To state the obvious: effectively managing your small business is difficult! It’s easy to get derailed. Whether that’s getting hit by a big surprise problem, losing a large customer you thought was happy, losing a key person, battling inflation-driven cost increases, and so on. Management is a very broad term, and it may be better to add an adjective to clarify the type of management in question. I like to think of management in 3 flavors:
- Strategic Management
- Operational Management
- Task Management
Strategic Management: Where are we Going?
Any small business should have at least some basic 3-year goals. What are our growth/size objectives? How do we position ourselves in the market? What are our financial / profit goals? What product / service changes do we need to make?
Owners and managers can often get swallowed up in the weeds of the day to day, and lose sight of their big picture. It often happens to me—yes, I’m working on it! The big picture questions are perhaps the most difficult. Good strategic management means first setting clear goals, and as a team developing the strategies to achieve these goals. Sometimes, outside help is needed to build a solid strategic plan. A good consultant can help you step away from the trees, and start looking at the forest. Management sometimes needs to clarify the company’s vision and mission, which then helps filter (in or out) leadership’s goals and related strategies.
At Cornerstone, we have an annual 2-day offsite to literally get away from ringing phones and the daily barrage of emails. Our sessions include what we’ve done, where we are, where we want to go. We then try to establish our “big rocks”—the big things we want to achieve in the next few years. Then we move on to tactics, plans, responsibilities, procedures, and tasks.
Operational Management: Processes and Procedures
Usually, long-terms goals require that a company implement new (or better) procedures to efficiently manage the operation processes needed to accomplish goals X, Y or Z. For example, if your sales and quoting process is handled outside your customer management software; you may have a goal of tying the two together. So you may need to build a process to streamline the handoff of quoting details to your CRM or job management software.
We advise our clients to have clear sets of “Standard Operating Procedures”, and we’re often directly involved in helping them build these SOPs. Good SOPs are written and repeatable processes that staff can follow to make things run more efficiently. They nearly always involve recurring tasks, such as setting up new accounts, running month-end reports, booking weekly accounting entries, and the like.
With solid SOPs, if someone is out sick, another person can step in, open the relevant SOP likely in a Word document, and proceed to manage the process by simply following the ‘recipe.’ Companies that are operationally strong use SOPs and a key management tool; these companies are likely to be more efficient and make fewer mistakes.
Managing by SOPs: One Mistake is Too Many
Cornerstone is a process-driven business. Because of the very large volumes of recurring billing and recurring payments we process, we absolutely MUST have clear, detailed, written SOPs in order to succeed. If we make even one mistake in generating invoices or processing payments, we will very likely hear about it due to an unhappy customer or end subscriber. We live and die by our SOPs, and we are updating them continuously.
Task Management: Software Tools Can Help
The final flavor of management is task management—employees’ daily “to do” lists. Most small businesses keep a calendar or calendars to track management of jobs, sales, administrative work, and various other tasks. But as things get busy and complicated, calendars have limitations. First, at a minimum you need a calendar showing multiple employees’ tasks—so the calendar is shared. That can get overwhelming if you have more than a few employees.
At Cornerstone, for our internal projects we began using Teamwork software a couple of years ago, and it’s been a godsend. First, it allows us to use ONE tool to manage all our projects—we avoid email, chat, notepads and other methods and try to use ONLY Teamwork. Second, it easily allows us to mark priority levels, to set end / due dates, and to assign multiple team members to a task.
Management of most tasks requires that a task be broken down into sub-tasks. For example, our software training is broken down by function: basic functions, reporting module, quotes module, service module, etc. Different members of our team tend to specialize in training on different software functions. So if there are five training sessions needed, potentially we could have five sub-tasks assigned to five different Cornerstone employees. This ability to split out tasks into “bite-sized pieces” makes our project / task management much easier and more effective—AND better for our customers.
The Management Spyglass
Like a spyglass used on a sailing ship, the generic term “management” really has telescoping pieces. Strategic management is the eyepiece, small and concise but absolutely critical to get right. Next comes operational management, geared toward getting all the processes right in pursuit of the strategic goals. Finally, most of the actual work we do involves those many daily “to do” tasks. Because these are most numerous, good software tools are critical to keeping your team on track to get these tasks “checked off.”