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.
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.
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.
Have you hit a brick wall with your CRM system? We adopt tools like CRM and spreadsheets to solve a problem, until we discover they create yet another silo of information in the business. And when it comes to turning orders into cash, these silos just slow you down.
We’ve all been there, copying data out of one system to paste into another. Often spreadsheets become the glue of most businesses, bridging data between departments. Its natural to make do with an approach like this, it’s works, kind of. It works because the people in your business know the steps and tricks needed. It works as long as someone doesn’t overwrite that formula in the excel.
And maybe you put up with it because you believe there isn’t a system that can handle the whole process. But apart from the inevitable errors, and the wasted time, the bigger problem is that a ‘Franken-system’ can’t give you the reliable information needed to get control, never mind serve customers better and grow your business.
Don’t get me wrong, basic systems and spreadsheets are great when you need something fast and flexible to capture and work on data. They don’t care what you’re asking them to do, but that flexibility also means risks. Typically one person knows how the spreadsheet really functions, if they leave, they take that knowledge with them.
These systems typically fail because they don’t bring your people and processes together.
Are you wasting time and money fixing inaccurate order details?
Are you quoting off the latest cost prices to calculate margins effectively?
Are you working off correct stock levels or scrambling to buy to meet customer promises?
Are you in the dark about sales forecasts and planning fulfilment and production?
Are your competitors serving customers faster?
Do you feel in control of the information that drives your business?
CRM systems have evolved to support more than just contact data and sales pipeline reports.
Software is now available that handles the steps of the order process in one seamless flow:
* Create Quotations (create accurate quotes in seconds, rather than minutes)
* Set follow-up reminders (ensure you don’t lose a sales by simply forgetting about it)
* Generate orders, dispatch and invoices automatically (less time copying and pasting)
* Integrated Bills of Materials and Purchasing (stop re-keying data between orders and production jobs)
* Built-in Inventory management (real time visibility of stock)
* Production and serial numbering (integrate order data with job cards for effective stock management)
* After-sales servicing and job tracking linked to the product sold and the customer record.
* integration with your accounts software
Joined up thinking like this puts SME businesses, managers and owners back in control. It creates visibility across the business. It reduces wasted time on manual, repetitive tasks. It gives peace of mind that nothing can be missed. And it creates a platform for growth.
Don’t ‘make do’ any longer.
CRMs should no longer fail your business, because they have evolved to support your entire business process. At Flowlens, we’ve seen customers reduce their order processing time by over 50% with our joined-up cloud software. This means that our customers get paid faster, with fewer errors.
Flowlens works alongside your existing accounting package. This means you can stick with what you know (and save the money you’ve invested already), whilst adding a powerful suite of management tools to help your business grow.
Flowlens is a modular SME cloud software system that manages sales, stock, purchasing, production and after-sales service. Flowlens integrates with Sage 50 & 200, Quickbooks Online, Kashflow and Xero.
With modules starting at £149 per month for 5 users, Flowlens is highly affordable for SMEs looking to grow.
Flowlens helps you avoid duplicating work, and rekeying data. So, Flowlens integrates with your accounts software to pass through sales order invoices and approved purchase invoice data automatically. This saves time, and avoids rekeying errors.
How Does It Work?
All tasks associated with managing sales orders, purchases and stock movements/taking are handled in Flowlens. You accounts package remains the master for creating your monthly and annual accounts, and other functions such as payroll. Flowlens Stock and Project reporting tools can also provide you with a current Work In Progress and Stock values to be added into management accounts when required.
Benefits of integrating your accounts package
Keep the system you are familiar with.
Many businesses have invested their time and money in an accounts package. By integrating with Flowlens you will enhance this investment rather than having to start from scratch as with most ‘all in one’ systems.
Minimise License Costs and Control Access to Sensitive Info
Many businesses try to use their accounts software to do jobs they weren’t designed for. This usually means giving more staff access to the system, increasing license costs and/or risking sensitive business data being accessible. By integrating with Flowlens your staff will have access to purpose built tools to do their job, limiting access to relevant information only.
Grow at your own pace
By keeping your existing accounts package, you are maintaining a solid and familiar foundation for your business. Your finance team, and accountancy practice will be familiar with your setup. Flowlens offers a modular ‘flow and grow’ subscription service which lets you gradually adopt features and add more users as required. This lets you focus on top priorities, without paying for, or getting distracted by less important features.
How does integration work?
As part of our Customer Success implementation service, we we work with you to setup the integration with your accounts system. Each accounts package has it’s own integration process. We take care to guide you through this process to help you ensure accurate and consistent transfer of information between the systems.
Accountants! Do you provide cloud accountancy advice and services to your clients? Flowlens lets you expand the potential of modern accounting products. We’re eager to partner with practices who want to help their clients grow and streamline their businesses. Please contact us to learn more.
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 email@example.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
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?
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.
How to eat the software elephant in your business.
Considering a new software solution for your business? Across our team, we’ve worked on countless software implementations across SME and large companies. In every case the more you prepare, the better the outcome. Prepare and plan your procurement and project implementation with these lessons in mind.
Keep your team on board
Different people and different departments will have a different outlook on changing systems in your business. You might be ready to drive change and achieve efficiencies, but is the business behind you?
Without team buy-in, short term patience and long term adoption will suffer. The change must be something that is worthwhile in the day to day work that each person carries out.
Some people may not understand how software can enhance their own effectiveness and help the company achieve its goals, but they will be aware of how their own work could be made more efficient. Most people will happily engage in a project that will give them more time for value-added activity, and reduce repetitive chores.
With most people working within a defined function, it can be difficult for them to understand the impact their work as on others. They may even begrudge change that doesn’t impact them, but has huge benefits for customers and profitability.
Get feedback and ideas from across the team and you’ll see greater buy-in.
Keep it simple
Most of us drive cars that are sold in various standard configurations. This standardisation makes it easier for the manufacturer to make, so it costs you less. It’s also cheaper to maintain, as your service mechanic will be familiar with the car.
We accept this simplicity in buying cars, so why not our business systems?
When considering software, we’re tempted to ask for special customisation and changes that suit particular processes that have grown up with the business? These changes cost money to define, build and maintain, and they also impact standard parts of the software, potentially preventing access to improvements the developer is making.
Consider examining your processes to reduce complexity and variability. Then figure out how the streamlined versions could be supported by existing software workflows.
This will have two benefits:
1. The software can be delivered faster ‘out of the box’, so you get a return quicker. 2. Enjoy your faster, leaner processes! (And hassle free updates to your software in the future.)
Keep it bite-sized
Can you eat an elephant in one bite? I thought not, then why would you try implement a new software system in one go?
It’s hard enough to make a change in business whilst keeping customers happy, and orders fulfilled.
Where are the most obvious weaknesses or inefficiencies in your business? Can you implement change here first, and reduce the risk, and free up time to tackle further challenges?
Often companies do not have strong purchasing and stock management processes. This function is relatively easy to bring into a new system, iron out the kinks in parts/materials coding, supplier lists, purchasing practices and goods received.
Another area is sales order processing. Getting orders out faster, means faster time to cash, but in many businesses this involves excessive paperwork. Making it easier for your sales team to secure orders, and you’ve got a clear success story to engage the rest of the business.
Keep your accounting package
You’ve probably invested heavily in your current accounting software and infrastructure, yet most software vendors have their own version built into their product.
Whether it’s a better option or not, you’ve no choice but to force upheaval on the Finance team as well as your Sales and Ops.
Modern cloud solutions are ready and able to integrate with existing software, whether it’s for accounting, marketing or any other purpose.
So now you can keep what is working, and tackle the core challenges that are really holding you back.
Keep your data clean
Your data is the lifeblood of the business. Readiness for a new software system relies on having good data to start. Look at your business KPIs and understand what data is essential to you. Most companies are spending time and money recording data that is no longer relevant or useful. Many also maintain multiple versions of the same data in different business silos.
When you think about your processes, how much legacy data collection and duplication can you remove?
Clean, consistent and relevant parts, customer, products and asset data will make your investment in software more powerful.
Keep the customer in mind
What will make your customer happy? Probably clear communication, fast delivery, fair pricing and a quality product.
Are your current processes optimised around your customer goals?
For example, think about capturing customer requirements in the sales process. Waste and cost often creep in because inaccurate requirements have made it all the way through to production. Worst case, you don’t find out until the wrong configuration has been delivered!
Help your Sales and Operations teams to define available products, options and upgrades. Quote only what you can deliver. Process orders based on an agreed bill of materials. Build only what has been signed off by the customer.
Start small, solve critical problems and bottlenecks: typically sales order processing, stock management and purchasing involve lots of manual effort. Address these inefficiencies and create time to address wider issues.
Don’t throw everything out and start again. Modern software can and should talk to each other. Make your existing investments work alongside new functionality.
Standard work makes money – how can you take variability out of your business and actually serve your customers better?
Keep your team on board, focus on the vision and how you will get there together.
Southern Manufacturing is the UK’s largest regional manufacturing technology, electronics and subcontracting exhibition, with thousands of engineering & electronics solutions. We’ll be ready to showcase the capabilities of Flowlens cloud build to order software.
The show is open, 21-23 March 2017: Tues/Weds 9.30am to 4.30pm, Thurs 9.30am to 3.30pm. Visit us for a demonstration of our time-saving Enquiry to Order, Order to Cash, and Purchase to Pay workflows.
Also, visit the seminar area at 12.30 on Wednesday 22nd to hear our presentation – “Stop The Silo Thinking – how to integrate your business process for better results.”
The event kicks off at 10am, and we’ll be ready to showcase the capabilities of Flowlens software. Visit us for a demonstration of our time-saving Enquiry to Order, Order to Cash, and Purchase to Pay workflows.