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  • Writer's pictureThe Self-Made Entrepreneur

How a Strong Back Office Drives Business Success (Part 2): The First Next Steps

women in office with sticky notes all over the window trying to map out her back office processes

If your back office is more 'disaster zone' than 'well-oiled machine', it's time for a cleanup operation. A disorganized back office can hamstring even the most vibrant business, turning simple tasks into Herculean challenges. But fear not, for every mess has its remedy. Here's how to roll up your sleeves and bring order to the chaos.

Not sure if your back-office needs any attention? Check out our article here about red flags in your back office.

Step 1: Give Your Back Office a Check-Up

Think of this first step as a detective mission—you're going to figure out what's going wrong, and where.

  • Start with a List: Grab a notepad and walk through your back office. Write down anything that's out of place, like unfiled paperwork, or tasks that everyone avoids.

  • Ask Your Team: Sometimes, the best insights come from your staff. Ask them what frustrates them about their workspace or workflow.

  • Use the 'Five Whys' Technique: When you spot a problem, ask 'why' five times to get to the root cause. For example, if invoices are always late, keep asking 'why' until you can't go any deeper. This might lead you to discover the real issue is outdated software that needs replacing.

Step 2: Make Things Flow Smoothly

Now that you know the problems, let's iron them out.

  • Cut Out the Fluff: If your customer billing process has ten steps, with several just dedicated to double-checking figures and obtaining multiple approvals, assess which ones you can consolidate or eliminate. For example, if the invoice goes through a review by two different managers before it's sent out, consider training one manager to handle this effectively, cutting it down to seven essential steps.

  • Checklists Are Your Friend: For the tasks that happen regularly, create simple checklists. This ensures nothing gets missed and can help train new (and existing) staff faster.

  • Go for Quick Wins with Automation: If you're still manually entering data that could be uploaded in a batch, it's time for a change. Look into software that can automate the mundane stuff, so your team can focus on tasks that need a human touch.

Step 3: Clear Roles Make Happy Teams

Unclear roles can cause overlaps and missed tasks. Let's get everyone on the same page.

  • Map It Out: Draw a chart that shows who does what. This doesn't have to be fancy—a simple flowchart can work wonders for clarity.

  • Balance the Scales: If Mary is swamped with work but Joe is often twiddling his thumbs, redistribute tasks so that everyone's day is manageable.

  • Regular Reviews: Set up a monthly catch-up with your team to discuss their workload. This keeps everyone aware of their responsibilities and allows for adjustments as needed.

Straightening out your small business's back office may seem like a big task, but it's usually simpler and quicker than you think. Smaller setups mean fewer tangles to unravel. That said, it's not a snap-of-the-fingers fix—it will take some dedicated hours. Expect to spend a week or so sorting things out, depending on how things currently stand and how quick your team is to adapt. It's crucial to give this process the time it deserves. Ignoring it only leads to bigger headaches down the line.

As your business grows, everything else will seem to multiply – tasks, details, you name it. Consider the domino effect of billing blunders, inventory tallies that lead to excess orders or sudden shortages, and all the hours lost when your team is bogged down by tasks that should be quick and easy.These aren't just small issues; they can hurt your customers, your employees and your wallet.

Get started by carving out time for a deep dive into your processes. Have a chat with your team and draw up a clear plan. You might take the lead on this project or consider bringing in some specialists. Your goal? Identify what's holding you back, make your day-to-day tasks smoother, and clarify who's doing what. The investment of time today will prevent major issues tomorrow, paving the way for a smooth-running back office that supports your business as it grows. Time to get to work!


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