As leaders of growing businesses we’ve all been there, sleepless night after sleepless night, your mind racing with niggles that you’ve pushed out of the way during the day. There are so many things to juggle in business, however one theme stands above the rest.
I speak to business owners and management teams every day about management software for their businesses, and the common theme of those sleepless nights is the feeling of control, or lack of it!
Where do you feel most out of control?
Sales forecast – do you have enough properly qualified opportunities in the pipeline?
Inventory – what’s the current value of my stock?
Data Accuracy – as we transfer data manually from one step to another, what has been mistyped or just missed?
Stock Accuracy – are we back-flushing our bill of materials to accurately adjust stock?
Pricing and Quoting – are we ensuring quoted product matches the customer needs and is actually feasible to produce?
Margins – are you making enough money on each sale?
Purchasing – how much cash is committed, and to which suppliers?
Goods Receivable – when can you expect support deliveries to ensure you meet customer/manufacturing demand?
Job Profitability – you know what you quoted, but did the actual costs exceed budget?
Customer Satisfaction – struggling to answer questions about orders and historic activity, and responding quickly enough to customer requests?
GDPR – have you got consent to communicate with customers, and for what purpose?
Serial Number Register – what products are out there, who do I stay on top of asset service history, components?
Sales Activity Tracking – what are people doing, how are they planning their time and tasks to meet customer expectations?
Daily Reports – laborious and inaccurate collation of data to get basic management information, or waiting till you get end of month or quarterly accounts to see if you’ve made a profit?
Flowlens is designed to make day-to-day life simpler for small business.
Spending hours searching for information, or collating spreadsheets, isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. That’s why we’ve made Flowlens easy to use, and easy to capture and find information of different kinds.
The following tools can be found throughout these Flowlens features to easily and consistently find information, and get your job done faster.
Reporting and Exporting Data
Most features (e.g. Enquiries, Leads, Quotes, Orders, Parts) in Flowlens offer a range of ad hoc filters, which enable data to be searched quickly. Headline stats are also displayed for the selected data set. Get a quick report on your data, or if you want to do more analysis, at the bottom of each page you’ll find an option ‘Download as CSV’ and in some cases also ‘Download as PDF’ making it easy to extract or print data for offline use.
Find Everything In One Place
Store details about the people and organisations you do business with. These might be suppliers, customers, partners, or indeed competitors. Everything is easily accessible via the organisation/customer dashboard:
Nearly all information created by or in Flowlens links back to a company. For example you’ll find Contacts, Addresses, Enquiries, Sales Leads, Orders, Purchase Orders (if it’s a Supplier) and Asset Register for after-sales service. You’ll also see that Companies have tabs for Emails, Comments, Uploads and Interactions.
Manage Your Tasks
Tasks are another important feature that you’ll find throughout Flowlens. Always ensure that objects you’re working on have the ‘next task’ set, so you won’t forget critical activity when it is due. This is very handy for Sales Leads where timelines may be several weeks or months, making it difficult to stay on top of everything.
Your My Tasks page is a handy way to keep on top of tasks. You can also get a feed of your Tasks in your Outlook, Google or other Calendar application.
You can create Tasks for yourself, or assign them to other users, making delegation easier.
Keep relevant communications within Flowlens for ease of reference in the future. To send a new email, start typing the name of a contact to select a recipient, followed by your subject and message. You can also attach files that have been uploaded against that feature. If the contact replies to an email you have sent from Flowlens, you will receive the reply in your normal inbox, and in Flowlens.
You can also store external emails for future reference. Within the Emails tab you’ll find an email address such as:
You can use this email address to copy emails sent from your existing email client to software. You can either CC this email, or Forward emails to it. Emails will then appear in the relevant Email tab listing for future reference.
Store and find/download relevant files against a feature, by clicking ‘Choose Files’ and selecting the file(s), or drag and drop on to the page.
You never know when you might want to refer to notes about customers, suppliers, projects or service tasks. To make a note for future reference, use the Comments tab. This simple tool can be handy for storing meeting notes against a Sales Lead, or details of issues raised against an Order or a Part.
Stop Searching, Start Finding, Grow Faster
Many businesses waste time on the basics. These features can get your team joined-up and working faster.
As an integrated system, Flowlens can help you manage all aspects of your business process, including Stock, Sales Orders, Enquiries, Customers, Production, Purchasing, After-sales Service and Marketing Campaigns. (It also integrates with your Accounts package). Unlike most systems, you don’t need to buy all the features, only the ones you need.
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.