From having to deal with constantly shifting working capital needs to ensuring a multitude of employees are on the same page, running a small business can sometimes seem like blindly throwing darts at the wall and hoping to hit a bulls-eye. While having a crystal ball to help you predict the future would no doubt be a big help for running a business, unfortunately it’s about as realistic as getting Elvis to play for the company holiday party. However, there are steps you can take to make your business substantially more predictable. Why does this matter? A predictable business helps you more accurately estimate future expenses, orders and inventory counts, meaning you’ll end up wasting less time and resources. Predictably breeds stability and stability leads to a well-honed business model. The easier it is for an owner to predict day-to-day business operations, the more prepared he or she will be when it comes time to deal with unexpected hiccups that arise in the supply chain or workflow.
Here are four ways to make your business more predictable:
- Set lofty, yet reachable goals
The first step for seeing predictions come to fruition is to set goals that you can then look back at and say they’ve been met. Remember though, it’s easy to set a goal of making $10 million for the fiscal year, but it matters little if this isn’t a realistic target for your small business. However, by setting goals that are attainable yet lead to growth, owners and CEOs can encourage employees to strive to reach these goals. After setting corporate goals for the company, leadership can introduce supporting goals for each employee level all the way down the organizational ladder until everyone has a clear set of objectives that will funnel results upward toward meeting the corporate goal. According to Entrepreneur, this cascading structure aligns all employees so everyone is focusing on the same target.
- Focus on a single target
Setting a spectrum of goals might sound like a good idea at first – after all, the more the company can accomplish the more revenue you can collect, right? However, juggling too many balls at once leaves the door open for important tasks to fall through the cracks. Instead, zero in on one particular goal that you can reach.They say you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, but let’s be honest: Do you really want to carry twelve different baskets for each egg? No, you need one basket with all of your attention laser focused on it.
- Get periodic employee feedback on these goals
It’s important to track the company’s and employee’s goals with a predetermined metric to measure the success of these objectives. Once the goals have been set, they need to be regularly updated to gauge expectations on whether the employees will meet these objectives. For instance, if the IT department believes they can have a new intra-office network installed and operational by the end of the quarter on schedule with an initial goal, but they don’t think the quality would be the greatest, this information needs to be shared with leadership immediately. Entrepreneur called this the “canary in the coal mine” effect, since it provides ample advance warning that disaster could be lurking in the near future.
- Listen to your customers
Customers usually have a lot to say about the goods and services they purchase. If they’re all saying the same thing, that means something needs to change. Managing customers’ expectations is a great way to make what they’re saying more predictable. According to Inc.com, one of the best ways to do this is to establish feedback loops with customers.
Depending on your type of business, there are several different ways to accomplish this. For consulting companies, it’s wise to set recurring reminders to reach out and get in touch with clients on a monthly or quarterly basis. Try and solve whatever problems the client might be facing, and if you can’t see if someone in your network can help. If you’re in a product-based business, set up phone calls and automated emails to help onboard customers and ensure they understand the product. Once the customer has been properly introduced to the product, establish email or phone support so the users can contact the company’s customer service to better manage their expectations. For service-industry businesses, setting up automated help desk software can provide valuable feedback as well.