Your business is growing. You use paper or spreadsheets to manage sales and manufacturing, but it’s getting a little chaotic. You know software can help, but your business is unique – so where do you even start to look?
Contrary to popular opinion, your search for software to help your business doesn’t start with Google. It starts by looking at your current, existing processes.
These processes are why you’re successful. They’re why you’ve grown past your existing setup in the first place.
Your business processes have developed organically as your business had developed. Sure, a lot of it may be in people’s heads, but crucially, it works. You and your team understand things deeply, far better than any outsider will. And this is the key to successfully choosing software that’ll help you grow.
What’s the secret?
Companies who transition successfully from spreadsheets or paper-based systems to a new software solution spend time on one critical task.
Before doing anything else, they map out how they currently do things and the outcomes their current processes generate.
Taking this simple step saves businesses literally thousands of pounds compared to those who dive straight in without any preparation.
With over a decade of helping customers get the full benefits of integrated business management software (sometimes called ERP or MRP), we’ve seen this play out over and over again.
So we’ve developed a series of 5 simple steps that will put you in position to select and implement the best software for your particular business.
Spend just a few hours with the exercises below, and they will give you the foundation to make confident decisions about which software system is right for you. Because no one knows your business like you do.
(We’ve added suggested times to spend on each step, as well, so you can break these up over a couple of sessions).
Step 1. (60-90 minutes) – Identify your process
This is the easy bit – you know it already! Get some paper, sticky notes or a whiteboard.
Ideally, do this with your key team members, as each person will have detailed knowledge of their part of the process.
Mapping your process at this stage doesn’t mean changing it, it means giving you a foundation to make improvements and to communicate your business goals and problems effectively to any vendor you approach – as well as to other members or your organisation.
To understand how things work now, a common question to ask might be: “How do we currently get new customers from their initial enquiry to dispatch of their product and invoice paid?”
Other questions you might ask:
- How do our customers contact us and what do they ask for (quotations? orders? pricing?)
- How do we currently follow up with them?
- What do we do with orders, step-by-step, across spreadsheets or paper systems, to track customer details, orders, stock, purchase orders and the like?
- How do we currently track where a particular product for a particular order is in the manufacturing process?
- How do we order new stock?
- Where does the system commonly break down or cause frustration among your team?
- What information do we need to report on every day, week or month? How do we do that now?
This DOES NOT have to be perfect. Whatever you discuss, just draw out the steps in your business process on the board.
Start with a rough outline and refine as much as you can. Spending even 30 minutes with your team finding out the bare bone steps of their (and your) process is a lot more than most companies do before diving into the wilds of software implementation, and will put you on the path to a vastly more successful project than if you do nothing.
- Here’s the key: We have found that businesses who have mapped out their process in this way can save well over 50% on their software implementation costs, simply because they have a clear idea about what they do now, how they want it to improve, and what outcomes they need.
Understanding your existing process will also let you quickly rule out systems that won’t work for you. This serves two key purposes:
1) Save time: You won’t evaluate systems that don’t meet your specific processes and business problems – because you’ll be able to see clearly if a system will work for you, or not.
2) Get it right first time: it helps avoids the real risk of buying a system that isn’t right for your particular business and your specific business problems. The cost of a failed implementation is massive, even life-threatening, for most businesses – spending time now will dramatically lower the risks at later stages.
For more on developing and refining processes, read our free eBook. (no email required)
Step 2. (30 minutes) Are you REALLY ready?
Can you answer yes to any of these questions?:
- Are you wondering how much profit you make on each job?
- Wondering how effective your sales people are?
- Do you and your team complain about your current system daily?
- Do you need to get control of stock holding and cash?
- What about insights and sales/production data to drive positive change in your business?
Often companies start a new software project for the wrong reasons. Halfway through the evaluation process they realise they don’t have all the answers they need, they haven’t fully defined their process, or there is still capacity in the team to manage things as is.
Looking at your process, your capacity and your priorities will help decide where to invest time and money in the short term and whether the time is right.
Read our blog ‘Change Minds Before You Change Software‘ for more insights on readiness.
Step 3. (30-60 minutes) Choose your priorities – You can’t do everything at once
Most business software systems can solve problems right across your business – Sales, Marketing, Workshop, Accounting. But that creates a new problem.
You might have limited capacity to adopt a new system or perhaps you can’t devote someone completely to drive the project: so you’ll need to prioritise. Look at your process and, preferably with your team leaders, ask:
- What is your biggest problem? What would you solve first?
- Where are the bottlenecks?
- Can you release valuable team members’ time by reducing the admin they need to do?
- Where can you do that the most in relation to your current process?
- How will you get key people to buy in to the new system? (the clue is in stage 5)
Often the answer is simple, but by looking at the process with your team, you can make decisions about what will have the most short and longer term impact. With these agreed, you’re ready to test how software systems will enable you to achieve quick wins and release capacity for the bigger picture.
Step 4. (60-90 minutes) Research – What solutions are out there?
With the previous steps, you have armed yourself with a deeper understanding of your requirements – and put yourself head-and-shoulders above most other companies considering the same problem.
Now, you can test these against the options available, and also the suitability of implementation services provided by each one.
- Talk to colleagues in the industry and ask for suggestions
- Figure out your budget
- What is your time worth? What are the new insights and data you’ll get worth?
- What is the opportunity cost of not investing in a new system?
- Watch videos and and see what products feel like to use
- Most vendors offer free demos or trials. Sign up and try a few in context of your process.
- Be prepared to use your own data and attempt to work through your process using it, referring to your priorities from Step 3.
- Check and examine feature lists of prospective vendors online for essentials and ‘nice to haves’
- These can include integrations with existing software, like your accounts package
- Check the support available to get you up and running and ongoing support (and associated costs) that’re available
Finally, shortlist the solutions that meet your needs.
Step 5. (30-60 minutes) What is your company vision?
With your shortlist, there’s one more step before you reach out and start trialling or taking on demos. Just as important as your present situation is your vision of the future.
Think for a second about how would you sell the prospect of this change to your entire team? Do you have a vision of the future of your business? If you haven’t described what the future looks like, how can your team visualise success?
Do they buy in to your vision for the company? How will your shortlist of software solutions help achieve this? How will you get the most from your software investment?
Connecting your vision with your process and your new software system will help you and you team decide whether the system you choose will actually help you achieve that.
- Write down what it feels like to do your job a year from now, in three years?
- How will the business be performing then? What will your competitors be doing?
- Share the vision with your team. Get feedback. Delegate ownership of elements of the vision.
- Check for alignment between your vision and the options and priorities on your list.
Conclusion – Are You Ready?
Buying software is a big decision, but you have the power and knowledge to maximise the potential benefits of the change.
Following these steps will help take the risk and worry out of the process, not by getting you all the answers, but by helping you understand what your particular business needs, what is available, and how you’ll get the most out of any solution.
Lots of companies sit through hours of demos with badly matched vendors, wade through free-trials or even hire an expensive consultant to create a list of must-have features and then have them shortlist and select a system on their behalf. Time and again we’ve seen companies without this prior knowledge try and implement a badly suited software solution, to everyone’s frustration and cost.
But you know what’s best for your business. Take control. If you invest just a few hours of going through these steps – whether in a single block with your team, or over the course of a few weeks – you’ll save thousands of pounds and a mountain of stress. But you’ll also clarify your vision, improve communication with your colleagues, strengthen your team’s morale and ultimately put the right system in place to help your business succeed.
What’s next? Download our FREE Flowlens Process Checklist to help you work through this process.
Got something to add? Contact us today!