Eliminate the less obvious forms of waste in your business

By Henry Brown

Waste is a thief. Anyone who runs a small business fights a constant battle for healthy profit margins and realistic, sustainable growth. Entrepreneurs have worked hard to get where they are and in most cases have also endured significant personal risk and sacrifice to build a living, breathing and working enterprise. Needless to say, this means they should constantly be on the lookout to threats to the harmony of their operation. But waste can be hard to perceive and eliminate before it begins to cause damage to the business, its operations or its cash flow.

Waste encountered in small business comes in many forms, some of which are easier to spot than others. Here we’ll take a look at some of the various forms of business waste and what can be done to combat them.

Wasted time

Time is arguably your most precious resource. Both your time and the time of your employees are valuable commodities. You pay your employees, and most likely yourself if you’re a CEO for the time you spend on site and it’s only natural that you want the optimum return on your investment.

[amazon_link asins=’1520315341′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’06aa23d4-85d2-11e8-8c4f-576338a399fb’]Needless to say, harnessing the power of productivity is one of the surest ways to eliminate wasted time in business. Your knee jerk reaction may be to place blocks on time wasting sites and applications on your computers, placing blanket bans on Facebook and Twitter use or swooping down like a reproachful hawk to stop office gossip in its tracks. Although these can be useful strategies they may prove detrimental to employee satisfaction… And a happy worker is a productive worker.  In fact, happy and motivated employees are 12% more productive. This means your time may well be better spent ensuring that your employees are motivated and satisfied. How you do this may depend on the nature of your business and on each individual employee and the role they fill, but perhaps the best way to determine how best to keep your employees happy and motivated is to ask them. A simple suggestion box or other open forum for employees to suggest how their time at work could be made more pleasurable can offer great insight that will allow you to improve motivation and productivity while clamping down on time wasting.

Some forms of time wasting are harder to eliminate than others. If your business is reliant on your sales force, for example, weeding out the time wasters from the genuine hot prospects is a big part of getting the most out of them. They need to devote more of their time to genuine leads yet they need to ensure that they’re not being dismissive to those they may perceive as time wasters. After all, your reputation depends on your standards of customer service, and if prospects feel as though they’re being snubbed by sales professionals with dollar signs in their eyes, this can become a blow to your reputation.

Wasted effort

When starting out in small business, entrepreneurs find a way of working through necessity. They very quickly learn what works for them and what doesn’t the hard way. When equilibrium is found, however, it can easily become a reassuring comfort blanket. While this is completely understandable, it can also be harmful to the longevity of your business. Sticking to the same processes (unless you have evidence that they’re absolutely bulletproof) is rarely the key to sustainable growth or long-term success.

[amazon_link asins=’B07BF54R8M’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’52c86013-85d2-11e8-9104-8de416192d6c’]Thus, you should always be looking for ways to refine your processes to make them more efficient. Just check out this piece on how Dataserv have made the Purchase Order Requisition process more efficient through automation at https://www.dataserv.com/.

Once again, such efficiencies can only be achieved if you rein in your urge to micromanage your employees, get away from the frontlines and take a long hard look at your processes and evaluate their efficacy using your sales and customer engagement metrics. For each of your key processes, map the process using a flow chart or swim lane diagram and look for instances of bottlenecking and where this can be eased.

Wasted potential

You spend a lot of money on making sure that your business recruits the very best candidates and converts them into employees who are enthusiastic, productive and representative of the image you want to create for your brand. You spend hours in stuffy conference rooms interviewing candidates and carefully scrutinizing resumes. With this in mind, if each and every one of these employees isn’t living up to their potential you’re wasting them. You may think that this is entirely dependent upon them and the effort they put into their daily duties, but while this certainly plays a part, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you hold no responsibility for ensuring that your employees’ potential isn’t wasted.

[amazon_link asins=’0910627371′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’17d12953-85d2-11e8-8b16-eb14b232c536′]The best way to guard against wasted potential is through training. Many smaller businesses conduct training either on the fly or on an “as and when” basis. While it’s easy to see why this may be necessary for smaller businesses with limited resources, nonetheless you owe it to yourself to ensure that your employees all receive regular training and skills testing to ensure they are motivated, able to do their job to the best of their ability and that their progress is not marred by bad habits. Ideally, each employee should undergo a program of continuing professional development in line with their duties, responsibilities and career goals.

Wasted resources

Aside from human resources, your physical and digital resources can also be a source of wasted time and wasted spending. Your IT infrastructure is a common area of overspending in business. Less tech savvy entrepreneurs want to ensure that all of their bases are covered upon establishing their businesses, or they want to ensure that their businesses are well prepared for growth. As such, they can end up buying software and hardware solutions that are surplus to requirements. Using an outsourced IT management company can prevent resource waste as not only will they provide the exact level of support you need, their provision can be scaled up or down, depending on your needs. They will also usually keep a close eye on your usage, ensuring that you do not continue to pay for features and services that sounded great at point of sale but end up not being workable in practice.

Wasted inventory

There are few things more wasteful than a warehouse or shop floor stacked with inventory that just isn’t selling. It’s a huge drain on your cash flow and cash flow is a hugely important aspect of small business. While it’s arguable that some inventory waste is inevitable in the early days when businesses are still grappling with which products and services are popular with customers and which are not, this can become problematic if not curbed.

[amazon_link asins=’0814416551′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’29dfd027-85d2-11e8-87d5-c9887560a16b’]Keep a close eye on your metrics and ensure that you’re not buying in products that aren’t selling. If you should find that you’re overstocked on inventory, this can severely impede your cash flow but it’s rarely anything a quick sale can’t cure. Sales may result in a dip in profit margins but they can help to get new customers through the door. If you make efforts to retain them, they’ll be back even if you need to put your prices back up.

There are many forms of waste in business, and entrepreneurs must fight a war on all fronts if they hope to avoid it.


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.


Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover