operations support small businesses

Starting a business is difficult, but scaling that business presents its own unique challenges. Domonique Townsend helps entrepreneurs, especially working mothers, with those challenges, while helping them find time to remain present in their personal lives. The engineer, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and founder of We Optimize Work joined us for a webinar to talk to entrepreneurs about business performance improvement. Discover how her emphasis on process and optimization can help you get your business up to scale (and still have time for your family).

Think about how you want to show up as a business owner.

Townsend urges her clients to start their operations improvement process by identifying their business intentions. “It reflects how you seek to be in your business. This is something that you can keep at the forefront of your daily, weekly or monthly focus to ensure more concrete goals,” she explained. She also advised that this is a time to think about personal goals as well (she gave “living a fulfilled life with time for self-care” as an example). Having a clear idea of how you want to show up for your customers and for yourself affect the business goals you set, how you fit them into your business processes and even what products you offer. “[Ignoring your business intentions] can open up the door for comparison, feeling behind, rushing to keep up with others and adding services or products for fear of missing out,” she cautioned.

Outline everything you do.

Whether you’re providing a service or selling a product, your business ultimately follows a set of processes. Start with one product or service and write down every step that goes into it, from beginning to end. You’ll want to get into the details of sourcing a product, answering questions about your offerings and delivering on those goods or services. Include every document, person, platform or other resource required for each step as well. “It’s a lot, but if you define a process, it allows you to standardize your workflow,” she said. Once you’ve laid everything out, you’ll be able to clearly see your company’s sticking points and begin to dive into business performance improvement. 

Take four steps for tenfold optimization. 

Now that you have your process clearly outlined, you can dig into what will help you make that process better and scale your business. Townsend guides clients with the following four steps:

  1. Identify and clarify: What does success look like for your business? What new or updated processes will get you to your personal definition of success?
  2. Collect and measure: What are your quantifiable measures of success? Focus on operations-related metrics, such as hitting desired ship dates, rather than marketing ones. 
  3. Analyze and assess: Are your processes in line with the definitions and measures of success you chose?
  4. Improve and revise: Identify which parts of your process are slowing you down, costing too much money or simply not serving your customers and begin thinking about ways you change them.

DARE to help your business grow.

As much as they want to grow and strengthen their businesses, many entrepreneurs have trouble with the fourth step. Townsend uses the acronym DARE with her clients to help them think about specific ways they can improve and revise their operations. In this case, DARE stands for delegate, automate, remove or enhance. 

Delegation is tough, especially when you’re used to doing something quickly. But reframing your time needs should help with your ability to give someone else the responsibility. “Say if it takes you only 20 minutes to do a task and you do it three times a week. Over the course of six months, that’s 24 hours,” Townsend explained. Suddenly, an hour or so spent training a team member or contractor seems like a good use of your time. 

As for the quality of delegated work, Townsend preached patience. “Of course, when you initially hand things off, people are not going to do things as good as you do.” If you’re not getting the results you want, use this as an opportunity to further refine your processes. “Create employee metrics and expectations to make it very clear what standard you’re looking for.”

The same process that you outlined will also determine which processes you can automate, enhance or get rid of all together. How will tools like project management systems or shipping vendors make things easier, save money or time or align with your business intentions? Are there steps you can eliminate by, say, outsourcing your labels and having them sent to your workspace instead of printing them yourself? Towsend recalled a time where she helped a manufacturing firm shave one second off their label printing process, saving them $100,000 in a year and showing how small changes can make a major impact