with pride. Build it with passion!
3. Augment Digital Marketing with CRM and Lead Nurturing Workflows
Use CRM software like Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics to store all your leads and track their interest and activities. Institute automated lead nurturing workflows and process to touch these leads on a frequent basis with valuable information. Out of mind is out of sight, as they say. In real estate, the 3 top priorities are location, location, location. With lead nurturing, it is timing, timing, timing. But you don’t want to annoy your contacts, so make sure the info you provide them is of value. Draw from your blog posts to create valuable email content. Obey Can Spam Laws and subscribe to a 3rd party email router like SendGrid, MailGun, MailChimp, Constant Contact… to avoid spam filters and being blacklisted.
4. Transform Inside Sales with Process and Metrics
Companies spend on average 7-15% on sales. If you add sales staff salaries, commissions, travel expense and other overhead, costs can quickly accumulate eating up into profit margins. In many cases, internal sales efforts driven by a proven lead generation process with tested metrics delivers as good or even better results than an outside salesforce. Inside sales people are paid half the salaries, earn half the commissions and require much less overhead to operate. But without a consistent and scalable lead generation process, a proven sales process and metrics to track results and performance, a profitable engine of growth cannot be attained. With the above recommendations in place and by instituting an internal sales department that can follow up on leads and close business, sales costs can be significantly reduced.
5. Enhance Customer Experience with Digital Customer Intimacy
A good customer experience and intimacy strategy should be at the core of your operations. Do you have an analytic process to measure your customers’ satisfaction? Sales numbers alone are not a good enough indicator. Institute an objective survey to measure customer satisfaction and track its results on a yearly basis. You can use paper surveys or online surveys like SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo. Why is it important? It helps keep a close monitor on the pulse of your client base. Also, while everyone talks about offering great service and quality, very few have the numbers to prove it. Wouldn’t it be helpful to back your claims with numbers? These numbers can very well be part of your USP and no one can copy them! Promote your survey with each invoice along with quarterly emails to solicit as many replies and as much useful input as possible. With SurveyMonkey, you can have up to 10 questions and up to 100 replies subscription for free! Good survey results are also a great topic for a blog post, press release, email newsletter and lead and client nurturing emails.
6. Streamline Operations with a Digital Value Chain
Your Product/Service Operations take up the lion share of expenses. For many businesses, a unique selling proposition (USP) is so hard to establish or maintain. Competition is all over the place. As soon as you identify something unique, copycats pop up from nowhere claiming or offering the same. In a global economy, you even have to compete on uneven fields and terms. So how do you create and maintain a USP and fight commoditization and price erosion?
Have you consider becoming ISO 9001 certified? Maintaining a quality management system forces you to think about, and detail, all your processes, monitor their execution, identify areas of improvement, attend to these improvements, track noncompliance or nonconformance and proactively address the areas that will reduce and eliminate them from reoccurring. It will detail all your supplier approvals, training requirements, quality standards and much more. With all the activities and records that ISO requires you to execute and document, you can generate operational metrics that can help you automate and digitize your value chain, eliminate waste, enable multitasking, and crystalize and better articulate your USP.
7. Empower and Automate Human Resources
Why not also automate Human Resource functions? Hiring has become so much easier with LinkedIn and online services like Indeed, CareerBuilder and ZipRecruiter. Gone are the days where companies spent tens of thousands of dollars on Sunday paper listings and headhunter fees for most of their job openings. Filters, algorithms and even artificial intelligence are helping narrow the selection of candidates weeding out all inappropriate, unfit, unqualified and spam applicants eliminating the need to sort through thousands of resumes and applicants. Also, many companies are offering cafeteria style HR benefit packages to include medical insurance, holidays, vacation and 401(k) with Defined Benefit plans for maximum tax deferred income. They have digitized the employee onboarding process. Digital tools are now essential to hire, retain and develop the workforce. More importantly, automating HR functions will instill a digital culture in the department with the most influence on a company’s culture!
8. Automate, Digitalize and Integrate Accounting
Accounting and Finance should not take up much of your operations costs and why should they? Accounting software is inexpensive and works! Automation is so widely used that much of the old mundane accounting tasks are now handled with a single push of a button. QuickBooks for instance offers automation of tax reporting, payroll, bill paying, invoicing, bank and credit card accounts reconciliation, online banking and integration with PayPal and credit card companies, and a lot more. Report generation and financial statements are also automated. You can get instantaneous income statements and balance sheets, cash flow forecasts, delinquent accounts and a myriad of useful reports. By automating repetitive and mundane tasks, your accounting can be completed each month in a day or two giving you full control over accounts payable, receivables, cashflow and all other vital signs of your company with minimal efforts and costs! An added bonus to the digitization of accounting is the massive reduction of the use of paper, filing cabinets and storage space.
9. Outsource Information Technology
Nowadays most IT functions can be outsourced and most IT assets can become subscription based eliminating expensive hardware, software and maintenance costs. Implementing automation will require IT support. But the ROI can be significant. You don’t have to hire an IT team, you can outsource the work while still maintaining control of your processes, schedule, costs and quality. If you want to stay local, issue 1099s wherever you can. If you must hire an IT team full time, look to opening back-office operations overseas. International IT staff can be hired at a fraction of the cost of their local counterparts. You can find them on Fiverr, Credo, Upwork/eLance and Freelancer… Lower further your IT overhead by subscribing to Gmail, file sharing, backup, MS Office, Google Suite, Adobe Suite, web design, SEO and CRM services… Ubiquitous professional cloud products coupled with freelance IT staff hired only as needed will help you streamline your operations, reduce overhead and minimize down time disruptions. Don't work for technology; instead have technology work for you. Avoid reinventing the wheel. Use IT to streamline your value chain and achieve digital transformation!
10. Maximize Your Exit Options & Digital Value
Many small company CEOs neglect to account for digital assets.
Just like any other asset, digital assets are real. They may be intangible assets, but they are actual assets. For instance, a company that has spent years building its website and cultivating backlinks from authority domains has built a treasure chest.
Furthermore, if you have a significant blog following or subscribers to a newsletter, or leads in your CRM, you have accumulated significant value.
Why shouldn’t these treasures be part of your balance sheet?
Larger companies have goodwill on their balance sheets. Digital assets are more tangible that goodwill. You can actually measure the number of backlinks, organic traffic and its monetary value very accurately. All your digital assets should be part of your balance sheet.
Learn all your exit options early and reevaluate each year your assets and options. CEOs have a fiduciary obligation to their stockholders to present them with all exit options and offers. SCORE developed the Exit Strategy Canvas to educate CEOs about how to get their companies ready for an exit. SCORE mentors can help you identify how to measure your digital assets and include them in your balance sheet to maximize your company’s value.
Benefits Gained from Creating Efficiencies Are Cumulative
Shaving off sizable costs from each department and holding on to your company for a longer period can possibly double your profits and more than double your nest egg due to compounding. Efficiency improvements throughout different departments in your company improve your bottom line. Here are the rewards of instituting efficiences using the above digital strategies:
- Create barriers to entry making it harder for your competition to take away your market share
- Streamline the value chain creating a unique selling proposition that you can be proud of
- Minimize routine work eliminating manual and tedious tasks, and improving work conditions
- Improve workforce efficiency increasing profitability and morale
- Prolong company lifespan significantly increasing its value
- Ameliorate customer experience increasing their business and retention rates
- Increase profitability which enables the following:
- Reduce debt and interest payments, increasing your net earnings cumulatively
- Decrease or completely stop worrying about cash flow forecasts, channeling your needed energy elsewhere
- Fund new investments that can increase future profits
- Enable diversification
- Allow generous retirement plans and peace of mind for owners & employees
Small company CEOs are applying digital optimization strategies today to create departmental and interdepartmental efficiencies with real impact on their bottom line. Simultaneously and sometimes unwittingly, they are orchestrating incremental but comprehensive digital transformation of their companies.
Worry about destructive revolutionary trends, but more about evolutionary improvements that you are not bringing on a daily basis to your operations. The little things will quickly add up! Efficient execution will make your company much more effective.
Need help with your digital optimization and transformation, or to simply insitute efficient digital strategies? Request a SCORE Mentor Today!
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.