As a business owner or leader, understanding the details of your operations can be a game-changer. Business processes are the backbone of your company, directing how tasks get done, who does them, and in what order.
If your business is like a buffet of amazing products and/or services, then process mapping steps is your recipe book for success. It documents the journey from Point A (starting a task) to Point B (task completion), uncovering bottlenecks, redundancies, and opportunities for improvement.
Speaking of improvement, just as a chef strives to continually master new techniques and ingredients, business owners and leaders constantly gain access to new tools and methods for refining their operations.
This trifecta – understanding business processes, process mapping, and process improvement – is critical if you want to stay competitive and offer your customers exceptional experiences. After all, when you understand and control your processes, you hold the power of your business’s future.
If we’ve piqued your interest, keep reading. We’ll cover each of these concepts in detail with examples below!
💡 Learn more: Process Mapping: Why Bother?
Understanding Business Processes
Think of business processes as the ingredients and cooking instructions to your company’s favorite recipes – the steps, tasks, and decisions that turn your ideas into coveted products or services.
From onboarding new customers to delivering a final invoice, business processes are the routines that bring structure and clarity to otherwise chaotic workflows.
For instance, your sales process might start with a discovery call or consultation, move to creating and sending a proposal, and end with onboarding a new client. Or your customer service process could involve receiving a complaint, resolving the issue, and following up to ensure customer satisfaction.
Understanding each step in a process is like following a recipe. It brings consistency, aids in problem-solving, and paves the path for efficiency. It’s the behind-the-scenes choreography that turns raw ingredients into a 5-star dish. That’s the power of business processes!
Pro tip: Wondering how to organize and optimize a process foundation for your team? Our free training, The Blueprint, gives you everything you need in about an hour!
Why Processes Matter for Small Business
Business processes add structure to your operations, turning everyday tasks into streamlined, repeatable routines. By defining ‘how we do things here,’ business processes ensure that tasks are carried out consistently regardless of who is on duty. This sets expectations for both employees and customers. Employees know exactly what’s expected of them, which boosts productivity and morale, while customers receive a consistent experience, building trust and loyalty in your brand.
Business processes also lay the groundwork for growth. They help identify problems, inefficiencies, or areas for improvement, allowing you to expand your business and delegate easily.
Eight Examples of Small Business Processes
Here are some examples of common processes in many small businesses:
- Procurement Process: The steps needed to acquire necessary goods and services from suppliers.
- Sales Process: Lead generation, prospect nurturing, closing, and after-sales follow-up.
- Inventory Management: Ordering, storing, and utilizing the company’s inventory – raw materials, components, and finished products.
- Recruitment and Hiring: Recruiting, vetting, and onboarding new employees.
- Customer Service Process: Receiving customer complaints or inquiries, addressing them, and following up to ensure customer satisfaction
- Financial Processes: Budgeting, accounting, payroll, and financial reporting.
- Operational Processes: The steps required to deliver a product or a service, from initial planning to final delivery.
- Marketing Processes: Strategies to promote your business, like creating marketing campaigns and tracking results.
While the specific processes vary based on the nature of the business and its industry, the goal remains the same: to optimize these processes for efficiency, effectiveness, and customer satisfaction.
💡 Learn more: What is PROCESS?
Embracing a Process Improvement Mindset
Process improvement keeps your operations efficient, effective, and customer-centric.
Returning to our cooking analogy, you can see process improvement in the invention of kitchen gadgets like blenders, mixers, food processors, and microwave ovens. Our great-grandparents mixed, chopped, and pureed everything by hand, a time-consuming and sometimes exhausting process, especially for large batches.
The advent of small appliances allowed our ancestors to effortlessly scale their recipes. Suddenly making five pies for the family cookout or marinara sauce for twenty people needn’t take an entire day of grueling labor.
Why is process improvement essential?
- It boosts productivity. By shaving off time and resources wasted on redundant or inefficient steps, you get more done with less.
- It enhances customer satisfaction. You can deliver products and services faster with fewer errors.
- It fuels growth. You increase your capacity without dropping the ball on quality or customer experience.
In a nutshell, process improvement helps you do more, do better, and go bigger.
The Benefits of Process Improvement for Small Businesses
Process improvement is the tool that helps turn ‘business as usual’ into ‘business that wows.’
- Small businesses often work with tight resources. By addressing inefficiencies, you can maximize productivity and save time and money.
- Smoother processes mean fewer errors, translating into happy customers and glowing reviews.
- You gain a competitive edge. Outstanding operations can help you outpace competitors and make your small business stand out.
- It allows you to scale your business. Streamlined, reliable processes make it easier to grow without compromising quality or service.
Here are some telltale signs your business processes might need a tune-up:
|Five Signs Your Business Processes Need Improvement|
|1. Bottlenecks||Work consistently piling up at certain points signals that your process needs smoothing out.|
|2. Customer Complaints||If customers regularly express dissatisfaction with your service or product, it’s time to inspect the underlying process.|
|3. Frequent Errors||Mistakes happen, but if they’re more rule than exception, there’s likely a process issue at play.|
|4. Wasted Resources||If you’re burning through resources (time, money, materials) without proportionate results, your process could use a leaner approach.|
|5. Employee Frustration||If your team seems perpetually stressed or confused, it could indicate a flawed process.|
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Introduction to Process Mapping
Process improvement is vital to small business success, but before you can improve your processes, you must know what they are and entail. Process mapping is a visual representation of activities that transform your inputs (say, raw materials or customer queries) into outputs (finished products or resolved issues).
Instead of trying to navigate your processes based on verbal descriptions or memory, process mapping lays out everything in a clear, digestible format. It highlights who does what, when, and in what order – offering a bird’s-eye view of your entire process.
This tool is convenient for addressing the issues outlined above that might hamper your productivity or customer service. And the best part is that you don’t need fancy software or expertise to get started. A simple flowchart with boxes and arrows can do the trick.
How Process Mapping Helps Improve Business Processes
Mapping gives you a clear picture of each process, allowing you to see details you might otherwise miss.
By examining your processes, process mapping makes brainstorming better ways of doing things easier. It provides the ‘before’ picture that you can compare with the ‘after’ once changes are made.
Six Process Mapping Tools for Small Business
You don’t need fancy software or expensive tools to map your processes. You can use anything to create a flowchart, from apps and software to a whiteboard or pen and paper. But here are a few tools we like for creating process maps:
- Microsoft Visio: This tool allows you to create various process maps and flowcharts. It’s a bit more advanced, but it offers a range of features for detailed mapping.
- Lucidchart: Lucidchart is a web-based tool that is easy to use and great for collaborating with teams. It offers drag-and-drop functionality and a range of templates.
- Miro: A digital collaboration platform and whiteboard tool.
- Gliffy: Another online tool used for creating a variety of diagrams, including process maps.
- SmartDraw: SmartDraw offers a range of templates for different types of process maps, which can be helpful for beginners.
- Whimsical: Combines diagramming, whiteboard, and documentation tools.
These are just a few examples of available digital tools. Ultimately, the best tool is the one that works well for you and your team.
Examples of Process Mapping for Small Businesses
Brick and Mortar: A Neighborhood Bakery
Let’s take the example of a popular local bakery to demonstrate how a small business might use process mapping. Each morning the opening routine is chaotic. Some days, the coffee is ready on time. On other days, it’s delayed, resulting in long lines, and missed sales.
To uncover why the coffee took so long, the manager listed all the tasks needed to open the store – brewing coffee, prepping pastries, setting up the register, etc. Then they created a flowchart where every task was a box, and the arrows between them showed the order of operations.
Once visualized, the problem was clear. The employee brewing coffee was also responsible for setting up the cash register. This was the bottleneck that delayed the coffee.
To fix it, they rearranged tasks. The night shift would now prep the coffee machine, and the morning shift would only need to hit ‘brew’ while setting up the cash register. They updated their process map to reflect this change.
After implementing the new process, the morning routine became smoother. The coffee was ready on time, lines were shorter, waits decreased, and customers were happier. The shop experienced a small but noticeable boost in early morning sales.
Through process mapping, the bakery transformed a daily problem into a well-timed start to their business day. It’s proof that a picture (or map!) really is sometimes worth a thousand words!
E-Commerce: Online Fitness Training
For our next example, we’ll look at an e-commerce company, an online fitness training platform offering personalized workout programs. Although they have a strong client base, they struggle with onboarding new clients efficiently, causing delays and frustration.
They decide to use process mapping to streamline the onboarding experience. The owner begins by listing every step in the onboarding process – from receiving the client’s application, assigning a trainer and creating a personalized program, to delivering it to the client.
Once the current process was mapped out, the bottleneck was evident. Personalized programs took too long to create because trainers had trouble finding the client information they needed, which was buried in a lengthy application form.
The turnaround time improved by redesigning their application form to include a summary section highlighting the key information needed to create the program and introducing a new ‘Onboarding Coordinator’ role to compile the summary information and forward it to the trainers.
Through process mapping, client onboarding became a swift, seamless process, leading to happier clients and increased referrals.
Both the brick-and-mortar and online businesses realized the benefits of process mapping.
- Identified bottlenecks: Both companies identified specific areas of their processes causing delays.
- Clarified roles and responsibilities: Process mapping helped clearly outline who was responsible for what task. In the second case, this led to the creation of an entirely new role, the ‘Onboarding Coordinator,’ to manage their process better.
- Optimized resources: Both companies reallocated tasks to utilize their resources better.
- Improved customer experience: In both cases, process mapping led to an enhanced customer experience.
- Created better business outcomes: Both businesses experienced tangible benefits from their process mapping efforts through increased sales and higher customer satisfaction.
Ultimately, these examples demonstrate how simple process mapping can yield insights and improvements that help small businesses run smoother and increase profitability.
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How Workflow, Process Mapping, and Documentation Work Together to Improve Small Business
Imagine running a business is like staging a theater production. Workflow concepts, process mapping, and documentation are your script, stage directions, and rehearsal notes – each plays a unique yet interconnected role.
Workflow is the script of your business performance, defining the sequence of tasks needed to accomplish your objectives, just as a script outlines the dialogue and action to tell a story.
Process mapping is like your stage direction, a visual guide showing who does what, when, and in what order, so everyone understands their part in the grand production.
Documentation is like the rehearsal notes, ensuring that useful information – like a new, more efficient way of doing a task discovered through process mapping – isn’t lost. It’s a reference that your team can refer to, allowing them to perform consistently and a tool to train new cast members.
Together, these three elements help ensure your business performance runs smoothly.
10 Basic Workflow Concepts for Small Business
Here are some common workflow concepts that are integral to understanding and improving business processes:
- Tasks: These are the individual steps or actions needed to complete a process.
- Sequence: The order in which tasks should be performed.
- Roles: Who is responsible for performing each task in a workflow.
- Inputs/Outputs: Inputs are the resources needed to perform a task, and outputs are the results.
- Triggers: Events that initiate or move a process from one stage to the next.
- Decisions: Points in a process where a decision must be made to determine the next step
- Flow: The direction and progression of tasks from start to finish.
- Bottlenecks: Points in a workflow where work gets backed up, slowing down the process.
- Automation: Using technology to perform tasks, reducing manual effort and improving efficiency.
- Iterations: Iterations are cycles that repeat until a certain condition is met.
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How to Use Process Mapping to Create Outstanding SOPs
Creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) from process mapping is like baking a cake from a recipe. Your process map is your recipe, outlining the steps, sequence, and ingredients (tasks, roles, and inputs). The SOP is the baking process, where you combine everything to create the final, delectable product – a smooth, efficient operation.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to ‘bake’ your SOP:
Step 1: Preheat (Understand Your Process Map)
Start by reviewing your process map. Ensure you understand the tasks, their sequence, the roles responsible for each task, and any decision points in your workflow.
Step 2: Mix Ingredients (Detail Each Task)
Now that you know the steps, start detailing each task. Describe what needs to be done, who is responsible, and any specific instructions. Remember, clarity is key! Use bullet points or numbered steps for easy readability.
Step 3: Follow the Recipe (Order Your Tasks)
Your process map tells you what tasks are involved and the order in which they should happen. Align your SOP with this sequence. If there are decision points, clearly specify the next steps under different scenarios.
Step 4: Test for Doneness (Check for Clarity and Completeness)
Once your draft SOP is ready, review it. Is it clear? Comprehensive? Does it cover all tasks in the process map? Great SOPs are easy to follow, even for someone unfamiliar with the process.
Step 5: Let Others Taste (Get Feedback)
Feedback is critical. Share your draft SOP with team members who are part of the process. They can provide valuable insights and point out potential oversights or unclear sections.
Step 6: Perfect Your Recipe (Revise and Finalize)
Based on the feedback, revise your SOP. This might involve clarifying instructions, adding missed tasks, or reordering steps. Once you’re satisfied, finalize your SOP.
Step 7: Serve Your Cake (Implement and Train)
Your SOP is ready for action! Implement it and train your team. Make sure everyone understands the process and can execute their tasks correctly.
Remember to revisit and update your SOP as your process evolves. Because, as any good baker knows, even the best recipes need tweaking over time.
💡 Learn more: 5 Ways to Define a Workflow in SmartSuite with SOPs
Let’s review what we covered in this guide:
- Business Processes: These are the backbone of your small business. They’re the sequences of tasks that make things happen – from brewing morning coffee at a bakery to onboarding clients for online fitness training. Understanding your business processes is crucial to running your operations smoothly and efficiently.
- Process Improvement: Process improvement isn’t a one-time fix but a continuous effort to make your processes more efficient and effective. Look for signs that a process needs revision, like frequent errors, delays, or customer complaints.
- Process Mapping: By visualizing your processes, you can identify bottlenecks, redundancies, or gaps and find ways to streamline operations. And the good news? All you need is a pen and paper (but some fantastic digital tools can help too).
- SOPs and Documentation: These are the cookbooks for your business. They guide your team to perform tasks consistently and are great tools for onboarding new team members.
Understanding your business processes, improving them continuously, and using tools like process mapping and SOPs can help you run your small business more efficiently.
💡 Learn more:
Register for our free training, The Blueprint, and uncover everything you need to get your team started with business processes in about an hour!
- Why setting up task management software around departments doesn’t actually work in practice.
- The reason traditional SOP or process advice you’ve tried hasn’t “stuck” in the past (and what to do instead).
- How to turn systems-building into a visual game that makes everyone’s life easier.