I often meet proud business owners who have built their businesses on a shoestring. They started small, and then grew gradually into a more stable, established presence in their market. But as much as I love hearing stories of these humble beginnings, it’s frustrating to discover that these business owners often continue using the same tools and spreadsheets as they did when they started out.
Equipping your business for growth
Marshall Goldsmith once said “what got you here won’t get you there”. This is particularly true when it comes to growing a business. The tools you use to get your operation off the ground will look very different to the tools you need to take the business to the next level and the next.
When we’re just starting out, we tend to make progress using the tools and systems have to hand and that we’re used to. For most of us, this means Word documents, Outlook calendars, Powerpoint slides, and Excel spreadsheets.
Now – we can of course do many amazing things with simple tools like these, but we will inevitably reach a point where we need more functionality.
Typical areas where businesses get ‘stuck’ are…
Issues around collaboration start to happen as soon as you need to share information or administrative access to other people. This can of course be when you employ somebody, but also when building a ‘virtual team’ of consultants or sub-contractors.
Because information is often entered as free text, people will inevitably interpret details differently. And without some level of consistency or standardisation, it becomes tricky to do any intelligent reporting. Before you know it, you will need a PhD in VLOOKUPs to make sense of it all!
When several people work with the same files, you will need to maintain control of master versions and document history. The temptation can be to just email versions of spreadsheets to each other, which is a major risk factor. Soon everyone will be working on different versions and nobody knows which version is up to date.
The more spreadsheets you add into the mix, these problems are of course multiplied. How many do you use in your team?
2. Project management
It can be tempting to use Excel as the default project management tool, because it’s readily available, it’s free, and everyone knows how to use it, but it does have some damning limitations. Yes – it can manage simple projects, perhaps even track milestones, but it doesn’t allow you to easily determine project dependencies, constraints and critical paths.
It can be difficult to stay on top of all the contributing factors and make sure they all feed into the project plan. You may risk ending up spending almost as much time updating Gantt charts and adding new tasks as you do actually working on the project itself, especially as the spreadsheets quickly grow to become very wide and cumbersome to allow for three columns per milestone: ‘planned’, ‘forecast’ and ‘actual date’.
One of my key mottos is ‘If you do something more than twice, automate it.’ This may sound a bit idealistic, but the truth is most of us spend a huge amount of time each week completing repetitive tasks that can be either completely automated or simplified to the point where it only takes you a fraction of the time to complete.
I have helped businesses automate everything from sending out quotes and invoices, to completing forms and collecting customer feedback. Not only does it save time in the moment, it saves you as a business owner to have to remember doing it – and risk forgetting something important.
One of the most powerful management tools today is the dashboard. This is a visual representation of the current status of the business, and can cover any key data that you want to monitor. It can give you an instant overview of how you’re doing against your year target, how your sales pipeline is progressing, what your customer issue backlog looks like, and much more. It’s a great tool for strategic decision-making.
Extracting data like this from various sources into spreadsheets can be both difficult and tiring, if at all possible. Not only do you end up spending time battling data fields and pivot tables, you’re also missing out on strategic information that can help you defeat your competition.
One factor that many businesses fail to consider is the security aspect of using spreadsheets. If you are using spreadsheets as your central database, it means that you are at risk of having sensitive customer information deleted, copied and shared with anyone. Someone could easily make a copy of your spreadsheets and walk out of your office with all your business and customer data on a memory stick. Isn’t that a scary thought?
Your business and your clients deserve to be protected. And with just a few simple changes to the way you enter, manage and use your data, you can create a powerful protective barrier around all your sensitive information.
Step away from the spreadsheet Sometimes an Excel spreadsheet may seem like the quick and easy solution, but usually it is in fact far from either. You will end up spending more time managing your data in a format that doesn’t adapt to what your business needs as it grows. By investing a bit of time in mapping out your system needs, you can save yourself both headaches and stress in the long term!
Ready to work smarter? We can offer a full process review of your business, and help you save time and money by replacing Excel as your go-to project management tool. Book your session by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org today!