E-commerce? What a great idea! Just get a website out there, automate everything in sight, then sit back and let the cash roll in…
Well, that’s the dream. (And that’s precisely what it is – a dream!)
The nightmare comes when you’ve done that, and suddenly realise that ‘sitting back’ is no longer an option. For (at least) one of three possible reasons:
- Your website is indeed out there, and everything in sight is indeed automated – but you don’t have any customers.
- The website is working well and generating loads of business – but you haven’t actually worked out how to deal with the orders.
- You’re dealing with the orders – but you’re struggling to cope with the (inevitable) barrage of calls from customers who have a query, a problem, or a chronic inability to understand the internet…
And that’s the nightmare. (At any time. But especially just before Christmas.)
So – how do you get closer to the dream? And further away from the nightmare?
E-commerce – it’s all about process…
Like many things in life, e-commerce works best if you do some planning ahead. And in this case the planning you need to do starts with that all-singing, all-dancing website.
If you’ve designed the order process yourself, then you understand exactly how it works. (Hopefully.) But how does it look to a new customer? The time to ask that question is before you launch. And certainly before you do any marketing. Because you don’t want to spend the next six months dealing with abusive phone calls from people who couldn’t complete their orders.
Or, more likely, listening to the silence – because they all gave up and went somewhere else…
Success comes from planning. Thinking ahead. Anticipating problems. And then beta-testing, again and again, until even the most obtuse internet user can order your goods and complete the payment without picking up the phone.
And that’s just the order process. After that comes fulfilment. (At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen…)
What’s your process for managing stock levels – and reordering enough (but not too much) when you’re starting to run out?
How are you managing postage and delivery? Have you priced them properly on the website – and have you got a simple way to update them when (inevitably) the prices go up? What delivery options have you got in place – and how are you fulfilling them? And what’s the process for missed or failed deliveries?
There’s a lot to think about, and a lot to go wrong – but only if you haven’t made the right plans in the first place.
So if you need a little help – please get in touch for a free fact-finding consultation.
Our thanks to Tracey Hayes of Purple Haze for a Virtual Assistant’s take on how you can help them best:
We don’t like making excuses.
Seriously. We don’t. But if a client doesn’t trust us to be a competent and efficient Virtual Assistant, we don’t have much choice.
‘I’m very sorry, madam. Of course we’ll tell him you called. But I’m afraid I don’t know if the scintillator valve on your SP193 has a bifurcating dongle…’
So it’s great when clients trust us – and give us full access to their systems.
Recently we covered for the owner of an executive courier company who was going on holiday.
He gave us the details of his four drivers. Forwarded his phone calls to our office. Even handed over his business mobile – and gave us access to his email accounts.
And he also gave us every piece of information we could conceivably need.
We’d regard that as Trust with a capital T.
So while he was away we answered all his phone calls. We responded to emails on his behalf. Raised quotes for him. Took bookings for him. Dealt with his drivers and gave them their instructions. Even made courtesy follow-up calls to his clients.
As a result the only people who knew the boss was away were his own drivers. So he could enjoy his holiday in peace.
(And we had his business mobile. So there was no risk it’d get thrown in the pool by a frustrated partner…)
It’s all about process
If we took you on as new client we’d want find out as much about you as you’re willing to tell.
Your contact details (all of them). Your client details (including which are the most demanding and which need to be handled with – shall we say – particular care…): ‘Please be aware that if you use the word ‘cheese’ in a conversation with Tom H**** he will immediately scream, jump up onto his desk, and sing the Marseillaise.’
We also like to know what software you use. What services you provide, and what they cost. Who your ‘go-to’ people are: ‘Please pass any calls about the SP193 to Mrs Slocombe. She’s the only one who has the first idea what it does. Or how it does it…’
And we’ll take the time to understand how your business processes work. Plus making a note of any password or login details we need to make sure they do work.
Then we write up everything we’ve learned in a document. We call it your Standard Operating Procedure. And (if you want us to) we’ll hand a copy to you.
It’s a valuable document. And yes, it’s yours.
Because real trust works both ways.
So if you’d like to know more about the way a ‘proper’ Virtual Assistant works, feel free to give us a call on 01638 741079. Or take a peek at our website…
And no, we don’t supply scintillator valves. Or bifurcating dongles. Sorry.
So. When you’re ‘working’, what do you actually do?
Let’s face it, ‘working’ means different things to different people. But if you’re running your own business, then ‘look busy, the boss is coming’ will certainly not apply.
Even so, there may be things you’re doing – even necessary things – that aren’t making the best use of your time. So your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to decide which is which.
And in this case you might want to involve your Secretary (if you have one) very closely, so they can’t disavow all knowledge of your actions later on.
Do, Delegate or Dump?
When it comes to deciding what you should (or should not) be doing there’s a simple but effective litmus test you can use.
- Do the things that only you can do.
- Delegate the things that someone else can do as well as (or better than) you.
- And Dump the things that really don’t need doing at all.
The first and last seem pretty obvious. It’s the delegation that usually causes a problem. Especially if you don’t actually have a person to whom you can delegate things.
Now it is, of course, just possible that your life partner absolutely loves – and is good at – all the jobs you hate. You also have a perfect relationship where he or she has enough time on their hands to dive in and help when SS Your Business seems to be heading for the rocks.
But back in the real world it’s more likely that your better half (even assuming you have one) will have other things to do. Usually at precisely the time you need their help. And – again in the real world – their idea of heaven will not necessarily include filing the Tower of Babel that used to be your paperwork. Or, for that matter, chasing six-month-old invoices you’ve inconveniently forgotten about.
Worse yet, even if they do these things – perhaps out of loyalty to you – they may not be very good at doing them…
However, there is an answer. You can outsource the problem to a specialist. Because – believe it or not – there really are people out there who enjoy those things. (And enjoy them even more if they can prevent them happening in the first place…)
But you can’t just throw them a bag full of paper. (Well – you can, but you might get it thrown right back.) You have to do your outsourcing properly…
So what does that actually mean?
Well, put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment. If you were taking on that kind of work for someone else, there are a few questions you might want to ask them:
- What are you delegating – what’s included, and what isn’t?
- Why are you delegating this work? Is it to free up your time? To reduce costs? Or some other reason? (There could be many more.)
- To whom are you delegating? If it’s ‘someone you know’ have you checked their qualifications and their CV? As carefully as you’d check those of a future employee…?
- When do you want the work completed?
Successful outsourcing depends on asking – and answering – those questions, and ensuring that the person doing the work understands precisely what you are asking them to do.
‘Trouble is that my cash doesn’t so much flow as tinkle…’
Cashflow is a common problem, and not just among small businesses. Complaints about slow payment are frequent – so what can you do to encourage your clients to pay on time, and in full?
Well, you could begin by thinking of this as an issue with your business process rather than an issue with your clients…
Why your process could stop you getting paid…
Have you ever reviewed your accounting process?
When asked, it’s amazing how many people say ‘no’. And yet it’s one of the first things you should do if cashflow is important to you. (And if it isn’t, you probably don’t need to be in business!)
Taking it step by step:
- When – and how – do you send an invoice?
- What is your process for checking it has been sent – and received?
- How can you be sure that the right person is receiving that invoice – i.e. someone who has the authority and ability to pay it?
- How do you ensure that they fully understand what they are paying for?
- How do you ensure that they know how to pay – and where they should send their payment?
- How do you ensure that they understand your terms of payment?
- What is your process for recording payments made?
- How and when do you send payment reminders?
- Do you send overdue notices? How and when?
- How – and how quickly – do you respond when clients fail to pay?
I am constantly amazed at how many businesses have nothing in place for one or more of these critical steps. So amazed, in fact, that I’ve produced a beginner’s guide to avoiding payment.
It shows you exactly what not to do – and you can see it here…
But the invoice, of course, is just part of the process. You need to consider the whole process – in detail.
Is someone who struggles with change ‘resistant’ to it? Or are they simply not ready for change?
The difference is important, because ‘readiness for change’ is something you can gauge even before a change takes place.
By knowing how ready for change they are – and working to increase their readiness – you may never need to deal with ‘resistance’ at all.
Using the word ‘readiness’ also removes the rather judgemental associations of the word ‘resistance’. That will affect the attitudes and approach of the people who need to make change happen.
So – how can you determine someone’s readiness? (And let’s give the ‘someone’ a name – Hubert – to avoid complicated language. Apologies to anyone called Hubert, of course…)
There are two issues you need to think about:
- The drivers: How bad does Hubert believe that things now? How much – in Hubert’s view – will change improve them?
- The restraint: How secure does Hubert feel with things as they are?
Drivers for change
If Hubert’s unhappy then he’s far more likely to welcome change. And the more unhappy he is, the more willing he will be to try something new.
If Hubert is comfortable with things as they are it may be hard to persuade him to do things differently – let alone to do things that are different.
So – in essence – a successful change needs to be driven by at least a moderate level of dissatisfaction.
But it also needs to overcome…
Restraints on change
Good research suggests that Hubert’s own feelings of security may be a critical barrier to change. And (by definition) those feelings will be very difficult for anyone except Hubert to determine! That’s because we’re talking about subjective perception, not objective reality. So to truly understand Hubert’s position you’d need to be inside his head. And seeing the world exactly as he sees it.
This subject is tricky enough to deserve a post of its own. So, for the moment, let’s assume we have at least a rough idea about Hubert’s level of felt security.
What effect will this have on his readiness to accept change?
Suppose Hubert is feeling insecure at the moment. That means his anxiety levels are high, and he will be unwilling or even unable to cope with change.
If, on the other hand, he is feeling very secure then he won’t be interested in new information or new ideas.
Drivers and restraints – how they work together
That – as you can see – creates a fascinating picture.
The shaded area is where Hubert is fairly dissatisfied – but also feels reasonably secure. This is when he’s most likely to accept change.
To the right – where he feels almost completely secure – the chances of that become far smaller. If he feels both secure and satisfied (bottom right) then he will obviously be quite happy with things as they are. And If he feels completely secure he will probably become a contented and complacent ‘fat cat’. Even the boxes above, on the right, will be sparsely populated. That’s because new information and new ideas have little appeal to people who feel secure.
The left-hand column poses a different problem. If Hubert is here, even the strongest arguments will fail to cut much ice – because he is incapable of change. The very thought of change will induce the kind of panic that makes a rabbit freeze in the face of oncoming headlights!
So how can we find out where, on this diagram, Hubert feels he is?
And, more importantly, how can we move him to a position where he can and will change?