Take a moment to imagine you’ve poured your time, heart, savings and energy into building a small business that sells delicious chocolate chip cookies. You’ve worked hard to earn the trust of loyal customers, and you have employees and family who rely on you. You’ve staked your reputation on this business and are immensely proud of the company you’ve built.
But every day seems to bring new changes and challenges you didn’t expect. You’re still dealing with the aftermath of COVID, while trying to understand what inflation and interest rate changes mean for your supply chains and cost structures and looking for reliable workers in a tight labor market. Even for an established business or business leader, it can be a high impact, high stakes and high stress journey.
I’ve been fortunate to serve small businesses my whole career, and whenever I talk to SMB owners about their financial and cash flow management needs, they tell me the same thing: they want more control, insights and ability to optimize. Whether you want your business to grow, be more resilient or efficient, having control is key.
Here are the three tips I give to small business owners who want to take back control, prepare their business for the future, and lay the foundations for success:
1. To Grow: Leverage automation to elevate human judgment
One of the best assets you have to help scale your business is your team. The more time your team spends doing repetitive or manual tasks, the more time they are not spending thinking about ways to grow your business.
Leveraging technology that maximizes automation can generate fast, accurate information that you can use to make informed decisions for your business. Automation can help you efficiently run the day-to-day operations of your business.
AboutGOLF is just one example of a business that’s done this successfully. AboutGOLF produces golf simulation software and hardware. They reduced the time spent on accounts payable (AP) by up to 75% after implementing financial automation software.
When you automate business operations, you free up your team to do what they do best – help your business grow. Focusing your team’s time, energy and attention on more strategic initiatives is good for your business, and it’s more engaging and fun for them – which also helps you keep strong employees.
2. To be more resilient: Strengthen your ability to pivot when needed
Dog walking was the lifeblood of Wag!’s business — until the COVID-19 pandemic sent millions of people home. Overnight, people were walking their own dogs. To survive, Wag!’s leadership team knew they needed to pivot.
Thanks to financial automation technology, they had information at their fingertips that enabled them to move fast. Wag! cut costs by 60% in days and used digital support logs to understand what services customers wanted. Wag! launched new offerings via the company’s established digital channels, and soon grew the business to serve five times the number of customers.
For any small business, this is an incredible feat. It’s testament to their determination, and to the decisions they’d made earlier to invest in technology that helped build their operational resilience.
3. To be more efficient: Make hybrid work, work for you
It’s no secret that workplaces and workspaces look very different now. According to a recent State of Financial Automation report, only half of SMB employees are working full time in the office, while about one-quarter work remotely, and one-quarter in a hybrid model. Hybrid work presents some challenges for small businesses, but it can also be a distinct advantage if you can make it work for you.
One example is the greater efficiency that comes from being able to manage your finances on-the-go. This is especially important for small businesses where employees are used to having multiple roles. Traditionally, accounting has been a location-dependent function, with documents, invoices and check stock kept in one physical location. Now, with cloud-based technology and automation, finance processes need not be limited to when people are physically in the office, or even having people live in the same city as your office.
Companies can review documents and approve payments from any mobile device with an internet connection. You save time through more streamlined processes. You save money by reducing your overhead expenses for printing, storing and sending paper-based documents such as checks.
Running a more efficient back office gives you the flexibility to support hybrid work arrangements, which can open up exciting opportunities to find and support employees from anywhere.
Looking Ahead to the Future
In an increasingly complex operating environment, one of the best investments you can make now is in the right technology and tools that will empower you to scale, be more resilient, find efficiencies, and grow your trusted network. This will help your business today, and also ensure you are prepared for whatever the future may bring. So you can get back to doing what you love – selling the best chocolate chip cookies in town!
Irana Wasti is Chief Product Officer at BILL, a leader in financial automation software for small and midsize businesses (SMBs).