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I'm a huge fan of things working well, and working efficiently. Rather sadly, it evokes a deep sense of satisfaction.

Why do I find efficiency so satisfying?

Well, in a business context, I know that efficiency often leads to a healthier bottom line, satisfied staff, and ultimately little to no frustration for all involved. That in itself is a great thing to be part of.

Clearly then, seeking efficiencies is something which is quite desireable in business.

The mindset

For me, a fairly simplistic approach works well. For myself and for clients, I ask myself two questions:

  1. Will there be an emotional benefit to improving this process, e.g. will there be less frustration, will staff be more satisfied?
  2. Will there be a financial benefit to finding this saving, e.g. could I earn more in the time which will be saved?*

If I answer 'yes' to both of the above, and benefit is greater than the time/cost required to find and implement the solution, I'll make the saving happen. It's clearly worth it.

If the answer is 'yes' to only one of the two questions, a bit more consideration might be required before committing.

*If the saving in time is making way for more holidays and time away from the office, there might be no financial benefit, but the emotional benefit is clearly highly desirable!

Seek the savings on a minute-by-minute level. Over a year, these really add up.

Where to find them?

Efficiencies come in a variety of sizes. Sometimes some of the smallest, seemingly low-level changes, can have the biggest positive impact on you, your staff and your business. Instead of looking to cut hours out of a process, potentially at risk of losing overall quality, seek the savings on a minute-by-minute level. Over a year, these can really add up.

Smaller savings can come from:

  • Staff get togethers - although it takes a bit of time, sitting everyone round a table can be really beneficial for communication. Making sure everyone knows what they're doing for the few days/weeks coming ensures that everyone's on the same page. It can resolve potential misunderstandings before they happen, and lead to a creating slicker machine overall.
  • Collecting debts - if you have regular, predictible sources of income, you could set up your customers to pay by Direct Debit. GoCardless has made a name for itself as a market leader in this. For a small fee, they will ensure that your income is predictably collected from your customers, saving you from those timely monthly phone calls.
  • Standardised processes - drafting up your internal processes can ensure that your staff know what's expected of them. It becomes a training tool for new staff, and a live document for existing staff. Of course, let your staff contribute to this - they will often have some great ideas you and I haven't previously thought of. Furthermore, giving them this kind of ownership over their work life is likely to lead to greatly increased staff satisfaction and staff retention - saving you the time spent on potential recruitments!
  • Cloud accounting - the uptake of cloud accounting in the last 2 years has been phenomenal. The level of automation of makes previously tedious tasks simple. In addition, removing the necessity to send backups to your accountant means they can be on hand to sort out any frustrations before they arise. There are many great products out there, which we won't cover here, but there's really something to suit everyone.
  • Expense apps - in addition to cloud bookkeeping software, software such as Receipt Bank and AutoEntry have the ability to read images of your expense receipts and purchase invoices, saving you from manually entering basic data such as dates, net & VAT totals, and supplier info. Their systems will read and extract this data, and populate your bookkeeping system for you.
  • Outsourcing - other people might enjoy the things you don't. Payroll is a simple example. For example, if you earn £35 per hour, you could outsource payroll at a cost of, say, £20 per month. This would free up a couple of hours of your time to earn £70. You pay out £20. You've gotton rid of the frustrating part of your month, and you're £50 better off!

There are many other ways in which savings can be sought, and these will vary from business to business. However, the message is the same - to paraphrase: look after the minutes, and the hours will look after themselves.

Feel like the minutes are slipping away? Time to take back control.

"That's all very well, but I have no time to seek out these efficiencies"

I appreciate this, and indeed I have found myself in that position before - with so much work to get through, it's hard to find time to set aside an hour or two to review things.

If you can stay disciplined . . . the benefits of these reviews can be hugely rewarding.

It might be that you have a massive workload on for this next month or two. Indeed, in that time, it might not be possible to set aside more time for these reviews. However, it's worth booking in some time at the back end of that busy spell to carry out these reviews. Block out a day in your diary in 2 months time, and review it then.

It will take a bit of discipline to conduct the reviews at that time. It's easy to 'push back' days which are blocked off for such reviews - with the work at that time taking priority. If you can stay disciplined, and stick to your original diary date, the benefits of these reviews can be hugely rewarding.

Of course, if you really don't have the time, you could always take in others to assist with these reviews - you know that I love a challenge!

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