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Streamline Your Small Business: The Power of Workflows

photo of a workflow map using boxes and arrows

Every minute counts, every resource matters, and every task completed adds up to the success of your business - in other words, time is money. However, in the hustle and bustle of daily operations, especially if you're a small business and doing everything yourself, it's easy to get caught up in never-ending tasks and lose sight of how you can improve productivity.

Workflows are an excellent way to improve productivity and this blog post explains what they are, why your business should embrace them, offers a practical workflow illustration, and delves into the exciting realm of automation - yes I do love an automation!

Understanding Workflows

So, what exactly is a workflow? In simple terms, it's a sequence of tasks or activities that are carried out to achieve a specific goal. Workflow maps set out the steps needed to complete a process efficiently, ensuring consistency, reducing errors, and maximising productivity. There's nothing fancy initially about workflows; it's about noting down what you do and how you currently do it in basic steps. However, you would be surprised at the number of businesses I work with that don't even have this simple first step in place.

Elements of a Workflow

To better understand how workflows function, let's break down their key elements:

  • Tasks: Workflows consist of various tasks, ranging from basic data entry to intricate processes like product development.

  • Sequence: Tasks are organised in a specific sequence, dictating their order of completion. This structured sequence ensures each step builds upon the previous, guiding towards achieving the ultimate objective.

  • Roles and Responsibilities: Every task is assigned to a particular role or individual, clarifying accountability and preventing confusion regarding responsibilities.

  • Deadlines and Timelines: Setting deadlines or timelines for tasks is common in workflows. These time constraints maintain momentum and prevent delays that might impede overall progress.

  • Dependencies: Certain tasks rely on the completion of others. Identifying these dependencies ensures tasks are executed in the correct order, avoiding omissions.

  • Feedback and Review: Incorporating checkpoints for feedback and review ensures quality control throughout the workflow. Feedback loops facilitate adjustments, enhancing efficiency and efficacy as needed.

Here's an example of a simple website purchase order workflow that I have used with a client:

a workflow map for a website sales order

This simple overview of the process is a great place to start and allows you to dive deeper within each section via the use of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) - a set of step-by-step instructions detailing how specific tasks or processes should be performed. Not all workflows will need SOPs, but when working with multiple systems, software and automations, there does come a point when the details need to be documented.

Yes, it looks like a lot of work initially, but once it's done, it's done, and it's easy to come back and review and make changes where necessary. It's also essential if you work remotely so that team members can reference the process at any point.

And workflows come in various design formats from simple designs like above to complete flow charts with many dependencies. There's also specific workflow management software that can used to create and document you processes such as Lucidchart, Creately or Canva.

Workflows and Automation

One of the next steps you can take after documenting your workflow is to implement various automations. This makes the workflow even more efficient and improves organisational efficiency and productivity.

Using the workflow above you could probably implement the following automations:

  • add a person to your newsletter list when they purchase (if they have agreed to this of course). This will then trigger a welcome sequence of emails

  • Forward the order details to the warehouse

  • Automatically send an email requesting customer feedback a set number of days after they have purchased

You can do this using software like Zapier, Microsoft Power Automate or IFTTT to complete tasks or processes automatically based on predefined rules, triggers, or conditions - you don't need to be an expert coder either! It's also a good idea to look at the software you are currently using ie Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, Zoho or Hubspot for various automation features. So it's quite possible a workflow would combine automations from more than one software e.g Zapier and ActiveCampaign.

At this point using SOPs becomes essential because it's necessary to note down exactly what automations are being used and where.

Workflows are a vital tool for streamlining operations, enhancing efficiency, and driving success. But don't assume workflows are restricted to certain areas of the organisation or that you have to be a large business to use them. Workflows can be used by all types and sizes of businesses—where there's a routine task, it can be given a workflow. And when combined with automation, workflows become even more powerful, enabling you to automate repetitive tasks, integrate with other business systems, and improve overall productivity.


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