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.

For a deep read on developing a vivid and actionable vision for your business, we recommend reading ‘Double Double’ by Cameron Herold, (summary on his blog).

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!

We built Flowlens in response to SME customers who needed an easy to use, ERP-CRM toolkit to help them grow.

Our customers may be small, but they think big. They make, refurbish, supply and service all kinds of tangible assets. From industrial plant & machinery, to ATVs, to street furniture, to intricate aerospace components, and even buildings.

We are proud of the range of industries and applications our product supports. But what’s the one thing they all have in common?

They all want to GROW!

They want a platform help grow their business. They want to grow their profitability. They want to enhance their customer service.

Our customers inspire us with their vision and determination to bring their product to market. They energise us with their passion for their businesses, their products, and their customers. We provide the tools that reduce wasteful manual effort and nurture customers for long term gain.

Our customers have integrated business processes, but the old tools were disjointed, manual and inefficient.

Building a sales pipeline and converting orders. Managing production, stock and operations. Delivering timely and effective customer care. These are too often disjointed, duplicated and inefficient processes. Flowlens unites these business critical functions in one system, removing waste to create an platform for business growth.

Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking.

Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking. They demand tools that nurture leads, convert sales, deliver on promises and develop relationships. They demand reliable business performance information. They demand simplicity, because complexity slows them down.

Our customers may be SMEs, but their vision and capability is huge, and Flowlens provides the tools to achieve that vision.

If you share that drive, determination and vision, we’d be delighted to have you on board. Please shoot me a message at rich@flowlens.com or book a demo.

You might think a new CRM or ERP is the answer to your prayers for greater efficiency, profitability and customer satisfaction. And it probably is. For most SMEs, software is a natural place to go when faced with mounting paper work and duplicating effort.

As a leader in your business, how can you ensure the success of this investment in time and software?

Firstly, ask yourself a few questions…

  • Does your SME have the capacity to adopt a new system while keeping the wheels turning?
  • Have you considered the habits that will need to change to adopt new software into the business?
  • Are your people ready for this change?

Are you prepared to lead from the top and demonstrate how new software will support the business strategy and achievement of its vision?

Start with the goal in mind

What goal will unite your team on the need for change?

Ask your team to identify the activities that slow them down the most. Ask customers what frustrates them the most. Share the pain points that unite you, your team and your customers and you’ve got your shared vision.

This vision provides the catalyst for change, and team buy-in for adopting software to make things better. But remember, adopting CRM or ERP is a both a strategic and cultural decision. And culture drives from the top.

How can you adopt software and lead by example?

As the leader of a business or team, you’ve many priorities. Start small, and focus on managing your own activity. Understand how the software can make your life easier:

  • drive your own sales activity by planning actions with new and existing customers, to generate new sales leads, quotations and orders.
  • streamline your sales process by demonstrating better activity planning, automated quotation creation and order processing.
  • standardise and accelerate your sales pipeline using common terminology, tools and forecasting.

Variations in business processes slow you down and cause confusion for customers. Software is not a sticking plaster, but it does offer a way to standardise processes in your small business, and reduce manual effort.

Show how the tools make your life easier and unlock opportunities, and others will follow.

We’re hiring! The successful Software Tester will be working in a fast paced environment and will be involved in the end to end testing process from requirement review through to defect management. You will work closely with the development team to schedule and manage progress of issues raised from testing, and use your own initiative to ensure that critical issues are flagged and tracked.

We’re building a fully integrated cloud-based CRM and ERP product. Every day presents new and interesting challenges as we deliver functionality that solves problems for SME across sales, marketing, operations, purchasing, and after sales service.

Key Duties:
– Creation and maintenance of test plans and documentation
– Defect tracking and reporting
– Executing manual and automated tests
– Regression testing
– Reviewing project requirements
– Communicating progress back to the Project manager, Developers and Senior Management team as necessary
– Testing and sign-off of all projects before release
– Help to implement and maintain a robust roll-out procedure delivering a high standard of customer service.
– Creation of training manuals and other material
– Carry out training with clients
– Deal with clients on a daily basis

Competencies Required:
– Software testing in a commercial environment
– UI Testing
– Usability testing
– Automated testing tools
– Experience working with relevant operating systems
– Awareness of responsive testing, cross platform.
– Hands on experience with HTML, Java or Ruby on Rails
– Defect tracking/reporting
– Strong technological knowledge
– Customer service and communication skills

Desirable Attributes:
– ISEB/ISTQB certification
– Experience in cloud-based software environment

Must have:
– 2-3 years full time commercial experience
– Experience with issue/task tracking and management

– Salary based on experience
– Role is based at our Belfast HQ

At Flowlens you’ll find a committed and supportive team that is working together to achieve our vision for easy to use, easy to setup and easy to administer business software. Do you want to be part of our success?

Please submit your CV to jobs@flowlens.com

We’ll be exhibiting at SubCon/Advanced Manufacturing, 6-8th June at the NEC, visit us at Stand B47 where we’ll be demonstrating the latest version of our powerful, user-friendly Product Configuration and Quotation tool, which links BOM data directly to stock and production job cards.

Visit the website to register: http://www.subconshow.co.uk/

Modern, cloud software can unleash your business potential and long term growth.

For build-to-order manufacturers who are competing for market share, there are many demands on budget. Some will have made investments in legacy systems, while some will have no ERP system at all and rely on spreadsheets.

Long term gains are clear:

  • Standardised processes allow the business to run faster
  • Reduced friction: process orders faster
  • Shared data reduces manual effort and confusion
  • Cloud availability aligns with modern working practices
  • Reduced costs impact profitability

Our experience shows that make-to-order companies recognise the benefits of investing in technology that supports and streamlines business processes. The most significant challenge for ERP software is to support effective collaborate across departments, processes and teams, while integrating with existing system that support the business. Effective communication across departments reduces waste, and therefore provides significant cost-savings through enhanced operational efficiency.

In the age of big data, reporting and analytics are another significant challenge for SMEs. It’s essential that data is shared across the organisation and various platforms so relevant reports and analytics can be extracted to inform better business decisions. ERP can address these issues, but many firms struggle if their data is spread across various systems and spreadsheets.

Companies that have updated to joined-up, cloud ERP have been able to reduce costs, and ensure accurate information sharing across the business. This enables sales, operations and after-sales to function efficiently and respond better to customer needs, providing a competitive edge. The benefits for SME’s are clear but what do these firms needs from an ERP software solution?

Our customer research suggests it needs to offer:

  • A single and centralised view of the customer through a single contact database.
  • Workflows to standardise the flow of information efficiently.
  • Real-time reporting to react to new opportunities or recurring issues.
  • Integration with existing applications such as Finance, RFID and CAD systems.
  • Experienced assistance to define processes and manage implementation in the business

By choosing a partner that listens and understands the business and processes you can achieve significant return on investment. While projects such as ERP have a reputation for being protracted and costly, this is now becoming a thing of the past. With the right methodology and support in place, these risk are minimised while maximising the return on investment.

Flowlens provides a common sense and tailored CRM, MRP and ERP platform for build-to-order companies, that supports the customer lifecycle. We create long-term partnerships by listening and understanding your business problems and configure the platform to ensure effective change and return on investment. Customers such as Survitec Group have seen real-world return on investment such as a 40% reduction in manual administrative effort.

Request a demo today